This year saw the release of Teeth Dreams, the excellent, return-to-form sixth album from Brooklyn rockers The Hold Steady. After an extended four-year break since the release of the band’s last album Heaven Is Whenever, Teeth Dreams is the sound of a band revitalized and ready to take on the world again. In advance of their Irish show at The Academy on October 18th, State spoke to the band’s songwriter and guitarist Tab Kubler from his home in Brooklyn about touring, new band members and dealing with changes in the music industry…
The new album is great and sounds like a band reborn. Is there any specific reason for this?
Thanks for noticing and I’m glad that comes across. There are a couple of things that contribute to that. One of the main ones is the break we took between Heaven is Whenever (2010) and this one. We worked at an insane pace for the first seven or eight years, almost doing an album a year. It was fantastic and it was great to be busy but it felt like we were just trying to keep up with what was happening. The break allowed us to step back from it a little bit and appreciate what we have accomplished.
The other contributory factor seems to have been the addition of a second guitarist, Steve Selvidge…
Steve had toured with us and had been in the band for four years but hadn’t written or recorded anything with us. I really wanted to add a second guitar player for a while. Steve and I were born on the same day in the same year, just a few hours apart!’
What did he bring to the band?
I would say that our influences and our inspiration come from the same place but our styles and approach to playing are very different. He is such a great guitar player and it was great to find somebody who would push me to evolve and grow and Steve was certainly that person.
You mentioned influences and inspirations that you both shared. What acts would you say directly informed the sound of the band?
The big one for Steve and I was Led Zeppelin and that era of rock ‘n’ roll. Steve comes from Memphis and he has more of a Southern influence – blues, bluegrass, that kind of Delta music – whereas I leaned more in later years towards The Smiths and The Stone Roses. The Copper Blue record (by Bob Mould’s post-Husker Du incarnation Sugar) was a big one for me and also The Afghan Whigs’ album Gentlemen. What was pointed out to me recently was that both Bod Mould and Greg Dulli leave a couple of strings open where there are these kind of droning notes and I do a lot of that aswell.
What would you think marks this album out as different to the previous five?
There definitely is a lot more melody on this album than previous ones. People have said it’s more of a harder rock record but I feel it is a much more dynamic record, especially on songs like ‘The Ambassador’ or ‘Spinners’ or Oaks’. ‘On With The Business’ is a really aggressive song.
You took a four-year break before returning. What was it like having a such an extended period of downtime? Are you always thinking about the next album?
I’m always writing music but I never really sit down and think ‘OK, it’s now time to write a record’. It’s always happening but there are times when it’s more immediate and quicker but the process is always ongoing. By the time it came to Craig (Finn, the band’s vocalist and lyricist) to write lyrics he had 20-plus songs to work from. We had built up a lot of work so at one point we had to sit down and work on fourteen songs otherwise it became kind of overwhelming at times.
You’re deep into a world tour promoting Teeth Dreams. Do you still enjoy getting out on the road or do you prefer working on songs in the studio?
I love travelling. It’s just great to get up and play the songs live. As for the studio or playing live, they are two very different things. Being in the studio is the creative part, the statement, the artifact. And that’s where you want to take things and figure things out. The live part of it is going out and honing those songs and there is a little bit of improvisation and there’s the performance part of it. It’s just the idea of a bunch of people in a room together enjoying rock ‘n’ roll which is kind of the best way to experience it
How much do you enjoy touring in Europe, and Ireland in particular?
Ireland’s fantastic. We’ve played there a bunch of times and the response has always been great. It’s a weird thing to travel across an ocean to a whole different continent or country and find that people know who you are and are familiar with your music. It’s something I’ve never taken for granted. Going out and being able to travel and seeing different people…we have a lot of gratitude at being able to do that. This is just the best job you could ever want. It’s not a chore, it’s a celebration. I really hope that’s what people walk away with from a Hold Steady show.
Is there any difference between the audiences here and in the States?
It’s a hard a question to answer. It depends on where you are or who you talk to. Music fans in the UK and Europe have – I’ll probably get into trouble for saying this – a broader range, or spectrum, of music knowledge. They’re more familiar with a lot of different types of music. It’s what my experience has been and it could be a kind of a generalisation, in some ways, but it has always been what I have found.
What can we expect at your Irish show in October?
We try to cram as much music as possible into the set. We try to play about twenty songs plus an encore….a handful of new songs from Teeth Dreams and bunch of old ones. I would say it’s a good representation of the catalogue.
500 million iTunes users have been coming to terms with U2’s new album being part of their music libraries, whether they liked it or not. As a working musician, what are your thoughts on this and the disruptive changes technology has wrought on the music industry in recent years?
Well, this isn’t a quick answer or a soundbite but I think the business or the music industry has been operating under a paradigm that doesn’t really exist anymore and I don’t think it’s fair to point fingers or blame anybody. I think it’s going to be impossible at this point for any business model to keep up with the pace at which technology is evolving. The good part is that bands have an opportunity to be really creative in how they connect with their fans. The way the music business works now is that the creativity doesn’t begin and end with the songwriting process. You have to be creative in how you are going to reach people and how you are going to create albums. There’s a constant consumption of content, people want to see your pictures on Instagram and Twitter and videos of what it is like to be in the studio or on the tour-bus. I don’t think that will ever get dull as long as you go at it from a creative and honest perspective. I hear a lot of people who say the music industry sucks and no one is making any money and it’s not what it used to be. No, it’s not what it used to be but it now it can be anything you want it to be. There’s no ceiling on what you can do creatively now because there are so many platforms and so much infrastructure to get it out there and to reach people.