The Reunion of Cap’n Jazz

By Bob Marshall

Feature photo courtesy

Chicago’s own Cap’n Jazz (vocalist Tim Kinsella, drummer Mike Kinsella, guitarist Victor Villareal, guitarist Davey Von Bohlen and bassist Sam Zurick) was a super group before any of its members realized it. The band spawned the likes of The Promise Ring, Maritime Owls, Joan of Arc, Make Believe, Owen, and American Football to name a few, and greatly influenced many others. Using odd time signatures, catchy hooks, clever lyrics and aggressive vocals, the band and their single album, Schmap’n Schmazz, became legendary in the Chicago alternative scene.

15 years after the band’s breakup, its members are playing two official sold-out reunion shows on Saturday and Sunday at the Bottom Lounge on the near west side, a block away from Union Park where the 5th annual Pitchfork Music Festival will take place during the same weekend.  The show is also a release party for the re-release of the 1998 Cap’n Jazz anthology, Analphabetapolothology. In preparation for the show, Gozamos spoke to Milwaukee accountant, Cap’n Jazz guitarist, former Promise Ring frontman and current Maritime frontman Davey Von Bohlen to get his thoughts on the reunion:

Why do you think this reunion took fifteen years to come to fruition?
It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? I think it’s because everyone else would have expected it but nobody else would have done it in a million years. So it’s some sort of accident of communication where enough of us realized that the other of us would be open with it (laughs), to actually make it happen.

Whose idea was it?
I think it was Tim (Kinsella’s). I think Tim and someone else were talking about how this summer would have been… sometime this week would have been 15 years since our last show, and how funny it would be if we got back together.

How funny? So how much you guys would get a kick out of it if you reunited?
Well, I mean, it’s just kind of a long time for us. I think that’s probably how it started. I don’t think anyone was taking it too seriously that we would actually do it. It was way beyond our expectations.

Did you have to be sold on it at all?
No, not at all. For me more I had to realize whether I could do it or not. I had to be sure I would physically be there enough to do this. But, I wouldn’t have been in the 15-year camp. I would have been happy after five years to do this. I’m not worried about our legacy or something (laughs).

The reason I ask is because in an email to the AV Club Milwaukee in December, you did your best to silence Cap’n Jazz reunion rumors, saying the more the reunion was speculated about, the more stupid it sounded to you. Did you believe that at the time, or were you just being sneaky?
(Laughs). Well, you know both. At the time we were rehearsing, I was pretty open with (Tim) about it, and when I realized he was going to write something (announcing the reunion), I was like, “Listen, maybe you should tone it down because the more this ‘rumor’ gets spread the more of us will get spooked that it’s not going to happen.” That’s what I was making reference to, the more this gets spoken about like it’s some elephant in the room kind of thing, we’ll more likely turn on the idea. So I told him, “We’re rehearsing, but there’s no tour planned, and it won’t happen if we keep talking about things.”

Is it mere coincidence that the reunion shows are happening a block away from Union Park during the weekend of Pitchfork Music Festival?
I don’t think we would’ve planned it that way. It happened more where the show was being booked there, and I think Tim Edwards, who’s booking these shows, said it’s a block from Pitchfork and we thought, “That’s hilarious. Like, wouldn’t it be silly to play as close to Pitchfork as possible? Make it impossible to park?” Like, that would’ve been a bad plan.

Well, that’s the nice thing about Chicago and public transportation.
That’s true. It will be fun either way and, like you said, it’s not hard in Chicago to get to places from other places. Most people will realize Pitchfork is right there, and a small amount of planning ahead will avoid all the hassle.

Before the reunion, did you still keep in touch with your old bandmates?
Yes and no. I mean, Mike Kinsella played guitar in Maritime for a little, and we toured with (Tim’s band) Joan of Arc. Mostly, I just lost touch with Victor (Villareal). His life and my life are pretty, completely divergent as far as what he experienced after Cap’n Jazz and where my life went. But, it’s good to see him now, and I think that was another roadblock with this whole thing happening as well. Victor was going through a ton of stuff, and he was pretty open about it. But, (laughs) I don’t feel comfortable talking about someone else’s personal life. It’s just good to see all of the stars align, and he’s an amazing guitar player.

You had your first unofficial reunion show in January at the Empty Bottle. You’re in your mid-thirties now. What’s it like playing these old songs at this age, and do you still feel a connection to the songs you played as a teenager?

Yes and no. You can’t really look at like, “This is a portrait of you now.” That would be a pretty sure way to hang the idea. But, I think the way the band ended so abruptly, it’s not like “I’ve played this song 500 times, and playing it once now will only remind me of those 500 times.” Most of these songs we played maybe 5 times, and most of those songs we wrote after the record, and then they were later released at live versions. So, a lot of them still feel brand new. But, it’s interesting, and I use that to replace bad and good, it’s interesting to interact with your former self. 15 years is a really long time to be pounding your head against the wall trying to figure out what you played, it’s like, “What would I have done here?” That’s kind of been the most fun thing for me… just to do that and try to have that sort of relationship with myself is really weird. It’s the kind of opportunity you don’t often have.

When you come to Chicago, do you find it easy to associate the city with Cap’n Jazz?
Absolutely. The entire experience of being in that band was being in Chicago. All the people that were close to the band are all Chicagoans. I don’t have much of a connection with the band in my hometown (Milwaukee).

Can we expect any new Cap’n Jazz material to come from this reunion?
I don’t think so. I don’t think any of us can really be in this band. I just don’t think it’s something we would choose to do. It’s been really fun so far; I just would be really surprised if it went further than these shows. It’s just a lot of work to organize ourselves in this form again. It’s not like we retired from music and this is our last hurrah where we realize we love playing music. It’s like I would be losing one of my bands to be playing in a band that was around 15 years ago. It doesn’t really feel that progressive.

And, of course, you left Cap’n Jazz to pursue your own music with the Promise Ring.

Your current band Maritime has an album coming out later this year?
It’s probably going to move to the beginning of next year, so yes.

Are you planning any sort of national tour for that?
No, we’re still in the mode of doing as much as we can. We’re not really planning much, just working on the record and not much else at this point.

Is it difficult recording a record with one band and planning these huge reunion shows with another?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m totally at my wit’s end (laughs). I just bought a house this summer, had my son and surgery and I’m taking professional certification exams for my career. It’s a big summer for me, so I’m pretty much double-booked for every minute of every day. But, you know I signed up for it all, and it’s all stuff I would want to do individually. I just wish it was spread out a little more and I had a little more time, but what are you going to do?

Cap’n Jazz will be playing Saturday night with openers Gauge and Plague Bringer and Sunday night with openers Gauge and Tongues. Doors at 9pm.

The Bottom Lounge
1375 W Lake Street.

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