“We played a bunch of really awkward shows with both of us staring at our tuners the whole time and then we broke up for 15 years”: Math-rock pioneer Mike Kinsella on his unlikely journey to cult guitar hero status with American Football

Mike Kinsella
(Image credit: Burak Cingi / Getty)

Attaining cult status isn’t something an artist can plan for. It’s certainly not something American Football’s Mike Kinsella had on his card when he and his bandmates – Steve Holmes and Steve Lamos – went their separate ways right after recording their self-titled debut back in 1999.

Kinsella began writing and releasing music under the name of Owen, while pockets of adoration for the American Football album proliferated across the US and beyond. For those in the know, they became a sonic reference point of almost Biblical importance as twinkly guitar tones, alternate tunings and uncommon time signatures boomed in the midwest emo, post-rock and math-rock scenes of the mid-2000s.

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Ellie Rogers

Since graduating university with a degree in English, Ellie has spent the last decade working in a variety of media, marketing and live events roles. As well as being a regular contributor to Total Guitar, MusicRadar and GuitarWorld.com, she currently heads up the marketing team of a mid-scale venue in the south-west of England. She started dabbling with guitars around the age of seven and has been borderline obsessed ever since. She has a particular fascination with alternate tunings, is forever hunting for the perfect slide for the smaller-handed guitarist, and derives a sadistic pleasure from bothering her drummer mates with a preference for “f**king wonky” time signatures.