Recently The 405 caught up with former Hold Steady member and Against Me touring keyboardist Franz Nicolay at The Sink in Liverpool to talk about writing songs, touring, the digital age and what wax he uses for his moustache.
Your new Album Luck and Courage â How was it to record?
We were in the studio for two weeks. Luckily I had a demo because I knew I was going out with Against Me over the Summer which was convenient because it basically paid for the record doing that tour. So yeah, I had this window of opportunity and I took two days to record the basic tracks of the band and I did all my mixing and over dubs during the next week and a half, then I was ready to go. When I came back it was out.
This short tour of the UK at the moment is it just yourself or with a band?
It's just me. I just did a tour in the US with a band supporting Stornoway who are from here and that was the first time I toured with a band. They were doing their first American tour. Some venues were big and some were small. Nice people.
What's the best gig you've ever done?
That's a really tough question as I've done so many different ones. I can tell you the biggest gig I've ever done was with The Hold Steady opening for The Rolling Stones at Slane Castle near Dublin. There were 60,000 people. We were the second of five bands. But I tell you what, it's not the same, playing in front of 60,000 people who are indifferent and it was raining and miserable. I'd rather play to 60 people enjoying themselves.
Have you ever played in a Sink before?
No, but I've played in a bathroom.
Cool, where was that?
Last year when I was with Against Me for a video blog we did some versions of songs backstage in a bathroom.
Not a lot of people know you in this country. How would you describe Franz Nicolay to someone who hasn't heard you?
I'd say that it's a story telling thing. It's like a Vaudeville act. It's telling a story in a song â the old art of entertaining with a bleeding heart reaper and that whole business.
You've embraced the internet through blogging and creating your own mix tapes for people to listen to. Do you think that's essential to do now?
It seems like it. I think you can ignore it if you're already famous but I'm still trying to build something so I don't have to live with not using it. I wouldn't really want to live without it anyway. I like that connection.
Have you ever had problems with your sister doing your artwork?
That's a funny question but a good one. Yes I have. I would say it's not just my sister but every time I'm working with an Artist it's trouble because Artists are Artists and they're really particular and at the end of the day it's got my name on it and I have a particular idea of what it's going to look like and so there's always a little bit of that. Sometimes they are not that good at making deadlines and business stuff comes into it which doesn't reflect on me very well... But unfortunately and fortunately my sister is the best designer I know so we always end up working. Luckily we are family we can yell at each other over a month while we are working on it.
So keeping it in the family then...
It's actually two sisters. My sister Sophie did the art work for the albums then my other sister Adriana did the art work for the t-shirt I'm selling right now and doing the cover for the remix record.
How long did it take you to do this(here) Essay on Bob Dylan?
It took me about a week a little more with the research and typing but once I got the notes it kinda wrote itself. I wrote that one about Dylan and then one about the sub humans and then a collection of short stories -which I'm selling tonight- and Luck & Courage in one Summer. It was the last Summer I did touring with The Hold Steady where we were basically touring on a bus and I wasn't drinking so I'd wake up early and go for a run and then have the whole day to do whatever and I had a really clear head so I was doing a lot of writing. It was a productive time. It sort of spilled into each other, the writing of the short stories with the songs.
How do you go about writing a song. Does the music come first?
Both. It really depends. I used to write all the words and then write a melody and then sort of match the words around that. Ideally there is no one way of doing it. Whatever works. Whatever process gets you to the finish line.
The Moustache... Do you wax?
I do yeah.
What is it?
It's called Cowboy Stashe Wax. It's from a Honda dealership in Montana. They mail it to me.
What do you think of Heaven Is Whenever? (The Hold Steady's last album made during Franz's departure.)
I haven't heard it to be honest. It just seemed that that was a part of my life that was over and I'd rather just decide to let it be over.
Do you think you will listen to it?
I don't feel the need to. It's not as if I'm actively avoiding it but there are a lot of records in the world.
One last question; What are your plans for the future, anything else with Against Me?
I think I will do something with them. I'm going away to Africa in February for my Honeymoon then I'm doing six weeks in the US with a guy called David Dondero, a singer on Conor Oberst's label. I'll be back here in May, back in the US in June then in Germany and the continent late June early July. I'll hopefully have a new record by the end of the summer