10 years ago Craig Finn and Tad Kubler finished watching The Last Waltz and decided to get together, drink some beers and play some music. In terms of titanic, historic acts of decision making, this is up there with Lord Sandwich sticking meat in between two slices of bread for me, and if I’m honest, the only thing I love as much as sandwiches is The Hold Steady, whose sixth studio cut Teeth Dreams lands on March 25.
Sitting with Craig and Tad in a Shoreditch hotel I asked them whether they saw this coming 10 years ago, the short answer? No. “There was zero ambition,” Craig said, “We were having conversations about whether we were even gonna play a show – playing shows in New York was a hassle, we didn’t have cars. We just wanted to drink some beers. We put no pressure on ourselves, went out there and had a really good time.”
It’s that sense of having a good time that’s so palpable in The Hold Steady’s music and what really set them apart in the climate they emerged from, and still captivates to this day. Their latest record Teeth Dreams is awash with everything you’d expect from the band – big hooks, incredible storytelling and killer guitar solos. From the punkish exhuberance of On With The Business, to the beautiful melancholy of The Ambassador, to the dark, sordid, almost psychedelic 9 minute closer Oaks. It’s recognisably The Hold Steady, but somehow sounds thicker, more dynamic and more rounded than ever before, thanks in part to the addition of Steve Selvidge on guitar who really lends a new dynamic to the bands’ sound. Perhaps with the exception of Separation Sunday, a near-perfect rock and roll album, it’s their best record yet.
Over that 10 year period The Hold Steady have grown to acquire cult status, accruing a group of fans as dedicated as any you’ll find – they run the message board, champion the band on social media, buy them gifts and make live shows a wonderful, communal experience and preach the gospel of the Unified Scene. I asked Craig who the first band he obsessed over was:
“This is a 2 part answer, because the first band was Kiss! With Kiss, you were in the Kiss Army, which is kinda what The Unified Scene is based on. You wanted to be part of something, and for the whole world to know. Then there was The Replacements...that was more like following a team, but a team that might get relegated. They were ours and they were kinda loveable losers”
Judging by their stories, Hold Steady fans have that same sense of ownership, with Tad letting us in on some of the stranger requests they receive on tour.
“This doesn’t happen that often anymore, but it definitely has. Sometimes, because people listen to the songs and think they know the characters and lyrics, they ask us to...”
Craig jumps in: “Smoke crack. That’s happened. Yeah.”
It’s not all pipes made outta Pringles cans though. A fan who had turned to the band during a particularly hard year, and who has since become close friends with them, bought them all Christmas presents one year, including an artisan ’76 Les Paul for Tad, and an all expenses paid trip to Florida to see the Minnesota Twins in Spring training for Craig. “Pretty Massive,” he says.
Sitting talking to these two guys whose music has become so important to me, I’m struck by how comfortable they both seem. They’re clearly at a stage where the music they’re making is the music they love and is having the dual effect of creating a real, palpable sense of community amongst its fans. I think back to the rallying cry on the first song of their first album: “All the sniffling indie kids, hold steady! And all you clustered-up clever kids, hold steady!” – 10 years is a long time in music, and I’m glad The Hold Steady are still living by this mantra.
Teeth Dreams is out March 25th and the band are touring the UK in May, playing smallish venues. They said they’d be back to do bigger venues later on down the line.