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Hanging in the balance (Part 2 of 2)

The Hold Steady

 

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What did you do differently on Separation Sunday than on the first one?
CF: I think we made a much more deliberate record. It's way more focused; way more thought went into sequencing. It was certainly a much longer recording process. The lyrics tie the songs together more. The first record was made after we were a band for three months, and the new one was recorded a year later.

Lyrically there are some differences.
CF: The new one is a much more realized record. There is sort of a concept throughout the whole thing. There's obviously a heavy Catholicism theme on the new record, which has to do with the characters of the story being set in a real religious background, having that kind of conservatism pull against them as they go into things like drugs and alcohol and partying. Lyrically it just goes with the rest of that -- just more deliberate, more focused. On the first one, I felt like I was just getting on the microphone and talking shit, and the second one was really sweated.

Do you feel like you took the characters and themes and issues from the first record and just developed them more?
CF: Yeah, exactly.

So many things resurface from the first record. Do you feel like you didn't address them thoroughly enough the first time?
CF: No, it's just like widening the angle on a camera, or vice versa, painting in a little more detail.

How autobiographical are the lyrics?
CF: Not very. All these people are fictional characters. They're certainly influenced by things I've done and people I've known and stories I've heard, and they're composites of all those things, but it's not very autobiographical.

So they're biographical about other people you know?
CF: Yeah, but it wouldn't be one character [directly connecting] to one person. It's more like composites. There are those people that you know on the fringes of growing up. The record, to me, reminds me of being sixteen, seventeen, eighteen -- that's like '88, '89 for me -- and just the people that were kind of around on the fringes, especially in the hardcore scene and the party scene. That's sort of where I get the inspiration from.

It's more about a certain time in your life than about actual people?
CF: Yeah, it's a very teenage record. When you're seventeen you really blow things out of proportion. Or things seem really important, but looking back they don't seem nearly as important. You know, that kind of feeling.

Do you think you'll continue to write about that time in your life, or are you ready to move on?
CF: I haven't exactly figured that out yet. I have some Ideas for the next record.

The religious imagery that you spoke of seems to be very anti-religion.
CF: I would disagree. The Catholic Church has obviously taken some hits in the past five or ten years, and I'm not a churchgoer, but I do recognize a lot of beauty and mystery and compassion in Catholicism and the root of its beliefs, which is separate from the church and the things that go on within it. What the album deals with is people who are morally raised in the Catholic tradition and doing things that might -- they're trying to figure out where they fit in with that, and that element of conservatism, or that element of just a strong sense of morality tugging against the desire to free yourself from these things and party and drink. So I don't know if it's anti-religion, I think it sort of just represents some sort of yin and yang. The pull, the push and the pull.

But for the characters, their options are either drugs and alcohol and the seedy lifestyle or to be fully immersed in the church.
CF: That's part of our culture in America right now. In the Midwest, you're either on crank or you're a Jesus freak. I think that's a lot of what the record talks about. There's so many people that can't find a middle, and they need to wildly swing between one thing or another, and that's kind of interesting to me.

Is that balance something that you search for personally?
CF: I think I have a middle. I think that's why I'm fascinated by it.

Do you guys consider yourselves a bar band?
CF: Yeah, we play in bars. There's a bar here, right?

TK: I think so, but I don't know if it'll be open tonight, unfortunately. That's why they gave us beer.

CF: We do. It's sort of a shtick, but also it's sort of where we're coming from. Playing some straight rock 'n' roll kind of stuff and entertaining the crowd and that sort of stuff. My favorite band of all time is the Replacements, and they were basically a bar band, too. So, I think we're trying to take that word and make it cool, you know what I mean?

Do you want to play bigger venues or just bars?
CF: Playing in front of six-hundred people is always going to be more fun than playing in front of sixty. We're doing our show tonight, and I think it'll be cool to play in a bigger place like this, but I think our strength is to do our own shows.

You mentioned the Replacements earlier. Who else are your influences?
TK: Cheap Trick, ACDC, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queen.

Mostly classic rock?
TK: Yeah, I've got to say, too, getting into punk rock obviously had a big effect on me too, but I think more musical bands like Fugazi, Jawbox, and later on guitar-driven bands that were doing stuff that I thought was exciting and new and just using the guitar in a much different way than a lot of the early rock bands did, and kind of exploring, that too was kind of fascinating. Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers, actually, I always forget about him. When I go back and listen to those early Butthole Surfers records, a lot of them were just chaos. But when he nailed it he nailed it. J. Mascis from Dinosaur Jr. -- obviously a huge influence too.

So classic rock and post-punk, post-hardcore bands?
TK: I listen to a lot of everything, but obviously the stuff I always come back to is really guitar driven -- and players, people that play the guitar. It's fun being in the van now, especially with the invention of the iPod, where everybody gets a turn and everybody plays something different, and you know you will always hear something else that you're going to like.

CF: Music is a really big thing to me. Punk and hardcore, and then stuff growing up in Minneapolis: the Replacements, Husker Du, Soul Asylum. They were huge. The Descendents were really big -- obviously all the big punk and hardcore bands. Later on I went back and I kind of did the classic rock thing in reverse order. I went back and got really into Springsteen, and then hip-hop, especially underground hip-hop. That's been something that for the past five years or so I've really been into.

Because of the lyrical aspects of hip-hop?
CF: Sort of like the real heavy lyricism that's involved in it, sort of pushing boundaries on lyrics. Like the Def Jux and the Rhymesayers stuff, all those. I think that hip-hop is the form of new music that I'm most likely to buy new releases of.

What other new stuff are you guys into?
TK: Mountain Goats. The most recently released record that I've been into is the Weakerthans, Reconstruction Site. It's a great record. I think it's a year or two old. Current artists that I'm inspired by are people like Ted Leo. The fun thing about being on tour is getting to know your peers a lot better and finding out where they're coming from. Just the exchange of ideas that goes on when you travel and you're around people that don't live in your city, and you don't get to see them except a few times a year when they're in town. It's pretty awesome; it's one of the most fun parts about being in a band and touring. You're around these people who have similar ambitions and goals, and they're out there doing stuff, too.

You get to see what's going on in all the little niches of the country.
TK: Yeah, you get home and you try to take all that and process all the information. It's cool. It's a fun thing to do. It's a privilege.

Tell me about being from New York and not doing the popular thing with the '80s-revival sound?
CF: Part of what we're doing is a reaction to that, 'cause it looks fucking ridiculous. I'm thirty-three years old and I went through it the first time, and it's ridiculous. It's silly to watch. You know when your friend is hitting on a girl and she wants nothing to do with it? You feel this real embarrassment for your friend. That's what I feel like when I watch those bands. We aren't like, "God, this sucks, lets start a band." But it certainly doesn't sound good to me.  

Read part 1 of the interview with the Hold Steady

"Your Little Hoodrat Friend"

"The Swish"

Discuss this review at the Prefix Message Board


The Hold Steady - Hanging in the balance First Look 11.01.05 Heading to the record store? Here's what's new.
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