A musical mercenary armed with an accordion, Franz Nicolay
has made a name for himself supplying old world oom-pah and soul to emerging modern rock bands. Although he just joined Against Me!
as a touring member, he did several tours of duty in The Hold Steady
, and until recently, was one of the more distinctive members of the already pretty darn distinctive World/Inferno Friendship Society
. In addition to slanging his accordion and piano skills to some raucous rock bands, Franz recently released his first solo LP Major General
, handles the keys in his Eastern European influenced band Guignol and is a member of Anti-Social Music which is avant-garde even among the avant-garde.
In order to at least try to keep the record straight, punknews interviewer John Gentile recently sat down with Franz to hear what hanging out with Against Me! is like, what's next on his plate, and why he keeps jumping from band to band to band to band.
How's your first tour with Against Me! going?
It's awesome. It's been really, really fun. It's low stress for me. I've been a big fan for years, so I already knew the songs. They're not asking a lot from me, my responsibility is limited. It was perfect timing because I just finished my new solo record and didn't really have any plans.
How did the Against Me! collaboration come about?
Well, it's not really a collaboration. I'm a hired gun... How did I know the guys... When the first Against Me! album is Reinventing Axl Rose
came out, people couldn't stop talking about it. I listened to it every day for a year. I wrote them a fan letter fan via No Idea records. That was the First fan letter I had written in a long time. After that, I played a couple shows with them, and we were both at the "Skate and Surf Fest," where my band at that time,
Has your playing changed since you joined Against Me!?
I wouldn't say so. What I'm doing is pretty much already in my wheelhouse- playing keyboards... some things you know will work and something things you already know that won't work.
Between Against Me! and The Hold Steady you've played some gigantic shows, and between your work with Guignol and your collaboration with Mischief Brew you've done some tiny, tiny shows. Does that affect your performance?
Ideally, there shouldn't be any differences. Play to 10,000 people as if there were only 20 people in front of you and play to 20 people as if there were 10,000 people. A lot of performers have this urge to act big in front of a crowd which takes away what they're good at. If you get that point, you've probably already played 5000 small shows so that's what you are good at, so in some ways, when people play "big" it's not doing what you do best.
What's up with your new full length?
The next solo record- I just finished with a producer named Jim Keller, who worked with a lot of acts from Mastodon to Franz Ferdinand to Willie Nelson. We did three days of tracking, and cut the rest in Brooklyn and the rest at his place. ,The new record has Brian from the Dresden Dolls and Yuli [Beeri] from World/Inferno.
This will be more of a dark, country record. A lot of banjo. I was learning it and you kind of learn to play again by playing a new instrument. It helps your appreciate the simplicity of some songs. My last solo album, Major General was more like a grab bag, and this is more like a piece that shares characters.
Tell me about the characters on the new LP.
The first and the last songs share the same people. I thought of them while sleeping. Usually, when I have an idea while sleeping, I'll just forget it and go back to sleep. This is the first time that when I thought of something and woke up, I wrote it down before going back to sleep. I thought of these two characters, Felix and Adelaide. I have no idea where they came from. I don't even know anyone with these names. But, Felix means luck and Adelaide means courage.
Recently, your band Guigno and the Philadelphia based folk/punk band Mischief Brew collaborated on the album Fight Dirty. It was released on CD and cassette. Did you choose the cassette format for a particular purpose?
I don't have any stake in the cassette format. Fight Dirty was not intended to come out on cassette. We finished the record last January and we were gonna do a tour with Erik Petersen of Mischief Brew, but we didnt have the cds or vinyl yet. I said to Erik "What's up?" and he said to me "I've got it under control. Franz, you're gonna call this 21 year old art school kid named Kyle, and he'll hand you a paper bag full of cassettes on such and such corner." And sure enough, he met me on the corner with a paper bag full of cassettes, and said to me "Don't worry, people will buy that shit."
The cassette is a little bit of a novelty. I never had a record on cassette before. The cassette came with a download, so if you're going to need a widget to distribute the download card, why not have that widget be a cassette?
Your albums often have very bold, rich sounds. Do you have a format preference that you think makes your work sound the best>
I feel like that's not a question that I need to concern myself with. As long as people are listening to my music, that's great. Whatever format is fine.
Within the past few years, you've left notable several groups. Why did you leave The Hold Steady?
Well, I don't have anything else to add. It was time to move on.
Why did you leave The World/Inferno Friendship Society?
World/Inferno was a little different. I desperately wanted to stay with World/Inferno, but it as getting to be too much. I was frantically trying to switch between World/Inferno and The Hold Steady and it was getting exhausting. It wasn't fair to either band, so I had to choose. I had done many years with World/Inferno and my basic theory has been to try out new stuff and see where it takes me. Luckily, I've been able to continue to work with Jack Terricloth and Peter Hess from World/Inferno over the years and we've stayed close.
Do you feel that your transience between bands will enable you to keep fresh while other musicians might be dragged down by repetition?
I think that's a good way to put it. I feel like it rejuvenating every time I take on something new. It's a way of rediscovering what I already knew. You just get used to doing what you already know works... I don't think, musically speaking, that Against Me! is that different from The Hold Steady. But, I couldn't just go in there cold on auto pilot. Every band is its own culture. It's bit like an anthropology, trying to learn the history from the inside.
In interviews, the first thing mentioned is almost always your mustache. Do you ever get tired of your mustache drawing attention away from the rest of you?
Just on principal, I wouldn't shave it to spite other people. I would rather it get to a point where it's not the only thing that I'm known for and not be my only description.
What's the best kind of stache wax?
Cowboy stache wax from Alden, Montona. I believe they make it in a Honda dealership.
Any last comments?
Check out my group Anti-Social Musicand check out my new solo record in the fall.