The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America

The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America
The Hold Steady’s trajectory is a perfect complement to the excellence they’ve demonstrated over their three albums. After the dismantling of math punkers Lifter Puller, singer/guitarist/lyrical virtuoso Craig Finn and guitarist Tad Kubler moved from Minneapolis to Brooklyn, trimmed the fat, went back to their roots and began what has become a full-on bar rock sensation. Their three-year/three-album tear culminates with their finest to date, the almighty Boys and Girls in America. Though not a concept album like last year’s Separation Sunday, which depicted a catholic schoolgirl bender, Boys and Girls finds Finn waxing poetic about those awkward teenage years — the debauchery, the confusion, the romance and the tragedy — with the utmost precision and in a relatable manner any listener can look back and reminisce with. Building on what they’ve become, the Springsteen-peppered trad rock standards find the amps cranked louder and softer (the acoustic "Citrus” is a standout), for a much more palatable spectrum. The piano/keys have been pushed up in the mix, which takes less focus off the powerful guitar lead, and in turn elevates the pop hooks. Even Finn trades in his signature spoken verse for actual singing — a sure sign that these guys want to evolve beyond playing bars. And Boys and Girls can make that happen.

The record sounds a lot fuller. What did you do differently?
Kubler: This is the first time we’ve really worked with a producer, and John [Agnello] had a lot of input in trying to create more space in the songs and in us physically and mentally, and playing together as a band in the same room. I also tried to leave a lot more room for Franz [Nicolay] to shine — he’s such a spectacular player. The piano carries a lot of the melody, which was intentional, and I hope we succeeded in doing that.

Finn: We wanted to push ourselves and one way we could do that was to do things that were a little quieter at times, like "Citrus” and "First Night.” And in general we wanted to do something a little more musical. Personally, I wanted to challenge myself to do something that related more to what the others are playing rather than disconnect it.

Where do your lyrics come from? You’re certainly not a teenager…
Finn: The kids definitely see that a lot of what I write is about sort of what I call the American teenage experience. I’m 35 years old, but I think I understand being 17 better now than I did when I was 17 and take the forest for its trees. (Vagrant/Universal)