The Hold Steady Interview
The Hold Steady, a Brooklyn-based band, is well-known for their guitar-riff heavy tunes and also great lyrical storytelling by frontman, Craig Finn. The Hold Steady’s live shows are second to none. High energy, tight playing, and overall atmosphere of their shows makes The Hold Steady a must see on the concert and festival circuit.
Tad Kubler (The Hold Steady)
Interviewed by Monty Wiradilaga and Brian Kracyla (Moe Train’s Tracks)
Moe: Hey we’re sitting backstage with Tad from The Hold Steady. Thanks for being on the show, man. Appreciate it.
Tad: No problem. Thanks for having me.
M: You guys have gotten so many accolades, including “Best Live Band in the World”, what has it taken for you guys to get to that point?
T: I think just for us to continue to go out and try to have a good time with what we’re doing. Obviously, the audience has gotten larger, and the shows have gotten bigger, and the venues have grown in size, and I think as things continue to happen for us it would be easy for us to go out and phone it in every night with as much as we tour, we play anywhere between 200 and 250 days a year, but I think the most important thing for us is to constantly remind ourselves of why we do this in the first place, and that’s to go out and have a good time. So I think that’s the most important thing about what we do and that’s hopefully one of the reasons that we what do translates so well live, the enjoyment of what we do.
M: Speaking about translating live, your live album that came out is phenomenal.
T: Thank you.
M: Was there additional pressure to capture that live essence in putting out that album?
T: No, I don’t think so. There were a lot of times where a bit of time passed in between when we did the actual live recording to when it came out, it came out during one of the tours for Boys and Girls in America. There were a couple of songs on the record that we were in the process of writing for Stay Positive, so it was nice to go back and listen to how they kinda changed in between the writing process and the actual recording of them. For us, there wasn’t really a lot of pressure other than just making sure that there wasn’t a lot of mistakes. The live record took place on Halloween in Chicago and we were all in costume and during the mixing of it I remember hearing parts where it was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s wear I’m shedding parts of my costume, I think I was trying to get the poncho off!’, or whatever I had on.
M: What were you wearing?
T: We were all dressed as kinda banditos. You know, fake mustaches and, not sombreros, but some kind of weird hats, and cigarillos and stuff like that. Nothing we do is that deliberate, but I think sometimes it’s taken that way. But, like I said, what we do is try to go out and have a good time. And usually good things come out of that.
M: Yeah, the live stuff seems like it’s your guys’ bread and butter.
T: In terms of being able to sustain playing in a rock band right now, it’s certainly financially our bread and butter, as I think it is with most bands. You gotta stay on the road. It’s obviously very hard to sell records right now.
M: Speaking of which, one of your albums leaked really hardcore…
T: Stay Positive, yeah. It leaked really quickly. It was somewhere overseas where the promo copies leaked right after they were manufactured. That is what it is. We really didn’t expect it to leak as rapidly or as widespread as it did, but I guess that’s something that just goes with the territory. I think these days you kind of have to be prepared for that. I think, luckily for us, when we were in the studio we recorded so many songs and there was so much material that it was still easy for us to go ahead and alter the actual release itself to make it a little more special than what had leaked.
M: With that leak, does it help with viral marketing?
T: It’s frustrating obviously because when you do a record you want to present it as a whole piece with everything you’ve done. You work so hard to keep the sonic integrity of it, and to have it leak onto crappy digital MP3’s that are out of phase and that are kind of an inferior product to the actual record itself, it can be frustrating. But, it’s the nature of the music business now. It’s kind of expected at some point now. The one thing that it did do was show us the demand that was out there for the new record, it was a pleasant surprise. So, you gotta take the good with the bad. That’s something that, in this day and age of technology and the way people consume music, it’s unfortunately just part of the plan.
M: Going back to Boys and Girls in America, it was one of my favorite albums. It just tells stories, it seems like just sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
T: Well, a lot of people have said that but Craig’s lyrics, I think what I take away from them, and I’m as big a fan of his lyrics as anyone, is that there’s a lot of hope and I think that a lot of it deals with faith and those kind of topics. I think that even in some of the darker Hold Steady songs, lyrically, I think there’s a lot of hope involved as well.
M: How did Michael Jackson influence you? Or do you have any stories as a kid?
T: His fame and celebrity I think was probably very different than his body of music and performances. I think that the Quincy Jones stuff and some of the earlier records that he did were great. Also, keep in mind that Michael Jackson is somebody that always brought in great guitar players to play on his records, from Slash to Eddie Van Halen. So I think that he did a great job of blending a lot of musical styles. I think that that’s one thing that everybody can take away from any Michael Jackson record. The production was always fantastic and, in terms of the scope of music, there was always something there for everybody.
M: How important was it for you guys to mesh styles, to mesh modes of play in your music?
T: It’s fun for us. You spend so much time on tour performing and promoting an album, to get back in to the writing process and the recording process’s and stuff, it’s fun for us to try new stuff obviously, and to try to grow as a band, as songwriters, and as players. There’s influences that really have a broad span. We obviously get the Springsteen thing a lot, and Led Zeppelin, and we’re a pretty traditional rock band in a lot of senses, but there’s a lot of influences that come from, not just different things in terms of musically, but also just from people you meet that make an impression on you, with the traveling that we do, just being in different parts of the world. You take all that in and then you go in and make a record.
M: How’s the chemistry with the band? Working together as a cohesive unit, ups and downs, how’s it been?
T: It’s been great. One thing that’s really fantastic about The Hold Steady is that everybody still gets along well and there’s a real bond. There’s a lot of complex friendships with all of us in the band. I think that has really helped us be able to stay emotionally healthy, especially with the kind of schedule we keep in terms of touring and recording and stuff. That’s not always the case with a lot of bands, there might not be the kind of friendships that you find with The Hold Steady. I think that really translates into that sort of joy and celebration that goes along with our band.
M: So, down the road, when it’s all said and done, what do you hope to see as the legacy that you guys have left on the music scene?
T: I don’t know. You try not to think about that too much. I think that the most important thing for us is to kind of stay in the now and just stay present and enjoy what’s happening for us in the moment that it’s happening. I think if you start to think about that than you start to lose sight of what you’re actually trying to accomplish, which for us is to have a good time and enjoy what we are doing.