Man, if money didn’t matter then I might tell you something new

You can’t tell people what they want to hear if you also want to tell the truth.

The Hold Steady “Soft In The Center”

Let’s be clear about one thing right out of the gate, I’m a fan of The Hold Steady, but that’s not the only reason why I sought out Tad Kubler to judge this year’s Figment Album Cover Design Contest.  No, I sought him out because in addition to being a great musician, he’s also a very good designer and photographer.  His work adorns the covers of several of his band’s album covers and he’s actively involved in every creative aspect of his band.  He’s also one of the most straightforward musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure to interact with, as evidenced by his initial reaction to our offer to be this year’s judge:

“Ok, so forgive the comparison, but this is like Dungeons and Dragons for record collectors, right? Am I understanding this correctly? And that’s not anything but a compliment.

I don’t know why anybody would want to run their own label in this day and age of what the music industry has become. I sometimes wonder why anybody would want to be in a fucking band, for that matter…”

It was that kind of honesty that made it imperative that we get him to be this year’s judge and thankfully he took us up on our offer.  Better yet, he agreed to talk with us about his music, photography and design work.

We mix our own mythologies, we push them through PA systems.

We dictate our doxologies and try to get sleeping kids to sit up and listen.

I’m not saying we could save you

But we could put you in a place where you could save yourself.

If you don’t get born again, at least you’ll get high as hell.

The Hold Steady “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night”

Figment News:  What it’s like being in a working band these days?

Tad Kubler:  It’s a very interesting time to be involved in the music industry. I wish there were a way to sum this up quickly and briefly. Because it’s a conversation I have to be part of frequently.  Probably more often than I care to be.

You have the paradigm under which the music business operates. And then you have the pace of technology. And in between both of those is the consumer AND the “artist”, for lack of a better word.  It’s a mess, quite frankly. But we’ll see. In some ways it effects what we do and how we do it. I may be acting naïve, but I prefer to operate under the assumption that we do this because we love music. And the rest of it, isn’t all that important. That said, we are running a business. We have people that work for us. There are contracts and business managers and lawyers and health insurance plans and all the other things that can distract you from the joy of rock & roll (there is indeed “so much joy”). But when it’s all said and done, being in front of a room full of people doing what you love with people you love, just staying in the moment and being present to experience that joy… It doesn’t get any better than that.

FN:  Did you always know you wanted to play music for a living or was it something that started out as a hobby and grew into a profession?

Tad:  For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be in a rock band. AC/DC. Kiss. Van Halen. Led Zeppelin. That’s what I wanted. I never thought it would happen. Maybe I did, actually. But it was never something I counted on.

FN:  You and Craig Finn were in a band together prior to The Hold Steady called Lifter Puller.  What did you learn from that experience that helped you when you formed The Hold Steady?

Tad:  There are so many differences between both bands that it would be hard to compare the experience. I think if anything, it created a level of trust and friendship between Craig and myself. And because The Hold Steady began really as a means for all of us to hang out and have fun together, anything else that came after that was a pleasant surprise. Obviously, that’s changed over time. I think as the band has grown, so have our expectations. But I really believe that enjoying ourselves has always been the most important thing. Craig and I have an interesting relationship. When we’re off the road, we can go weeks without ever speaking or seeing each other. And there isn’t anybody in the world that can push my buttons the way that guy can. And quite frankly, I’m not even sure he’s aware of it. But making music with that guy and getting on stage with him most nights has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I have such a tremendous amount of respect for Craig and all the guys in the band. It’s a pretty wonderful thing. You can take it for granted at times. But sometimes when we’re playing on stage, I just look around and take it all in and think to myself, “We fucking did this. Holy shit!”

She said I just can’t sympathize

With your rock n’ roll problems.

Isn’t that what we wanted?

Some major rock n’ roll problems.

The Hold Steady “Rock Problems”

FN:  What’s it like being a thirtysomething rock star?

Tad:  If I see one, I’ll ask them and let you know…

FN:  It’s my understanding that Craig Finn writes most of the lyrics and you write the music.  Is that correct?

It is. But I think it’s more accurate to say that I bring in ideas. I suppose there are times when I’ve brought in a song that was complete from start to finish. And it’s not as though I come in and say, “I wrote a song, guys; here’s how it goes”. We always work things through as a band. But I think we work best as a band when we work through ideas together. Bobby, Galen and I spend a lot of time just playing together. And Finn brings a lot to the table in the songwriting process. Craig has a great ear and has such a love for music. He listens to so many different things. So his contributions to the songwriting process is invaluable. I enjoy getting everyone in a room together and being creative.

FN:  How do you guys collaborate on songs?  Do you work on stuff alone, demo it and then bring it to the band or do you work together on songs?

Tad:  We don’t have one specific way we work. I’m always doing demos. Sometimes I’ll bring in a few different parts that I think work well together and we’ll just start to play. Other times, Craig and I get together and I’ll sit down with a guitar and he’ll have his notebooks and we’ll start to throw around ideas. Craig and I have recorded songs on the back of the bus and made rough versions to put on everyone’s ipod so they can come up with ideas. Sometimes we sit in my living room and write. Or in his kitchen. I’ll sit at the table with a guitar and he’ll pace back and forth singing to himself. I actually write in front of the television a lot. Watching basketball or Law & Order, Friday Night Lights, Californication, Discovery channel… It sometimes feels like when I’m not paying attention to what I’m doing, or just letting my mind drift when I have a guitar in my hands, that’s when things just come up. That sounds idiotic. But it’s true.

Don’t bother talking to the guys with their hot soft eyes

You know they’re already taken.

Don’t even speak to all those sequencer and beats boys

When they kiss they spit white noise.

The Hold Steady “First Night”

FN:  When I think of your band’s music I think arena rock riffs mixed with punk energy.  How would you describe The Hold Steady’s sound?

Tad:  Rock & Roll. I think if I have to spend any more time describing it than that, we’re missing the point. Jeff Tweedy said something really brilliant: people spend a lot of time talking about music. But music happens in the moment. And that’s what it’s about. The moment. Anything beyond that, you’re really just trying to catch up to it.

FN:  All of your band’s albums are on independent labels. French Kiss and Vagrant Records in the U.S. and Rough Trade in Europe.  Was that a conscious decision?

Tad:  I’m not sure what that means. It was a deliberate decision on who we chose to put out our records. But we didn’t deliberately choose independent labels.

FN:  What do you think the future holds for major and independent labels?

Tad:  I don’t know. As I’ve said, there are a lot of people talking about what a shit state of affairs the music business is in. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. It seems to me that most labels, indy or major, have a difficult time keeping up with technology and therefore the consumer. I think the industry is becoming leaner and meaner. Maybe that’s a good thing.

FN:  Clearly bands have to work a lot harder these days to get their music heard.  How important is marketing to a band’s success, and how involved do you have to be in the band’s promotion?

Tad:  I don’t think that’s true. I think technology has made it ridiculously easy to get your music heard. The internet is humming with new bands. There’s enough technology out there to broadcast your every thought and every word. And I think that may be problematic. I hear people talk about posting on someone’s wall and YouTube hits and Facebook me and tweet it and all kinds of things. Everyone has a voice. Everyone can be heard. There’s no quality control anymore. Some would argue that it’s helped level the playing field. I don’t know if I agree with that. Not to be a dick, but I don’t know that everyone should be able to broadcast every thought that tumbles through their head…

Shoes and socks baby, socks and shoes.

We spent the night last night in Newport News.

This chick she looked just like Elizabeth Shue.

We got bruised.

The Hold Steady “The Swish”

FN:  You’ve helped design a number of your band’s album covers.  What is that process like?

Tad:  That would be an awful lot of typing. I come from a visually creative background with photography, so that’s obviously helpful. I feel for me it’s really important to be involved in anything the band does creatively. I like to realize the finish product in it’s entirety. And it’s also a great learning experience. I’ve always felt that playing in a band doesn’t end at the songwriting process. I really enjoy being a part of all the creative output.

FN:  What do you look for in an album cover design?

Tad:  I think what I myself look for, or what anyone looks for is something that resonates with them. Right? I sometimes hear people talk about their relation to the band or artist. And I often hear people talk about looking for things that may indicate the people or person playing the music is somebody like them. You know, a lot of people talk about our band and say, “They look like regular guys”. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I think it’s fantastic on a level of making it easy to connect to the music and the songs. But I don’t feel that way about bands and artists I enjoy. For myself, I sometimes look for some kind of exaltation. And perhaps subconsciously I believe that I may not get that from somebody that looks like me, acts like me, thinks like me… I don’t know that I feel it necessary to connect with somebody like me. So for that, I want to look outside myself. So I may not want someone just like me to get me there. I know me. That’s boring. I need a certain amount of mystery. I want to make up my own version of the person playing the song. I want to make them more than human. Growing up, rock stars were from a different planet. Bowie, T. Rex, Bob Dylan, Kiss, Led Zeppelin – these people were deified. For good reason, I believe. And it was awesome. It gave me hope. Hope that there was something different than what I was seeing and experiencing. I want my rock stars held sacred. I want to listen to the music and hold the album cover and stare at it and imagine what kind world they live in.

FN:  Are there any designers or album covers that have inspired you over the years?

Tad:  Oh, shit. A lot. Stones – Exile,  Beatles – White Album,  Sex Pistols, Ramones, Fugazi, I could give you the laundry list.

FN:  You work as a photographer when you’re not recording or touring with The Hold Steady.  How did you get involved in photography?

Tad:  Weird story: I’ve always been interested in photography. Then, in about ’96 when I was living in Minneapolis, Bobby and I became friends. He introduced me to his sister and we started dating. She’s incredibly talented. And an amazing photographer. She got me into photography. So I took some classes and learned how to print. Then got into some of the physics of it – properties of light, etc. And started assisting. Kinda just grew from there. I’ve been working on a book for the last couple years that I’d really like to have out by the end of the year. It’s a major undertaking. I certainly bit off more than I could chew. Per usual.  And I still have a major crush on Bob’s sister… So Kris, if you’re reading, marry me?

FN:  Do you primarily photograph bands or do you shoot other subjects as well?

Tad:  I like to do portraits. Bands are hard to shoot do well. To be able to get 4 + people to all look interesting at once – very tricky. I’ve done editorial stuff. Music. Fashion. I love all of it.

FN:  Do you shoot your band’s promotional photos?

Tad:  I have in the past. But not so much now. No. I have a lot of friends that are photographers. Just call in some favors.

And when we hit the Twin Cities I didn’t know that much about it.

I knew Mary Tyler Moore and I knew Profane Existence.

I was keyed up.  Keys jangled in the stalls.

They counted money in the motels.  They mostly sold it in the malls.

And the carpet at the Thunderbird has a burn for every cowboy that got fenced in.

The Hold Steady “Stevie Nix”

FN:  All of The Hold Steady album covers are photographs.  Were you the photographer or did you conceptualize the cover and work with another photographer to actually shoot it?

Tad:  I shot the first two and did the layout with Seth and Tim (Les Savy Fav). The third and fourth I basically just art directed and had friends shoot.  And Finn is also involved in that creative process. It’s sometimes important to connect that lyrical narrative to the artwork in some way. He has a really great eye. I’m always blown away when I look at some of his photos from the road. And then the last album Finn and I let go of almost entirely. I’m not unhappy with how it came out. But I enjoy doing it too much to do that again.

FN:  I know from following your Twitter feed that you are an avid NY Knicks fan, so that begs the question…Carmelo Anthony trade…good or bad?  And since the Knicks’ season is over who do you think will win the NBA Title this year?

Tad:  I wasn’t into the trade. I think we lost our ass. And I don’t think Anthony is used to playing D’Antoni’s style of ball. And Billups has maybe two seasons left in him. Maybe. The only thing it will do is attract other players like Chris Paul or Dwight Howard.

I like the Bulls for the Eastern Conference. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final was incredible. The Bulls are a very young, athletic team. I don’t think Miami was prepared for that. Miami thought once they got past the Celtics it would be smooth sailing. Not at all the case. I think Dirk and the Mavs really want a championship. But again, OKC is a young, athletic team. Dallas’ starting lineup are almost all 30 years old. We’ve got a lot of basketball left to play. And I think it’s going to be fantastic.

In bar light she looked alright.

In daylight she looked desperate.

That’s alright, I was desperate too.

I’m getting pretty sick of this interview.

The Hold Steady “Sequestered in Memphis”

Listen to The Hold Steady

Check out Tad’s Photography

Catch The Hold Steady on Tour

2011 Summer Tour Primer!

May 17th, 2011

Summer is right around the corner and the summer tour schedule is already filling up fast!  Whether you’re a fan of metal, horror punk, psychedelic jam bands or just plain good old fashioned rock n’ roll, the summer of 2011 is packed with a wide variety of live music options.  Here are a few of the choice tours and music festivals to consider:

Rituals Across Europe Tour:  Poison Throne and Slutwitch will kick off the summer tour season with a co-headlining tour that will also feature Medieval Casket in the warm-up slot.  Look for these Grindcore/Black Metal newbies to tear it up on stages across Europe in May and June.

Something Wicked Festival 2011:  Everyone from Werewolf Concerto, who will headline the main stage, to Lucifer and The Long Pigs, Sleeping Through The Apocalypse, Suicide By Papercut, Hey, Irene and Mortimer C. Klaxton and his Big Damn Steam Band will be in Leeds, UK on June 1st to kick off a summer of Something Wicked Festivals.

Antigoon Open Air II:   On June 3rd Antwerpen, Belgium will once again be the site of the second Antigoon Open Air Festival bringing metal bands as diverse as The Forgotten Falling and Vengeance Burns Eternal to the Main Stage and up and comers like Archers Storm, Destroyah, Steel Beneath Flesh and Buried in Black to the Second and Underground stages.

A Plague Upon Your House World Tour 2011:  German goth metal titans ZV and chart-topping Plague Rockers Janissary hit the road together on the North American leg of their World Tour.

Something Wicked U.S.A. Festival 2011:  The U.S. version of Something Wicked hits American shores on June 18th in Austin, TX and with Stonekrank headlining the main stage along and Cherry Vendetta headlining the 2nd stage it looks to be a great one.  Other featured bands include DeathBreth, Dollhouse in Black, The Night Walkers, Forever Haunted and Nuclear Insanity.

March of the Damned Tour 2011:  Do you like Zombies?  Love horror flicks?  Then this tour is for you as Horror Punks Murder13 bring Teenage Zombies From Mars and Zombies in Brown Sauce out on tour with them this summer.

Second City Jazz & Blues Festival:  Myrinx Records is behind this brand new Jazz & Blues Festival taking part in the City of the Big Shoulders.  Kaliclysm, Malaika, Massey Ferguson’s Stampeding Heard, Joseph Hayworth, The Irish Balloons, Mortimer C. Klaxton & His Big Damn Steam Band, and Grover “Neckbone” Clifton are all on the bill.

Something Wicked Festival Germany:   Can’t get enough of a good thing?  Then visit the Fatherland to take in the German Something Wicked featuring main stage headliners The Forgotten Falling as well as Let’s Not and Say We Did, Gravestompers, Kingslayer, The Angel’s Sin, Medieval Casket, Firecharged!, GothicEvil, Tyrannical Empire, Hope & Honour, and Devil’s Playground among others.

Rumor has it that UncleDuffRecords is also putting together a summer mini-tour.  Although unconfirmed at press time, word on the street is that it will be some sort of traveling festival.

If you’ve got a tour you’d like to announce please let us know about it.  Now go get some tickets!

UPDATE:

These tours were just announced!

Up The Creek:  UncleDuffRecords is indeed putting together a traveling festival, and what a great one it will be.  Zandergriff Miggs & The Parliament of Owls, The Cosmic Stoners, Vorpal Queen, Let’s Not and Say We Did,and Eccentric Arcade will all be travelling “Up The Creek” (the creek being The Mississippi) on a day-glo painted psychedelic paddleboat from New Orleans to St. Paul, stopping at cities along the river to allow each band an opportunity to headline a show from a barge being pulled by the paddleboat.  Got all that?  Good.  Ken Kesey would be proud!

Sparks of Summer Tour 2011:  Stonekrank will once again hit the road for their annual “Sparks of Summer Tour” on June 13th.  They’ll take side project Midnight Cheerleader Rebels out on the road with them, and are currently in talks with several other bands to join the bill.  So find your earplugs this one’s gonna Krank!

If you’re a fan of metal the name Eddie Trunk needs no qualifier.  Eddie has been sharing his love of hard rock and heavy metal with fans for over 25 years.  Whether its on his two weekly radio shows:  Eddie Trunk Live on Sirius/XM radio’s The Boneyard channel and the FM-syndicated Eddie Trunk Rocks that originates from Q-104 .3 FM in New York City or as the host of That Metal Show on VH1 Classic, Eddie has always brought fans of metal the best the genre has to offer.

In addition to his on-air talents, Eddie was one of the original executives at Megaforce/Atlantic Records, becoming Vice President of the label at the age of 25.  While at Megaforce he worked with bands like Anthrax, Manowar, Overkill, King’s X, and Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley.  He also worked for Loud & Proud Management where he helped shepherd the careers of bands like White Lion.

Clearly Eddie knows metal!  So when we heard that about the release of his new book, Eddie Trunk’s Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal (Abrams, 2011) we jumped at the chance to speak to him, and we’re pleased to announce that he agreed to provide us a copy to give away to the runner up in our 2011 Figment Album Cover Design Contest!

Figment News:  Why did you decide to write your new book, Eddie Trunk’s Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal?

Eddie Trunk:  I was always interested in doing a book at some point and would still like to do an autobiography once my days being active in the business are done, so this was a great way to get into that world. There are many personal stories in the book and incredible photos, so it’s kind of a hybrid of many things and people have really responded to it so far.

FN:  It’s certainly jam packed with anecdotes and stories about some of the biggest metal stars in the world.  What’s one of your favorites?

Eddie:  They are all so personal to me. Funny stuff like walking off stage with the singer from Tesla’s mic always makes me crack a smile. I get asked so much about when Axl Rose came into my studio in 2006 and that’s covered in the GnR chapter. The Dio chapter is super tough because I originally wrote it before Ronnie passed away, then went and rewrote it. That was a tough one.

FN:  You have two radio shows, Eddie Trunk Live on XM/Sirius’ “The Boneyard” channel and Eddie Trunk Rocks that airs live on Q104.3 here in NY and is syndicated elsewhere, AND you host “The Metal Show” on VH1 Classic.  How do you have time to do all these shows and write a book?

Eddie:  I’m lucky I have what I have and I don’t take any of it for granted, but I’m not even close to where I want to be in this world. I’m always looking at how I can expand on what I am doing with my current outlets and looking for more. Both radio shows are once a week, the TV show shoots a full season in like 10 days then they roll out, so it looks a little more non stop than it is. Don’t get me wrong, now with the book I am busy, but I welcome it and always look for more to grow my shows and spread the word on the bands and music.

FN:  You’ve been on the radio for over 25 years, and clearly the industry has changed a lot in that time.  What do you think the future holds for radio?

Eddie:  28 actually as of now. It’s a strange time for radio. I truly feel you have to be known for something and have a dedicated audience that tunes in for you and not just the music. You can get thousands of songs in an iPod these days. I never wanted to be an iPod. I think you need to bring more to the table as a host on radio than a nice voice that can backsell a playlist. Sadly computers are taking those jobs. So that’s why my shows are music and talk and interview intensive as well. I like doing that kind of radio, much more creative. But there are some new opportunities these days with the internet and podcasting that were not there before, not to mention satellite, so if you have a brand and name I think you can do something cool still.

FN:  How important of a role does radio still play in promoting new and established bands?  Do you think the internet has stolen a lot of radio’s thunder?

Eddie:  I still don’t think there is a greater substitute for radio when it comes to exposing music and news about bands. Its so immediate and personal to many. The biggest was MTV in the music days, but radio is still king now I think. You would not believe how many people in the middle of this country don’t use the internet that much. I hear from them all the time on the satellite show. They want to hit the radio in their car and get their dose of music and news. Sadly radio has been less and less adventurous in taking chances on new things, but it can still move the needle greatly. I’d love to do a daily show one day in radio, especially if I had creative freedom like I do now.

FN:  You’ve clearly seen a lot of great hard rock and metal bands live.  What bands would you put in your Top 5 live list?

Eddie:  Kiss, Aerosmith, Metallica, AC/DC, UFO, so many…

FN:  Getting back to your book, did you really share cucumber sandwiches with Robert Plant?

Eddie:  Yes, he called it a “salad sandwich” and it was just like cucumber and lettuce. Not my idea of a sandwich but it was a british tea thing, and if your hangin with Plant you go with it! I had the chance to do TV with him twice pre That Metal Show on VH1 Classic.

FN:  In addition to working on radio you’ve also been an executive with Megaforce Records as well as worked in artist management with Loud & Proud.  What was it like working for those companies back in the 1980’s when metal was really breaking through to the mainstream?

Eddie:  A whole different world than today. Labels spent a couple hundred thousand on a video alone. Records sold, bands toured all the time, people purchased music and CDs, the record stores and press were so much more of a factor. If you got a few plays on MTV and some radio you could score a gold album, now getting gold is so much harder.

FN:  Clearly metal and hard rock have changed a lot since the 80’s.  We’ve seen a lot of new genres spring up and despite being decimated by grunge and alternative rock in the 90’s its still going as strong as ever.  Why do you think metal is so resilient?

Eddie:  Its always been the underdog and been marginalized and underestimated. People think they know exactly the makeup of a metal fan and often they are wrong. I always hated the stereotypes with the music and fought against them. I love when people say I don’t look or act like a metal guy.

FN:  Any up and coming metal bands that you would recommend?

Eddie:  I have been heavily entrenched in the classic world. My radio shows are on classic based channels and so is my TV show. I still listen to and support new music that fits what I’m into and especially great new music from classic artists, but there is not that one band right now I can point to and say they are special. Hope I find one though.

FN:  What advice would you have for someone who is interested in working in the music industry these days?

Eddie:  So tough  now. Labels are dying. Be diverse in your experience and get it wherever you can. Its not learned in books but I would never discourage education. Have a backup plan for sure. I just think get the experience, get creative, and network the best you can, The future is in managing artists and these 360 deals I think. Most people taking all their business in house, so you either have to work for them direct, or provide a service as an indie that they can hire you for. But experience is key.

FN:  Figment is a site where being able to design a great album cover is really important.  What metal album covers would you put in your Top 10?

Eddie:  Black Sabbath: Heaven & Hell, Kiss: Destroyer, Van Halen II, Motorhead: Ace Of Spades, Iron Maiden: Number Of The Beast, Judas Priest: Screaming For Vengeance, Rainbow: Rising, Rush: 2112, Metallica: Master Of Puppets, Ozzy: Diary Of  A Madman.

FN:  If you could form your ultimate fake metal band what would you name it?

Eddie:  Screaming Lords Of Metal

Thanks to our good friends at Adobe the winner of our 2011 Figment Album Cover Design Contest will be receiving Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended.  So with less than one month left until the deadline are you looking for an edge that will take your design from average to exceptional?  Well thanks to Adobe you can, by clicking here you can download a free 30-day trial of Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended and use it to create your entry.

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