We can thank the Internet for the ability to talk about American Football in 2017. When the band's first (and thought to be only) self-titled album came out in 1999, it was appreciated, but not to the extent it is now. The nine-song debut had a lot of company with LPs from emo/post-hardcore contemporaries like Jimmy Eat World, Rainer Maria, the Promise Ring, Braid, At the Drive-In, Sunny Day Real Estate and Pedro the Lion.
Yet it's the younger generation, those who have discovered American Football within the past ten years, that has vaulted this band to legendary status.
Now, in 2017, American Football are playing places they never imagined their first time out. After strong responses for their 2014 reunion shows in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, in addition to the release of last year's stellar second album, the band will play in Dallas and Houston at the start of April. "I'm always excited to play, especially for people who haven't seen [us]," says drummer/trumpeter Steve Lamos.
Lamos had moved on with his life after the band originally broke up; he was in graduate school and his bandmates got their undergraduate degrees. The first self-titled album was meant to be a document of their sound, after they released a self-titled EP and played a couple of dozen shows in and around the Champaign-Urbana area, which is a few hours away from Chicago. They stayed in touch with each other, but weren't very close to one another.
The other members, Mike Kinsella on vocals/guitar/bass and Steve Holmes on guitar, did other things, some with music and some without it. When a deluxe edition reissue of their debut LP crashed their label's website a couple of years ago, it was a wakeup call that people wanted American Football more than ever. Lamos, now an associate professor in the English department at the University of Colorado-Boulder with a wife and kids, says he had no idea this was going on.
"I teach and the kids I teach are now literally less than half my age," he marvels. "I don't know exactly how they learn things [about American Football]. We did get modest royalty statements. I really did not know much about this until a couple of years ago until right before that reissue came out."
Given the raised profile of Mike Kinsella's work with other projects, like Owen and Cap'n Jazz, songs like "Never Meant" and "The Summer Ends" became hugely influential to bands falling under the "Emo Revival" label. A seemingly never-ending list of bands like Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate), Into It. Over It and Joie De Vivre proclaim the genius of American Football. This is a band who plays jazzy, folky, melancholic tunes that do not veer into cheesy screamo or snooze-inducing folk. They hit a sweet spot.
Mike's cousin Nate Kinsella rounds out American Football's current version on bass; they will hit Japan, the UK and Europe later this year. They did not make it down to Texas until they reunited, playing Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin in the midst of one-off appearances. They look forward to playing Houston. Lamos was in town for the first time last year for a work conference and enjoyed himself.
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The Kinsellas are stay-at-home fathers, while Holmes works for a software company and Lamos is committed to teaching nine months out of the year, so performing 20-30 shows a year is about all they can do. "That works perfectly for me," Lamos says. "I think more than that, I'd be insane, and less than that, I would miss it."
A lot goes into putting on these short tours and festival appearances. Financially, things are working out, but the band doesn't want to overstay its welcome and have people take the band for granted. "We made the new album first and foremost because we wanted to and we wanted to play some new stuff," Lamos says.
Who knows how long this reunion will continue, so if you have the chance to see the band, take it. "If it resonates with people, that's fantastic," Lamos says. "And if it doesn't, then that's the universe saying, 'Well, it's time for this to be over.'"
American Football performs 4:10 p.m. Sunday, April 2 on Houston Whatever Fest's Stage One. See houstonwhateverfest.com for more information.