INTERVIEW: Steve Lamos of American Football

American Football

Photo by Shervin Lainez.

Between parenthood, full-time jobs, and being scattered across the country, it’s just not as easy for American Football to play as often as it was when they all lived within minutes of each other in college. At least, that’s the case according to drummer Steve Lamos.

An English professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he isn’t exactly living the rock star life — but he said that every time he picks up his sticks and gets to play with “the guys” again, he feels incredibly giddy — “I’ve been feverishly, downstairs, practicing every night. It’s fun — I really do enjoy it still. I’ve got five days, and we’ll be ready. Hopefully,” he said.

Which is why their live appearances are so few and far between — spanning as far apart as Colorado and Illinois, American Football don’t have the time nor the luxury of location to play as often as they’d like to. Lamos said they practice mainly playing along to recordings while spending hours on end rehearsing when they finally get together in person; their forthcoming four-day stint throughout the eastern U.S. is so abbreviated due to each member’s obligations back home, be it family, work, or otherwise. Though the wait has been long, for both the fans and the band, Lamos said he still feels immeasurably happy every time he gets to play and take a pause from his day-to-day life. 

Lamos discussed how he’s moved away from what he called an “unhealthy attraction” to a life of being in bands. Though he, of course, appreciates the music he creates with American Football, he values the time he’s gotten to spend figuring out what else in life is important to him. “The band breaking up in the 90s was probably the best thing to happen to me, personally, because I had to get past all that stuff and figure out a different way to understand myself,” he said. 

“I don’t actually like talking to big groups,” he said, laughing. “Ironically, both of my jobs have me performing, so to speak, in front of big groups.” Lamos said that teaching doesn’t really take away time from drumming, and vice versa — “I can’t exactly cancel class to go play drums” — and he’s struck a nice balance between those two aspects of his life. In fact, he said that the two, though seemingly polar in terms of duties, stem from similar skills:

“I think teaching well means reading the room and working with whoever is there and trying to keep their attention, and playing the drums live has a similar skillset: you have to guess what’s going on and see what people are reacting to; you have to amplify the stuff that seems to be getting people excited and minimize the stuff that gets them bored.”

And Lamos hopes each of us, including his children, are able to find a duality in our own lives that allows us to be good at and have fun with more than just one thing so that we’re never bored.

American Football has proven that they’ve been anything but idle in the 17 years between their two seminal releases — American Football and American Football (LP2.) In fact, Lamos mentioned that the band is currently working on new material though declined to discuss details. The cover art for both albums and the narrative running through the lyrics are both seemingly playing off of the same foundations, though Lamos said the connections between the albums were subconscious at best. 

“Mike [Kinsella] tends to work on lyrics after we’ve got some riffs down, and I think he was at least imagining a kind of response to the first record in some ways,” he said. “I’ve heard him say he imagined this character growing up, or imagined this character from the first record 20 years later. So I suppose, in that way, there’s a connection.”

The iconic exterior shot for American Football of the white house in Champaign, IL, where the band first formed, is turned around to a somewhat hopeful shot from the interior of the house on LP2— a door cast in shadow opens to reveal a storm door exuding sunlight, as opposed to the blinding lights caught through the open windows from the outside of the house. The first album betrays uncertainty, with Kinsella’s vocals wavering in and out of confidence and the flourishing guitar hurtling forward clumsily. The songs beg questions of innocence and discuss transience: leaving, heartbreak, staying. LP2, then, revisits some of these topics with a more robust sound; still not entirely confident, but with more sure footing.

“We didn’t just want to be a reunion band,” Lamos said. He explained how LP2 came from a desire to access their creativity again more than a conviction not to leave something unfinished. 

Conviction, in fact, is something that many bands and people are grappling with, particularly in the face of recent events concerning several public figures; the allegations against Brand New’s Jesse Lacey have sent ripples of outrage throughout the music community, and many — bands and fans alike — are reacting in their own ways, some more pointedly than others. 

I don’t know if American Football is a political band in terms of overt lyrics but I hope we at least try to live the right way,” Lamos said. He explained how he never really considered how much of a role model a band could be in a fan’s life, though he recognizes the impact certain actions — and inactions — can have. He said that raising awareness and acknowledging the problem, be it sexual violence or otherwise, is a small but important act, especially for someone in the public sphere like a cult emo band from the 90s.  

Music has long acted as a vice and an outlet for everyone from the musicians to those who listen to it. Live shows are a community space for many because of this, and Lamos said that music can absolutely act as a safe space for them.

“For [live shows] to be a space where people can express themselves and be unafraid of issues like sexual violence…it’s the most important thing,” he said, “for people to get together and be who they want to be and not have to deal with that kind of stuff.”

 

As far as what American Football intends to do for these upcoming shows, or in the future, Lamos said they hope to maintain a positive and inclusive atmosphere.

“I remember seeing Fugazi a thousand years ago and they stopped mid-song to address some of that stuff — there were people getting overly aggressive up front. It took some guts for them to say, ‘Enough is enough, that’s not what this is about,'” he said. “Bands have a responsibility to try to do that.”


 American Football plays The Royale Nov. 21 @ 7pm. 18+, $27.50 advance/$30 at door, tickets here.

 

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