Excess and indulgence have plagued rock ‘n’ roll since its birth. The tales of drugs, sex and egomaniacal tendencies that once made rock music dangerous and exciting have been played out to the point of tedium, rendering the once glamorous lifestyle nothing more than passé. But on the other end are the stories of the strung-out addicts who enter a program, find God on the way to sobriety, and leave born-again.
The Hold Steady is combating these trends by attempting to find balance in a world that seems to always be swinging from one extreme to another. The band is yearning for balance in every aspect: lyrical content vs. music, work vs. play, morality vs. overindulgence, mainstream success vs. indie credibility.
But the Hold Steady’s five members — Craig Finn on guitar and vocals, Tad Kubler on lead guitar, Galen Polivka on bass, Bobby Drake on drums and Franz Nicolay on keyboards — don’t see it as a struggle. They’ve already made their decisions. While touring in support of their sophomore full-length, Separation Sunday, released in May on French Kiss, Finn and Kubler caught up with Prefix’s Dave Mount before a show at the Palladium in Worchester, Massachusetts to talk about the balancing act that is the Hold Steady.
How’s the tour going?
Craig Finn: It’s going really well. This is at the very end [of the tour]. We’ve actually had the last two days off, so it’s hard on the momentum of things, but we’ve had a great tour. This is certainly our best yet. [We went to] a bunch of places we’ve never been to before. The Pacific Northwest is really cool.
How did you end up playing with the Get Up Kids?
Tad Kubler: We’re just doing two shows with them. Our booking agent called and said, “We’ve got two shows with the Get Up Kids in Worcester, Massachusetts and Sayreville, New Jersey. Do you guys want to do it?” And we were like, “Yeah, sounds like fun.”
Were you headlining the tour before playing with the Get Up Kids?
CF: Almost all the dates we were headlining. On the West Coast we were with a band called USE, United State of Electronica, who are really cool. We did Seattle to San Diego with them, and that was kind of a flip-flop headliner thing. But since then we’ve been headlining, which is good. We tend to play a pretty long set, which you just can’t do when you’re opening.
Any good stories from the road?
CF: Actually, I don’t think anything that crazy has happened.
TK: Out of all the tours, this tour in particular, just because of the momentum that we have going as a band, I think we’ve been able to stay pretty focused and keep it pretty mellow. [There hasn’t been] necessarily as much time hanging out. We’ve had a lot less time just because of some of the drives we’ve been doing, but also because of the interviews and photo shoots we’ve been doing. That tends to keep us out of trouble.
CF: Idle hands are the devil’s playthings, so we have fewer stories and probably more progress on this tour.
Sounds like the way to be.
CF: Kind of. If we could find a delicate balance [between work and play], it would be great.
Aren’t you guys playing Conan? How excited are you about that?
TK: Excited to see just how it works. I watch Conan pretty frequently, and you see it on TV every night. To actually get to be there and be part of what’s happening and see it firsthand takes a little bit of the smoke and mirrors away, I bet. But at the same time, shit dude, we’re playing national television.
It should open a whole new audience to you. Your music is pretty universal, straightforward rock ‘n’ roll that’s easy for people to grasp. The lyrics may be less so. Some of the things you reference in your lyrics I can’t imagine a lot of people getting, especially from a TV show. But more generally, do you think you alienate some of your audience with your lyrical references?
CF: You would hope that, given the technology that’s available today, someone might Google a reference and figure it out. Hopefully, that makes it more of a fun exercise for [the listener] than something they would completely understand right off the bat. The lyrics are written to have that kind of multi-level thing, you know? If there’s a reference it’s supposed to be fun like that. Maybe it’s fun to figure out.
It seems that the music is easier for people to grasp than the lyrics.
TK: The music can be, for some people, kind of nostalgic. It depends. I’m really curious to see how the music goes over with a younger audience. I think it’s rock ‘n’ roll, you know? I don’t think there’s anybody out there who doesn’t enjoy or get rock ‘n’ roll, so I think for some it might be nostalgic, for some it might open some more doors. It should be pretty kick ass, too, in terms of the music. A lot of the influences we have in terms of songwriting — I mean, people can listen to [us] and then go back and find band via hearing our songs and go, “Oh, these guys are really into this band.” Which is kind of what I did with rock ‘n’ roll, and I found a lot of great old blues stuff, stuff that those old bands were listening to. You can always look backward.
Speaking of the younger crowd, a lot of your lyrics seem to come down on the scene and the kids.
CF: I don’t know if it’s coming down on it. I really think it’s liberating it. I grew up with punk and hardcore, but the scene was very good. I think the lyrics on our record aren’t very appropriate for a teenage perspective, so it’s kind of interesting to play to someone who is that age. I think our fan base generally skews older for an underground rock band.
Do you think that there are problems with the scene today?
CF: I don’t really know the scene. In New York, there’s like eleven-hundred scenes. It doesn’t seem like I could speak intelligently about any scene.