Luck & Courage
- GC – So I wanted to start off by stating that you are probably the most interviewed ex-member. Do you have a favorite over the years?
- There was an interview that me, Hess, and Jack did for The New York Press in about 2002. We did it at Mona’s on Avenue B with this guy, Phillip, who was this leather jacket spikey punk. I think that was the first interview that I had done as a member of World Inferno and I came in with a bunch of canned quotes that I was pretty proud of at the time. They put a little blurb on the cover : “A Peter Lorre Quoting Punk Band??”, then a full page picture and article. For me, that was the first big press that I ever gotten in New York so that was pretty exciting.
- GC – Was that your first interview or did any of your previous bands receive any press?
- Yeah, Anti-Social Music made a splash when we first started. I went on New Sound with John Chafer on WNYC and we had done some press for that. But that was all around the same time. For me, my whole musical life all started around the same time. The first ASM concert, moving in with Yula, meeting Hess, and joining Inferno. It all sort of sprouted all at once.
- [Yula and Itamar] had a World Inferno poster on the wall but they also had a bunch of other different projects going on as well. She had given me a copy of BWAL, which I listened to and didn’t think too much of. “Ah, a ska band.” I had some other people that I had been playing with as well. I had my band at the time but that was sort of petering out. I was playing a couple of solo shows and I had been playing guitar in Dan Neustadt’sband : The Dan Neustadt Group.
- GC – Which was your band?
- The Suckers was my band. It wasn’t very good. It was a baby-steps band. A training wheels band. But I played guitar and sang. Erik Rockland from Gutbucket played bass and Dan Neustadt played piano. Erik and I had gone to NYU together and he joined Gutbucket through a voice classified. He had found Dan and he had brought Dan into my band. Dan called me up one night and was like I’m playing a show at the BaggotInn . I got this this new sax player that I’m playing with, he’s pretty good so you should come check it out. I went down, watched him play and thought he was pretty good. Kind of Joe Henderson-y. We had a beer afterwards and we hit it off. Then he was like “wait a second…I know you…Your Yula’s room mate, aren’t you?” was like “yeah! How do you know Yula”. And he said “well I’m in a band with her!.”
- GC – Oh, that shitty ska band from Jersey!
- “Oh, you came over and recorded with the alto player !”
- GC [ laughter]
- But anyway, I had roped him in to play the first Anti Social Music concert. That was the first thing we had done together.
- Yula had invited me to go to Hallowmas 2000…
I had got really drunk and was so hung over that I didn’t come out of my room for the whole next day. I don’t think I talked to Yula for a couple more days but when I talked to her I told her wow I think your band’s great if you ever need another keyboard player let me know. They later told me that started the wheels rolling in terms of Pearl leaving the band. So that was November 1st. She thought I hated so much that I didn’t talk to her for two days and I was like no! I was so hungover I couldn’t get out of bed!
- Two months later jack & yula called me. I had moved out of their place and in January and I got this call :
[does best YulaBe’eri Israeli accent] Hello. Franz. ItsYula! And Jack! We want you to join our baaaand!
Ok, what do I do?
You come to rehearsal tomorrow night.
Should I bring anything?
- Bring your keyboard…….. If you got one!
- How did you get into the accordion?
- I think it was the 3rd rehearsal with inferno where I started getting the feel for it and said y’know I have an accordion should I bring it to the next rehersal? I didn’t really know how to play it but I sort of pretended & acted like I did until I actually could. I was still experimenting with amplifying it so you couldn’t hear it and they couldn’t tell I couldn’t play. But by the time they figured it out and you could hear it I could already play.
- At first the accordion, a lot of it was just a visual because there was no way that it was audible in most of these shows. With 9 people on the stage, the amplification wasn’t always all that good, and my pickup and accordion weren’t always all that good. I think a lot of this stuff was more stylistic and visual then it was sonic. But I think the sound of the band was changing in terms of songwriting anyway. Of which a big part, (my impression. was that Yula and Hess were stepping up as songwriters around Smashism. That was when ‘the band’ actually became ‘a band’. When I joined I think it was just the last piece of the puzzle. Me, Yula and Hess had just sort of discovered Balkan music and that whole gypsy music thing. There was a groundswell in New York at that time and we were all listening to Isav Papalov and bands like that and that really influenced the songs we were writing.
I already had the accordion. My dad had had that red horner that I used to play. His grandfather had brought it over from Germany in the late 50s so that his grandson, my dad, could learn the polkas and waltzes and play for him. Which of course my dad is a good child of the 60’s so he just wanted to play saxophone and hated it. The famous family story was that he was in the accordion club and these orchestras of 9 and 10 years old all playing Lady of Spain. And one day he took a steak knife to the bellows so he wouldn’t have to go to his accordion lesson. Which of course, his parents taped it right up and sent him right along. Thankfully he kept the instrument, he kept it with him, it was always around, and I screwed around with it. Especially when I was in high school I got really into the band. Garthunsen played accordion and I bought a mandolin and started exploring that stuff. I brought it to New York when I moved but I didn’t really play it seriously, I was just carting it around.
After touring DIY spots for years, I guess there’s a lot you have learned from touring with major acts like The Hold Steady. What do you take back to your solo tour?
Oh, I learned a shitload. That’s like a whole ‘nother 2 hour conversation. Its funny thinking it was only 3 years [with The Hold Steady]. My life changed when “Boys and Girls in America” came out. Up until that point I still considered myself a member of World Inferno first. I had joined the Hold Steady explicitly stating that my primary focus was with World Inferno. It wasn’t obvious at that point that it was going to become a big thing. It was just like sure I’ll play with another band I already play in 3 other bands. World Inferno was really important to me on a personal level as an ideal and as an idea. Those were my friends and it really had a family feel. I didn’t know the Hold Steady guys. I thought they had a lot of promise but it wasn’t the kind of music I was really interested in.
We were recording Boys and Girls in America and Red eyed Souls basically at the same time during the winter of 2006
There was a bunch of touring that summer. That was my worst year. I was trying to do both tours and I was flying back and forth. It was a real mess. World Inferno did that month long tour around the country that I booked. It was really just exhausting and difficult. Then me and Hess had to take an overnight bus from Philly to New York to play a Castle Clinton show with The Hold Steady where we had to write a whole bunch of string and horn charts. Then go back to Inferno for a North Six show. That was the closest I came I think to going into the hospital from exhaustion of trying to do everything. We had been drinking all day everyday. Drugs. I was losing my job, I was getting evicted from my house because I hadn’t paid rent in 3 months.
It was just a really bad time. I think the Hold Steady guys could tell the new record going to be a really big deal and they were like “you have to choose”. So they called me when I was on the west coast with Inferno and they were like “You have to tell us tomorrow. We understand if youre not going to do this but its going to be something big and we’d love you to be a part of it”. That was a really tough decision for me because I believed in world inferno and I felt really close to them personally. It was not a decision that I wanted to make. It was a decision that I had to make. In retrospect it was the right decision to make. Its too bad
And yet add Against Me! to that list. You are just getting off of a summer tour with them. How was that?
It was great. It was really cool. On a personal level I thought everyone involved with the band and their crew were really honest straight shooters with great attitudes. It reminded me why I liked playing with bands. You can have fun being on tour with a bunch of nice people. Not that there weren’t nice people involved in the hold steady but it turned into a sort of toxic personal situation. But Against Me were songs that I loved and was just low stress for me because yknow, “its not my battle”. The problems that they would have were not really my problem.
I mean it’s a funny position to be in…to be a visible sideman. It was a conscious thing on my part to create a character. One of the things that I loved about World Inferno was that it was 9 people on stage who could be fronting their own band and acted as if they were fronting their own band which is a performing choice that was a conflict with the Hold Steady. Craig certainly felt like “there’s chiefs and then there’s Indians. And the Indians should know their place”. I brought a lot of my attitudes from World Inferno into that band which were diametrically opposed to a lot of the attitudes that they had.
Playing in so many different kinds of bands must really draw some kids from all different angles to your solo shows. (not to mention part time jobs in Leftover Crack/SFH, Guignol, Demander, etc.) Is that what’s been happening on tour?
I don’t know we’ll see. I think that the future of that is not aggregating fans of other stuff that I’ve been involved with. Really what I do in my solo shows has not very much with what the Hold Steady does. It has a little more to do with World Inferno does but its not what fans of world inferno are usuall in to. I got to make fans of my own, of Franz Nicolay. As opposed to fans of Franz Nicolay, a character who appears in other peoples bands that they like.
What I’m trying to do with these songs was that there was an aesthetic that I was following for most of the past 10 years which is sort of an “intelligent hedonism”. Which was the idea being that aside from musically conceptually that World Inferno and the Hold Steady have a lot in common in a way. Being These destination bands for fans. The fans projected a lot of things in terms of what they thought the shows should be like. These sort of giant Dionysian parties full of drinking and stuff and what the community should be like independent of the band. Both of them have these dedicated fanbases that have names for themselves and have relationships that they have formed through the band but are independent of the band. Both of them have these really verbose articulate lyricists. Jack and Craig have very much in common in some ways.
And they are Old School Punx.
They’re old school punks and they write obsessively about their experiences as teenagers and young adults. Jack has basically written two dozen variations of the same story about Sticks and Stones. About his gang of thieves and buddies running from the cops in New Jersey. So many. Being at the party with the girl you can barely remember with the girl who is kind of alluring. Its basically the same song that Craig writes. Going to shows, getting drunk, going to the party, meeting the girl that’s kind of fucked up and kind of alluring. And these nostalgic songs about friends lost and that you’ll never be friends with again.
I guess my point with that is that both of those bands were as good as they were going, in my experience, to get for that kind of performing experience. Hedonistic classic rock on one hand or punk rock on the other. So I’m not going to compete with that. But I want to take that idea of incisive story telling that you can smuggle in creative,intelligent and insightful songs. Songs that have some sort of insight to how people live. Not necessarily in a redemptive way but in away in how people actually live in a way thats still compelling and is also something that I can do by myself. Its hard to get a band off the ground beyond a certain age. Its hard to play with people 10 or 15 years older than you. Its hard to go on tour and sleep on floors and do the things you have to do to build a band. But I can take the things that I’ve learned about how smart you can be in the lyrics and how you can make that engaging for an audience. You don’t have to make it an ordeal for them, which I think a lot of indie rock song writers particularly do. You can give them some sugar with their medicine. You give them a costume, tell them some stories, tell them some jokes, and then hit them over the head with the song. You gain an awareness of the complicatedness of life. I’m less interested now then I used to be in sloganeering.
- Storytelling is a central part of another project that you’ve been involved with. The Bushwick book club, is it?
- Buswick book club is something that Susan from the Debutatne Hour started at Goodbye Blue Monday where assigns a book every month and any song writer who wants to participate can write a song or two about that book and show up on the first Tuesday of every month and perform it. Its really cool the bulk of the song writers come from the anti-folk scene because that’s where susan is from and that’s the people that she knows. It’s a really interesting leveling affect because there are people that show up that are professional songwrites and people that have never wrote a song in their lives. But it had this effect because every song that’s done has never been performed before so the people that are professionals aren’t any more confident in their song then the people that have never written a song.
For More Franz on here check out : https://wackyhijinx.wordpress.com/ch-12-5-a-rising-tide-lifts-all-boats/