Interview with The Hold Steady: Scoring Big

The Hold Steady have been a notable rock band in the “indie scene” for some time now. After forming in Brooklyn, NY in 2004, they have made a name for themselves with their unique ability for storytelling. Guitarist Tad Kubler’s instrumentation has been the base for singer Craig Finn’s lyrical content that emphasizes everything from partying to booze and a slew of characters that he has created. After undergoing several lineup changes, including the current addition of Steve Selvidge on guitar, the band is celebrating 10 full years together. After following the longest gap in their career between albums, 2014 has welcomed their sixth record, Teeth Dreams.

2014 has also introduced the band to PledgeMusic. The successful use of the website has helped crowdfund a five-song EP titled Rags. I had the opportunity to discuss all things Hold Steady with Tad Kubler. Topics of our discussion included everything from the writing process, the band’s new guitarist, and their recent covers EP. We also discussed his work for television and film, including his connection to HBO’s most successful series, Game Of Thrones. See what Tad had to say below:

Can you explain how you guys prepped and wrote the music for Teeth Dreams?

Well, this is the first record Steve was involved with. That was one of the big differences with this album. One of the reasons why I wanted Steve in the band is because of the caliber of musician that he is. He is able to create incredible and more dynamic moments on the guitar. I would come in with a few different parts. He would sit with them for a while and then we would work on the arrangement.

Also, throughout the entire time, we had a lot of different sessions together. This caused us to make a lot more demos for this record, probably more than all of the others combined. Basically, I would make a demo, send it to Steve, then we would meet up with Bobby [Drake, drummer] and Galen [Polivka, bassist], arrange it and make another demo. Then have Craig come in, he would add words, and then we would record that. By the end of it, we would have about three to four demos for each song (laughs).

Was it easier arranging the guitars working with Steve?

I would say definitely. It is very inspiring working with Steve. For me personally, I feel like my guitar playing had gotten pretty dull. I felt like I wasn’t growing or progressing. While me and Steve have very similar influences, we are very different guitar players. He would look at what I had written, use it as a foundation, and take it somewhere else. Basically he allowed me to focus more on the songwriting and he was able to realize that. We did a lot of tracking in the control room together as well. Nick [Raskulinecz, producer] couldn’t believe that Steve and I had not made an album together (laughs).

Did you know of Nick prior to Teeth Dreams? Were you a fan of his?

I honestly hadn’t heard a ton of his stuff, but the Foo Fighters and Deftones records I loved. I saw him in the Sound City documentary, and he had this moment where he just came across as so connected and invested in the music and what he does. When I met up with him in Los Angeles, one of the first things he said was that he wasn’t familiar with the band. I thought that was one of the most important things as to why I wanted to work with him.

What did he bring to the table?

There were no expectations besides making a great record. Being our sixth LP, with a new member, and coming off of a long break, it would have been very easy for us to overthink things and paint ourselves into a corner. What was good was Nick was always there to keep us on point. And with all of the demos, I spent so much time near the music that it was difficult to judge at times. Nick was good with telling us what the final product would need. It allowed me to surrender to the process, where in the past I wouldn’t be able to.

You guys also did a Spotify commentary for Teeth Dreams, briefly discussing track by track. Thats a great way to add a layer of interaction between you guys and the fans.

Yeah, I wish we were able to talk a little more involved about it. It is sometimes difficult to do those things because I can talk about what I did, but I don’t know how much to actually get into the technical aspect of things. Most of the time, so I don’t bore anyone, I just have to cover a short narrative of it.

Another way you guys interacted well with your fans was when you crowdfunded Rags, the covers EP. Can you explain importance or why you wanted to be involved with PledgeMusic?

We wanted to try to put together a more official fan club-type thing. With the way technology works now, and the way the music industry works, there is this huge opportunity to always be releasing something. If you can use it comfortably, you could make cool stuff and you could connect more with your fans. In talking more with the guys from Pledge, they seemed to be the connection to what we wanted to try to do and where we were at.

When our good friend Jersey Mike [Van Jura] passed away suddenly, we wanted to do something that would honor him and his family. It would allow us to put something together that would not just help us do a fan club-type thing, but it would also allow us to do something for Mike’s family. And we had always talked about doing a covers EP, so this seemed like the perfect time to do so. We wanted to check it out crowdfunding and that’s what we did. It was just an attempt to try and be creative with it. We wanted to be more involved with our fans. We wouldn’t be in this position if people didn’t give our records a listen and go to our shows.

In the Spotify commentary, you also discussed how there was a cinematic element to the music on Big Cig, almost as if it came from a spy film. Is writing for TV/film something you would be interested in doing more of?

Absolutely. That is something I have been doing and would like to continue to do. The past couple of years I have been doing more scoring and theme songs for television shows. I did the theme song for Fox, for their series Enlisted, and for the Hulu show The Awesomes that Seth Meyers worked on.

It is really fun for me because it isn’t much different than what I am doing with The Hold Steady. Craig has these lyrics that have very cinematic elements and is just overall wonderful storytelling, so it isn’t much different. When you get into it, it is even more of a collaborative element than being in a band because of all of the people involved.

Especially when you work on such a huge production like HBO for Game Of Thrones. You guys did the cover of The Bear And The Maiden Fair last year. I personally would love it if you guys were asked to perform The Rains Of Castamere.

Oh right, The National did that one, right?

Yes. And Sigur Rios did it as well on this latest season.

Oh Sigur Rios. They are another band that makes very cinematic music. That’s sort of where “Oaks” came from on the record. The idea of being able to capture the emotional side of the storytelling part, just in the music itself.

Whats next after the NJ area shows this summer? Is there anything in the works that you can talk about?

Nothing much. Hopefully it will be more touring and trying to reach more people and places geographically. We would also like to get back to that pace where we were when we started.

The Hold Steady will play the Stone Pony Summer Stage on June 27 and The Paramount on June 28. They will also perform at the Camden Waterfront on July 25 and open for The Replacements on Sept. 19 at Forest Hills Stadium. Teeth Dreams is available now. For more information, go to