Cap’n Jazz were emo long before that style of music got commercialized and became the butt of countless jokes. In fact, the five members of the pioneering Chicago group were still in high school when they cut the 7-inch singles and lone LP upon which their enduring reputation rests. They abruptly split up in the summer of 1995 after one member overdosed on drugs during a tour. That would have been the end of that, but the group’s reputation grew after their work was packaged on a compilation, Analphabetapolothology, and several of the group’s members went on to form more popular bands (notably the Promise Ring and Joan of Arc). The band has unexpectedly reunited and is playing a handful of shows this summer in the wake of the vinyl issue of Analphabetapolothology, which includes 10 downloadable bonus tracks. Guitarist Davey VonBohlen — who would focus on his Promise Ring side project full time after Cap’n Jazz disbanded and would go on to play in Vermont and Maritime — spoke about the group’s past and present and the emo subgenre.
Is the anthology CD release in print still?
I think it is. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be getting royalties from it. So it is, probably, but with no promotion or anything. I would imagine it’s still available for sale, but that’s about as far as it goes.
Why did you decide to reissue it on vinyl?
The label (Jade Tree) actually wanted to rerelease the anthology. We had let them know we were thinking of doing these shows, and they wanted to integrate an idea into that. We were thinking if they were gonna rerelease it, we wanted to add some stuff. We didn’t plan on writing any new music, so it was kind of “What can we do with it?” And the anthology never was on vinyl, and now everything’s on vinyl, so it seemed like this was a perfect time to update this record.
How did you guys get back together?
As far as I understand it, I was the last person to be consulted on the matter. So I’m not really sure about the total impetus. My feeling all these years was that [founders] Tim Kinsella and Mike Kinsella would never in one billion years ever consider doing it. So I never considered doing it, just knowing it was a complete impossibility. After a certain amount of years, you just don’t even think about it. This summer is 15 years since we broke up, and we’ve lost that emotional attachment where we feel like we could be defined for the rest of our musical lives by this one thing that happened in our teenage years. And I think once you mature past that, you’re not worried about touching it — retying yourself to it. So I guess that being the case, that’s sort of how we all felt. I think it was Tim who actually suggested it initially, and that probably caught everyone by surprise. And that’s probably why we’re doing it.
Going back to Cap’n Jazz now, what feeling do you get?
The weirdest part for me is in trying to relearn the songs and figure them out. Because a lot of the songs we’re playing and that we released on the anthology are live versions or demo versions of songs. So even when we were playing them it was maybe the fifth or sixth time we played them. And then to remove that 15 years, it’s really hard to figure them out — what you played and who’s playing what. And so it’s a really interesting thing to try and channel yourself. It’s like, “What would I have played at that point of my life — at that point of my music playing? What would have been the logical thing for me to play?”
Did you ever think that the band called it quits too soon?
Yeah, absolutely. You know, looking back I don’t think the band could have lasted even if we’d kept it together for that day and moved on. It’s kind of like that movie “Final Destination” — which is a terrible metaphor to compare yourself to, but, I mean, it was coming. There is nothing we could have done to stop the end of that band. Near the end of the band, Mike was talking about leaving to go to college; we were gonna convince him to stay in the band and still go to college, and he didn’t want to do that. And then the events leading up to the breakup sort of convinced him. [But staying together] would have been interesting, obviously for the band’s sake outside of the individuals. I think we were beginning to write way better music than we had written for the album, and I think had we been able to keep ourselves out of our own way it would have probably been a really good thing. Even now, trying to rehearse for these shows — we’re playing festival slots where we’re trying to play 90 minutes. The band doesn’t have 90 minutes of music. It’s like even if we played everything that we ever released, 90 minutes would be like everything.
I remember the album only ran around 30 minutes.
Right, sure. And add another 10 minutes for each of the 7-inches and you’re really stuck at 50 minutes. Then there’s some stuff that we never released — live stuff that we put on the anthology. Add that and you’re at an hour and three minutes or something like that. When you’re writing two-minute songs, you gotta write a lot of songs to get to 90 minutes. So we really didn’t make that much music. Maritime is working on its fourth record. Cap’n Jazz only put out one. So when I think back on it, it’s just like a blip on the screen. The whole thing happened so quickly that it’s absolutely bizarre to think about it.
Why do you think the band is so popular now, with the live shows selling out?
The band was just starting to get noticed as the album came out and as we were about to go on our tour. And then the bottom dropped out. So the album probably promoted itself a little bit. The band probably got tenfold bigger in the months following the breakup. And then I think the music that we’ve made in the 15 years since has probably helped. I was in a band called the Promise Ring, which became a fairly popular band — which is funny because that band probably became popular somewhat because of Cap’n Jazz. And then when it got bigger, it probably made Cap’n Jazz bigger. And the fact that Tim and Mike went on to play in Joan of Arc and that band got fairly popular, that brought in a whole different crowd to Cap’n Jazz.
Can you speak on being considered pioneers of the emo genre?
Going back to Cap’n Jazz’s time, emo was a word for whether you liked bands from Washington, D.C. or not. Do you like Rites of Spring? Then you’re emo. It didn’t have this whole thing: You don’t have the haircut, you’re not wearing the right shirts or whatever the look was that everyone has. And we were always such a gang of misfits and so incredibly different that we would have never fit into any box no matter how big of a box you would have gotten. [Emo was] kind of a made up subculture that has now obviously become this huge subculture. And it’s been repackaged so many times.
I remember [emo] was always about D.C. — like “Revolution Summer,” in 1985, was sort of the inception of emo, all those bands that were together at that point, like Ignition and all those other D.C. bands that we heard. It was like, “Wow, this is totally interesting music, you know?” I think it’s a generational thing; wherever you fall is where you see it coming from. I have my own perspective on it, which is why I always bring it back to D.C. and Soul Side. To me, Soul Side is the most emo band I’ve ever heard. No one will ever top the emo-ness of that.