AD Exclusive :: Franz Nicolay Interview

Franz Nicolay — NYC musician-about-town sits down with the Drunkard to discuss (among other things): the NYC collective of musicians known as Anti-Social Music, The Hold Steady’s recent success and their involvement playing CO’s Columbine High School, the Internet and music, his favorite albums of 2005, etc. etc. etc. Read on…get enlightened.
AD: Can you give us a bit of your background — what brought you to New York and what your “musical” path has been over the years?

Franz: I moved to New York from small-town New Hampshire whenI was 17. I’ve been here 10 years. I went to music school, had an American Music Club-influenced band called the Suckers. In 2000, we started Anti-SocialMusic. in 2001, I joined the circus-punk gang World/Inferno Friendship Society and started touring the world. In 2003, me and Peter Hess (Inferno, ASM) formed the gypsy/klezmer group Guignol just in timefor the NYC gypsy-punk scene. In 2004, I joined the Hold Steady, just in time for that to turn into something. An excellent combination of elbow grease and timing, so far. I also played or recorded with a gaggle of groups including the Dresden Dolls, LeftoverCrack, Mischief Brew, and hella others.

AD: Let’s talk about Ant-Social music, the NYC collective of musicians which you founded in 2000. How did that come about, and how would you describe it? Chamber-music revivalists too narrow a label?

Franz: Well, revivalist implies that we’re trying to recreate some past glory, which is exactly the opposite of what we’re after. “Reinventalists”, maybe. The idea is that there are musicians, and music fans, out there who have classical or new-music training and a love forit, but can’t abide the self-regard and embalming piety that surrounds going to recitals or”experimental-music” shows. This stuff is supposed tobe fun, people! And there are teenagers who have grownup playing violin in orchestra camp and maybe just discovered Zorn, or Ives, or the “The Yellow Shark”,but if you’re looking for a scene, your friends are hanging out getting drunk and making out at the punk show in dude’s basement, so if you want to see themyou best be there. Anti-Social Music is here to combine the two, so people can indulge that side of themselves with all the sweat, heckling, and bottles of whiskey that you need to have a good time.

Plus, there’s no real bridge between the experimental-indie-rock fans who are nuts for Animal Collective, Deerhoof, and the Locust; and new-music nerds who show up a dozen strong for Phil Kline, orthe Ives Fourth, or a Moondog reissue. But the musicis not that different, it’s just about the scene. Wecan fix that. Carl Stone and Danger Mouse? Same shit.Different marketing plan. Doesn’t have to be.

AD: In today’s manufactured “indie” rock scene, has this music, while truly independent, been received well? Better/worse than expected?

Franz: Yes. Better than we expected. With the caveat, it sure is all about the publicist (thanks Clermont!) in this industry. Anyone who thinks that the indie recordbusiness is purer or more merit-based than majorlabels is seriously deluded. Wonder why some records end up on Pitchfork or in whatever zine? Everyone I know has been making great records and selling two dozen. ASM is five years in. All it takes is $1300/month and some people are gonna love it. I’m not complaining, that’s actually just advice. It’s a way better investment than a tour van.

AD: Some of the readers may know you from your work with The Hold Steady. How did you get hooked up with those guys?

Franz: World/Inferno played some shows with Lifter Puller in Chicago a long time ago, then when Craig moved to NewYork he was doing A&R for the now-defunct DCN livelabel and signed us up for the live record “Hallowmasat Northsix”. Over the course of working on that, we’dgo out drinking with him and Tad when the Hold Steady was kind of coming together as “this new band we’resort of working on”. When it finally happened, they called and asked me and Peter to come play on the first record (“Almost Killed Me”), which led to mecoming and playing those three songs on NY shows whenever it worked out, which led to “Hey, do youwanna get together and work on some songs for the new record?”, which became “Well, do you want to join the band?”

AD: This past year has been quite successful for The Hold Steady, with the Target commercial and getting name-checked on the popular television show LOST. Have you felt the ‘buzz’ steadily increase throughout the year at your live shows with turn-out and energy level?

Franz: Not at first. It wasn’t until the October tour that you could really see the change – from the 300-ish venues on the March tour to twice that (in a Chicagoor San Francisco). Or in a San Diego or Tucson, from barely attended to sold out. It happens pretty slow.The money happens even slower. It’s hard to get too excited when I’m still getting evicted next month andeating my girlfriend’s food. That kind of keeps it all in perspective.

Pt 2 coming soon…