RUSHONROCK’s Russell Hughes caught up with Tad Kubler for the lowdown on US stars.
RUSHONROCK: You’ve named your latest album Teeth Dreams – what is the meaning behind that name?
TAD KUBLER: The inspiration for the name comes from Craig reading Infinite Jest, the David Foster Wallace novel and in it he talks about anxiety and things like that. I don’t know if you’ve ever had dreams where your teeth are falling out – I know I certainly have had them, and apparently that’s supposed to have something to do with anxiety and how you deal with it. Some of the themes on the record would be sort of ‘are we living in really anxious times right now’ or ‘are we just more aware of it because we’re more hyper aware of everything’. And I think with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and all these different social media outlets, it’s really easy to project an image of yourself that isn’t accurate – and it creates a certain amount of anxiety to keep that lie going or to perpetuate this image of how you’d like people to see you or to view you as opposed to what your life is really like.
RUSHONROCK: You started your European tour in October – do you see a difference in the reaction of the audience as you move through different countries?
TK: I think people can come out to a Hold Steady show with the intention of having a good time and experiencing a night out with rock and roll music. The one thing that I think that has always been fantastic about our shows is that there is a real community there and I think that it’s interesting and fantastic that people feel a part of it and I think that something that’s always been special about what we do and doing on tour and going from town to town. There’ll be several shows where you’ll see the same people multiple nights that are travelling along with the tour and going to multiple shows, and that’s a great thing to see. People want to come out and have a good time, and it’s nice to be the four people they come to see.
RUSHONROCK: Moving to the UK, is there a particular city that you enjoy playing at more than others?
TK: London is fantastic. London has always been surprisingly great for us – since the first time we came over we were very surprised with the response of the UK. Manchester is fun for me personally because of the musical history there, the lineage and the pedigree. I can’t really think of a band that has come out of Manchester that I have been like ‘oh yeah, no.’ It’s great to be in the UK generally because we’re not there as often as I’d like us to be.
RUSHONROCK: It seems to me that you try to tell stories in your songs – I think a favourite example of this is Chillout Tent. Is that something that you try to do while you’re writing songs?
TK: The lyrics are really Craig’s little world. The narrative and the detailed stories with characters in them, basically good kids doing bad things, I mean that’s certainly deliberate on his part. I know on this record that Craig wanted to be less specific in the hopes that people could put themselves in the song a little bit more.
RUSHONROCK: As fans of Game Of Thrones, we were delighted to discover your version of The Bear and the Maiden Fair in the show. Are you guys big fans of the series?
TK: I love it, it’s fantastic. I know Bobby our drummer is into it and I watch it. I don’t know if Steve is, but that’s about it. It’s great storytelling, it’s very well written and I’ve always been a great fan of what David and Dan are doing.
RUSHONROCK: Whose idea was it?
TK: It was their idea. They came to use and said we’d really like you guys to do a version of this song for the show, would you be interested? We said ‘hell yeah’ and asked what they had in mind. It’s always tricky to discuss what something sounds like, and to be able to use a vocabulary that someone else is going to understand, when you’re talking about sound. That can be the toughest part about it. They sent me the scene that it was going to be used in and we talked about references like American Warewolf in London, and I thought ‘Oh sure, I know what you’re talking about’, and I did a couple of demos and then they were like ‘yeah, cool, great’. It all happened pretty quickly and when you do stuff for TV like that there is always a real time constraint.
RUSHONROCK: Back to the music – and a lot of the songs The Hold Steady write are about going out and having a good time. Does this sort of song get harder to write as you get older and grow up?
TK: Craig doesn’t have any kids and he goes out four or five nights a week. He is the one telling stories, I just put the music together. It’s all fictional anyway AND that’s the idea behind the music. There isn’t a one to one relationship with stories or characters. I went to see the Nick Cave movie recently, 20,000 Days On Earth, and he was talking about living in Brighton, where he lives with his wife and family and how totally fucking diabolic the weather is over there, and it was really starting to get to him, so he started to write, and he had this diary and he would write about the weather. The more he wrote, the more he began to fictionalise and turn it into this story, which made it more manageable – or even like it wasn’t really happening or it existed on this other plain. And I thought that was interesting. I don’t know what the hell that has to do with anything, but I thought it was fascinating.
RUSHONROCK: You started the band in your 30s – do you think that allowed you to approach the music in a more mature way?
TK: I think somewhat. I think there are positive things about it for sure. The one strange part about it is that when we started the band, and decided to play music, we didn’t have a ton of aspirations. We weren’t very ambitious about what we wanted to do. It was just a way for us to get together, hang out and play music, but because Lift Your Polar, the band we were in previously, had ended, and then the internet happened, there was more of this audience for it than we had expected, and so things happened quickly. Yeah, it allowed us to appreciate what was happening a little more, but I’m not sure if that had to do with age. Any time your expectations exceed the gratitude that you get from any situation, you’re going to run into trouble. We felt fortunate enough to be playing music, the fact that it started to happen on a level we’d never experienced before made it so much more to be grateful for. I think, at the same time, you’re a little older and it’s harder to be a new band. I say that because I had never thought about our age until we got over to the UK and all the music magazines over there were like ‘oh yeah, The Hold Steady are older guys’. Everything was about our age and I thought ‘Oh wow, I guess we are old’. But it wasn’t anything that had really come up before until we had started touring the UK.
RUSHONROCK: How has Craig’s solo career impacted upon The Hold Steady, in particular in the recording of Teeth Dreams?
JK: It took us longer to get around to it. I would say the impact that it had was that it took us more time to do. I continued to work with the rest of the guys, and we would work on songs and music and by the time Craig came back from that we had almost two dozen songs written and recorded, and I think there was a lot of music for him to get through. I think it was a little overwhelming and he had just come off doing this quieter acoustic solo tour back into this loud, guitar rock band and I think it was a bit difficult to switch gears quickly. I think there was a transition period and we had so much music that didn’t have any words to it and the songs were much more finished than they had been on previous records. I would get Craig’s songs when they were in more of an acoustic demo stage, whereas in this one we had time, we had gotten together as a band and recorded a bunch of stuff with two guitars, bass and drums. A lot of the songs were further along in the process than usual.
RUSHONROCK: Is that better?
JK: I don’t think so. It didn’t seem to be, I think it was harder for Craig to find his lane a little bit, especially as this is the first record we had done with Steve. He has been in the band for almost five years, but this is the first album he had recorded with us. Steve brings a lot of melody in. For all intents and purposes, as the guy who comes in with the ideas, I can hold down what the backbone of the song is, and Steve can come in and put the shiny layer down, where there is a lot of melody. Because that was there already, when Craig heard it I think he found it harder to work out how he was going to do his thing.