Before Tampa debut, American Football’s Mike and Nate Kinsella talk reunions, new music and more

The band plays Orpheum in Ybor City on August 10.

click to enlarge American Football (From L to R: Steve Lamos, Nate Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Steve Holmes), which plays Orpehum in Ybor City, Florida on August 10, 2018. - SHERVIN LAINEZ
Shervin Lainez
American Football (From L to R: Steve Lamos, Nate Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Steve Holmes), which plays Orpehum in Ybor City, Florida on August 10, 2018.

Mike Kinsella says “the Dropbox is busy.” It’s May, and the frontman and guitarist for American Football has just looped Creative Loafing Tampa into a phone call with his cousin, Nate Kinsella, who is at the other end of the line preparing to catch a nap as his newborn daughter Leeila sleeps.

On their own, Mike, 41 and Nate, who is is three years younger, represent two pillars of early-aughts American indie rock. They each played in Joan of Arc, which was born after seminal emo band Cap’n Jazz — in which Mike played drums — broke up in 1995. The subsequent years found Mike and Nate releasing influential albums with other bands like Owls and Make Believe while also creating revered solo work under monikers like Owen and Birthmark. Mention the catalog of a Kinsella in the presence of any nerdy, indie rock-loving family member under 50 and you’ll see eyes light up in adulation. Deep fans are waiting to hear any shred of the growing collection of sonic sketches that Mike and Nate have been working on for the better part of a decade, but we’re on the horn to talk about another band.

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The aforementioned Dropbox Mike mentioned belongs to American Football, and when the Kinsellas spoke to CL that online folder contained roughly 22, mostly percussive tracks that will eventually become the Downstate Illinois outfit’s new album. The LP would be the band’s third release in just under 20 years and the follow-up to a self-titled 2016 comeback record which amped up the sad yet warm and earnest sentimentality American Football cultivated after it put out a self-titled debut in 1999. That first record — released by now-famed Chicago indie label Polyvinyl just a few months before American Football dissolved — is sacred to many suburban kids who connected with the innovative melodies and melodramatic angst of songs that blended elements of emo and math-y post-rock. Still, there’s no timetable or deadline on LP3’s release.

“Our buddy Jason Cupp, who engineered the last American Football record, he’s sort of in the fold, and he’s gonna try to maybe organize and do stuff,” Mike says. The plan is to eventually join Cupp — who’s worked with seemingly everyone from The Ataris, Jimmy Eat World, and Maps & Atlases to Avril Lavigne — and record LP3 in Omaha. “It’s always on the back burner, might continue to be for a while, I guess.”

The slow and low approach to the effort is a function of the busy, albeit normal, lives that members of American Football live. Drummer and trumpeter Dr. Steve Lamos is an English professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, and guitarist Steve Holmes runs businesses in a suburb of Chicago. Nate — who originally only joined American Football to play bass for two 2014 comeback shows — is a freelance sound engineer in New York City and the primary caregiver for his daughter while Mike, who lives in the Windy City, also handles the bulk of parental duties for two children who are at least old enough to spend a lot of the day at school.

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Starting tomorrow, American Football will take a break from domestic duties and visit five American cities to reconnect with fans whose lives wouldn’t be the same without the music the band released when many of them were still kids. Two of those dates are in Southern California with Phoebe Bridgers (a 23-year-old L.A. songwriter wunderkind who played a low-key Tampa set two years ago at Gasparilla Music Festival) and three of them — including an August 10 date in Ybor City — are in Florida with a recently broken-up fourth-wave emo band, Orlando’s You Blew It!, which definitely wouldn’t exist if American Football hadn’t (YBI! is reuniting for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to open for its heroes). Mike likes to joke about being an old dad on tour and all of the Combos and Coca-Cola that Holmes consumes on the road, but he’s well aware of how important American Football’s music is to a generation of fans.

“It’s like the best part-time job, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a full-time job. If you’re killing time in a town, or if there’s downtime you’re like, ‘Oh man I should be home cleaning the kitchen' or something,” Mike says. “So in that way it feels like work, but then there’s a bunch of perks that make it amazing.”

In the interim, after this American Football mini-tour ends, Nate will work on his contribution to new music for a band whose debut is one of the five best-selling albums in Polyvinyl’s 20-year history (it’s sold more than 75,000 copies, and news of that 2014 reunion crashed the label’s website).

“Being in a band that people actually listen to is strange and new, and there’s kinda this pressure of being like the new ingredient in this sort of magic recipe that I don’t want mess up at all,” Nate says. “I’m trying to retain all the best qualities of what I loved about the band, but I also know that we’re all trying to write now for ourselves in the present, [plus] I’m trying not to pay attention to the pressure that I can sometimes let sink into my brain.”

Mike — whose painfully transparent, poetic lyrics partially drove American Football’s ascension into cult-band status — downplays any pressure and is just focused on making good music with old friends.

“I don’t think there’s any pressure this time, for some reason. For the last album we were all sort of shocked when we realized people actually liked the first record, so we were like, ‘Holy shit, how did we do that,’” Mike says, admitting that releasing LP2 was a little nerve-wracking due to all the attention American Football was getting as part of the comeback.

“So we tried to maybe redo that somehow. This time just seems like we’re a band, and we’re just writing songs that we want to write, which is sort of liberating and super fun.” 

American Football w/You Blew It!. Fri. Aug. 10. 7 p.m. $28.50. Orpheum, 1915 E. 7th Ave., Ybor City. More info: local.cltampa.com.


About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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