Features Interviews The Hold Steady

Interviews: The Hold Steady

Every few years or so a band will hit the music scene with such tenacity and power that many critics claim them to be "The band that will save rock and roll." With three albums in the last three years, The Hold Steady are instead proving that rock and roll isn't in need of any saving. Our very own Scottie recently spoke with guitarist Tad Kubler about their latest album, Boys and Girls in America, and what it's like to prove that you can rock like AC/DC while having intellect like Hemingway.

Scene Point Blank: What's it like to be The Hold Steady right now?

Tad Kubler: Exhausting and hurt (Laughs). It's interesting; we're excited, obviously. The last tour was great and it was really fun to go out to L.A. and do a few shows. Jimmy Kimmel was great. We got to meet Don Rickles. We're just looking forward to getting back on the road; we get to do a few shows with some good friends of ours, The Constantines, who are coming down from Toronto. They are on Sub Pop and one of our favorite bands so that should be really fun. We're just kind of plowing through the end of the year and then we'll be taking a little break in January to catch up a little bit to try and heal and hopefully do the U.K. and Australia in February.

Scene Point Blank: I first heard your band because of all of the hype that surrounds you guys, and a lot of it is well deserved. I've read that you have released an album every year since 2004; how much do you tour?

Tad Kubler: The touring has gotten exponentially greater and we've been able to stay out longer and support ourselves better. Because of the team we have set up in regards to our label and our management, we are able to do this. We have one of the best booking agencies out there. We're a touring rock band so we want to get out as much as possibleâ?¦it's what we do best. It's nice to have a break though. I have a two year old so it's wonderful to come home and spend time with her. Occasionally I'll fly her out and get her on the road for a little bit if we are going to be in the same city for a few days. It makes it a little more difficult having a family and stuff, but for the most part it's great. Ideally we'd like to be out as much as physically possible.

Scene Point Blank: How do your families feel about you guys being on the road so much?

Tad Kubler: They are very tolerant people; when you get involved with somebody who is a musician or plays in a rock band I think you have to have a certain personality type to cope with the lifestyle that goes with the other. It's tricky obviously, because as the band continues to grow, we're gone more and there is stuff happening to us; like some of us become more public people. We aren't dealing with too much of that yet, but I know all of us would like for the band to continue to grow so we'll cross that bridge as we come to it.

Scene Point Blank: You mentioned a new label, Vagrant record. Could you talk about how that came about?

Tad Kubler: Our first two records were done with our friends at French Kiss Records and we all kind of realized that the band had grown a little more rapidly than we anticipated; or even grown at all. They realized their resources were kind of limited when it came to what we wanted to accomplish over the next couple of years so we got their blessing and went out there and starting talking to labels. Out of everyone we talked to Vagrant just seemed to be the most reasonable. Obviously they are outrageously successful as a label; they are probably one of the better out there. So they were just excited about us and really wanted to talk to us about what we wanted to accomplish over the course of the next record and the next year. That was really refreshing because I hadn't really heard people discuss [the process of making a record] that way. Whether that was intention or not, it was awesome and it has been really great working with them over there. Ideally we just wanted to jump to somebody with a little bit better distribution and more people that could handle day to day stuff while working on other ways to reach more people and get the party to more people.

Scene Point Blank: Correct me if I'm wrong, but is the vinyl of the new album being put out on No Idea Records?

Tad Kubler: Yeah, the guy who does all the Against Me! stuff? Jordan? Yeah, we've been dealing with him and I think it's almost done. We've approved the artwork and heard test pressings. It should be available shortly, which is something we are really stoked on. Jordan- I've never met him in person- but I know him through reputation and I actually know the Against Me! guys. Our old sound guy actually toured with them quite a bit and he was like "[Against Me!] is a huge fan," and I think they turned Jordan on to us. I think he just got really excited about it and got in touch with us through a series of people. It's great because I always like to have something; CD's don't really last that long around my house for some reason so I like to have vinyl as something to keep.

Scene Point Blank: I've read that you and Craig come from a more metal and punk background than rock. How has this influenced The Hold Steady in regards to ethics and aesthetics?

Tad Kubler: The first bands we really formed we're punk rock bands and whether or not that was in terms of soundâ?¦I would say it was more how we chose to conduct ourselves and how we did business. It was probably more on a necessity level; putting out your own records and working with small distribution and zines; all that stuff. I think one of the benefits that this band has, being at the age we're at and we've been in this for so long, is that I think it's a lot of easier for us to dodge a lot of the pitfalls that bands in their teens or early twenties run into in terms of dealing with the industry part of it and the business part of it. When it gets to this level it can be a really difficult thing to do. I think that one thing that's easier to when you get older is that you might have a clearer idea of what you are trying to do. I would say it helps you make decisions with integrity, which is something that obviously very important to us.

Scene Point Blank: All of your releases have been on independent labels, do you consider yourself an indie band?

Tad Kubler: No, I consider us a rock and roll band.

Scene Point Blank: How do you differentiate yourselves?

Tad Kubler: What is an indie band? It's like saying what was a grunge band? They are very similar terms now. I think indie rock started out as how a band chose to conduct themselves as far as what kind of how they did touring, what kind of clubs they played, how they distributed records, and the size of the label they were on. And it turned into this sound and this look, which is interesting. It's like, " They must be an indie band, the guy has Chuck Taylor's and Glasses and a sweater on." It's like "whatever"; we get called a bar band a lot. What does that mean? I mean we do play in bars so I guess that would mean we are a bar band. When you talk about indie rock, somehow the labels bands put their records out on became a sound at some point. It probably started a little bit before Jade Tree and I think that Jade Tree really solidified the term "indie rock" in the mid-nineties. We're a rock and roll band and for the time being, the record labels we do business with work in a more independent way than somebody like Sony or Epic. It's a really hard question to answer because a) we're never really sure what that means and b) people say "you don't really have that indie sound, but Pitchfork covers you and that's a notoriously indie website." It's a difficult question.

Scene Point Blank: Mentioning Pitchfork, I think you received one of their highest ratings of the year which, I guess, is pretty hard to do; Have you received any bad press for the latest album?

Tad Kubler: Yeah, I think we have. I'm sure there has to be a handful or articles out there. Now we're just kind of sitting around waiting for the backlash. Not everybody is going to like you; some people are just going to dislike you just because everybody does. I'm sure there is tons of ways to criticize our band and our record; we've just been really fortunate. I think that anyone who understands as a band sees that we're very honest and one of the reasons that we're able to do what we do is because we love what we do and have so much fun doing what we do. The Hold Steady is really a celebration or rock and roll. We don't try to make it anything other than that; there isn't this veneer of fashion or cool. We're just five guys crushing brews trying to have a good time playing music. I think that as long we keep that kind of focus with the band that we'll be able to have fun and do things that we enjoy. I'm hoping that why people enjoy our band; I mean I hope we write good songs too. We have been really lucky though with everything; periodicals and websites and blogs have such an enormous impact on the climate of music right now. That's been really helpful for us.

Scene Point Blank: I've noticed a lot of the press, mine included, kind of focused on the fact that a lot of the songs reference a lot of drinking and drug usage, perhaps over-glorifying it. Do you think you will be pigeon holed as a party band or a band that doesn't go beyond those themes?

Tad Kubler: I would hope not; but its something that is out of our control. I think that if people actually sit down with the records, they'll realize that the songs really aren't about partying and drugs, they're about hope and good people trying to get somewhere better.

Scene Point Blank: I foolishly assumed I'd be talking to Craig [Finn, Singer/Lyricists/Guitar player] so I apologize for making you field some of these questions. A lot of the characters are kind of late adolescents or just becoming adults; does your fan base reflect that or are there a lot of older people "reliving their glory days?"

Tad Kubler: I'll speak as a fan of Craig's and as someone who has done a lot of interviews with him. I think a lot of kids fall into that range because that part of your life is so paramount in terms of "coming of age" and finding out what kind of person you want to be; what kind of person you're capable of being. It's a very delicate age; sometimes the decisions you make aren't very important because their consequences aren't nearly what they are in your thirties or your late twenties. At the same time the decisions that you make at that age can really define how people see you as a human being. That's my interpretation of it and I think it's a point of everybody's life and they reflect. You're always going to look back and reflect on the decisions you made at that age. It's an extremely critical point in how you view yourself and how others view you. There's also a real innocence in that age.

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Words by Scottie on Oct. 16, 2010, 11:05 a.m.

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Posted by Scottie on Oct. 16, 2010, 11:05 a.m.

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