Our crack team of aspiring high school-aged music journalists — for this interview, that included Gus A., CJ M., Kacie S., and Mercury R. — met with the revival-band American Football at the 2017 Pitchfork Music Festival. These creative-writing students channeled their musical know-how and interview skills into the following on-the-spot Q&A with American Football, a rockin’ group of dads who are over the whole “starving artist” trope.
“It’s just an art project.” From boring lectures to garage jam sessions, the after-school get-together now known as American Football was never supposed to take off… or so the band thought. Mike Kinsella, Nate Kinsella, Steve Holmes, and Steve Lamos formed for fun, mixing emo with alternative rock tunes. It was all fun and games until a record label known as Polyvinyl caught wind of their music. Just when the band was falling apart, they fell face first into fame. After Polyvinyl continued to tease their fans with merchandise and re-releases, the band decided to please their masses with a second album. Nowadays, they’re like those cool dads everyone looks up to (literally), and they show face as a band for fun. They will clearly never take this seriously. — CJ
KACIE [826CHI]: Before we get super into the questions, we would really like for each of you to say your names and your role in the band.
STEVE HOLMES: Hi, I’m Steve Holmes and I play the guitar.
NATE KINSELLA: I’m Nate Kinsella, I play bass.
STEVE LAMOS: Steve Lamos, drums.
MIKE KINSELLA: Mike Kinsella, I play guitar and sing.
KACIE [826CHI]: And together you guys make…
AMERICAN FOOTBALL: American Football!
KACIE [826CHI]: Awesome, awesome. CJ, do you want to start with questions?
CJ [826CHI]: Why “American Football”? Of all the names you could choose?
STEVE L.: It’s a terrible name, right? [laughs]
CJ [826CHI]: I’m not saying it’s terrible, it’s just interesting.
MIKE: Twenty years ago, my girlfriend then — who’s now my wife — was in Ireland, and they [the Irish] were making fun of American football. And there was a poster that said that they were the most overpaid athletes in the world… “Come see the most overpaid athletes in the world,” and I thought that was funny. So here we are, twenty years later, explaining to you why, before you were born, we picked this horrible name.
STEVE H.: Word to the wise: be careful what you do because some dumb things you say might follow you for twenty years.
MIKE: Or longer!
STEVE H.: Or longer.
NATE: This was before the internet, too, and I think it’s more true now. Sorry, not to make you paranoid about that.
KACIE [826CHI]: How did you guys come together to make American Football?
STEVE H.: So, we were college kids at U of I in Champaign—
CJ [826CHI]: I’m going there next year!
STEVE H.: Congratulations! That’s a good school. Mike and I went to high school together and we were [college] roommates all four years, and these two guys actually started a band our freshman year, maybe?
STEVE H.: Actually [Steve] Lamos started a band, and then Mike joined the band as a singer. Just in time to break it up.
MIKE: I didn’t break it up.
STEVE H.: And then, as soon as they broke up, I started playing with Steve [Lamos] and then Mike joined our band as the singer/guitar player and that was just how it happened. It was a hobby, something to do in our free time. It was never a serious band — we never toured or did any proper, band stuff. It was like an art project.
CJ [826CHI]: So how did you reach this level? If it was a hobby, how did you come to where you are now — Pitchfork, and performing for festivals like this?
STEVE H.: The magic of the internet.
MIKE: The record was put out by a local label, Polyvinyl, and it somehow, I mean not somehow — they did a great job, they stayed relevant in music and kept putting records out. We had broken up for about fifteen years or so, and it turned out that people still had interest in our band — for a large part because the label was still relevant and putting out records. So, new generations of kids were hearing our record even after we broke up. It worked out, I guess.
CJ [826CHI]: So, why did you guys break up? It looks like you had something great here and then you said this guy [Steve Lamos] came in and ended it… no offense to you.
MIKE: There was an old band he [Steve Lamos] was in with some other guys, and I joined. They had already written a bunch of songs, and then I was back home for a weekend and you and the rest of those guys got in a fight—
STEVE L.: I said and did some things that I regret. Let’s just leave it at that.
Mike: And then they [Lamos and Holmes] started playing together. So that’s how this band formed from the initial break-up.
CJ [826CHI]: How did you guys approach the music scene when it came to making your songs? Did anyone take charge? Was anyone dedicated to solely writing the lyrics?
MIKE: The singing really happened by default. The songs were kinda written collaboratively ‘cause Holmes originally started a lot of them —
they would be his guitar parts and we would write around that and we had a bunch of instrumental parts. Then it was just sort of like, oh, I guess I’ll put lyrics and vocals on these songs just because… there’s a lot of space. So it was just an extra thing, and there weren’t a lot of vocals or lyrics on a lot of the old songs. It just sort of happened.
KACIE [826CHI]: So for each of you guys, what’s your why? What makes you get up every morning and put everything you’ve got into this band instead of deciding, “Okay, we’re a little bit older, let’s get an office job.” Or, you know, “Let’s just retire.”
MIKE: No, we’re old. And we all have regular jobs.
KACIE [826CHI]: They’re all dads.
STEVE H.: It’s an interesting question. For all of us this band is maybe the forty-fifth most important thing on any given day. We all have real lives, we all have kids. I have a real job, Lamos is a college professor. So the band is our hobby we can do in our free time, like a creative outlet, but it’s not our reason for existing in the way that when you’re in college it might be.
KACIE [826CHI]: So it’s not like — you don’t play you don’t eat.
MIKE: It’s the opposite. If we play… our families at home might not eat.
Kacie [826CHI]: How long have each of you guys been playing?
MIKE: A long time… well, you [Steve L.] were in high school band and stuff…
STEVE L.: Yeah, I’ve been playing with my dad since age six, age seven… almost forty years now?
CJ [826CHI]: Okay so, as a group, how is it like looking back now… in hindsight? Are there any regrets you guys have as a band — anything you like laugh to at? And think maybe you could have done a little differently?
MIKE: It’s all laughable.
NATE: [laughs] None of this stuff was supposed to happen. We broke up with the intention of not being a band. And then… a long time later it turned out to be fun to be in a band.
STEVE H.: With a reunion… it’s absurd that we’re doing it. I mean, we’re headlining a stage and then, right after us, Solange will be on. It’s ridiculous. The whole thing is comical to us, but like, in a good way.
KACIE [826CHI]: How does it feel to be playing at Pitchfork after all this time being apart? How does it feel to know that, right after you, Solange is gonna be on?
NATE: I think Pitchfork’s pretty lame. [laughs] But it’s crazy that Solange is playing. With any of these festivals, it’s all ridiculous, ‘cause we aren’t — well, we are a real band now.
STEVE L.: Now we are.
NATE: We have to be. But a few months ago we just kept saying, “We’re not a real band. What are we even doing here?” And I think that some days more than others I feel like that still.
STEVE L.: I mean we go a month or two between shows sometimes, and we won’t see each other in between. We might show up in a city and not have seen each other for like six or eight weeks and be like, “Oh! We gotta rehearse really good during soundcheck.”
STEVE H.: We were friends, and we did this because we had nothing else… this is what we wanted to do! We had no agenda. After all these years, we just got lucky. It’s more fun to do this than other things.
GUS [826CHI]: How are your guys’ connection with each other? How do you get along?
STEVE H.: Good, I think. Better than…
NATE: We’re all better at communicating now that we’re older, I think. There’s something about not having an agenda. We’re all on the same page more than ever. So, yeah. We get along good.
STEVE L.: How do you guys get along?
KACIE [826CHI]: Eh… [laughs] I’m just kidding, they’re super great. I think that getting to interview cool bands like you guys is really what brings us together. We get to talk about our favorite bands and stuff.
CJ [826CHI]: Turning this interview back around into its proper position… how is it putting aside your own personal time to make up for time? How does it feel to put aside your own personal time for events like this?
MIKE: We say no to stuff. If someone’s on a family vacation or somebody has a wedding, anniversary, whatever — real life sort of takes priority.
STEVE L.: And that’s what’s nice about it, at this age. We have no misconceptions that we are going to be famous. We do what we can do when it’s fun for us, and if any of us can’t do something and we miss an opportunity, we’re like… whatever, who cares. We turn down festivals because we’re like, “Oh, my kid has a recital that weekend, I can’t go.” It’s fine. We’re all cool with it.
KACIE [826CHI]: If any of your kids were to say, “Hey dad! I want to be in a band. I want to be like you!”, what’s your response to that? Do you encourage it? Do you tell them, “Yeah, you can be in a band. If you don’t play you don’t eat. You can be a more intense band,” or do you push them towards a more traditional life with this as a side hobby?
MIKE: Go ask her [Mike’s daughter]! She’s right there… she’s doing her homework. What do you think? We all got kids.
NATE: I think that people just kinda grow into themselves and become who they’re going to be. My parents never discouraged me to do anything, I just had these interests and they let me pursue them and kinda cleared the way for me to do things like that. That’s the route I would take, whatever it is. So, yeah. I would encourage whatever the kid is going to be into.
MIKE: This creative stuff is very satisfying though. It doesn’t matter if it’s our biggest show — some of our smallest shows have been the most fun. I just want them to be happy. Do something you want.
STEVE H.: The thing that I’ve realized in all this — the cool thing is that, um, when I graduated college and the band broke up… at the time, picturing a life in music didn’t seem like a possible thing. It seemed like there were famous bands and there were the indie bands that we knew and it was just a totally different world. This whole thing has made me realize that if you want to pursue a life in art, whatever that may be, it’s possible. You should keep doing it. If it’s something that you’re passionate about, keep doing it. It’s not that hard. It’s actually possible to do it.
STEVE L.: Yeah, but then do something practical too. [laughs]
NATE: We all have stuff that we do on the side that’s not fun. Our jobs, like, I do sound and I work in venues and stuff and a lot of times it’s not fun but you just have to do that to make money. Like, kinda spread it around a little bit––that might be the responsible thing to do. Keep your interests but also learn practical things along the way that you can use.
KACIE [826CHI]: We only have time for one more question, so I want to know — what is your favorite moment together as a band?
MIKE: A few weeks ago we finished our set — we were playing a festival and then we hurried up and loaded all the gear into the van and then we ran to the main stage where Radiohead was playing, and then we put our swimsuits on and we all floated in the lake and drank beer and Radiohead played us to sleep, almost.
STEVE L.: That’s a good moment.
STEVE H.: Yeah, we’ve had some good ones at different shows. There was one in New York City that was great. This isn’t too bad either, this is fun.
NATE: Let’s see. We played in Japan and afterward we all went out for karaoke… I think you [Mike] missed it. You fell asleep.
MIKE: I went to bed.
NATE: That didn’t happen during a show but it was the people that we were surrounded by, all of our friends, and we went out to this small bar and sang karaoke for like, two or three hours and it was a long time and it was so much fun. That was a great memory for me.
STEVE H.: I would say… there was a festival we played last summer in Atlanta, and my family and I drove down there and made a vacation out of it. My kids were sitting on the stage watching us while we played, which was really cool.
KACIE [826CHI]: All right! Well, thank you for talking to us. It was a real pleasure.
STEVE H.: Yeah, nice to meet you guys.