When most youngsters were tinkering with Transformers and practicing cursive, Tad Kubler was ravaging hotels across the Midwest.
“I’ve been trashing hotel rooms since I was 8,” the Hold Steady guitarist said in a recent telephone interview from his New York apartment. “I was meant to do that.”
Born in Wisconsin, Kubler raced in BMX competitions until he was 15. He made good use of those formative years thanks to a healthy dose of traveling, missing school and hours upon hours of pure mischief.
“I can’t believe what we did,” he said. “We’d spray fire extinguishers down hallways, shake up Coke cans and throw them off an eight-story balcony — total ‘Dogtown and Z Boys’ type shit. We were little terrors. Our poor parents.”
Kubler’s love affair with rock ’n’ roll was sealed in geographic location: He grew up across the street from the daughters of Ken Adamany, Cheap Trick’s manager during the ’70s and ’80s. “I got to meet Rick Nielsen,” he said. “To this day they are still one of my favorites.”
Most of The Hold Steady hooked up in Minneapolis. Kubler and singer Craig Finn worked at the same bar and played for three years in the group Lifter Puller, which once opened for My Morning Jacket and The Pennies in Louisville.
One album, a couple East Coast tours and one big West Coast trip later, Lifter Puller broke up, leaving Kubler, ever the nomad, hell-bent for New York City. You would, too, if you had to endure Minnesota’s bone-chilling winters.
“That’s one of the reasons I got out of there,” he said. “It’s like Seattle, except you don’t want to go outside because you’re afraid you’ll freeze to death.”
Lucky for Kubler — or “Koob,” as he is sometimes called — Finn had moved to NYC, too. The two transplants hung out often, shooting the bull and aching to play music again, more as an excuse to down a few cold ones and not necessarily to get rich.
“There wasn’t any kind of plan or scheme or anything we tried to do deliberately,” Kubler said. “We were hanging out playing some shows around town.”
One night at a bar, they ran into a friend from French Kiss Records who asked to hear their demo. Within weeks, the group banged out 11 songs that would become The Hold Steady’s first album, Almost Killed Me.
“There was definitely a bit of excitement,” Kubler said. “People found that Lifter Puller was a little after-the-fact. We were lucky enough to get on good bills because we knew so many people. We weren’t playing Arlene’s Grocery on a Monday; we were opening for some Sub Pop band at the Mercury Lounge on a Friday.”
The Hold Steady’s live shows earned a raucous reputation for not only the amount of rock produced, but also for the amount of alcohol consumed by the band.
“For our first few shows, I had this thing where I’d go and I’d buy airline bottles of vodka, and I burned through all of those. I was unreachable,” Kubler said.
By the time the band went in to record its follow-up Separation Sunday, Craig and Kubler realized their band was more serious than they thought.
Recording Separation Sunday “was long,” Koob said. “It was the most serious thing we’d been involved in. We were in a big studio, we had a month in there.”
Ditto for Boys and Girls in America. This time around, the Steadys hooked up with producer John Agniello, a friend and a fan seeking to capture the energy of the band’s live shows.
“There’s a lot of communication while we’re playing,” said Kubler, who up until Boys and Girls was heavily involved in the mixing and recording process.
“He wanted to create a space in the studio both physically and mentally,” Kubler said. “We wanted to be a little more deliberate. We took a little over a month and we ended up keeping a lot of the live takes.”
So far, Boys and Girls — named after a line in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” — has exploded, with numerous sold-out shows and an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
“There always remains an element of fun and unpredictability,” Kubler said. “What we lack in precision we made up for in enthusiasm.”
It’s this enthusiasm that both keeps the band going and keeps it grounded.
“One thing that’s great about this band, is that we always try to remind ourselves that we’re doing this because it’s fun and for no other reason. People come out to have a good time, not to watch a preening asshole in eye makeup regurgitate some shit that he’s rehearsed.”
When he’s not touring, Koob works for a celebrity photographer, hangs out with his 2-year-old daughter and tries not to fume over the gentrification engulfing his West Village neighborhood.
“I like the community,” he said, but adds its celebrityness and pseudo-professionalism makes it snotty. “Julianne Moore lives on the block. Ethan Hawke stole my cab the other week. Twenty years ago, I could have gotten a tranny whore and heroin.”