Short-lived but highly influential, Cap’n Jazz helped transform genres from a deeply underground punk subgenre into a more widely accepted subset of indie rock. Cap’n Jazz’s main contribution was stylistic — they helped shift emo’s always-elusive musical focus from post-hardcore prog-punk to an arty but more accessible punk-pop. Their discography was as scant as it was rare, but that very obscurity helped build their underground legend through word of mouth, until a double-CD retrospective was finally issued several years after their breakup. By that time, most of the members had moved on to other, better-known bands, most notably Joan of Arc, American Football Owen and the Promise Ring, which helped spread Cap’n Jazz’s influence far beyond their original audience.
The first incarnation of Cap’n Jazz was formed in Chicago circa 1989, when brothers Tim (guitar, vocals) and Mike Kinsella (drums) teamed up with bassist Sam Zurick and guitarist Victor Villareal; all were still in school at the time. The band went through several name changes and added guitarist Davey von Bohlen, but took a few years to get serious about pursuing music. Eventually, they earned a cult following around Chicago and the Midwest, honing a sound that was at once complicated and sloppily enthusiastic. Frontman Tim Kinsella’s cryptic wordplay and naïve vocals became the group’s focal points; although some found those traits polarizing, they gave Cap’n Jazz a distinct personality.
Analphabetapolothology During the early ’90s, the band recorded several singles for tiny independent labels, and also contributed tracks to several indie and punk compilations. In 1995, they issued their first and only album, Shmap’n Shmazz, on the tiny, poorly distributed Man With Gun label; the album also had an incredibly lengthy alternate title, which most fans ignored. It quickly became a collector’s item. Not long after its release, Cap’n Jazz disbanded to pursue other projects. In 1998, three years after the band’s breakup, Jade Tree Records assembled a double-disc Cap’n Jazz retrospective titled Analphabetapolothology. It contained the band’s complete recorded works — the entirety of Shmap’n Shmazz, material from their early singles and split releases, compilation tracks, unreleased demos and outtakes, and several songs from their farewell concert in Chicago.
Post Cap’n Jazz, Davey von Bohlen founding the Promise Ring, which became one of the most popular emo bands of the ’90s. Tim Kinsella founded Joan of Arc, which fused indie rock and avant-garde art rock in adventurous ways, and also included Mike Kinsella, Victor Villarreal and Sam Zurick at various times. As well as Owls and Make Believe with Sam Zurick. In between drumming gigs behind his brother, Mike Kinsella went on to front his own projects, American Football and, later, the mostly solo Owen. Victor Villarreal resurfacing in the mostly instrumental Ghosts and Vodka, which also featured Zurick.
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