Tad has been candid about his substance abuse while the band was makingHeaven Is Whenever and the negative effects it had on his personal and creative relationship with you. Did the two of you have to navigate a new path forward in the four years between records?
Somewhat. I think the whole thing changed, especially with Steve coming in. [Tad] had to get, obviously, some stuff worked out. And Heaven Is Whenever ended up being kind of a creatively disappointing record. If you look at our set list, we barely ever play anything off of that record. I mean . . . that’s not true. We play like three songs from it. So there was kind of a regaining of trust, and making sure someone was going to show up. At the same time, there’s also this whole other thing. We’re running a band creatively, but we’re also running a business. So that has to be negotiated, too. So, yeah, there was uneasy footing. But I think making Teeth Dreams was a real positive experience and I think we’re firing on all cylinders now.
You mentioned the set list. Now you have six albums’ worth of stuff to pull from, and you play 16 or 18 songs a night. Does that make it tricky to pull a list together and try to please everyone, or do you just try to please yourself?
It’s a balance. We try to hit from each album. And then there’s songs we know that people want to hear, [like “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,”] “Chips Ahoy!” and “Stuck Between Stations.” You try to put those in there. One thing we’ve done, trying to keep it somewhat spontaneous is to map out the set and then come off stage and write the encore on the spot. I guess we’ve shortened the main set by a song or two, and then tried to extend the encore. So that puts some more spontaneity in the whole thing.
It seems like there aren’t many casual Hold Steady fans. When you think about fans like those in the Unified Scene [an organically-grown collective of hardcore fans], does that sort of dedicated support mean something different to you in 2014 than it did seven or eight years ago?
Yeah, it does. For one, some of the real hardcore fans I’ve gotten to know. A number of them have crossed into being friends. So that means a lot. I think we’re very aware of their role in this, and how lucky we are to have fans who are just that dedicated. It’s obvious to me that they set the tone for a lot of things. When we started this band, we wanted to build something that was very inclusive. And those are the people who have come to feel very included. That’s very exciting for us.
Your shows are such joyful, communal experiences, and it seems like there’s never a bad one. But there must be times when you hit the stage after a lousy day or during a rough patch in your life. How do you bring the same manic enthusiasm every night?