Smile Politely

Hold Tight: The Hold Steady visits the Illini Union

“I would go to a 12 page shoot for British Elle in London, and then fly back and stay at a Super 8 on tour,” Tad Kubler explains. “I shouldn’t have quit my day job.”

When quitting your day job means touring the world with a rock band, the dilemma becomes a more multi-faceted issue. Lucky for fans, Kubler put photography on a back burner to pursue life in The Hold Steady full time.

The process of band maturation was a very natural one for the group. Vocalist Craig Finn and Kubler (lead guitarist) disbanded from a Minnesota group named Lifter Puller in 2000. The two parted to separate coasts, but in 2003 they decided it was time to bring the music back.

Bassist Galen Polivka was a friend from Minneapolis who jumped on the train from the get-go. When their first drummer didn’t work out, Bobby Drake got the call, and Franz Nicolay was added for more instrumentation. Nicolay was originally hesitant to make the commitment, but Kubler explained it wouldn’t be a big deal — just a few shows here and there. It ended up turning into a bit more than a few shows.

The gradual domino process stemmed from the expected path for a modern band. They played a few shows, then decided to make a record. After Almost Killed Me was recorded in 2004, touring just felt like the next step.

“We always had very realistic goals for ourselves,” Kubler says. “One day you just wake up and you’re on tour 300 days out of the year.”

They bypassed the lush indulgence of young-band syndrome and have grown up significantly since their first release. Bottles of whiskey have been replaced with protein shakes, fish oil and pre-show stretching.

“We used to just drink together before shows,” Kubler notes. “Now we use those last few minutes as quiet time before we hit the stage.”

The Hold Steady puts on an incredible live show, thanks in part to the powerful lyrics and Finn’s raspy baritone pipes. His writing inevitably attracted book offers, but he feels music is where his writing belongs.

“Craig writes all the time, and he has other aspirations outside the band, but he is just a natural-born performer,” Kubler says. “It’s a part of his personality. He feels he can write words people relate to, but when you put them to music you can reach a wider audience.”

Even with the options of drinking champagne with models, writing novels and short stories, or spending time at home raising families, The Hold Steady feels they genuinely enjoy everything they do.

“It sounds really oversimplified and cliché to say music is a really good time for us, but I think a lot of bands lose sight of that,” Kubler explains. “We’re able to really appreciate what’s happening to us with it being overwhelming.”

The musicians have given up plenty of ordinary yet cherished experiences to pursue their goals. It is practically impossible to keep a normal relationship with a woman during the months of touring, and it can be hard to relate to friends who haven’t shared the same experiences.

“I’ll come back from touring with the same people every single day, and all the sudden I have all these inside jokes that no one understands,” Kubler says. “They end up thinking I’m crazy, but there are definitely worse things in life to complain about.”

With four albums under their belt and a new live recording titled A Positive Rage out next week, their hard work translates into beautiful stories perfectly packaged for willing ears. We may not be European glamazons, but I expect a warm welcome in Champaign-Urbana for a few guys who always show the crowd a good time.

Check out The Hold Steady this Friday, April 3 at the Courtyard Café. Tickets are $15 for UIUC students and $17 for the public.

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