American Football’s tastes have changed since the band debuted their self-titled album in 1999. During a 15-year hiatus, the members started new careers, new families, and various musical projects. In that time, American Football became an icon of Midwestern emo. The band reunited in 2016 to release a new album followed by its third American Football LP this spring.
Before he performed in a “Drunk or Die” t-shirt, we caught up with frontman and guitarist Mike Kinsella backstage at Chicago's Riot Fest and his cousin, bassist Nate Kinsella, to talk about life as touring dads, fitting brewery visits in between school pick-ups, and collaborating on a beer for their latest record release.
Do you guys remember your first drink?
Mike: This is nothing but embarrassing. I didn’t drink at all through college. I turned 21 and just didn’t drink. I finished school and then was on tour with the band Rainer Maria. After some show in Orlando, Florida at the Social, Caithlin was drinking a Cosmopolitan. I was like, ‘You know what, give me a Cosmopolitan.’ So, my first drink was a Cosmopolitan and I loved it.
Nate: I think mine was in junior high. I was stealing drinks from the fridge at a friend’s house. I got kinda drunk, because I had never done it before, and then his mom came home. I was talking to her and I thought I was, like, pulling it off, but I was not. I was telling his mom about what a great student he was.
Mike: [Laughs] That’s a weird thing man.
Nate: I know. I have this memory of everyone kind of just looking at each other like, ‘What is up with this kid?’ My friend was like, ‘Dude, not cool. Everybody knows now.’
Chicago now has more breweries than any U.S. city. Do you have any favorite local beers?
Mike: I go to Half Acre and fill a growler. It’s by my kid’s school. There are two different schools. I pick up one kid and bring him there. He sits on the railing while I pick a new beer and fill the growler, and then we go get my daughter. We have a routine.
Do you get the same Half Acre growler, or do you change it up?
Mike: I change it. I don’t pay attention to the names. They give me samples and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that one. It will last me a day and a half. Let’s do it.’
Nate: I’m in New York. I’m kind of picky and I only like Bell’s Two Hearted, Pilsner Urquell, and Peroni. I like to try beers, but I always go back to those.
Have your beer tastes changed over time?
Mike: I’ve gone full circle. After the Cosmo, I moved on to Rolling Rock. It was an easy beer to sort of, like, get addicted to. Then I started with just Anchor Steam for a few years. Then I would get into some sours and shit, and now I’m back into Coors Light and Budweiser. Quantity over quality now. It’s the dad in me.
Nate: Yeah, I remember not liking IPAs at first, but I really like them now in moderation. If I’m just gonna have one, I’ll get a strong IPA.
Mike: Touring, you can start drinking at, like, 2 p.m., and I do. There’s so much downtime. If you start with the IPAs, then you’re kind of done by 4 and are like, ‘Ok now what do I do?’ If I wanna keep drinking all night, then I have to stick to the easy ones.
How does beer fit into your lives as musicians?
Mike: It’s funny, on tour there’s so much downtime that [drinking] is kind of the only way to make it bearable. We just did a ten-day tour in Asia, and I was sober for it. I just wanted to see if I could do it. I was like, ‘This is easy, except it’s so fucking boring. Why would anybody leave the house if you couldn’t drink?’ It was just boring.
When I’m home sometimes and I know I have a tour coming up, I’ll start drinking a little more just to build a tolerance. I know I’m going to have a handful of beers before we play, and I want to be able to play the songs. So, it factors into my life frequently.
Nate: I wonder how that system was built. I mean, I know that music and drinking have always been together, but there’s no way to get out of that system. Everywhere you show up, it’s open bar and it never runs out. The only thing stopping you is yourself. It’s interesting to think about how heavily they’re linked. I’m just talking out loud.
Mike: I feel like your friend’s mom. Like, ‘Are you drunk?’ I’m starting to think you might be drunk right now.
Nate: [Raises a Bon & Viv spiked seltzer] I wanted to get a non-alcoholic drink, and it tastes like non-alcoholic... but it has alcohol.
Are you on the spiked seltzer train now?
Nate: Only early in the day. I don’t like to drink too much before playing. After that is when I will drink more and have fun, if it presents itself, which it always does.
Do you get out to try different beers on the road?
Mike: Yeah, we just did this in Lawrence, Kansas two nights ago. I had nothing to do for two hours and we wandered into Free State Brewing Company. I tried a sour, because I knew I’d be there just for one drink. It’s cool. This culture didn’t exist 20 years ago. It wasn’t an option. It’s cool that every little city you go to now has a local option and spin on things.
Nate: We got to name a beer for our record release.
Mike: Yeah, we put out a beer and designed the can. We had them at our record release party.
Nate: It’s called Doom in Full Bloom from Champion Brewing Company in Charlottesville, Virginia.
That’s awesome. How were you involved in the process?
Nate: We chose a type of beer—we can all agree on pilsners.—and we were able to name it.
Mike: [Head brewer, Hunter Smith] reached out and asked to collaborate. I was like, ‘Perfect timing. We have a new album coming out.’
Nate: We wanted to name it ‘Life Support,’ which is the name of a song on the album, but there are pretty heavy laws in place prohibiting people from any health claims or telling people, ‘This is good for you.’
Mike: Like you couldn’t advertise your beer as having medicinal value or call it ‘Life Support.’ [Laughs] Even though it seems like everybody would know that’s not life support.
Coming from the state that’s the home of tobacco.
Mike: There you go!
The new album is beautiful. I imagine it’s challenging to work on a project like that when you all live in different places with different schedules and priorities. How do you approach a project like that these days?
Mike: It’s a lot of file sharing and sharing a calendar. It’s all planned in advance. A year earlier, we were like, ‘When does anyone have any time to put any mental thought into writing a record?’ Everybody has a different role, sort of. So, the drums are recorded in our drummer’s garage in Denver, and then we yay-or-nay it. So, technology I guess.
Nate: It’s way more administrative than it seems like it would be. I remember playing in bands as a kid and then all of sudden we would realize, ‘Hey, we have enough songs to play a show!’ It’s not something that we ever tried to come up with. We would meet twice a week and it would just happen organically. But now, we are very much planning this every step of the way.
What felt right about now to make this record. Schedules coincided?
Mike: We did reunion shows and it was more fun, I think, than any of us thought it would be. We didn’t really keep up when we broke up 15 or 20 years ago. Then we realized it was fun to hang out, and that if we wanted to keep doing it we would have to write new songs because we only had twelve songs to play. So, we wrote a second album.
Honestly, whatever didn’t work on the second record was my motivation on the third record. Like, we can do better, if we’re going to do this in front of people. I like the second record, but I think subconsciously we were writing toward making an American Football record. This time we just wrote music that we like.
Nate: Yeah, the second album presented some itches that we wanted to scratch. Like, this could be cooler or we could one-up this.
If you went back in time 20 years and told yourself that Rachel Goswell [of Slowdive] would be on your record what would you have said?
Mike: No way. Twenty years ago, I was just crying to whatever Slowdive record was in my dorm room. For real, it’s crazy. We were just playing in London and she was playing the same festival, and we were like, ‘Do you think she’d want to get up and sing with us?’ I never met her. She sang on the record, but she sent us files. It’s so awesome. I’m already starstruck.
What beer would you pair with the new album for someone listening to it?
Nate: How long is it?
Mike: Probably 44 minutes [it’s 47 minutes]. It’s the opposite of what I do in my life, I would drink one good beer and just sip it. I would get something like a mead, where you’re like, ‘Do I even like this?’ Then you sip it through the whole album and it takes you that long to finish it.
Nate: I can’t top that. That’s great. Something that’s a little bit painful. It hurts but you’re like, ‘I need to kinda get fucked up right now.’