A Citizen’s Guide to The Hold Steady & their newest recording
Boys and Girls in America c/o Vagrant- Release Date:10/03/06
Straight from Craig Finn and Tad Kubler With Little to No Bullshit
A. LIST EACH FELLOW IN THE BAND, CRAIG, AND THEN TELL US THEIR ROLE AND/OR NICKNAME
Bobby Drake, Drummer: “He’s a real salt of the earth guy. He’s an auto mechanic. On the road he’s real commando style. He doesn’t get out of his clothes. A lot of sleeping in the van. Ready for action. On our last tour, he barely drove, but then on this really scary stretch of the Canadian Rockies, he took over. He’s up for that. That’s him.”
Galen Polivka, Bass: “We call him ‘Top Shelf.’ Affable guy. Bartender by trade. In the band, in some ways, that’s kind of his role. Chat people up. He’s real friendly. Good bass player. You don’t get any drama out of Galen. Doesn’t even get too drunk. Real solid.”
Franz Nicolay, Keyboards: “Real musical. He’s got sort of a punk rock thing. Drinking wine out of the bottle, walking around wearing fingerless gloves. Definitely more European than us. But that the same time not politically correct. And he likes baseball.”
Tad Kubler, Guitar: “Out of control. One of my favorite guitar players ever. We call him the Janesville Jammer. [Tad is from Janesville Wisconsin] After the show, the Koob [pronounced Kooooooooooob] can get a little fuzzy. There might be a disappearance.” (The Koob also sends out Bulletins on the band’s Myspace page and answers email. Amongst 41 million other duties.]
Craig didn’t mention himself. But he’s the singer guy. You know him.
B. HEY, TAD, WHO PRODUCED THE NEW RECORD?
John Agnello. He started at the Record Plant like twenty years ago. Did a lot of the Dinosaur Jr. stuff, worked with Mark Lanegan, The Breeders. He mixed the last two Drive-By-Truckers records (we’re big fans of those guys), just finished up the new Andrew W.K., the new Son Volt, and the new Sonic Youth.
We did all the main tracks, drums, keys, Wurlitzer, at Water Music in Hoboken. I did some of my guitar stuff and we did the bass stuff there, too. Did the vocals at Atomic (in Brooklyn). We really tried to go in and play as a band. Have a couple of drinks and capture what we do. John was a conduit for that, keeping things loose. If somebody came up with something-he was like, “Dude, keep playing that, I’m gonna hit the record button, then we can go back and revisit that.”
We wanted to work with somebody that didn’t know us, that when it came down to it, didn’t worry about hurting our feelings when it came to getting good performances out of everybody. Somebody older. Our attitude was like, this guy’s got twenty years on us, let’s hear what he has to say about it.
Like any good producer John has a technical side and a psychology side. And his psychology side was pretty interesting to watch. I think he was impressed that it seemed like within the band there was a lot of chaos and then people stepped up and focused pretty quickly.
There’s something that Galen said a long time ago that I always think about. We were at SXSW, and there were labels interested in us and we had meetings with our manager and our publicist and all of these people, and later Galen said, “I kinda got nervous when we were talking about this stuff. I had some anxiety.” And then we went to do this radio show and he said, “But once I put on my bass, I wasn’t nervous.” I think that’s the one thing we can control is the music that we play. Once we’re playing, it’s not that chaotic.
C. TAD, WHAT’S BOYS AND GIRLS IN AMERICA LIKE? WHAT’S THE STRENGTH OF THIS RECORD?
Sounds like five guys playing music together. I’d say the less is more thing is the strength. There were a couple songs where I said, “I’m not gonna play on the first verse of this song.” Some places we ended up taking some guitars out when we were mixing. This seems like it’s probably the most personal record I’ve ever heard Craig write lyrically. I speak as a fan of Craig’s. He and I never discuss his lyrics-I don’t want to because it might take some of the mystique away-I like to listen to him as much as anybody else does. There were a couple of times when we were mixing and mastering, where I was like “Wow. I’ve never heard him say that before!”
D. CRAIG, A LOT OF THE LYRICS MENTION MINNEAPOLIS-HAVE YOU RUN INTO THE SORT OF CHARACTERS IN NEW YORK THAT YOU SEE IN MPLS?
No. I moved to New York when I was 29 years old, so maybe you’re hanging out with a better quality of person. When you’re 18, there’s some idiots who are like, “We’re gonna go drink this under a bridge, you wanna come?” And you’re like, “Yeah. Absolutely. How would we not want to drink under a bridge?” I think Minneapolis is pretty unique. The delinquents out there are pretty delinquent. And everyone’s got a car, so there’s like, a lot of mobility. A lot of bad ideas can be put into action quickly. ‘Cause you can like, haul stuff.
E. CRAIG, WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET GOING INTO THIS RECORD?
Looking back on Separation Sunday-it didn’t always seem that human. It was really heavy, but it didn’t always seem like five guys playing music together. It seemed like music and then this grand statement. It was never as fun as I wanted it to be, so you know we tried to make with this record something a little more fun, but also something that sounded like people playing music together, you know? We were talking about records that we really liked, and Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart was one. There’s like a glaring mistake on the first song of that record, but it sounds great. He literally comes in too early. So we recorded the record live, to try to capture the sound of the band more. Also, lyrically, I wasn’t concerned with as much of a concept, or story. It’s more thematic than a linear story.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY THE THEMES ARE?
Well, Boys and Girls in America comes from Kerouac. In On the Road he says, “Boys and Girls in America have such a sad time together.” The record is kind of about love and guys and girls and relationships. Most of the songs go back to that. But that’s an umbrella-you can do a lot of things within that. The songs are a little more self-contained. They don’t relate as much to each other but all go back to this one big thing. The first song “Stuck Between Stations” is about the poet John Berryman, and he had a lot of issues with love and had affairs, depression, and another song “Chips Ahoy” takes place at a horse race, but is still about a guy and a girl. I’m trying to keep challenging myself, and get it back there rather than telling this one long story.
WHAT DID YOU NOT WANT TO REPEAT THIS TIME OUT?
For one, not doing a concept record. ‘Cause if I did two in a row, then it’s like you’ve got to do one every time. You’re the guy who makes these concepts. A lot of the concept records in the 1970s were about a dude who, well, rock and roll has been banned, and he has to break it loose and save rock and roll and freedom. If I do another one, I definitely gotta do that. ‘Cause one of my first concerts was Styx, Killroy was Here.
E. LET’S TALK ABOUT THE MUSIC, TAD…
It’s definitely still us. Huge guitars. I made up these exercises on guitar in areas I wasn’t very good at playing, and in doing so, I tried to come up with parts in songs for them. Finger picking is terrible for me. There’s one song on the record that’s mostly just acoustic guitar and Craig-the two of us-and there was a couple of flubbed notes in the song. Led Zeppelin used to do that. And that was the approach-really letting go, and really letting it happen. It was really liberating in a way.
But I think that listening to everybody’s performance on the record-if you go back and listen to the first and second records, on the third one you can really see how the band has grown, how everyone has really worked on what they do. How it’s developed and progressed. Hopefully the next record will be another step in what we wanna do, and what we wanna do is become better players and better players with each other.
F. WHAT WAS THE LAST YEAR LIKE WITH EVERYTHING HAPPENING WITH THE BAND? VILLAGE VOICE COVER, NEW YORKER STORY, CONAN O’BRIEN, SIREN FEST, ETC…
CRAIG: So many amazing things happened to us that were just flattering. We were the subjects of a curriculum at a school (Columbine High School) in Colorado, and that was the most incredible part of the year. We spent most of the day there. The kids wanted to talk about writing, books, baseball, themselves, telling you, “I’ve got a guitar, too. I’m learning to play.”
The teacher heard us on NPR and he wanted to teach the students about literary allusions and he thought Separation Sunday would be good for that. He brought it in and the kids hated it. But as they started talking about the lyrics and what they meant, they got really into it. We walked into the school and there were banners, a kid on a ledge with a metalled-out guitar, and a little amp playing “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.” People cheering. It’s all on film. It was really something.
These were quote-unquote at risk kids that we were playing for, not that I know what an at-risk kid looks like, but they just seemed like kids, you know? There were some jocks, some skaters, a lot of nerds. Quite honestly, kids that were probably having a hard time because they were smart. You just wanted to grab them all and say, “It’s all gonna be okay. You’re in 9th grade, it’s the worst time ever. Just don’t do anything really stupid, and I swear to God in two years it will be cool.” At the same time I was really impressed with the teacher, because I think -rock and roll is not often recognized as a real positive thing for kids. And I think of the role it played in my life. It really helped me…
G. CRAIG, HOW LONG IS YOUR LIVE SET NOW?
We’ve been known to play two and a half hours. But that got a little ridiculous. Now we play about and hour and ten minutes. And encores. For a while we were doing this thing where we would play as long as we possibly could every single time. This was an ill-advised period where I was also thinking it was awesome to do shots onstage. We’d do songs where we’d kind of vamp, and I’d have a lot to say. So the band would be chugging behind me and I’d be like, “Check this out…” A lot of monologues. In review, I’d be like, ‘I don’t know if that was such a good idea.’”
H. A BRIEF INTERLUDE ABOUT THE CROWDS AT HOLD STEADY SHOWS
CRAIG: Dudes will be misbehaving and their girlfriends won’t even be there. That’s the Hold Steady crowd-tons of drunk dudes and then the girls that are there are totally pissed. I think it’s getting better. Like more chicks.
CRAIG: Yeah. The smaller shows, there’s always some dude totally into it. He’s pumping his fists, and he’s pretty drunk and then his chick is just like pissed that they’re there. I think they come to the show kinda drunk and then they get drunker. A lot of dudes are doing shots with their buddies.
WHAT’S THE HARD LIQUOR OF CHOICE?
CRAIG: In the dressing room, it’s Jim Beam, but I think dudes are into tequila. A Hold Steady show is a show where you take the next day off of work. No one’s even fooling themselves. Which is a good feeling. Clubs have always told us that our liquor sales are really good for the amount of people that are there.
CRAIG: I think the music supports partying in a positive way. Most people can feel good and forget their problems. There’s definitely a culture. I think the band drinks a lot. There’s a lot of drinking on stage. I drink Bud or Coronas. The big thing I have learned is the way it works best is to not drink until about ten minutes before we go on, and then to drink as much as possible while we’re on stage. I have to sing a lot, so there is physically not much time to drink. But I can drink a six-pack onstage. A lot of it spills. A lot of it is for show.
I. DO YOU THINK YOU CAN MAKE A RECORD EVERY YEAR?
TAD: I’d like to. In terms of songwriting, I don’t see why we couldn’t.
J. DO YOU ALL STILL HANG OUT AS PALS?
TAD: Yeah. One thing I’ve noticed as we grow as a band-this sounds cheesy-but everybody really takes care of each other well. Somebody runs out of money, somebody’s there to make sure that you get lunch and you’ve got beers to drink. As much as we can bicker and fight-you spend that much time in a van with anybody and tensions run a little high-everybody’s really good at watching out for one another. It’s because we hang out together. If you are at Hi-Fi on a Friday evening, chances are you’re gonna catch all of us in the bar at the same time. It’s hard to tell when hanging out ends and work starts, or vice versa.