Circuit Sweet Interview, Feature, Reviews

American Football Special- An Interview with Steve Holmes

June 10, 2014

a8baa56554f96369ab93e4f3bb068c22_mediumTo the readers of our site, American Football hardly need an introduction. The influential late-90s emo band
from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois were active from 1997 for around 3 years. Now almost 15 years on, the trio have revived their roots to reunite for a short spell of 3 live shows to accompany their forthcoming deluxe reissue of their classic self titled release on Polyvinyl. Mike Kinsella, Steve Lamos and Steve Holmes have shaken a music community and are about to make history, again.

The highly anticipated deluxe edition was released just a few weeks ago, May 20th via Polyvinyl. The reissue includes a second disc of live recordings, demos, and previously-unreleased material, as well as new liner notes and photos of the band.

d87c68a56bc8eb803b44f25abb62778697c8ba804e12fedd5bff4c52c43401c82f875e5b_mediumAmerican Football
Disc One:

01 Never Meant
02 The Summer Ends
03 Honestly?
04 For Sure
05 You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon
06 But The Regrets Are Killing Me
07 I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional
08 Stay Home
09 The One With The Wurlitzer

Disc Two:

10 Intro [Live at the Blind Pig, Champaign, IL, 1997]
11 Five Silent Miles [Live at the Blind Pig, Champaign, IL, 1997]
12 Untitled #1 (The One With the Trumpet) [Boombox Practice Session, 1998]
13 Untitled #2 [Boombox Practice Session, 1998]
14 Stay Home [Boombox Practice Session, 1998]
15 Untitled #3 [Boombox Practice Session, 1999]
16 Never Meant [4-Track Album Prep, 1999]
17 But The Regrets Are Killing Me [4-Track Album Prep, 1999]
18 I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional [4-Track Album Prep, 1999]
19 The 7’s [Live at the Blind Pig, Champaign, IL, 1997]

To coincide with this release, somewhat 15 years in the making, American Football have unveiled a brand new video for ‘Never Meant’ which you can see below.

In the heat of all things American Football;  interviews and features on the act are aplenty- as their adorning fans celebrate their return. When we had the offer to chat to the band, I froze- just what do you say to a band whose record completely changed your world?

If I hadn’t discovered  American Football’s 1999 release, chances are Circuit Sweet wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t have met my partner, the circuit to my sweet. To say that the release is influential is an understatement. This release is the foundation to a lot of our favorite artists today. We are honored  to chat to Steve Holmes regarding their  reissue and ahead of their live return, to find out more on whats going on with the trio.

Firstly thank you so much for spending time with Circuit Sweet, please kindly introduce yourself and your role within the band for those less familiar.

Hello. This is Steve Holmes, and I played guitar in American Football.

We want to know how you personally came about to be musicians. Within your music what outside influences trigger your creativity, what’s your backbone to your effort and how did you first come about to pick up an instrument?

I came to music much later than the other guys. Steve Lamos was playing trumpet since he was a very little kid (5 maybe). Although, he didn’t pick up the drums until way later on (as like a 21 year old, just a couple years before American Football started). If you can believe it, he actually learned the drums from a book. That and listening/playing along to Jack DeJohnette and other jazz records. Amazingly I had jammed with Steve in a post-punk band he was in during my freshman year of college (this would have been before the One Up Downstairs), and I remember thinking that he wasn’t that great a drummer. Then just a few months later he sounded like John McEntire or something. It was pretty amazing.

Mike took piano lessons as a kid for a year maybe, and then picked up guitar and drums in 7th grade or so. Little known fact, even though Mike played drums in Cap’n Jazz – he actually wrote the guitar parts that many of the songs were based on.

Personally, I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was 15, and I was in my first band a couple weeks later. Everyone I knew in high school played music. Most of us were terrible, but we were all discovering punk rock so it didn’t matter. Talent was secondary to youthful enthusiasm.

When you started out what did you originally want American Football to convey? And 15 years on did you believe you‘d be reissuing that iconic release again?

The idea that the record would still be in print 15 years later would have seemed crazy to us at the time. We had no huge aspirations. Obviously, every big music nerd (which we were) loves those lost gems. There is something much more appealing about being influential than being successful. We weren’t thinking about any of that at the time though. We just wanted to make the best record we could with our limited time, talent, and resources. That the record has actually managed to find an audience and mean something to a new generation of fans is amazing to us.

Casting back to when you were recording both the EP and the album, enlighten us on your writing process and how you utilize your workmanship, did certain members have their own roles within material making.

The songwriting was probably split about half and half between Mike and I, with each of us bringing in a riff or skeletal structure of a song and then working it out together on guitars before bringing it to practice. Steve L. always made huge contributions to the arrangements with his singular drumming, and also to the melodies with trumpet.

Where did your inspiration come from prior to the self titled release?

We were just three college kids trying to make music we liked. We’d all grown up in the punk rock scene, but with this band we knew going in that we didn’t want to “rock out”. We were done with that. Mike and I might have still loved Drive Like Jehu or Rites of Spring, but we were going to take it down a notch, or ten. We were at the age where we were exploring so many different things musically and absorbing all those influences into what we were doing. Steve L. was a huge 70’s jazz fusion fan (Weather Report, Miles Davis, etc.). Mike was into slowcore/shoegaze stuff like Red House Painters, Slowdive, Codeine, My Bloody Valentine, etc. We were also exploring Krautrock, Steve Reich’s Music for 18 musicians. The Chicago scene and Post-rock was an influence (although we were more Sea and Cake than Tortoise). But also the Beatles, Beach Boys, Dylan, the Band, Neil Young, Otis Redding, Motown, the Smiths, the Sundays, Elliott Smith, Wilco, Oasis, Radiohead, Nick Drake, Smog, the Zombies, the Kinks, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, Belle and Sebastian, Elvis Costello, the Elephant 6 bands, and dozens of other lesser known and local bands. Basically, we were music nerds. We loved music, and we took pieces from various influences and made it our own thing.

You’ve got such strong support from Polyvinyl but how did your involvement with Polyvinyl initially come about since the 3song CDEP release back in October 1998.

Mike knew Matt and Darcie (founders of the label) because they would setup shows during the Cap’n Jazz era. It was a pretty small and connected scene at the time. We were friends with Braid and Rainer Maria who Polyvinyl was working with before us, so it felt like a natural fit. I think Matt came out to one of our shows and liked it enough, so we did the single.

I can’t say enough about Polyvinyl’s role in the continued success and growth of the record. It has been continuously in print through numerous pressings over the years. The fact that they even put out a record for a band that never played a single show in support of the album is kind of nuts.

Steve, when you sent Polyvinyl a package including 7 cassettes full of old demos, boom box practice sessions, and other gems- did you think a reissue would be on the cards and what were the other gems?

I really didn’t envision a reissue originally. When I found the old tapes, I knew I had a version of “The 7’s” that might be interesting for fans to hear. My original thought was to digitize that and have Polyvinyl put it up for a free digital download or something on their site.

After sending them the track, they asked to hear the entire show it came from. So I wound up just sending every tape I had in my possession to them to digitize and weed through for anything that might be of interest.

Polyvinyl listened to everything and found the “nuggets” from a few hours of source material. I think they narrowed it to 15 or so tracks and we had to decide what to do with it from there.

We decided to do a deluxe reissue of the album because the timing seemed appropriate with the 15-year anniversary approaching. Also, we didn’t feel the quality of the bonus material warranted a stand-alone release, but still thought it was interesting enough that fans of the band would want to hear it. That along with the expanded packaging (pictures I’d had from the recording, and liner notes about each track) seemed to make sense in the context of a reissue.

We put a call out for any of your fans to get in touch with a question, Kieran Rees asks- How does it feel to have one album and one EP inspire a whole genre of music?

It’s weird. Is that true? I don’t know anything about inspiring a genre… but I’ve always credited the ongoing interest in the band to the fact that Mike has continued to play and be relevant through Owen and his various other projects.

Did you ever believe that your release would be such a cherished record across the world? You’ve reached and shaped so many individuals, their taste and their musical influences-you created a power which is so widely appreciated in the math rock/emo/punk/indie/experimental/DIY circuit. What is it you think you guys hold that makes you such a beloved band?

Of course we knew it would be a beloved and cherished phenomenon across the world. No. We had no idea. At the time, I think we had a bit of a chip on our collective shoulder in that the main reason anyone cared at all was that we were “ex-Cap’n Jazz”. And Mike was Tim’s little brother. The dynamic was very different back then. This was before Mike really came into his own as a songwriter and performer.

I think the songs hold up because we put a ton of thought and time into the arrangements. And people connect with it because Mike’s lyrics are so direct, and relate-able. We recorded the album the week after Mike and I graduated college. Adulthood was looming. We knew we were moving back home. Presumably to jobs and the like. So, I think that overall feeling was very powerful and hung in the air. It obviously impacted the lyrics, making it something that any high school or college age kid can relate to.

You recently announced your live reunion, originally 2 dates the first being in Champaign and New York followed by a second and third night added to New York. What made you guys decide to revisit the stage together?

Mike’s manager got offers for shows the day the reissue was announced. These have come in periodically over the years, but we never really considered it. This time, with the reissue, it finally seemed to make sense. It’s cool that Champaign (Pygmalion Fest) will be our first show. It’ll be our record release show 15 years late. We’ll just be playing to a few thousand more people than we would have in 1999.

How do you feel about the response the ticket sales received once on sale?

It’s flattering and a bit scary at the same time. When I saw we were playing Webster Hall (1500 capacity), I didn’t know if we could even sell that out one night. Three nights was a bit of a shock.

For those that managed to get tickets, what can we look forward to from the live performances?

We’ll play you every song we know. Some twice.

And What are you all most looking forward to when getting back on that stage?

I think it’s important to us to do justice to these songs.

Getting back together is really a way to say thank you to all the fans that we’ve accumulated over the years that weren’t able to see us at the time. Seeing us actually perform these songs live may demystify it a bit and take away from whatever they’ve built these songs up into in their minds. But hopefully the people who get to see us will come away satisfied. And maybe Mike will be able to play Owen shows without hearing “Never Meant” yelled out all the time.

Are these the only dates planned for now?

There are a few more in the works.

Will there be any new material previewed on the tour?

Right now we’re focused on learning the songs and creating a set that flows well.

There is a possibility of writing a new one, but we have to really master the old stuff first.

Do you have a ritual you do just before taking to the stage? Like a band huddle that you’ve been excited to re-do one last time.

Lamos always plays the drum pad for like an hour. Mike and I take turns hitting the bathroom.

What’s that one track you just can’t wait to play live?

Maybe we’ll do a cover of “Jessie’s Girl”.

Have you already been practicing together? If so do you think American Football has somewhat evolved?

Mike and I played once with just the two of us, and then we had one practice with the three of us. It sounded amazingly like American Football right out the gates that first time. I think we were all pleasantly surprised. Musically, we’ve all evolved quite a bit. I think we’re probably all better musicians than we were back then, but you do really have to concentrate to play these songs. The parts themselves aren’t so bad, but remembering the math and the transitions takes some practice.

Once you’ve caught that live buzz and all things AF, Will there be any new recordings in the works?

Probably not. Logistically it would be tough, but time will tell. If you’d asked me a year ago about reunion shows, I would have said no to that as well.

If you all end up in the UK at the same time, would you play Circuit Sweet’s front room?

Sure, why not. Can we sleep on the couch as well? –Sofa and cake waiting for you!

Regarding the future is there anything else we can look forward to?

Make no predictions, and make no apologies.

Steve, thank you so much for spending time with Circuit Sweet, it’s been a total pleasure to delve deeper in the American Football world!- We wish you all the luck with the live shows and we can’t wait to hear more from you.

10388097_10152474148276285_6245579677414983770_nIf you managed to get tickets you can catch American Football live at the following dates with some fantastic support:

September 28th – The Pygmalion Festival, Champaign, IL

October 10th – Webster Hall, New York

October 11th – Webster Hall, New York

October 12th – Webster Hall, New York

You can order American Football (Deluxe Edition) from Polyvinyl here.

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