As you know, Chris Mars just helped us out with our 2012 Figment Album Cover Design Contest.  Now it’s time for us to return the favor and help him out.  Chris just released his first single since 1996, “When I Fall Down”, to benefit his old band mate Slim Dunlap from The Replacements.  Slim suffered a stroke on February 20th, and Chris is trying to help raise money for his hospital bills.  You can listen to the single on Chris’ Facebook page and buy it for 99 cents on his website.  All proceeds from the single will go to help Slim and his family with his in-patient rehabilitation and treatment.  Let’s do our part to help a friend of Figment help a friend in need.

This year’s Figment Album Cover Design Contest has been a blast.  We’ve had the pleasure of working with a great artist, Chris Mars, we’ve continued to receive great support from our good friends at Adobe, and most importantly we’ve seen the quality of our player’s entries continue to improve.  We’d like to say thanks to all of you for making this year’s contest not only a success, but a fun one to boot.

But enough of that, let’s get to who won!  For that honor we turn it over to Chris Mars…

Chris:  “In picking the winner, I thought about my own days of record shopping, trying to find music that I would be into – the kind of music that wouldn’t be on the radio. I’d dig through the racks and I’d look for covers that had the right “look”, telling me it was something I might be into. Punk had a definite aesthetic attached to it, but so did new wave, prog rock, metal. I needed the spirit of the music conveyed to me visually, cause I might not have a chance to hear it before I committed to buying it. Of course, I’d attract to cool looking artwork in general…but if it was misleading, I’d be pissed about it. And if the artwork didn’t “fit” something I might be into, I might miss it. Then again, if the artwork was too obvious or cliché, I’d figure the music inside might be too.

Creatively, aesthetically, all the Figment finalists looked great. I was really impressed by the quality of the artwork and design overall. Every cover looked really good. So to pick the winner, I imagined combing through the rack, and wanting and needing the artwork to tell me what I needed to know about the music inside.”




“Binary Empire”

Design by ChildofAlma

Chris:  “I think the cover that best suits its band/genre is Binary Empire by Sinthetic.  It’s a cool cover, and if I were to guess what kind of music it would be, I would have hit it spot-on.  This one is a great marriage between visual interest and visual information.  It’s my big winner.”



Let’s Not and Say We Did

“The Night We Didn’t See Carl Sagan” EP

Design by poppinfresh

Chris:  “First runner up goes to The Night We Didn’t See Carl Sagan by Let’s Not and Say We Did. I think this is a really beautiful cover, and it also hits the mark for the music inside. But in this case, I had to read the band description and say, “Yeah it fits,” versus the big winner, where I was able to guess what would be inside before I read anything.”



King Fu and The Shank Punch Pow

“How To Get Away With Murder”

Design by Raybo

Chris:  “And the second runner up goes to How to Get Away With Murder by King Fu and the Shank Punch Pow. I really like the incorporation of the type, and I really like how this one looks. But it feels more punk to me than the musical description.”


Every year, we look for a guest judge who we think will share his/her perspective, talent and experience with you our players.  Chris Mars has been a terrific judge and we’d like to thank him yet again for all his contributions to this year’s contest.  Here’s what he had to say.

“Again, all the covers looked professional, the quality was really high.  My top three hit the mark closest without being something I’ve seen before.  I think all ten contestants have bright careers ahead for them if this is something they choose to pursue.  Thanks for the opportunity to view the work, I really enjoyed it.

Chris Mars


So congratulations to ChildofAlma for his winning design.  We’ll be sending him a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS6, an autographed copy of Chris Mar’s book “Tolerance”, a Figment t-shirt, and 10,000 pieces of Lucre!  He’ll also receive a Album Cover Design Contest Winner icon on his album page.  And to our runners up, don’t worry Lucre and prizes are on their way for you too!


Every year the job of narrowing down the entries in our annual Figment Album Cover Design Contest to the 10 cover designs that will passed on to our guest judge for the final round of judging seems to get harder, and this year was no exception.  Even last year’s winner theHoseman was involved in this year’s selection process, and he can attest to just how hard a task it is.  So congratulations to everyone who submitted an entry on making our job a living hell!

Now here are the 10 finalists (in no particular order) that will be given to Chris Mars to judge.   Check back on June 15th to see who Chris picks as the winner!



“Binary Empire”


Let’s Not & Say We Did

“The Night We Didn’t See Carl Sagan” EP



“Hunt The Monster Down”



“Sacred Geometry”


Hot Water Burn Baby

“Killing ‘Em With Kindness”


Tucker Jackson

“Modern Day Cowboy”


King Fu and The Shank Punch Pow

“How To Get Away With Murder”


Fragile Agony



Lambs to Lions

“Through Her Eyes” (Single)


Lucifer and The Long Pigs

“The Badlands”

As you know we’re a month into our 4th Annual Figment Album Cover Design Contest, and since we’re at the half way point we though it was a good time to remind you about just one of the great prizes you’ll take home if Chris Mars picks your design! Our good friends at Adobe are going to outfit this year’s winner with a copy of the newly released Adobe Photoshop Creative Suite 6!

Adobe Photoshop CS6 software delivers lightning-fast creativity and a sprinkle of magic, enabling designers to create breathtaking images, video, and 3D artwork that will set their work apart in print, on the web, and on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. Retouch images with astonishing ease and fine control now that the magic of Content-Aware technology powers two completely new additions to the Content-Aware technology family—the Content-Aware Patch tool and Content-Aware Move. Easily create new lens blurs and tilt-shift photography effects. Maximize your hardware investment and save significant time in your workflows thanks to the new Monaco Graphics Engine, which delivers blazing-fast interactions in key editing tools including Liquify, Puppet Warp, and the new Lighting Effects Gallery; new preset migration and sharing, which let you experience Photoshop in the same way across all your computers and bring your customizations from past versions of Photoshop into Photoshop CS6; and new Background Save and Auto-recovery options that boost productivity and image security. Enjoy a much easier way to create 3D artwork with a vastly simplified User Interface, and enhance your 3D creations with shadows lighting, animation, and new sketch and cartoon looks. Use new and enhanced design capabilities—including type styles, layer search, and dashed line creation—to create superior work in fewer steps. Crop faster and with greater precision with the all-new Crop tool. And much more.

Needless to say this is a prize that will help you take your album cover designs to the next level!  So get working on a design now and submit it before the June 1, 2012 deadline to have a chance at winning the image-editing software used by professional photographers and designers all over the world.

We launched Figment back in 2008 on the premise that anyone who loves music is looking for a creative way to express that love whether they can play an instrument or not.  In the four years since we launched, you our players, have proven that premise to be true, and Figment is now a place where you can express that love through original art/design, writing, and even marketing.So as we launch our fourth annual  Figment Album Cover Design Contest, we do so with a lot of pride!

For those of you who are visiting Figment for the first time or just recently became a player, our Album Cover Design Contest is arguably the biggest contest we hold all year here on Figment.  It’s a competition to see who can design the best album cover for their fake band.  Whether you have mad design chops or just a great imagination and a clear concept, you’ve got a chance to win, and winning has it’s perks.  We’d love to have as many participants as possible this year, because we believe all of our players have a creative voice that should be heard, and we hope you’ll take this opportunity to have your voice heard.

So who will be listening?  Well, we’re thrilled to announce that this year’s judge will be none other than Chris Mars, the former drummer for Minneapolis alternative rock/punk band The Replacements.  Beyond being a part of one of rock n’ roll’s most legendary bands, Chris also helped design some of The Replacements album covers including “Pleased To Meet Me” as well as all of the covers for all of his solo albums.   His love of painting led him to largely abandon music in 2006 to concentrate on his visual art.  His artwork has since been featured in exhibitions around North America and Europe.  It was Chris’ gradual evolution from fan to musician to visual artist that we found fascinating and ultimately what makes him the perfect judge for this year’s Figment Album Cover Design Contest.

We’re also proud to have Adobe, the leader in digital media creation and editing products, on-board for the 4th straight year to supply our winner with Adobe Photoshop.  Adobe supports and enables creativity at the highest levels.

So how does the contest work?  Quite simply, we’re looking for the best original album cover design.  Sure, technical design skill is a plus, but we’re ultimately looking for an album cover that grabs our attention.  Last year the winner was theHoseman, whose design for Van Q’s “Shattered Circuits” album caught the eye of last year’s judge  Tad Kubler, despite the fact that theHoseman didn’t even own a copy of Photoshop.  Tad had this to say about theHoseman’s design:

I like the look of this album – color palette and it’s not overly designed. It reminds me a lot of Hazelmeyer’s designs from the AmRep records of the 90’s. I also like that the type on this is slightly discernible. It’s subtle and makes me want to find out more about the band. And I mean by listening to it. Not by checking out their facebook page.

So how will the judging work?  Well, we’re going to add a new wrinkle to this year’s judging by including a fellow Figment player to our initial round of judging.  Last year’s winner, theHoseman, will serve as a member of the initial panel along with members of our editorial staff.  This panel will select the Top 10 finalists from all of the entries.  Since he’ll be part of our finalist judging panel, theHoseman will not be allowed to enter the contest.   Once the Top 10 covers have been decided on they’ll be submitted to Chris Mars for consideration.  Chris, as the ultimate judge, will then pick a winner and 2 runners up from that Top 10.

As we mentioned above, the winner will receive a copy of the premier 3D graphic design software on the market, Adobe Photoshop, a prize worth over $1,000 alone!  But it doesn’t end there, because we’ll match it with an autographed copy of Chris Mars’ book “Tolerance”, 10,000 pieces of Lucre, and a brand spanking new Figment t-shirt.

The runners up will each receive 7,500 and 5,000 pieces of lucre respectively, and we may have a few other prizes to throw into the mix soon enough, so we’ll keep you posted!

So now that you know what’s at stake, what do you need to do to enter?  Here are the basic rules of the contest:

1. You must be a registered Figment user to participate.  If you don’t currently have a Figment account please click here to create one.  This contest is open to Figment users worldwide.

2.  Create a fake band on Figment and release an album (EP or singles are also eligible) with cover art.  The band and album must be fake, and not artwork for a real band. You may also release an album by an existing fake band that you created on Figment.  To be considered, any album entry must contain song titles. Even though they won’t be the focus of our judging, any album that is released without any song titles will be disqualified. Once you have released an album you want to submit as an entry please post the band, album name, and the URL to the album as a comment to this post, so that we and other users can check it out.  If you don’t post that information as a comment to this post your entry will not be considered eligible.

3.  Any artwork used in the creation of your album cover should either be original or at least one you have the permission of the copyright owner to use. If you do use someone else’s work you need to make it your own by adding text, altering it through manipulation or doing something else that makes it your own.  Any album designs that are judged as being a copy of an existing work will be disqualified.  We will also disqualify any album cover that is offensive in nature – sexist, racist or hate-based.

4.  You may enter as many album covers as you like.  If you would like to enter an album cover you have already released on Figment, please note that you may only enter album covers created since January 1, 2012. Any album covers entered that were released before Jan. 1, 2012 will not eligible.

5.  The contest will run from Wednesday, April 4, 2012 until Friday, June 1, 2012.  All submissions must be posted by no later than 11:59 pm ET on Friday, June 1, 2012 to qualify.

6.  By no later than, Friday, June 8, 2012 the Top 10 finalists will be announced, and sent to Chris Mars for his review.  Chris will judge the Top 10 finalists and select a winner and two runners up.  The winner and runners up will be announced on Friday, June 15, 2012.

As we stated earlier, this is one of the biggest contests we run on Figment and we’re thrilled to have Chris Mars on-board as our judge.  So really try to pull out all the stops and create an album cover design that you think captures your creativity and love of music.  We look forward to your submissions.

If you’d like to read the full contest rules you can access them at:

Visual Vitriol Contest Winner!

October 21st, 2011

Well, while we didn’t have the quantity of entries we would have liked, we did have the quality!   So I’m happy to announce that David Ensminger, author of the great new book Visual Vitriol:  The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation, has selected the winner and 2 runners up in our Figment Visual Vitriol Contest.  I’ll turn it over to David to announce who won:


Mine Shaft Gig Flyer

created by thehoseman

David:  For me, this flyer sums up much of the traditional punk flyer street art aesthetic in a nugget form, compressed and purposeful. The band names are cut and paste jobs, each lifted from different typography, the dates and gig location are hand-scrawled, and the imagery —  Dada-punk collage style — reinforces several longlasting punk tropes, including boomboxes, which Joe Strummer of The Clash used to drag around in New York City in 1981, and gas masks, signaling the apocalypse or nuclear war. The fish head feels both mutant and like a warning: will we die like radiated fish upriver from a nuclear plant? Have our heads already been chopped off? The skulls, typical in punk art, harness the dark side of horror punk, it’s fascination with killing fields…One of my favorite records by The Red Aunts is called “Ghetto Blaster,” while one of my fave At The Drive-In records, “Vaya,” features a ghetto blaster on its cover, so I warmed to this flyer right away.


David decided to award a tie to the other two poster designs.  We will award each player who designed the posters with 30,000 pieces of Lucre each!

Baked Sale Tour Poster

created by FuriousGrace

David:  The Baked Sale Tour poster features really rough punk vernacular action as well. I like the rhetorical use of text, the ponderous questions, the ironic diet clichés, juxtaposed to the fat-drenched bake sale, the cake in the foreground, and the alliteration of the D sounds in the decadent clipping.  The typography is insistent, scrawled, stolen and battered, but it lacks the searing historic links avidly embedded in Mine Shaft.

Live at the Zebra Bar Tour Poster

created by Halokitzen

David:  The Live at The Zebra bar is an enticing slice of vernacular color art, hand-drawn, enigmatic, and inventive, but it seems more like an indie rock flyer, due its choice of funky off-blue color washes, biomorphic body types, and candy-colored lettering. This woud make for a terrific Guided by Voices or Pavement poster. Funny, humorous, but lacking in bile, vitriol, and punch. I do like the blemished appeal, the irony, and the raw spirit.

Thank you, all three, for contributing your work.

Congratulations to all three of our participants!  thehoseman will be receiving 50,000 pieces of Lucre and a copy of David’s book Visual Vitriol.  Furious Grace and Halokitzen will be receiving 30,000 each.  Thanks to all three for taking the time to create these great DIY posters.

Visual Vitriol Punk Flyer Contest

September 9th, 2011

Okay everybody are you ready to go “old school” with your designs?  If so, you’re going to love the latest contest we’ve dreamed up.  We were so inspired by our talk with David Ensminger, author of Visual Vitriol, that we’ve decided to run a punk gig flyer contest!  Even better David has agreed to be our guest judge and pick the winning design.

The winner will receive a copy of Visual Vitriol, 50,000 pieces of lucre and a Figment t-shirt!  2nd Place will receive 30,000 pieces of lucre and 3rd place will receive 10,000 pieces of lucre.

Here are the rules:

1. You must be a registered Figment user to participate.  If you don’t currently have a Figment account please click here to create one.  This contest is open to Figment users worldwide.

2.  Create a fake punk or hardcore band on Figment – you may also use an existing band that you’ve already created – then create a tour for the band and release a gig flyer for a particular show on the tour.  The gig flyer design will be what is judged in this contest, but we’re not looking for flyers created in Photoshop, nope we want you to go “old school” and either draw or use a cut ‘n’ paste collage type of design in creating your flyer.  You can certainly use Photoshop or a free image editing software like Sumo Paint to re-size or tweak it for the web, but we’re really looking for authentic punk flyers, so try to avoid designing the poster using an image editing software.  Once you have released a gig flyer that you want to submit as an entry please post the band, tour name, and the URL to the gig flyer’s page on Figment as a comment to this post, so that we and other users can check it out.  If you don’t post that information as a comment to this post your entry will not be considered eligible.

3.  Any artwork used in the creation of your gig flyer should either be original or something you have the permission of the copyright owner to use.  If you do use someone else’s work you need to make it your own by adding text, altering it (cut ‘n’ paste collages are ok) or doing something else that makes it your own.  Any gig flyers that are judged as being a copy of an existing work will be disqualified.  We will also disqualify any gig flyer that is offensive in nature – sexist, racist or hate-based.

4.  You may enter as many gig flyers as you like, but it must be a new design.

4.  The contest will run from Friday, September 9, 2011 until Friday, October 14, 2011.  All entries must be posted by no later than 11:59 pm ET on Friday, October 14, 2011 to qualify for judging.

5.  By no later than, Monday, October 17, 2011 Figment will select the Top 10 gig flyers and send them to David Ensminger for his review.  David will judge the Top 10 flyers and select a winner and two runners up.  The winner and runners up will be announced on Friday, October 21, 2011.

We really want to get the word out about this contest, so let’s show our Figment DIY spirit and post links to this post on Twitter or your own blog.  If you do we’ll reward you with 500 pieces of lucre. Simply tag your twitter posts with #figment or send us a link to your blog post by using the feedback link at the bottom of any page on Figment.

Once you’ve created your flyer hold on to it, because we’ll also be issuing a Figment Challenge related to this contest when it’s completed.  So get out your pens, scissors and paste, fire up the old xerox, and get to work!

This may have been the toughest Album Cover Design Contest we’ve ever had to judge.  Not only did it take our Figment Editorial staff several meetings to decide on the eleven designs that made our Top 10 (after much deliberation we decided to allow a tie for the 10th slot), but our guest judge Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady also had a hell of a time deciding on this year’s winner and 2 runners up.  In fact, so much trouble that he decided to award a tie for 3rd place!  So not only did our Top 10 have 11 finalists, but our Top 3 has 4!

And now, here are Tad’s picks for the winner and 3 runners up in our 2011 Figment Album Cover Design Contest.

(drum roll….)


1st Place:

Van Q.

“Shattered Circuits”

Tad:  I like the look of this album – color palette and it’s not overly designed. It reminds me a lot of Hazelmeyer’s designs from the AmRep records of the 90’s. I also like that the type on this is slightly discernible. It’s subtle and makes me want to find out more about the band. And I mean by listening to it. Not by checking out their facebook page.


2nd Place:

Let’s Not and Say We Did

“Out of the Picture”

Tad:  This one made me laugh. It’s hilarious. I love the literal interpretation. The rubenesque woman (so much more of a gentlemanly term than “cankles”) is a great touch. Sense of humor is one of the most important things for me. Bands and artists take themselves so fucking seriously these days.


And Tied For 3rd Place:

Vorpal Queen


Tad:  The pun is so over the top that it makes it kind of clever. And the design work on this is pretty cool.


Eccentric Arcade



Tad:  This feels like some sort of No Wave band. Anybody using Ninjas and giraffes on their album cover gets my $12 (or whatever they sell records for today).


So congratulations to thehoseman for his winning design.  We’ll be sending him a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended, a new Figment t-shirt and crediting his Figment account with 1,000 pieces of lucre to spend in our new Figment Gear Store!  He’ll also be receiving a shiny new Album Cover Design Contest award icon on his Van Q band page and “Shattered Circuits” album page.  Poppinfresh will receive a copy of Eddie Trunk’s new book “Eddie Trunk’s Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal” courtesy of Abrams Publishing and 750 pieces of lucre while both formerwageslave and frizbee will see their respective lucre accounts swell by 500 pieces of lucre.

We’d like to say thanks to Adobe and Abrams Publishing for supplying our prizes and of course one more big thank you to Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady for being our guest judge this year.  Do yourself a favor and check out the The Hold Steady, you’ll be glad you did!

Every year picking the Top 10 finalists in our Figment Album Cover Design Contest seems to get harder.  Not that we’re complaining, in fact quite the opposite.  The fact that it’s getting harder is testament to the level of design skill we’re now seeing on the site and the overall quality of all the album covers you submitted.

We’re also happy to say that participation in this contest is on the rise.  In fact, we almost doubled the number of submissions we received last year.  So thanks to everyone who participated.

We don’t envy Tad Kubler’s job over the next week, because we had one hell of a time winnowing this year’s submissions down to these 10 finalists.   In fact, that tenth spot came down to two different cover designs and after much deliberation we decided to call it a tie for the 10th slot.  That’s right, just like Nigel Tufnel’s infamous amp, this year’s Top 10 goes to 11!  So without further adieu, here are the Top 11 finalists (in no particular order) that Tad Kubler will judge over the next week.

Sludge Cartwright

“Twang Your Head (strummin’ health)”

Coxswain Insignia

“Hemingway’s Lemonade”

Vorpal Queen


Let’s Not and Say We Did

“Out of the Picture”

The Dark Immortal


Van Q

“Shattered Circuits”

Steel Beneath Flesh

“False Fiber Optic Idols”



Eccentric Arcade




Calavera Electrica


Congratulations to our Top 11 and thanks to everyone else who participated.  We’ll announce the winner and 2 runners up next Friday, June 17th, so be on the lookout.  In the meantime, let us know what you think of the Top 11, who you’d vote for, and who you think Tad will pick.


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