Analogue Music | Birthmark


By Matt Conner

Nate Kinsella's songwriting is informing quite a bit these days.

Just like some of us might like to talk things out in therapy or write in a journal to work through and find out how we really feel about a particular situation, Kinsella has taken to songwriting over the last few years to sort out his experiences and emotions as a new father.

While Kinsella stays busy with the band American Football and has been involved in other musical outlets over the years, the proper home for such personal expression is Birthmark, which means the newest Birthmark album (Birth of Omni, out now on Polyvinyl) is steeped in middle-aged musings. It's also a stunning album that thrills with new musical ideas even as it gives voice for more intimate articulations.

Kinsella recently spoke with Analogue about a new album under Birthmark and his relationship with the marketplace for an album like this.

Analogue: How much of this album was planning ahead to center it around a theme or do you just realize from looking at the batch of songs you’ve written that there’s a pretty obvious throughline there?

Nate Kinsella: It actually happened both ways. Initially, I started making music and, at that point, when you have to start putting language on things, I think about how it all makes me feel. You consider what feels right to sing on it. Sometimes it’s just vowel sounds or it can be an actual word. There’s an unraveling at work to figure out why things feel the way they do—why you want to use specific words and how things feel as you throw ideas out. It’s a word-vomit process to get it all out there.

When you put it all out there in front of you, you realize, ‘Oh, I guess I’m thinking a lot about that!’ You start to fine-tune these things and let things emerge. However, you help to foster their growth when they pop out and make some sense thematically. I knew exploring what it’s like to be a dad would be a big part of this.

'There’s an unraveling at work to figure out why things feel the way they do—why you want to use specific words and how things feel as you throw ideas out."

It all started as an EP and the music was very dark. It sounded like there was a lot of tension, which was good. But I also felt like there was a lot being left out—moments of joy alongside the moments of doubt. I felt like the walls needed to be pushed out to represent the range of emotions.

So when I went back in to intentionally write things, I’d aim for things that were more light-hearted and funny. In a way, that felt like a better representation of what was actually going on or what was a bit more true to life and the experience I was having. When I laid it out, it felt like I needed to bring something in to balance this, you know?

Analogue: Do you learn something about fatherhood that you didn’t know before when you chose to write all about it?

Nate: I learned a lot about how I felt about it, yeah. And it legitimized my feelings by being able to put some words together that had an emotional weight to them. I get a lot of joy out of doing that. And a lot of my close male friends have kids and we talk a lot about it. I listen to some podcasts that are all about being a sensitive man and how to navigate the world.

But this is probably the most helpful thing therapeutically, just being able to do this on my own. I think it was super healthy. I am really relieved to have gone through that. I’m in a way better spot. I have an understanding of these things and I’ve said them all out loud and I’ve legitimized them all to myself. Now, the scary part is that they’re being sent to anyone who could choose to listen. They can hear these things, too. But, y'know, I show my wife and I show my kids and it feels good.

Analogue: If the relationship is healthier with the music, then what does that mean for your marketplace?

Nate: That is the hardest part of the whole process. I feel very good about the process of making it and I got so much out of that. Asking more, I don’t know how much more emotionally I am going to get out of sharing. I don’t know. I guess it depends on what people say and my relationship to the people saying it. I kept it to myself as my own little baby. This was my little thing that was just mine and it was great. That was really the honeymoon period of this thing.

Now that I’ve spent all my money on making it, fortunately, my wife is very supportive. [Laughs] I showed it to Polyvinyl and they were interested in now trying to cover the costs of making this object. So I feel it is my duty to at least stand behind it and say, ‘I think it’s worth something.’ But I also made it for me, so it’s easy to wonder, ‘Why would anybody else be into this? I just don’t know.’ It’d be great if we could cover the cost of the thing. That’d be great. Anything beyond that would be baffling.

It’s tricky to have to engage with it in co. It’s the hardest part of the whole process. There’s a lot I could learn there. I feel like I should look into what other people have said or think about how to engage with it that way. Some people have a very easy time with it, but I have a very hard time with it.

Analogue: So what does support for Birthmark look like now? What else is happening in 2024?

Nate: We’re going to be busy with American Football stuff and that’s exciting. I’m just kind of in this spot where I’m open. I’m ready to receive ideas. I’m getting into that zone for what the next thing could be. I don’t know if it’s healthy for me to sit there and stare at this obsessively anymore while the commerce part of this is gearing up. I need it to sit over on the other side of the room and glance at it occasionally.

VISIT: Birthmark

Photo: Tom Medvedich