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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Hold Steady Tour Behind Their ‘Heaviest, Biggest’ Record

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The Hold Steady had to take a break.

After putting out six albums in as many years, capped by 2010’s Heaven is Whenever, then touring for more than a year in support of that record, the band needed to stop, or, guitarist Tad Kubler said, pay a steep price for continuing on at breakneck speed.

“It would have been disastrous,” Kubler said this spring. “I don’t think the records would have been that great and I think we were all pretty fatigued by the time we finished the touring cycle. The break was much needed. We needed some time. It got to the point where we’d built up so much momentum and we were working at such a pace, it didn’t feel like we were making any deliberate decisions. We were just trying to keep up with what was happening. We needed to take a step back and think, ‘What do we want to do now?’”

Kubler, who writes the band’s music, got involved in other projects, soundtracks, scores and recordings during the time off.

Singer-lyricist Craig Finn, meanwhile, put out a well-received solo album, Clear Heart Full Eyes, in early 2012, then toured in support of that release, playing shows that were far more subdued than The Hold Steady’s rock extravaganzas.

“Doing something quieter was really nice for me,” Finn said. “All I do is the lyrics. So there are some nights, especially on the last record and the last touring, we’d go out and it would be so loud and I couldn’t hear myself and the audience would be saying, ‘I can’t hear the vocals.’ I’d be like, ‘What am I doing out here?’ So it was nice for me to do the solo thing.

“At the same time, it’s a quieter thing, audiences reacted quieter, there was no throwing beer in the air,” he said. “I kind of missed the beer in the air. After 10 years in The Hold Steady, that’s how you feel validation. It’s fun to get in the room with loud guitars. It made me pumped to make a loud record and be in the band again.”

That record turned out to be Teeth Dreams, the band’s first on a new label, Washington Square.

“It’s a big rock record,” Finn said. “I’m proud of the record, especially because it’s our sixth record. I’m 42 years old. Everyone thinks you’re going to bring in the mandolins and we brought the big rock. It’s probably our heaviest, biggest record. I’m excited about that.”

Because of unusual delay between albums, Teeth Dreams came about differently than its predecessors, starting with the way Kubler composed the songs.

“Right around the time we were doing Heaven Is Whenever, a lot of that stuff really came together in the studio,” Kubler said. “With me spending more time recording in the studio and doing other musical projects in the interim, I focused more on the songwriting process than I have in the past. Where, in the past, I’d bring in a riff or a couple of parts that I sort of thought worked well together, then we’d arrange things, [with] this one, I tried to think about the whole song and how everything would work—what’s the pre-chorus, what’s going to be the chorus, things like that.”

Finn then took lyrics he had written and fit them to the songs, telling his character-based stories over the riffs and melodies created by the guitars of Kubler and Steve Selvidge, who was making his first album with the band. He gave the group a fully guitar-centered makeover after the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay in 2010. Bassist Galen Polivka and drummer Bobby Drake round out the current lineup.

The Hold Steady is starting a summer tour, and figures to spend much of the next year on the road, which is fine with Finn.

“I love it,” Finn said of touring. “I like making records, I really do. But I love the shows. In some ways you make a record to go on tour. I love to travel. I love the community. I love the shows. The record studios can be boring. It’s a lot of down time. The shows are the most exciting part for me. I’m excited to go out and play.”

The Hold Steady headline Summerfest’s U.S. Cellular Connection Stage on Thursday, July 3, at 10 p.m.