Tad Kubler on Hold Steady's home
Even with all the years they've spent in New York, it still seems like a homecoming every time the Hold Steady come through town; it's easy to imagine each show as a celebration for another local band made good. That their return this time is a two-night stand over the Fourth of July weekend only makes it seem that much more appropriate.
While it makes for a great story, that version of events is a little too simple. And by now, we probably know better than to believe it.
"The band started in New York. It's not like we started in Minneapolis and moved to New York," guitarist Tad Kubler says via telephone from Brooklyn. "I remember Minneapolis fondly, but New York is my home now. This is where my family lives, and my daughter goes to school here. [It's] where creatively my career took off."
It's an opinion that might not go down well with some fans, but after the band's decade away, it's hard to argue with him. Kubler, like the other three members of the Hold Steady, spent time living in the Twin Cities when he was younger. However, like half of those bandmates, he isn't from the area, having grown up in Janesville, Wisconsin—about a half-hour south of Madison—before moving to Minnesota in his early 20s.
"It's interesting to hear people say, 'Yeah, these guys sound like the Replacements.' As somebody who writes the music, I don't own a Replacements record," says Kubler, whose punchy, classic-rock riffs owe as much to Cheap Trick (whose hometown of Rockford, Illinois, is less than an hour from Janesville) as they do to the 'Mats. "I think that, especially when we started out and we were all drinking and partying and stuff like that, there was a particular mentality that we embodied that was probably like the Replacements—and that's good company to be in. [But] it's hard for me identify with that."
The Hold Steady's meat-and-potatoes rock sensibility has enough widespread appeal that it's hardly specific to the Cities. Yet the fact that those old connections continue to come up is largely the band's own fault: Despite distancing themselves from their old home, they continually return to Minneapolis in their storytelling—and much of the band's identity is based on Craig Finn's signature speak-shout vocal raps. Finn's intricately woven tales of debauchery and his colorful cast of characters form a natural extension from his and Kubler's '90s band, Lifter Puller, forming a complicated if somewhat romanticized Midwestern mythos that only entangles the group more deeply with its past.
On the bright side, if the Hold Steady have moved on, then the legacy of Lifter Puller continues to grow. Last winter's reissue of the band's long-out-of-print catalog, accompanied by an oral history written under Finn's direction, cast some welcome light onto the scrappy, wisecracking indie band whose work never got the recognition it deserved.
"By the time [Lifter Puller] ended, Craig was really the only original member, so that always felt like Craig's band," admits Kubler, who joined the cult legends as bassist before their final record, Fiestas and Fiascos. "It was kind of fun to go back and think about how fucking crazy some of the shit we did was. Those tours, they were like fucking shore leave, you know; it was some of the worst behavior I've ever been a part of—and I'm very proud to say that," he laughs.
"To be honest," he continues, sounding a little unconvincing in his modesty, "there wasn't anything that would put Mötley Crüe to shame. It was just the four of us having a lot of fun."
Given the attention the band has received recently, it's tempting to wonder about the possibility of another Lifter Puller reunion, but Kubler doesn't see that happening. "When I start putting more energy into another creative outlet [outside the Hold Steady], I don't think it'll be to go back to Lifter Puller. I'm really comfortable with where we left that band." However, he won't deny how much he still enjoys the music: "I always get busted listening to some of the Lifter Puller stuff that I didn't play on, and that's sort of a guilty pleasure of mine. I'll be like, 'It's okay for me to listen to because I didn't actually play on this song!'"
Looking back, Lifter Puller's music has aged remarkably well. It still sounds edgy and raucous, the work of a band going for broke and hell-bent on the same rough-and-tumble excess chronicled in its songs. The subsequent success of the Hold Steady suggests the rest of world simply needed time to catch up, and more and more that band fits comfortably into the pantheon of Minneapolis's biggest musical heavyweights.
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