Feature: Bands Reminisce About ‘American Football’
by Tanner Jones, Justin Hahn, Mercy Harper, and Caleb Cordes (compiled by Chad Jewett)
American Football has increasingly become one of emo’s foundational documents, a rite of passage for kids forming bands and discovering a wider world of thoughtful, expansive, poignant music. To celebrate Polyvinyl’s reissue of the landmark post-hardcore album, we caught up with a few of our favorite bands to ask for their memories, thoughts, and impressions of American Football.
Tanner, You Blew It!
A friend gently nudged me toward American Football after a torrid, rapid love affair with pretentious indie rock that was clearly meant to run its course by the time I graduated high school. Its sonic qualities wouldn’t suggest it, but American Football hit me like a train. American Football was basically the dream realized. It was the proverbial cake, and these guys were eating it too. Every instrument did something individual and interesting, but the song didn’t suffer from it. In more ways than one, it made it better. I binged on it for the next semester, and I still am, if I’m honest.
The other day I went to work at my new job. It was 6:30 in the morning and pouring rain and someone put on the American Football self-titled album and just bumped it. I found myself overjoyed at the fact that I was among company who, like myself, cherish the particular brand of catharsis this record provides. Knowing and loving this record is almost like being a part of a secret club; a club whose members are transported back in time whenever the record comes on. For me I’m right back in the summer of 2010, after my first year of college, driving around beautiful Western Mass at night, swimming with friends in sun-set light and feeling totally invincible.
While my relationship with the record is a little nostalgia-heavy, I still glean something fresh from every listen. As a total guitar nerd, I’m crazy about the playing on this record. Not simply for its technicality – this is just smart songwriting and its utterly beautiful and wistful and tragic at the same time. You just get such a complete sense of how strong of a unit these guys were and that is something very inspiring. As a musician you are always striving to find your own voice and to make it feel definitive and these guys did exactly that because fifteen years later we are still gushing.
Mercy, Football, Etc.
Before I started playing music with Lindsay (guitar/vocals in our band), I played in a sort of rockabilly/surf/garage band. When Lindsay and I first started to play together, I had a hard time figuring out how to compliment her guitar style. I hadn’t heard much emo stuff before, but Lindsay was introducing me to some of her favorites, including American Football. I listened to the American Football record a lot and played along to it, though I never learned the actual basslines. I just jammed along and got a sense for the sounds.
Caleb, Sinai Vessel
It seems to me that the key ingredient to American Football‘s potency as an album is that it unmistakably sounds like a product of the obscurity in which it was produced. Like the majority of their current fanbase, I by no means fell in love with American Football on the ground floor–I discovered “Never Meant” via YouTube in early high school and it was all I listened to for weeks. Regardless of the clamor that had begun to ramp up surrounding the band, I could not escape the notion that I had happened upon something that was intimately secret to me. A daydream of unearthing a box of attic-dusted cassette tapes that contained these nine tracks somehow became canon to my memory, and I held my findings close in my earbuds for the entirety of the summer that served as the setting for our meeting. The warmth that the record exudes is so unambitious and lacking in self-awareness — it sounds as if it was recorded under the assumption that no one would ever come to hear it.
American Football‘s lasting influence on me is personal rather than explicitly musical. The context of the record has placed it into a category of that which cannot be emulated; my circumstances will never mirror those of Kinsella, Lamos, and Holmes and I could never expect my utterances to sound congruent to theirs. What I can hope for, however, is that my music would be evocative of wonder. American Football showed me that placing an onus on remaining true to my uncompromised visions would yield an organic result–a work that can serve as shelter to dwell within repeatedly and a time capsule free of attention-seeking encumbrances.