Dreams, Reality, Gratitude and Joy

IMG_1768It feels like it was all one big dream. It had to have been. That, or it was the altitude.

It all felt kind of shaky, a little hazy, kind of surreal. Still kinetic though, vibrant and feeling purely impossible.

I remember the climb up to Red Rocks, legs shaking, exhausted, staring up at these monoliths that I’d only seen in pictures. I was barely able to process that I was going to see a band that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, much less twice in a little over a year. For a few moments I stared out at the crowd from the stage, watching as they reached so high they eventually just faded out, framed by two beautiful rock formations. I won’t forget that ever.
I remember standing in the photo pit the next day, hearing keyboards that are so familiar in every moment of my everyday life, on my record player or my iPhone, but never in the same way they did for those first 35 shows. That on this particular Saturday, how they never felt like they were missing, how warm, how fucking brilliant it was, and how it brought me back in touch with that white hot energy that was so intoxicating ten years ago.

I saw Lifter Puller and The Hold Steady – complete with Franz Nicolay – in consecutive days in Denver. I never thought this could even be a thing that could have been dreamed up. But it was, and it happened.

I don’t know if there are words for this weekend, or at least ones I can’t formulate. There are feelings and impressions. It felt sweet and authentic, definitely heartwarming and all mostly exciting.

It’s amazing that in 2016, two combinations of eight people from very disparate places can come together to create music and create an experience for people to purely enjoy, just because they can. That Lifter Puller is the littlest punk rock engine that could, playing just six shows after their original dissolution in 2000 – to their largest crowd EVER sixteen years later is mindblowing. Then to think, a day later that The Hold Steady could play their landmark record with the keyboard player that is so much part of that signature sound – years after his departure left more question marks than answers is just an amazing thing to me.

I understand the frustration and the sadness that many felt for not being able to attend these shows or any of the ones coming up this fall. I read the messages every day. I’m doing my best to bring the experience to them, because I know I’d want to soak up every moment any way possible. I still think that’s beside the point though. I know it’s easy to say that because I was there, but I am constantly thinking about the following.

Nothing is forever. We’re always perpetually in a state of nostalgia, and I think people always have an especially hard time with that when it comes to music. “When will there be a new album? Will there be more shows? I wish they did this instead of that.” That I get, I’ve been one of those people. But for now, it’s great to purely enjoy it. So much joy is not a phrase. It actually means something. I’m grateful that my favorite bands on the planet are doing something. I’m not worried about what comes next. I honestly have not a single idea if there’s anything else after December. But I’m thrilled for now, and that’s enough. These bands, especially The Hold Steady, have given me more than I could ever give back.

I wish Jersey Mike, Liz Montgomery and Bible Salesman were here for it. I know they would have loved it. Jersey would have told us to enjoy this moment with a very impassioned post on the message boards, Liz would have said something so smart that I would still be trying to figure it out a month later, and Bible would have said something weird and off putting and tied it to some Bruce anecdote, but I would secretly be happy to see his yellow hat at the shows.

I’m so grateful to have experienced all of it. From the opening notes of “Stuck Between Stations” to stopping on a dime at end of “Stay Positive,” the other day, it just reminded me why I have spent so much of the past ten years of my life on this. It’s more about the experience and the people than it is about the music for me. For now, I know there’s a few more chances to do that, and a lifetime to connect with others who love the same thing that I do.

So much goddamn joy.

Top 10 Albums of 2010

I stuck strictly to albums and omitted late additions (things I started to listen to after other lists came out). Therefore, Pearl and the Beard’s Black Vessel EP and other 2010 discs did not qualify.

10. River City Extension – And The Unmistakable Man

I’m tentative at putting this at the ten slot. This New Jersey based band has all the promise of the greats from the state of their origin, (Springsteen, et al) and so does their expansive debut. At the same time, they’re tip-toeing the line of obscurity. What I do know is this: From the anthemic “Something Salty, Something Sweet” to the morning after dizziness of “I Still Own A Bible” followed by the furious “Too Tired To Drink” show that this group has a ton of great ideas. Now all they need is focus.

9. J Roddy Walston and the Business – J Roddy Walston and the Business

Imagine Jerry Lee Lewis on speed, kicking out the piano bench, then taking a sledgehammer to the piano. That’s pretty much J Roddy Walston and the Business in a nutshell. These are jams designed to make you sweat. “Don’t Break the Needle” is a monster opener, “Full Growing Man” with it’s “Woo-oohs” and “Ahh-ahhs” is a glam rock mess-terpiece and “Brave Man’s Death” with it’s unforgettable chorus: “I don’t wanna die a brave man’s death/spitting gasoline/burning my teeth, getting salt on the fields on my past/and the sun’ll come down with a milky white flash/I’ll get my brave man’s death at last”. Sounds exactly like what you’ll want to listen to when the ship’s going down.

8. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

I understand the reverence that many have for Arcade Fire. I’ve seen them live. It’s a moving experience. But on record, I don’t really feel it. Simply, they are a very good band that makes strong records. Have they done anything truly great? Yes. Funeral. Their second record, Neon Bible was several shades of grey and their offering this year kind of meets the middle ground between the two. There are things to love here, of course: the slow-motion run of “Half Light II (No Celebration)” the nascent punk energy of “Month of May,” and of course, the record’s crown jewel, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. Timeless. While this record does sprawl, as two of the songs suggest, in some strange way, really works.

7. Franz Nicolay – Luck and Courage

Franz Nicolay’s songs are a gift. They reveal themselves over time. The album had little impact at first, but with repeated listens, it literally bloomed in my ears. What’s great about Nicolay’s songs is that they have this unforgettable emotional undercurrent that leaves a lump in your throat (see “Felix and Adelita” and “This Is Not A Pipe”). Then there’s moments like “My Criminal Uncle” that practically beg an “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Bjork-style video treatment.

6. Robyn – Body Talk/Body Talk Pt. 1/Body Talk Pt. 2

It’s hard to pick from Robyn’s 2010 output, mainly because there’s so much strong material. So, I’ll settle for bits from all of her releases. What’s so remarkable about Robyn’s Body Talk series is that there are bangers that other artists would kill to have once in their career. Here, she has almost a dozen. The classic throb and hook of “Dancing On My Own,” the infinite summer of “Hang With Me” and the distressed-future by way of nineties throwback “Time Machine”. That’s just three of them, folks.

5. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

No hip-hop artist has commanded the attention of his listeners like Kanye West. In essence, he’s peerless. There are artists that will dazzle you with their wordplay (Lil Wayne) or their production expertise (The-Dream), but neither can marry both of those concepts together quite like Kanye. With West, every album is an event. If you listen from The College Dropout, the stylistic leaps he’s made are Beatlesque. Fantasy is fully realized – nine minute epics that hinge on one piano note, star-studded guest verses (Nicki Minaj’s verse-of-the-decade nominee on “Monster”) and staggering reworkings of indie-folkie Bon Iver tracks. It’s all here in one giant stew. Everyone else, go back to your corners. Kanye’s got this round.

4. Glossary – Feral Fire

The little record that could. At it’s core, Feral Fire is a straight up alt-country record with a power-pop kick to the balls. “Lonely Is A Town” is a spitfire opener, with the sandpaper and silk vocals of husband and wife duo Joey and Kelly Kneiser punctuated by a guitar solo that would make Cheap Trick proud. These moments are abundant throughout, but be careful, the gentle “Hope and Peril”, sung by member (and sometimes Lucero slide player) Todd Beane – will stop you dead in your tracks.

3. The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever

A sentimental number three, and likely here because I played the hell out of this summer. In a year where they lost Franz Nicolay and gained two auxiliary members, The Hold Steady got their bearings and managed to release an incongruent disc that just barely eclipses 2008’s Stay Positive. Gone are the trademark piano dramatics, and in place are a healthy dose of extra guitars. It’s not perfect, considering the seismic lineup change, this record feels very transitional. The band’s last two records seems like they’re yielding diminishing returns, but don’t count them out quite yet. Songs like the shimmering opener “The Sweet Part of the City” and late-era Replacements of “Our Whole Lives,” will do for now.

2. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

Consider The Monitor as a call-to-arms more than a record. Titus Andronicus’s 2008 debut, The Airing of Grievances was an accomplishment in itself, but no one could have expected the mammoth they unleashed this year. Chock full of guitar heroics (pretty much ALL of “A More Perfect Union”) sing-along phrases – ‘The enemy is everywhere!’ ‘You’ll always be a loser!’ and a hell of a lot of bravado, it’s nothing short of perfect. What blows my mind is that the median age of this band is twenty-five, and they’ve already put their blood, sweat, tears and beers into a record so fully-realized. What’s next? There aren’t enough words. Gushing is the only thing that does The Monitor justice.

1. The National – High Violet

The one and two slots on this list are essentially interchangeable. But at the last minute High Violet eked out the top slot. For myself, 2010 was the year of The National. While I had heavily anticipated this record, I wasn’t prepared for the stranglehold I’d be put in by it. Way darker than I expected, I felt drawn to the little things – the unforgettable splash of drums in “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, the altitude change of the opening chords of “Lemonworld,” and the delightfully icky chorus of “Conversation 16”: “I was afraid I’d eat your brains ’cause I’m evil.” It doesn’t get better than that.

Most importantly it’s the soundtrack to my New York experience. It was with me on my move here in July and hasn’t left me since. Put this one on and stroll through the streets of Manhattan at night. Listen to it while taking the L into Brooklyn and get off at Bedford Avenue before walking through McCarren Park. With High Violet, everything sparkles just a little bit more.

Six shows, Five days, One car

Things are a little less cloudy and my ears have stopped ringing. It turns out the pain I was experiencing was actually a developing ear infection and it’s slowed me down considerably until I went to the doctor and got some nifty antibiotics. I’m just going to ramble here, so if that’s not what you expected, it’s probably best to hit the “BACK” button on your browser right now.

The last week of the tour was probably the most fun I’ve had traveling to see The Hold Steady since I started leaving the region in summer of 2008. The band was incredibly, impossibly tight every night (I’ll admit, the addition of the new dudes left me having some doubts), but as soon as they kicked in with “Sweet Part of the City” that auspicious Tuesday night in Cleveland, it was GAME ON.

The song is a prelude. Think about it. “We were bored so we started a band. We’d like to play for you.” It’s a totally brilliant “welcome to the rock show” introduction.

Day 1

Cleveland, as attendees have previously reported, was a bit out of control. To point fingers – there were a group of kids (allegedly close to two-dozen) at the gig to celebrate their friend’s 21st birthday. No one really seemed to inform them that extreme, belligerent drunkenness pre-show may not be the healthiest decision for anyone. They didn’t respect personal space before the music began, which was the first issue, and the fact that they were openly antagonistic to bystanders was just too much. I can understand the lack of personal space while the music is going on, but before is a big no-no in my book. People were hit. There were the police. The band stopped. Craig said “It can’t possibly be worth it that much”. He was right.

Day 2

My first impressions of Pittsburgh: It’s a city with an east coast mentality featuring an impressive array of subcultures. To name a few: Hip-hop heads, crust punks, goth kids, indie rockers, and a hell of a lot of Penguins fans. I had plenty of time to people watch outside while I waited for doors to open. The venue, Diesel Club Lounge, was most certainly a dance club, and I couldn’t help but crack Wayne’s World jokes, as it reminded me of the place where Crucial Taunt played that revved-up version of “Ballroom Blitz”.

The show itself was certainly unique – a smattering of old jams and an abnormally high number of unreleased b-sides – “Criminal Fingers,” “Touchless” and for some, the why-isn’t-this-on-the-record WTF of “Goin’ On A Hike”. The first few rows of the crowd seemed to contain most of the jumping up and down and singing – while the back rows seemed to watch almost pensively.

Highlights of the evening – my buddy Whiskey Daisy finally hearing “Arms and Hearts” after close to twenty shows – totally special.Also, that ridiculously great steak sandwich I had at Primanti Brothers, post show. Oh my word. Steak. Cheese. Tomatoes. Cole Slaw. French Fries. ALL ON THE SANDWICH.

Day 3

The next morning, we headed for Morgantown, West Virginia. Our drive there was encumbered by an hour and a half long shutdown on I – 376/US 22 Monroeville. Turns out that there was a pretty bad accident where an SUV had flipped over several lanes of traffic. I found it easier just to blame the Canadian that was driving our car. Actually, that was our excuse for a lot of things that week.

Anyways: Morgantown. Very unique place. I made some cracks about meth-heads and Mountain Dew on Facebook, and got an earful about them before I got there. I now regret that. The show at 123 Pleasant Street (not surprisingly, on the street of the same address) was one of those tiny club shows that stick with you for ages. It was so small that rumor had it that there wasn’t a ‘traditional backstage’ area. The instruments were packed in so tight that Bobby had to jump over his drum kit to get behind it. My thoughts of this intimacy and closeness hearkened back to the Iowa City show at the Picador last April. The crowd was jacked that a band of THS’s caliber was in town, and everyone was excitable and great to be around. No brutality, just a lot of high fives.

These super small shows are where the Hold Steady really thrives. The energy is so concentrated and infectious and there’s an entirely different sense of togetherness compared to that at some of the larger shows.

A friend of mine wondered out loud if the band would play “Girls Like Status”. Some of us were skeptical. When the band unleashed in in the encore, it was great to see his face light up at the sound of the opening chords. It’s nice how things work out like that.

Day 4

Earlier in the week, someone mentioned to me “Jersey Mike? Mike Van Jura? That dude seems to know how to throw a party.”

Yes.

I remarked that I hadn’t been so excited for a music-related event since prom like I was for Harrisburg. That’s kind of the truth.

The family reunion vibe to this gig – the fact that so many US-ers had come in from all over the map and were mostly at the same hotel heightened the excitement. Jersey really pulled all the stops out for this one – the “Steadheads” flyers he dropped off in the hotel lobby – the “Stay Positive” symbol entrance stamp, the confetti cannon that didn’t quite work (no fault of his own). All totally silly and totally great ideas that led to the “THIS IS A BIG DEAL” feeling surrounding the show. We felt it. The band knew it, and they killed it.

To exhaust a tired statement: the bar band was back in the bar. It needs to be said. “Barfruit Blues,” “Most People are DJ’s,” and “The Swish” – all AKM era favorites, all perfect, sounding totally and completely infinite. Everything seemed to pop. (Download the recording of this show from the archive. Essential.) So sweaty, so much confetti, punctuated by a divine version of “Killer Parties”. Catching up with and meeting new people post-show was awesome. It makes me wish that more shows I attended were more like that. I’ll never forget that night. One for the ages.


Photo courtesy of Rich Tarbell

Day 5

New York was the perfect postscript to the storybook week that preceded it. Dually, it was the most ambitious day of Hold Steady show-going that any of us had undertaken. Why? It’s simple. Two shows, two venues in one night. One Hold Steady show can be a throughly exhausting physical and mental experience. Two, well, getcha’ Gatorade ready!

So, um, let’s call a spade a spade here and say that I’m ‘particular’ about when to arrive for shows. The fact that there were two shows at two different venues, (and that the doors for the second venue opened before the first show was even over) was a logistical nightmare. How could we possibly wrangle get close up for both?

By the time we arrived at Bowery Ballroom, I was shocked to see that there was a line of people that had arrived over an hour before us. I was astounded, and to tell you the truth, kind of impressed.

One of the guys in line got my attention immediately. A precocious young guy – ‘hollywasahoodrat’ on this board – had some seriously infectious enthusiasm. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the fan of the future – a total encyclopedia. One moment still has me rolling: During the J. Roddy Walston and the Business set, he turned at me after he saw bassist Zach Westphal’s trademark mustache and exclaimed, “Oh, that’s delightful!”. Absolutely perfect.

Oh – a note about J. Roddy – there’s something richly authentic about them. From the piano rave ups, the huge choruses and the totally unbridled sexuality of their performances. No matter which way you swing, you sense it. They creep up behind an unsuspecting audience and shake them until they’re a bunch of believers. There’s no reason even try to fight it. Drink the Kool-Aid. It tastes good.

Back to the Hold Steady – it’s astounding how night and day different the show at Bowery felt compared to the show in Brooklyn at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The Bowery show was very relaxed and the crowd seemed to ruminate every note. It’s rare, but that crowd seemed like they were there to appreciate the music more than participate in it. That’s fine. The setlist was conducive to that, especially starting with a stellar “Positive Jam”, the pleonastic (and that is not a complaint) “Cattle and the Creeping Things” to the sedate roll “A Slight Discomfort”.

Not to give the false impression that the show consisted of slower numbers, but they seemed to leave the most lasting impression at the first event of the evening.

We made the decision to split before the encore of the first show. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like going from rocking at maximum intensity to turning on your heels, wading through a crowd, running down two back staircases in the venue then right out into the street. We somehow flagged down a cab in under two minutes, have him be apprehensive about going into another borough, then spending another three minutes convincing him to drive us to Brooklyn to the show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. There was very little time to think about anything else then the task at hand. The five of us had a goal. Six minutes later we arrived at the venue, made it indoors, and to our amazement, found hardly anyone occupied the front area. At this point, you’re probably scoffing. That’s understandable. I don’t care though. It was a lot of fun. Another mission accomplished.

The Oranges Band opened up the second show, as they had all week for the Hold Steady. If you have not heard them, they are a really great, totally underrated group out of Baltimore. Lots of fun, hooky pop songs, including one called “Open Air”, that’s stuck in my head nearly two weeks later. Well worth checking out.

Just like that, The Hold Steady were suddenly on stage again to the strums of “Sweet Part of the City”. With the additional lighting on the stage and the energized crowd, it felt cinematic. I don’t know if the cameras there to capture the event were able to harness that feeling.

The set was peppered with old favorites – I’m assuming “The Swish” was there was a wink to the days when the band played there when venue was known as North Six – to unreleased tracks like “Goin’ on a Hike” and other nuggets like “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night”. My favorite moments came with the flashes of guitar interplay between Koob and Steve. The synchronized solos during “We Can Get Together” were Allman-esque (that’s meant to be complimentary) and the the double acoustic guitars to start “First Night and “Citrus” were a nice twist as well.

With one more set closing “Hoodrat,” it was over. I don’t know what else to say other than what I already said above. It was an amazing week with some great music, excellent friends, and some nice new faces.

I can’t wait to do it all over again.

Tad Kubler: The obviate media Interview

Interview by Brendan Hilliard
Editorial Assistance by John Nagle

obviate spoke to The Hold Steady’s Tad Kubler last week just as the band was about to play their first-ever Alaskan tour and first full-scale tour of Canada. The band is currently winding down promotion and touring of 2008’s Stay Positive, and preparing to enter the studio to record their fifth album.
koob

You guys are touring Canada for the first time extensively. What was the impetus to go there now and not schedule a full scale tour before?

Well, I guess, the way we kind of planned out our year was to sort of wrap up touring and then get home and take a little bit of time off to get ourselves together physically and emotionally and do a little bit of recording. We’ve really been technically working on material since last fall. We went to this house down south when I got out of the hospital and holed up there about ten days and did some writing and rehearsing and some recording. Then we obviously did a lot more touring throughout that year and earlier this year.

The UK thing came up pretty quickly. We’ve had a couple of offers to do Alaska over the last few years. I guess finally we were able to put something together that made sense for us to come up here. We haven’t spent any time in Canada other than the coastal cities Toronto – which is close to New York, Montreal, and we’ve fit Vancouver into a couple of west coast tours. We’ve never toured through Canada. Now that the Alaska thing came up, it allowed us to be this far north and west and then start in Vancouver and make our way back to New York.

To be honest – border crossing with Canada can be really difficult on bands. I don’t know why it’s been so hard, but it’s been kind of a chore for us. It’s hard to go up just for a show here and there, just because it takes so much time at the border.

Do they just want to go through the bus and search the trailer and stuff?

Yeah, and they tax you. I don’t want to say they intentionally fuck with bands, but it almost seems that way sometimes. So, we figured if we’re going to be up here, let’s spend a little bit of time once we actually get across the border. We’ve always treated touring as a supply and demand thing and it got to the point where we hadn’t spent any time here yet and there’s obviously a demand for it so we thought we’d do it.

Now, have you spent any time in Alaska before or across Canada for that matter – other than the coastal cities?

None of us have ever been here before.

Where are you? In Anchorage?

Yeah we’re in Anchorage. We’re in a crappy part of town. I don’t know where the theater is that we’re playing tomorrow – actually, we get another day off. We were going to go home initially after this UK run. But, it would have just been home for roughly 24 hours, and we thought “Well, fuck it, if we’re already out in and in that mode of traveling”, that we’d just bite the bullet and do the long flight here and just spend a couple days off resting and readjusting to the clock.

Do you know if the show’s sold out or anything or if there’s going to be a big turnout?

To be honest, I have no idea. I haven’t even checked. That would be something I used to check in with, keep in touch with our booking agent, and talk to Q (Craig McQuiston), our touring manager and stuff. But i just kind of try to take myself out of that aspect of the business and try to do a good show.

I guess that kind of makes me think of something when you said that. For a while there, you definitely had more of an internet presence, especially on the message boards. Now, was there any particular reason why you said ‘no more’?

Time was obviously an issue. That’s a hard question to answer. It’s just something I didn’t have time to do anymore. It didn’t seem like the best way for me to spend my time.

Sure.

You know, with everything that’s been going on, “Well shit, if I spend two hours answering emails and trying to get back to people, that’s two hours I technically could be writing songs.” And also, you know I won’t lie, it was a bit of a privacy thing too. Sort of an availability thing. You get to the point where you can’t really please everybody all the time. I just felt it was time to step back from a little bit. It wasn’t like there was anything that happened, an incident or anything. With our schedule it just got to be too much.

Yeah, I guess you guys started to get a reputation for being particularly accessible in certain ways and I think that obviously made sense to step back from.

I’d hate to give the impression that we’re not that way, or that wasn’t the case. It really just became a matter of how I was managing my time. Also, to be honest, the message board in particular is a forum for people to kind of talk about the band and it’s a community that surrounds the band, and I didn’t want people to think like I was checking in or patrolling that in some sort of way, where people couldn’t really say what they wanted to.

So, more or less not being there promotes people being able to say whatever they wanted to talk about.

It started out as this core of twenty people you’d see at a lot of the shows and become friends with and you kind of got to know. It grew to something that people were finding the band for the first time and that was sort of a different perspective.

Yeah.

You don’t want to read about yourself all the time, that’s not healthy.

Are you actively now recording the new album?

We’ve been spending time in our practice space, which has kind of become a studio for us, recording ideas and stuff like that. We have spent a little bit of time, and the bulk of it will be when we get back – we’re looking at a couple of different studios where we can go in and start to record and do it at our own pace.

I guess it’s not like the earlier years when you guys just started out – you were putting out a record every year. You’re definitely not writing at that kind of pace anymore.

Well, we still work pretty quickly. At this point, the time we spend on the road won’t allow us to do a record every year. I think we’d still like to, obviously for us to do what we do, which is touring, we need to be able to tour behind a record, so we like to get them out as quickly as we can. I don’t know if is so much “Let’s put out a record so we can go on tour,” but “Let’s record because we write songs, it’s our livelihood, it’s what we do.” So, if we’re not going to be on tour, let’s get back in the studio.

When would you like to have it out?

I mean, obviously, I’d like to have a record out early next year, but there’s a lot of other variables that are involved in putting out records. There will be a lot of things that will depend on when we can release it and when it’s finished. We’ve always sort of put a deadline of when we’d want to have a record out or a record finished. This one I’d like to be at a little more relaxed pace rather than block off two months in the studio and saying “Alright, this is the time we have to do the record, this is when we’re in the studio, this when we’re finished with it.” We just kind of want to go in and record without a real deliberate date in mind for when things need to be wrapped up.

Even if it’s still early in the process, do you have a direction or a certain sound you’re going with on this record?

No, we’ve just been writing it. I think that sort of presents itself when you get in the studio. For me, in terms of writing songs I’d like to try to have a little bit of a different approach to what we’ve done in the past. Try and to go into the studio not as rehearsed as we’ve been before and see what happens and maybe use the studio as a little bit more of a tool in creating a record as opposed to having songs going in and just playing them together as a band and compiling twelve songs or whatever into an album.

Are you working with anyone in particular on the new record?

I think Dean (Baltulonis, Separation Sunday co-producer) is going be involved in it. In kind of listening back to the record’s we’ve made, I kind of always liked working with Dean. He’s done so much stuff since we did Separation Sunday with him. I think he’s in a really good place. He and I worked on a bunch of the stuff for a soundtrack I worked on earlier this year around February. We had a really good time together kind of creating stuff in the studio. That was sort of my impetus for how I wanted to approach this next record.

Going into the next year, are you guys going to be on the road again still or is it solely dedicated to recording?

We’ll, we’ll see what happens. I mean, it’s September now, so we’ve still got a lot of time this year to be writing and recording. When we feel we’ve got enough stuff together for an album, and then set down and then listen to everything and see where we’re at. I guess if there’s any real deliberate idea, it’s not really having a deliberate idea.

Do you guys plan on sticking with Vagrant for the next record or are you looking for something else?

We’re still under contract by Vagrant. They’ll put out this record. I’ve been really happy with Vagrant. They’ve been good to us.

What are you listening to lately?

Not a lot. When I start writing and start coming up with ideas for songs, I try not to listen to a lot of anything because you really tend to repeat what you hear. Whatever goes in, comes out eventually, so I try to be real cautious of that. I guess any time I’m in the writing process, most of the stuff I listen to is older records that had a real impact on me. Or, if there’s something that will catch my ear. Maybe I’ll hear something on a Calexico record that I love, and then I’ll listen to nothing but Calexico for three weeks. Or, I’ll hear an old Stones record and go “God, the drums sound good on this album!” and then I’ll spend the next month listening to nothing but the Rolling Stones. Maybe somebody will play a Kinks song and I’ll go “God, I forgot how good that record was!”, and I’ll go back then I’ll go obsess over that for weeks at a time.

So, your said on Twitter that you had an incident with a guitar and the airlines? What happened?

Yeah, you know, to be honest, I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. You know, we got into the airport last night after a totally grueling day of traveling and Dustin’s (Miller, The Hold Steady’s guitar tech) pulling stuff out of oversized baggage and he’s like ‘Uh-oh’, and I’m like “Oh, don’t say that, what happened?” and he opened the case and one of my guitars had been smashed from being mishandled. That was kind of a drag. But, we remedied that pretty quickly. For as much time as we spend in airports and throwing gear around and traveling with gear, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I have never had anything lost or stolen yet, thank God. Thank God it wasn’t a guitar that can’t be replaced. It was a newer one at least and not one of my older ones.

Do you have a particular favorite you play that you’re always bringing out on the road?

No, that switches up a lot. I’ve got a couple of old ’60’s Gibson’s that are my go-to guitars when we’re recording, especially when I’m writing. I like to get new stuff all of the time. Guitars are like anything else, they can be inspirational and forcing you to approach things differently. Maybe a particular guitar will play a certain way and it kind of takes you out of that comfort level a little bit where you have to think a little bit more about what you are doing. I mean, it’s always an excuse for me to go out and buy new shit.

How do you get the names for your guitars with? People I’ve been in the crowd with have always remarked that you see names like “Eat It!” and “WMD” (on the set lists). Are those just inside jokes?

Yeah, Dustin and I usually come up with those. I don’t know, it’s just stupid little things. I have so many guitars that are similar models, so if I were to write the model or the year down, it could be one of a handful of different guitars. We name them to avoid any confusion.

Makes sense. It just seemed kind of funny.

Most of them are just stupid inside jokes. There’s no real method to it.

I figured as much. You guys have been on the road most of the year, is there a favorite gig you’ve played this year, or really, one overall that stands out?

Oh god, the End of the Road Festival was really great just because of the people that were there, and the overall setting of the festival was so fantastic. Obviously that’s fresh in my mind because it was just a couple days ago. The shows in New York were fun, it was good to be home, the show in LA was really great that we played with The Bronx, those guys have become good friends of ours. It was nice to see them and hang out with them. It’s different from show to show. You remember different gigs for different reasons.

Is there anybody you haven’t toured with that you’d like to get on the road with?

There’s a handful of bands that we’d like to go out with. We haven’t done a whole lot of support gigs until this year, and going out and being able to play arenas and bigger venues was fun. The Counting Crows and Dave Matthews Band were great, but it would be nice to go out with a band that maybe suited our style, something that’s a little closer to us stylistically that we listened to more. The support gigs are always interesting because you never know what you’re going to get in terms of the audience and it makes you work a little bit harder.

How did those DMB shows go from your perspective? I mean, playing to a group of people that may not be so familiar with the kind of music you guys play?

You know, they were okay. It’s always interesting seeing how the other half lives, kind of. For us, it was more than awareness campaign than anything else. Dave Matthews, at the time, had the number one record record in the U.S. He’s somebody who sells millions of records and has such an enormously high profile. It’s weird, because it seems a lot of the people who go to his shows maybe go to one or two concerts a year. To play in front of a crowd like that was interesting.

Now, did he pick you guys personally, or was that through management? Because I hear he picks a lot of the bands he plays with. I wasn’t sure if you guys were one he was aware of.

Yeah, he definitely expressed that he was a fan and watched our set on a nightly basis. I think that he’s involved in a lot of those decisions. But in the end, it’s got to make sense on paper and numbers wise for everybody, so that’s when you get booking agents and managements involved. It seemed to work, it wasn’t something we’d done before, so we’d thought we’d give it a shot.

I know you did photography before you were in the group and I know you’ve done a little bit (since then), and you have a book that you’re doing?

Yeah, that’s been, once again, me totally biting off more than I can chew. Craig and I get approached a lot to write different stuff. Craig, especially because he’s the literary one and the lyricist and his craft is words – but I did a piece on Jimmy Page for a Led Zeppelin book that came out last year, and after that they asked if I had any interest in doing a Hold Steady book. I thought it was a little premature to be writing a book on our band, but they do a lot of real graphic stuff, and I said “Hey, would you want to do a photography book that would be kind of loosely based around my life in the band?” I guess I conned my way into that and they said yes.

So, I’ve been working on that and going through just thousands and thousands of photos I’ve had from the road over the years, trying to put something together somewhat interesting and hopefully unique. But yeah, that’s been a major undertaking.

Do you know when that’s coming out, or is that way too early?

I’ve got to have turned in around Halloween. Turn around times are a little bit longer than something like an album, which I’m a little bit more used to how that works. So that will probably come out sometime next spring.

How was it taking a picture of Leonard Cohen? Did you get any time to talk to him? (Tad photographed him for a Rolling Stone piece earlier this spring.)

I had about two and a half minutes with him.

That’s nothing.

He was really nice. In doing stuff like that – I’ve worked for celebrity photographers over the years living in New York – it really depends on the day and somebody’s like that – it can be hard to get someone to cooperate.

Have you shot anyone else since then?

I shot the Arctic Monkeys six weeks ago. That was a decent shoot. Our relationship with Rolling Stone has always been really good, so it’s always been an easy thing to transition to – shooting for them, it’s been great.

Have any other publications approached you to do anything else?

No, there’s so many photographers and it’s such a competitive industry, it’s not unlike playing in a band that way. Obviously, with the profile of the band the way it is, it’s been easier for me, but I haven’t tried to hustle any work because I’m not around enough. If and when we have some more time off, that’s something I’ll peruse more. Until then, it’ll probably stay focused on taking portraits on the road and stuff.

Okay, if you had to pick one or the other, being a full time photographer, or being in the rock band…which one would you choose?

Oh, being in a rock band! You don’t get up in front of thousands of people and take photos. The performance element I think is something i’ve always loved to do. It’s like a drug. There’s nothing comparable to walking up on stage having thousands of people shout the lyrics back at you.

Are you a person that likes being on the road, or are you a homebody, or what? I know there’s some musicians that hate it but do it anyways.

Yeah, no I mean, it’s funny how many people that you meet that really just can’t stand being out on the road and away from home. There are times when it’s obviously harder, but for the most part – the travel is nice – we’ve gotten to a level as a band where the traveling has become comfortable and easier for us to enjoy things.

Yeah, you’re not traveling in a truck anymore, right?

God no. It’s a miracle that none of us had a serious accident or were hurt in that. We really lucked out.

Yeah, I think one of the first times I saw you guys you were still in that. It was like one of the first tours I saw you guys and you were playing Milwaukee at the Miramar Theatre and Franz stepped out of the truck and we were like “Whoa, that’s a little truck..with a lot of people in it.”

Yeah. It was really good to us. it was a great way to tour at that point in time. It really got to the point it wasn’t safe anymore and it wasn’t big enough and it wasn’t a good way to travel.

Is there any place you haven’t performed that you’d like to perform?

I’d like to go to Greece, I’d love to go to Italy, I’d love to go to South America, we haven’t played Hawaii yet, it would be the last of the fifty states we haven’t played – we’d hopefully be getting there on this next record. Japan is definitely somewhere we’d like to travel to. We’ve done some shows in Eastern Europe, we’d like to move further east – we’ll see what happens on this next record.

Is it hard for you to adjust to home life when you’re not on tour?

It used to be a lot harder. The way that we tour now, it is more comfortable so you’re not quite as spent and exhausted when you get home. There is that period of adjustment, obviously. You’re kind of this little gang on the road all the time. You’ve got your little clique and all the little inside jokes and mannerisms and stuff that you do. Then you get home and it takes a while to shift out of that mode and get back into being a dad – my daughter started school last week, so when I get home I’ll go to PTA meetings and stuff like that, obviously that’ll be a big change for me.

Buses, Trains and Automobiles

I’m always out of town now. I’m constantly documenting where I’m going and what I’m doing when I’m out of town, but never how I get there.

Since I turned twenty-one, I have developed an aversion to flying. I can’t tell you why, exactly – but if I don’t have to fly anywhere, I won’t do it. So I resort to the many different ways of transportation to get me across these great United States.

Megabus: Far and away the most hassle-free and pleasurable traveling experience. Super cheap fares (I just got back from Minneapolis for NINE DOLLARS), clean double decker buses, and get this – Wireless Internet. You can’t beat that. However, they’re the way of transit I’ve had the most trouble with as well. Our bus up to Minneapolis at the end of June broke down outside Janesville, Wisconsin. We had to wait close to three hours for a new bus. That bus had no A/C on the upper level. On our return trip, our bus for the ride home missed our stop completely, and we had to wait another two hours there for a new one. That bus didn’t have internet, even thought it said it was supposed to. Little complaints, I know. I guess I get what you pay for.

Amtrak: The most comfortable way to travel. Big seats, footrests, power supplies for electronics, and cars dedicated to looking out the window. It’s all pretty cool, but it takes FOREVER to get anywhere. For a guy like me who’s really impatient, that’s not good. It’s great if you want to see the country, but not ideal if you are planning on getting somewhere exactly on time. In our case on our return trip from New York, we chose to stay an extra day because they wanted to bus us three hours away to get to a train. No bueno, Amtrak.

Emily’s 2005 Saturn Ion: Okay, a close runner up for best way to travel. In the past year, this is probably the car I’ve spent the second-most amount of time in next to mine.

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Actual car not pictured. It’s pretty close. I swear.

It’s a beast. After all of the miles Emily’s put on it just going back and forth from Chicago to Minneapolis, not to mention the east coast drives AND the upcoming Canada excursion, it’s proven reliable and also fun to drive. There’s a bonus of being able to stop where you want with it too. The only things that keeps this from the top spot is the lack of internet, comfortable sleeping spots and the lack of a tape player or auxiliary port for uninterrupted iPod stereo access. You can’t always win, but I’m grateful for being able to go along for the ride.

Supplemental

PLUG THIS: It was getting scary there for a bit. After doing some site upgrades in the past couple of days, we hit a snag with one of the plugins and it was making the site load all weird. What we found is that the Last.fm plugin was causing all the issues, so for the time being, it’s gone. I know, you’re really sad that you can’t find out what Prince song I’m listening to. Womp womp.

LATENIGHTOLOGY: So, last night, my obsession with late night TV (specifically the NBC variety) reached it’s fever pitch. The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien finally made it’s debut. It was fantastic. The new set looks gorgeous too. It feels a lot classier than Leno’s waiting room on steroids. With Leno gone for three months, this means we have three uninterrupted months of Conan and Jimmy. I’ve been noticing the Jimmy backlash is growing, but I’m not going to defect. It will find it’s footing eventually. My lovely ladyfriend and I got tickets for Jimmy on June 10 in New York City, but we have a conflict that day – a conflict in the form of a Hold Steady show. We still haven’t completely decided what to do. Stay tuned, folks.

SWEAT AND WET CONFETTI (LITERALLY): Speaking of The Hold Steady, over at Pitchfork.tv, they’ve got a seven-song live set from last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. Myself and friends (and future girlfriend) are featured in several clips. See?

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MAGIK MAN: Big ups to the Orlando Magic for making it to their first NBA Finals since 1995. Kim keeps making Shaq references even though he hasnt played for them in well over a decade. The reason I want them to beat the Lakers? Well, there’s two, really.

1. I don’t like the Lakers.
2. Patrick Ewing will finally get a ring.

GRIZZLY SCARED: I’ve been spinning Veckatimest, the new Grizzly Bear album. Still on the fence about it, save for the fantastic “While You Wait For The Others” and “Two Weeks”. I’m COMPLETELY terrified of the “Two Weeks” video. Find out for yourself why.

OH, BILLY: For almost a week now, I’ve been trying to get through this New York Times Magazine piece called The Mellowing of William Jefferson Clinton. It’s a long one, but a really great read so far.