Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady could have used more sleep
The bio on The Hold Steady’s Facebook page simply reads: “The Hold Steady is a bunch of dudes who rock the hell out of Brooklyn, as well as the rest of the world.” More specifically, the group came together ten years ago as singer Craig Finn and guitarist Tad Kubler decided to form a new band in the wake of the dissolution of their old band Lifter Puller. The band’s Springsteen-meets-the Replacements music immediately caught on with critics and their 2004 debut, Almost Killed Me, got rave reviews. The band toured and recorded relentlessly until it took a break in 2011. Its forthcoming album Teeth Dreams arrives in March on Washington Square Records, a new subdivision of Razor & Tie. Kubler recently called us to talk about the new album, another great collection of anthems that feature Finn’s distinctly narrative lyrics.
It’s been ten years since the band formed. Reflect a bit on the history. Did things turn out as you hoped they would?
I am incredibly grateful to be in a pretty small minority of people who are able to play music and do it at the level we’ve been able to do it. At the same time, I just wish I would have maybe gotten some more sleep or gone to bed earlier. You can only say things like this in hindsight. We had such a great deal of momentum that carried us for a really long time. It allowed us to not make a lot of decisions about what was happening. It was us trying to keep up with what was going on. That was a luxury but it felt like things didn’t happen as deliberately as they could have at times. I’m just thankful that we play in a rock band and we’re making our sixth record and I’m still alive.
Were you really watching The Last Waltz when you decided to form the band?
Yeah, there are a couple of versions of that story. One of the reasons that story comes up a lot is because it’s Craig [Finn] and I trying to sort of relay how we can came together to play music again. When Lifter Puller dissolved, I didn’t want to get involved in another band with this guy. He had pulled the plug on the last one. I was a little reluctant to be honest. It happened over a weird period of my life. It was one of those things. I wish we had made more deliberate decisions but I didn’t think that story would be very deliberate so what does that tell you about how we operate?
Did he always write lyrics that were so narrative?
I joined Lifter Puller not at the beginning of it and I had to become a fan of what Craig did through playing music with him. I was always the singer and main songwriter in bands I had been in up to that point. Coming in as a bass player allowed me to take a backseat. When The Hold Steady started, we didn’t talk about how were going to work. It just worked out that I would write the music and he would write the lyrics. Craig wrote a lot for a long time. For the past couple of records, the music exists for a long while before there are lyrics. That’s just partly because of the pace we work at. I have 40 other songs we didn’t use on this record. Now, I’ll have to figure out what to do with those. We never ever talk about the creative process. Craig and I — I don’t mean this in a way that’s adversarial — rarely talk about anything. We’re Midwestern men. We suffer in silence and celebrate silence. Craig lives less than a block from me and we don’t see each other. Steve lives in Memphis and we talk every day. That’s the kind of relationship we have. One isn’t better than the other.
How did growing up in Minneapolis shape your musical interests?
I didn’t grow up in Minneapolis. I grew up in Wisconsin so the whole Hüsker Dü, Replacements thing is really a stretch. People from Minneapolis sometimes forget that they’re so isolated. The bands don’t seem as important unless you’re from that place. I was big into Cheap Trick because that’s where I was from. I think that has an influence on where Craig comes from and how he conducts himself more than it does on what we sound like.
Did you get to play with Cheap Trick?
No. But we now share the same publicist so we’re one less degree away from those guys. It’s strange considering the circles that Cheap Trick has been running. You would think we’ve crossed paths but we haven’t.
Did the band nearly break up when Craig took time off to write his solo album?
I think it was a chance to do other things. From the Stay Positive’s 2008 release until we wrapped up touring for Heaven is Whenever was a difficult time for the band. It was a difficult time for me personally. I had a lot of stuff going on. I was kind of a mess. That was hard on Craig in particular. The one thing about The Hold Steady and how it works, especially the relationship that Craig and is that if I were to drop dead tomorrow, he’d be fucked. Coming to realize that, I think he thought he had to get his own thing going on. He didn’t want it to interfere. I think everybody was shot. We rushed getting the last record done and out and that showed. It was time to take a breath.
You’ve said that the recording of Teeth Dreams was a real journey. Talk about that a bit.
It was tough because we were going to take a few months off after Heaven is Whenever and that three or four months turned into a year and a half. We continued to work while Craig went off and did his thing. It really wasn’t the best thing. When Craig got back from that, he was exhausted and spun out and we were ready to start a record. He wasn’t ready to do that. It took us another year to regroup and get that together and that was a tough time. We didn’t know what was going. We thought, “Shit, we’re going to make this record in fall of 2012.” That turned into winter of 2012 which turned into spring of 2013 which turned into summer of 2013. After sitting down with Craig when he got back from his solo thing, I told him he had to be exhausted. I just told him that we should chill out for a bit. In the meantime, we can go do something else. We didn’t do that. We just toured. But it gave me a clearer idea of what we were missing. It allowed me to write more three songs that were very specific. I went to L.A. in April of last year and met Nick Raskulinecz, who was working on the Sun City record. His name had kept coming up in conversations about producing the album. That was serendipitous. After my initial talk with him, I knew it was the guy. He came out and we did a throwdown session and he met the rest of the band and it was on. It all happened quickly. That said, the new album exceeded any expectations that I had, and Craig really outdid himself. I’m just excited for people to hear it.
Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates
Hi-Tone Café – Memphis, TN
Off Broadway – St Louis, MO
Headliners Music Hall – Louisville, KY
Beachland Ballroom – Cleveland, OH
The A&R Music Bar – Columbus, OH
Mr. Smalls Theatre – Millvale, PA
Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, NY
The Abbey Bar – Harrisburg, PA
Belly Up Tavern – Solana Beach, CA