The Hold Steady arrive in the UK next month for their first full UK tour. Danielle Millea caught up with guitarist Tad Kubler.
I managed to call Tad Kubler, guitarist for The Hold Steady, before the Brooklyn band cross the pond and tour the UK in February to promote new album 'Boys And Girls In America'.
Is this your first trip to the UK as The Hold Steady?
Kind of, we did one show when the first record came out at the Islington Academy in London, that's the only time we played over there so essentially this is definitely our first trip over.
You have a few London dates this time.
Yes I was looking at our schedule today and it seems they have added a couple more, I was like oh it seems like we'll be there another week.
Can you put a name to your sound? What's your influences?
I would say that we're definitely without question a rock and roll band. Our influences are Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Springsteen; a lot of early Minneapolis rock and roll and then a lot of classic seventies rock and roll too.
How did you get Soul Asylum's David Pirner involved?
Well I knew Danny, the guitar player [for Soul Asylum], and had met him a bunch of times before in and around Minneapolis. I'd never met Dave, but our lawyer used to represent Soul Asylum and he's still really good friends with those guys so when we were talking about the fact we wanted guest vocals on that song ['Chillout Tent'] and we couldn't figure it out George, our lawyer, was in the studio at the time and he said "what about Dave Pirner?" and we were like "Oh my God" and he's like "I'll call him" and he did and Dave said "I'd love to".
Soul Aslyum are touring in America at the moment.
Yeah, we ran into them a couple of times on tour and they came to see us play and in Arizona Dave got up and did the song with us.
Why make the jump from concept album ('Separation Sunday') to the new 'Boys And Girls In America'?
Yeah, Separation Sunday had a very linear storyline from start to finish. We had been writing a bunch of songs and put them together and we switched labels; we write songs really quickly and were always constantly writing and it was like lets start a new record in the Spring.
You're on the Vagrant label now, which also has the new Lemonheads / Evan Dando on it. Are they a good label to work with?
I love it; they've been really great. We talked to a lot of different people and we decided to make a jump to another label and they were the most excited about doing the record and they kinda said "what do you guys wanna try and accomplish with this next record? Let us know and we will try to help you guys". It was really fantastic; they've worked super hard and they've done a great job at just getting it out there to more people and making sure that it's available and stuff like that which is one of the biggest hurdles we've had in the past, just making sure people can get their hands on it.
Are you surprised by the reaction to the album, for example 8th best album with Rolling Stone?
Yeah it has been a surprise, even more so, I've gotta say the enthusiasm that we have received from the UK has been incredible, that wasn't something that I had, I mean, it's gone way beyond my wildest expectations, so we're really excited to come over.
Yes, I think there are a lot of people looking for your type of rock and roll, it is missing from over here.
That's kind of worked to our benefit too, it's like we kinda started to come about in New York when the electro-clash stuff and the eighties retro bullshit was kind of at its peak and people were like "Hey, wait a minute, we didn't like this shit in the eighties!", yer know so we were lucky to come about when we did.
How about Dana Kletter (ex-Blackgirls, Dear Enemy, Hole's "Live Through This) and Elizabeth Elmore (The Reputation)?
John Agnello, who produced the record, Dana's worked with him in the past on different records and we wanted to have female backups on the record and John said "what about this person" and we were like "alright, great". Elizabeth has been a friend of ours since Craig and I were in Lifter Puller together, we toured with her old band Sarge and she has a new band now called The Reputations, she has an excellent voice and she's a real sweetheart, she's somebody we've known for a long time so that's how that came about.
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? I heard he was impressed with your recording skills.
Yeah he was great; he was somebody that we had initially talked to about recording Separation Sunday but, because of scheduling and budget and stuff like that it didn't happen and then when we were talking to other producers for this new record his name just kept on coming up and he's seen us a lot; we've hung out with him and we knew we like being around him and he was just really excited and really wanted to do the record and the ideas that he had about how we wanted to approach the recording process were inline with how we should do it, and we had a blast doing it. He still says to this day that it was one of the most fun records he's ever worked on. At one point Bobby our drummer bit him! It was more funny than anything else, John was like "did you just fucking bite me?!" and Bobby's like "Yep!" We had a good time!
They say your guitar is a driving force of the new album, with louder guitars and longer solos.
It's funny you should say that because actually when we sat down to write this record we were trying to create more space for the piano to move around; Fronz [piano player] is such an incredible player, I really wanted to make sure that on this record he was a lot more prominent; which I think we did but in doing so too it accents the guitar and makes them sound bigger, so I kinda tried to do less is more and I think we kinda accomplished that which is great. As far as solos go, it's a lot of fun, whenever there is a break I would throw one in. We usually kept the first takes, you can kinda hear the spontaneity and it sounds more real.
The songs all seem to be of different genres, rock and roll, ballads, alt-country, is this experimental or to appeal to a wide audience?
All of us have a lot of common musical interests, but all of us have different interests too and they have made their way onto the record to make this sort of collage of different sounds, so it wasn't anything we planned to do, it just worked out.
You have been called Bar-room Rock.
Well, I like hanging out in bars! That's a label that gets thrown around a lot, and I can never tell if people mean it as a compliment or not. I definitely think there is a certain kind of working ethic and kind of blue-collar, underdog mentality to our band; at least that's how people see us I suppose, and also too I think that we just have, you know, we're one of those bands that can literally jump on stage anywhere and get people to listen to us. That's what it means to me anyways.
For those who don't know, how does The Hold Steady differ from other bands by the band members, like Lifter Puller, and Punchdrunk.
Lifter Puller was quite a bit different; for one I was playing bass in that band as apposed to guitar; it was more of a post-punk, more indie rock I guess than just straight up rock and roll. It was definitely different; there were more synths and stuff like that, and Punchdrunk was different in a lot of ways. The Hold Steady is kind of a very bare bones straight up rock and roll band.
You are a photographer, what sort of images do you like to produce?
I love doing portraits of people, I like shooting bands, especially creative people; they are the most fun.
Being an expert guitarist and photographer; do you insure your hands?!
The band is insured, this is new York, anything can go missing!
The Hold Steady are on tour in the UK during February. You can buy their album 'Boys & Girls In America' from all good music shops.