The Hold Steady

on Monday 19 March 2007

eGigs meets up with down-to-earth Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady, before performing a storming live set in Sheffield.

The Hold Steady

How’s your first full tour of the UK going? It grew from a couple of venues to quite a stint didn’t it?

It's been great. I think that we were kind of expecting to come over here and start over. We've had three records come out in the states, this is our first one over here so we expected to be playing to fifteen people and hitting the pavement and seeing how it went, so to come over here and have the majority of the shows be sold out was pretty intense. Initially we had three shows in Europe; Germany, Amsterdam and Paris and a week over here, and Ireland too which we're really exited about.

The album ‘Boys And Girls In America’, did you expect the response in the UK that it has had?

I think we expected something as I have gotten a lot of emails from people here saying “when are you coming to England” but we didn't think it would be anything like this.

What was the response in America like? How did your fans compare it to your other albums?

The new albums great; we've exceeded any expectations that we had for it and it's only been out since October so that's really great but it's not exactly the same as it is here because with our fist two records it happened more gradually and it wasn't just this thing where all of a sudden you came over and your shows were sold out, so that was what was really cool about this one. It's been good, we've been really happy with it obviously and I think that it's been a surprise but we are enjoying it!

BAGIA has a theme running through it, but it’s less conceptual then ‘Separation Sunday’. Why the change?

Separation Sunday was a linear story from start to finish, and I think that lyrically Craig [Finn] didn't want to do another concept record because I think he thought if he did another concept record he would be doing concept records for the rest of his life. Obviously the line “Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together”, when he was reading that on the road he picked that out and thought it was really funny and thought “I can get a whole record out of this lyrically”, but there's no storyline like in the last one.

The style of songs varies on the album; like ‘Citrus’ is a pretty acoustic track, how did that one about?

'Citrus' is actually, when I started coming up with music for the record I wanted to try and step out a little bit of the area I was comfortable with playing in, and try and concentrate on some areas that I wasn't necessarily as strong at playing-wise. I tried to come up with stuff on piano, and also more acoustic tracks, something with a little more dynamic. It started out as just this finger picking exercise that I came up with that my daughter really liked 'cos I used to play it for her all the time.

Eventually after playing it for a couple of months and playing it for her a bunch it sort of transformed into this song and then after we had written 'Stuck Between Stations', which was the first song we wrote for the record which has the line “Boys and girls in America” in Craig and I talked about what he wanted to talk about on the record. I was like “shit, I'll show this to him”. It was like nothing we had done before but I thought lyrically he might be able to do something with this. So I said the only request I have is that you don't make this about any girl that OD's, this is something for my two-year-old daughter!

The Hold Steady

Are any of the songs references to yourselves, or a collection of group memories? Where did the experiences come from?

None of them are autobiographical necessarily, the one thing that is funny, I kind of just thought of this yesterday but, being that it's a quote based on that Jack Kerouac book is that I've noticed that, especially on the road, he [Kerouac] writes about all these things, but he's more of a recordist actually more than a participant and Craig is kind of the same way. I call him the instigator; he'll be at a party, he'll get a situation rolling and then step aside and watch as it kind of unravels, usually involving me or somebody else he knows. There's more to it too; I've heard Craig talk about if before, like living in New York and being in a small place with a lot of people you overhear a lot of conversations and it's usually something that's pretty funny.

How did you get Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum) involved?

Our lawyer used to be Soul Asylum's lawyer, and when we were talking about getting different male and female vocals on the track ('Chillout Tent') to do the chorus, George our lawyer said “what about Dave Pirner”. I knew Danny Murphy and I had friends of friends of the band but I had never met Dave, because Dave lives in New Orleans now. George was like “I'll give him a call and see if he'll be into this” and he was so we sent him the track; he listened to it, actually recorded the vocals in New Orleans and sent it back. It was great to listen to it, especially a Craig is such an enormous Soul Asylum fan. As am I too but I moved to Minneapolis when I was twenty and stuff, Craig grew up there; they we're one of the first bands he saw play. It was great to watch how excited he was about it. We've met Dave since; Soul Asylum and our band crossed paths in the US and in Arizona he came up and did the song with us which was cool.

What got you into music and playing rock and roll?

Just growing up in the midwest and having all the older neighbourhood kids playing in cover bands and listening to heavy metal, also borrowing Led Zeppelin and AC/DC records from those guys. They all played guitar so I wanted to play guitar too. I got my first guitar from one of those guys for like fifty bucks; a total piece of shit and just started playing along to those records. From there I got into punk and hardcore stuff too. Like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Black Flag, also the Sex Pistols, The Clash; from there it morphed into a lot of the DC stuff like Rights Of Spring and Fugazi and Jawbox.

Are all the lyrics written by Craig Finn? Do you write the lyrics before the music?

Craig writes all the time, so generally how it works is that I'll come up with a couple of different guitar parts and a lot of times Franz and I will sit down and work out how the piano and the guitar are going to work together, and maybe do a lose arrangement. Then we'll get together and rehearse as a band, and put the song together, and Craig will figure out how the verse will go and then he goes back to his notebooks and starts picking stuff out.

The Hold Steady

The guitar and piano parts are quite intricate so does that take a lot of rehearsing?

Yeah, on our second record 'Separation Sunday' I had written a lot of the music before Franz was a member of the band, so when we came to record it there was a lot of him just playing over the guitar parts, and on this one he and I really made a very deliberate effort to try to figure out how we could make it a little more dynamic; so they weren't sitting on top of each other. He and I sat down a lot together and worked through the songs. I tried to do less is more on the guitar; that was my attitude for the recording of this record; trying not to do so much layering and texturing and shit like that. In turn I think it worked out better.

Looking at your crowds at the shows is there a wide audience, age-wise?

Yeah it has. It's been great too; I get a lot of emails; we're definitely reaching a younger audience now too, it's like “I still own your first CD from my dad and I'm not giving it back. You guy's are awesome!” We played a show in New Jersey before we came over hear and this guy came along with one of his sons who was twenty-six and another son that was eighteen and they were all there to see the show; it was a great thing to see the different age groups, and being a father myself, the family thing.

Do you do a lot of improvising on stage?

There's so many of these indie rock bands that just get up and just regurgitate what they have rehearsed and it's a forty-five minute set and they get up and then get off and there's no real connection between band members or communication or anything like that and I think one thing that we definitely take a lot of pride in, is the fact that some nights a song may be four minutes and the next night it might be six and a half.

They say your guitar is a driving force of the new album, with louder guitars and longer solos.

We made an effort to try and make the guitars and piano work together, which I think is why the Springsteen reference comes up a lot obviously, but yeah; we're a rock and roll band, which means loud guitars!

Do many people comment on Craig’s vocals?

He definitely has a particular delivery style that's very unique but the nice thing about that is that when you hear Craig you know it's Craig; there's no mistaking him for anybody else. There are a lot of comparisons that have been made to other people and stuff but his style is very exclusive to what we do which is nice; 'cos nobody's ever gonna mistake us for somebody else. It's one of those things; when some people first hear it they don't like it at all but they either warm up to it and it turns out that they love it or they never enjoy our band; and that's fine too I guess!

The Hold Steady

Why sign to Vagrant?

Our first two records came out with French Kiss and Syd [owner of French Kiss label] kind of released about halfway through 'Separation Sunday'....they're a small indie label, a great label but I think he came to us and said “you guys need more help, I think you're gonna reach a much broader audience with your next record”. We talked to a bunch of different people but Vagrant; they were the most excited about working with us, and they were very forward about what they thought they could do for us and how they could help our band. It was really refreshing to have a real honest opinion, like “if you guys wanna do this you probably shouldn't come work with us 'cos that's not what we can help you guys with”. They were like “tell us what you wanna do and how you want to try and reach more people and grow as a band”; it was just nice. They've done a great job.

You mentioned producer John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Alice Cooper, Dinosaur Jr, Drive By Truckers) who worked on BAGIA, what was he like to work with?

He was fucking rotten! No, he was great. We just went in and did some stuff for a soundtrack we were working on at the weekend; he's someone we're really good friends with. We talked to different producers; we had never really worked with a producer before so weren't really sure what to expect, and John had actually approached us about doing the 'Separation Sunday' record, but because of scheduling and stuff like that he was super busy at the time, like he always is.

It didn't work out so when we started setting up meetings with people to do this record his name came up a couple of times; he came to a couple of rehearsals. John was actually in Craig's living room when we wrote 'Citrus', it was a meeting that turned into like “hey we're gonna do this song”. I had forgotten about that until just now. He had seen the band; he was really excited about working with us and he just seemed to understand us and know us more than anybody else. John has done some great records, and he wanted to work with someone who wasn't a peer; the records we have done in the past were with friends, and it's a little harder to take and give criticism to friends.

We wanted somebody that we weren't super good friends with that would not be afraid to really get involved and not have to worry about hurting out feelings, and someone with a little more wisdom; John's been making records for twenty years, whereas between everyone in the band we have maybe done a dozen records.

You have been called Bar-room Rock.

(Tad offer's eGigs a large very whiskey. Well it would be rude to not accept!) When the first record came out ['Almost Killed Me'] that was sort of self-titled I think it meant we're kind of scrappy. We play in bars, so it seems to be pretty literal almost at this point but the thing is too I think that it gets thrown around, especially in the indie rock community or the art scene to kind of insinuate that maybe we're not sophisticated, but I think if anyone sat down and talked to us or actually listen to the record would realise that that's not at all the case. I don't mind it, for a lot of people we play the underdog card and that is part of the appeal; we're not any different from what they are. We're just a rock and roll band.

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article by: Danielle Millea

photos by: Danielle Millea

published: 23/03/2007 11:23


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