Listening to the new Hold Steady album,Stay Positive, I hear a lot of Pogues and Mekons on the slower songs—that sort of boozy roots music. Is that hearing something you'd discourage?
No, those are bands I really like. I would offer that every time we make a record, because we're becoming more confident, we want to make a more musical record. When you're filling out the more acoustic, slower songs, those are natural instruments to go to, like accordion. But those are both [bands] we like and enjoy.
I'm excited to play these new songs. We played some gigs in the spring that were not as exciting—corporate gigs, just to keep the lights on. We just came off doing four [East Coast] shows. It was really fun to watch people singing along to the new lyrics.
What made you decide to put the album out on iTunes a month before the physical CD?
It had to do with the album being leaked: If people can't really wait, let's give them an opportunity to pay for it. We added some extra stuff to the CD. In this day and age, it doesn't seem very smart for artists to concern themselves with the leaks. You can't be distracted by it. When it leaks, people are like, "Let's find out how it leaked." Well, what do we do then? Doesn't that seem like a waste of our time? With all the promo stuff and the shows we're doing, there's enough to be distracted by.
What kind of adult material makes its way onto the Hold Steady bus?
I think bringing that kind of stuff onto the bus—although people do it—can end up in a downward spiral, because people are away from home. But the adult material that makes it onto the Hold Steady bus is more alcohol-based than porn-based.
You've been in two bands—Lifter Puller before this one—and in each, you've more or less developed separate sets of characters, story lines, etc. Let's say you wanted to start a third master narrative with all new characters and situations. Would you have to end the Hold Steady and start another band to do it? Or at least change the band's name?
I don't think you would. You'd just have to make it clear that this is a new story line. Starting a new band—that seems like a hell of a lot of work.
Hardcore-anthem-style lyrics are on a couple tracks from the new album. When was the last time you were in a mosh pit?
Myself, on purpose, not since I was in high school. However, a few weeks ago we were in L.A., and the Dead Kennedys played across the street. I couldn't go because I was having dinner with someone, but the other guys went, and Tad [Kubler, guitarist] ended up in the pit. I wish I'd been able to see it. I'm surprised he didn't get hurt. As a performer, the pit, unfortunately, looks ridiculous from the stage. Like, why do you want to do that?
You used to pit a lot when you were a kid, though, right?
When you're a kid, you've got to. It's part of the fun. And when I was a kid, at any show I'd want to be so close to the stage—of course you'd end up getting crushed.
You guys play a lot of festivals. Were they something you pursued intentionally or did you just get asked a lot?
Getting asked a lot. Last summer, we did all the European ones. We've obviously done Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. I enjoy them because you see a lot of music. You get to see a lot of bands you're friends with from touring. It's good to temper them a bit with real club shows—the sound outdoors isn't the best and you get shorter sets.
How do the audiences differ at U.S. and European festivals?
I think they're becoming less different—the festivals in the U.S. are doing a good job. I guess with the European festivals, I get the feeling people go in with a less preconceived notion of what they want to see. Bonnaroo is a good example: You'll get an indie-rock fan and a jam-band fan, and they'll have totally different experiences. If you're into indie rock you can see the Hold Steady on one stage, and see another indie rock band on another. People are more into wandering at European festivals.
Prince covered Radiohead's "Creep" at Coachella. Jay-Z did Oasis's "Wonderwall" at Glastonbury. What surprise cover does the Hold Steady have in store for the Capitol Hill Block Party?
[Laughs] I'd be lying if I said we have one in store now. I think something Seattle—maybe something by Queensrÿche, probably "Silent Lucidity." When you think about the Seattle music scene, no one brings up Queensrÿche. They were kind of first. Or I know, we could do "Baby Got Back."
If you're going to cover Sir Mix-A-Lot, you should do "Posse on Broadway." You know that song? It's about cruising in front of Dick's. You ever had a Dick's burger?
No, tell me about it.
Imagine McDonald's with White Castle production values.
Man, you're selling it to me! It doesn't sound like something you could eat before a show.
No, it's greasy, definitely for after you've been drinking. What is the perfect Hold Steady after-show, after-bar meal?
On a practical level, after a show in most cities all you're going to be able to get is pizza. But the ideal would be Mexican food. Postshow, if everyone's drunk or whatever, that's what everyone wants.