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Unstable Decibels

Unstable Decibels: The Hold Steady

Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady talks with Marvel.com about touring, the band's very own comic book and more.

By Blake Garris

The Hold Steady have been climbing the indie rock charts with every album they release. In April, they put out a double disc live CD-documentary entitled “A Positive Rage” and when they’re not releasing music, they relentlessly tour all over the world. Guitarist Tad Kubler recently gave us some time on one of his rare days off before heading to Europe. He talked about the band’s very own comic book, his other life as a photographer and how he always sees Hugh Jackman when he’s dropping his daughter off at school.

Marvel.com: I know you had a comic book come out with your album “Boys and Girls in America.” What inspired y’all to do something like that? 

Tad Kubler:
 I don’t remember who presented the idea, but definitely, one of the big things with our band is the lyrics and the sort of cinematic view that you get from Craig's [Finn] words. And I know that we’ve always been approached about wanting to turn a song into a movie or something like that because of the scope of some of the lyrics in the songs. But I think something that was a lot more tangible would be something like a comic book or a graphic novel. We’ve been approached a couple times and I think because “Boys and Girls in America” has sort of a topical narrative thread throughout the entire record, that was probably a particularly good record to follow up [on] something like that. So it was a cool thing. I had never had that much exposure to it until then and I think that’s when I found it really fascinating.

The Hold Steady are comprised of (Left to Right) Craig Finn, Franz Nicolay, Bobby Drake, Tad Kubler and Galen Polivka
Marvel.com: What was the process behind that being made?

Tad Kubler: Ah well, I mean somebody just approached us. Our label got in touch with us asking if that’d be something we’d be interested in and we said absolutely. Other than that, we weren’t that involved with it. We let them take the idea and run with it. We just kind of saw it when it was finished. You know, definitely it was something we were excited about and seeing it come together was pretty cool.

Marvel.com: Are you the biggest comic book fan in The Hold Steady?

Tad Kubler: Well, as far as I know. I’ve never had a conversation [about] it with any of the other guys. Well actually, one of our old sound guys was a really big comic book fan and he’s the one who would point out new movies that were coming out and stuff like that to me that I would never have thought of, like, “oh yeah, this is based on a comic book.” So he kind of kept me in touch with that.

Marvel.com: You have a four and a half-year-old daughter? Do you think she's a little young for comics?

Tad Kubler: Yeah, she is. But still, the kind of graphic novels they’re talking about, it seems like a lot of the children’s books are kind of more just simple graphic novels that aren’t quite as in depth cause when you look at them, a lot of the times you can follow the pictures without reading some of the dialogue. I don’t want to insult any big fan of the graphic novels, because they would probably disagree, but a lot of times the illustrations are what bring it to life.

Marvel.com: You do a lot of photography too, right?

Tad Kubler: I do, yeah. So I’m a big fan of kind of a picture saying a thousand words.

Marvel.com: Yeah, I saw your website. It’s very eclectic. A lot of photographers seem to have just one thing and you seem to have a bunch of ideas and motifs  going on there.

Tad Kubler:
 Yeah, well thank you. My website is grossly outdated, unfortunately. I haven’t updated it since the band started which was you know, 5 or 6 years ago now. I’ve been shooting a lot more recently, so it’s been something I’m trying to update, but it’s just...there kind of isn’t enough time in a day. 

Marvel.com: Do you think comics or music or photography have any parallels?

Tad Kubler: Well I’m sure there are a lot of parallels if you sit down and talk about them. You know, outside of just the old-fashioned novel or something like that, you’re using sort of a different approach to tell a story. And once again, I think this is kind of the beautiful part about it, I’m trying to use my words carefully because I don’t want to offend anybody. It just seems like with a song or a graphic novel, you’re kind of trying to tell a larger story but in short bursts and trying to keep it down to kind of its simplest form.

Also, the big parallel that I see between comic books and songs is that you’re also kind of leaving it open to the interpreter, to the listener or to the reader or to the viewer. In order for them to really enjoy what they’re doing, they need to also sort of fill in the blanks and gaps and use their imagination to fill in spaces that aren’t exactly spelled out for them. And I think that’s a really great part of it because you’ve left a little something to the imagination and forced people to kind of bridge the gap with whatever’s in their head. And I think that’s a really cool part about it, cause you don’t have to go in and spell everything out for them.

Marvel.com: So you’re just basically like a bridge to…

Tad Kubler: 
Yeah, you’re a little bit more like a conduit.

Marvel.com: So were you ever into comics when you were younger?

Tad Kubler: When I was really into death metal and heavy metal in high school and middle school, there were a lot of kids that I hung out with that were really into comics and I think what helped me was like, “god, these dudes are total psychopath badasses.” Comic books are sometimes something people equate with “aww you’re a nerd, you’re into comic books,” [but] we are collecting stuff someday that’s gonna be worth thousands of dollars. Keep in mind I’m 36 now, so this is long before Ebay. And I thought that was a really cool way of looking at it too, like essentially you’re collecting art. You know, it wouldn’t be any different than me going down to the Morrison Gallery here and find a Jim Marshall print of Led Zeppelin or something like that. It seems like that was a lot of foresight for somebody who was in junior high school.

Art from "A Positive Rage"
Marvel.com: You recently released “A Positive Rage.” Can you talk about that?

Tad Kubler: Yeah, “A Positive Rage” was one of those things that came up kind of right when we signed to Vagrant and started working on “Boys and Girls in America.” And I think when we started to tour, when the record came out and then the tour started, I think it became really obvious to all parties involved that things were changing really rapidly for the band. And they really wanted to document that somehow but we weren’t really sure what to do. We didn’t really have a real cohesive idea of how we should do that.

So they sent out a couple of guys with video cameras and were like, I guess, “just get as much footage as you can and we’ll figure out what the hell we’re gonna do with this.” So they did. They followed us around for a good portion of a U.S. tour. And then after that, we headed over to the U.K. for the first time that we’d ever been there. It was my first U.K. trip and they followed us around for that and got some really great stuff. They had something like 84 hours of footage. So when we got back, they weren’t even sure what the hell to do with it all. So it took about 3 years to figure out exactly how and to what end we wanted to release it. So about 6 months ago, they finally had an edit for us to look at. Craig and I watched and it was really cool.

And you know, one thing I didn’t want it to be was just another “here’s a band partying in their hotel room and backstage” or something like that. And the cool part about it was that they really focused on what the experience was like at being at a Hold Steady show, you know. And they didn’t do that through just a live concert DVD. They did it with talking to people that were coming out to see the shows and the kind of community and unity that I think a lot of the fans are finding at Hold Steady shows. And I think that’s the really cool part of it. And I think it really focused on the kind of changes that we were going through at that time, starting to play to bigger rooms that were sold out. And just seeing the demand for the band to kind of double and triple in some parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world, that was just a real shock to us.

When we started this band, there were few expectations and very little ambition about what we wanted to do. So the fact that we’ve been able to kind of enjoy the sort of success that we’ve had was just really a fluke. We kind of lucked out. So we talk about that a little bit and there’s also a live CD from Halloween 2007 or 2006, in Chicago at the Metro. We did two nights there. That’s one of our favorite venues.

Marvel.com: Was it hard to acclimate yourself to the cameras when they were in your face?

Tad Kubler: Not so much. Those guys did a really good job of…well first of all, David and Clay, the two guys that were out with us were really great dudes and so we all got along with them well and they kind of just blended in. After the first couple of days it was like they were supposed to be there. And a lot of times, unfortunately or fortunately I guess, they’d catch you saying some really stupid shit cause you forgot the cameras were on, which is for better or worse whatever I guess.  You know, it’s what really happened. But looking back on it, it didn’t seem super invasive or anything like that. It was what it was at the time. And I think they captured some really cool stuff. I think that was a really interesting time in the band because we weren’t really sure what was going to happen. And for better or worse it turns out that the band continued to grow. That’s one good thing about our band, with every record we’ve had a little bit of growth and it’s kept stuff interesting and stuff hasn’t gotten static or stagnant or anything like that. It’s always been moving.

Marvel.com: What’s a Hold Steady show like?

Tad Kubler: It’s a good time. Like I said, the one thing that we’ve always really been proud of is that a Hold Steady show is very inclusive and it’s never been about us being cool or anything like that. It’s kinda five guys getting up on stage and having a really good time. And on good nights that translates to everybody in the room. And we’ve been able to do that. I think one thing that we’re also been able to do it as we continue to grow and play bigger rooms, you know, it doesn’t matter if it’s 200 people or 2,000 people, I think it translates to everybody who’s with us. You know, I’m always really proud of the studio records that we’ve made and I think that we generally have a good time going in and making records but I think the best way to experience this band is through our live show. We like being on the road. We still like touring. And it’s fun for us to be able to get up every night and play music for people. 

Marvel.com: Is there a challenge for you going from a 400 seater to opening for the Counting Crows? 

Tad Kubler: Yeah definitely. It is a challenge. But I think hopefully we’re able to accomplish something in that and like I said, still be able to translate to a larger audience. But essentially, like I said, to us it doesn’t matter if there’s 40 people in the room or 40,000. It’s still five guys getting up and having a blast playing music together. As our band continues to grow as players and songwriters, we do this because we love to and because we have a good time. And that’s not anything anybody could ever take away from us. And that’s not influenced by trends or by what’s popular or what’s cool right now or anything like that. It’s always what inspires and influences us is rock and roll music itself and one another. As long as it’s fun for us, we hope it continues to be fun for everybody else. 

Marvel.com: Where do you draw your inspiration? Do you come up with all the music yourself?

Tad Kubler: Well I don’t do it myself. But I come up with a lot of the initial ideas and then usually Galen (Polivka) and Bobby (Drake), you know the rhythm section, and I sit down and start to hammer stuff out and then you know Craig will come in with lyrics and we’ll start to get a structure together and Franz (Nicolay) is somebody whose great to write songs with because he has a lot of insight musically, too. But yeah, I guess I come in with the majority of the music and, you know, Craig obviously does all the lyrics. But it’s definitely still a democratic process.

Marvel.com: So going back to what you said earlier, you’re going back to more photography in the future?

Tad Kubler:
 Yeah, I’ve sort of been loosely working on a book of photographs and stuff. We’re going to try and get it out this year, but it probably won’t come out until next year just because of how busy we’ve gotten. But yeah, it’s fun to take pictures on the road and stuff because it allows you a little bit of anonymity; you crawl behind that side of the lens again. You can kind of just be you for that 125th of a second. And that’s something that’s really cool. It’s nice to sort of take your head out of the music for a while and just kind of think about something else.

Marvel.com: Do you have a general idea of what you’re looking to shoot when you go out?

Tad Kubler:
 No, no. I guess… I’ve shot for Rolling Stone a bunch over the last few months. I’ve shot Leonard Cohen and Gregg Allman and I shot The Killers at Coachella and stuff. So I mean I love doing stuff like that but a lot of the stuff that will be in the book will just be me kind of hanging out with a camera. A lot of it obviously focuses around the band and the traveling that we do and stuff like that.

The Hold Steady
Marvel.com: How was the Leonard Cohen shoot?

Tad Kubler: I literally got however long it takes to shoot three rolls of film. You know, that was about the time I had with him. So it was pretty quick. But he was generous. He was really great. He was very, very, very nice. He couldn’t have been cooler.

Marvel.com: Going back to comics, do you have any feelings towards Spider-Man or Wolverine?

Tad Kubler:
  Oddly enough, my daughter goes to school with Hugh Jackman’s kid. And so I’ve been watching all the new advertisements for the new movie and I’m sure he’s busy as hell doing press but it’s funny. We live in the same neighborhood in New York and I go to pick my daughter up from school and there’s like photographers outside and stuff and paparazzi and all that kind of stuff and I’m like, “wow dude, my band’s famous.” And then he rolls up and I’m like “aww ****, that’s not for me.” I’m kidding, of course. So yeah, that’s my X-Men connection. 

Marvel.com: What about Spider-Man?

Tad Kubler:
 Right now my daughter is really into Spider-Man. But she’s not really old enough to see some of the more serious Spider-Man comics, but I’ll be curious to see what she gets into. Because, you know what, I don’t know if this has changed since I was a kid looking at comics, but women don’t seem to be represented all that hot in comic books. You know, they’re usually being saved or whisked off a building or something like that. Somebody needs to come out with a female comic book.

Marvel.com: Is your daughter gravitating towards any female characters?

Tad Kubler:
 No, just Spider-Man. I got home last night so she and I are going to go out today and maybe we’ll go to um, there’s a couple of good comic book stores in Union Square.

Marvel.com: What stores do you normally go to?

Tad Kubler: Village Comics. 118 West Third Street. And Forbidden Planet is the big one. That’s on Broadway. It’s over by Union Square. Forbidden Planet in the big one that we go to. They’re kind of like the main one. You can get all kinds of stuff there. Mondo Kim’s is another good place too. Kim’s is like a chain and they do DVDs and it’s a record store and stuff but they’ve got one that’s got tons of **** in it, so that’s a great place too. St. Mark’s comics on St. Mark’s Street. That’s another good one too.

Be sure to pick up “A Positive Rage,” out now on Vagrant Records. Or catch The Hold Steady in your area by finding the tour dates on their website www.theholdsteady.com.


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