Saturday, July 10, 2010

Exclusive: Interview with Steel Train's Jack Antonoff

If you have internet access then you know who Steel Train are. They're one of the biggest bands in the indie scene right now. After touring with Tegan & Sara for 2 months and conquering the main stage at Coachella they finally released their much anticipated third album, Steel Train, on June 29th. The record has been receiving rave reviews and they have been packing shows in support of it. Now that the people living under rocks are all caught up, I'm excited to bring you an interview with front-man, Jack Antonoff.

I saw Steel Train during Tegan & Sara's spring tour. I've never been to a show where all the bands got along in that way. I have to ask, is there any chance of Steel Train, Holly and TnS touring together again?

That tour was very special in that sense. It felt like summer camp. Like a traveling circus or endless road trip. I was so excited to arrive at every show that for the first time in my life that I actually missed meals. Shocking. Ha. Anyway, of course I'd love to tour with everyone again soon. Can't see it happening in the very near future, but hopefully one day. Touring or not, they are all people that i'm looking forward to working with in one capacity or another. I adore them all.

How was it playing Coachella for the first time ever and on the main stage (according to Spinner, bigger than the stage Phoenix, Thom Yorke and MGMT played on)?

It was wild. We can be very nervous and self-loathing people, so it's extremely hard to enjoy moments as they happen. We're always looking at the next step etc etc. We get exciting news, are thrilled for a minute, and then immediately jump to the next thing. Find another mountain to climb. But with coachella (especially on the main stage) it was all too over the top to deny. There are very few moments like that when you feel like you've really arrived somewhere you've been trying to get to. It's not coachella specifically, it's what it represented for us. A community of bands in a way. A beacon of....something. Haha. Anyway, what i'm trying to say is that one stuck with us for a bit more than a minute.

I am obsessed with the 1969 EP on which you guys covered The Jackson 5, The Beatles and David Bowie. Were you at all nervous about recording and releasing covers of such notable classics?

Not at that time. We were younger and just excited to play those songs. It all came from a simple place. I think that's why it was so fun and easy. When we cover songs now we look at it very differently than we did then. Now we're obsessed with spinning things a different way, making it ours, which is exciting in a totally different way. With 1969, it was just about playing the songs and not thinking beyond that. I'm happy we had the chance to do that because I really can't see it happening again in that way. My next idea is to cover all the bands we've toured with. That'd be a blast

Would you consider another EP with covers from a different year?

Haha. Kinda just answered that. Besides the tour friends idea, I'd like to do 2010. It's been an amazing year for music already and I love the idea of current bands covering each other. It binds us. It's nice. Community. Etc.

What went into the decision to start your own label after cutting ties with Drive-Thru records?

Leaving drive thru is a huge part of this record. For a long time, I've felt like there was a party happening and we were on the outside looking in. We'd been tied up in an archaic and antiquated system that made no sense for a band like us. We started touring in our first bands when we were super young. We put on our own shows back then. It was all DIY, it's where we come from and it's what we know. We've always been an independent band locked up in a world that made no sense to us. Breaking out of that was a no brainer. Something we had been trying to accomplish for years. I'm so thrilled to step into the future and release this record independently. Five years from now everyone will be releasing their own music. I'm really glad to have the opportunity to do it at a time when it's still a risk.

As a member of an independent band, releasing music on their own label, who started booking it's own shows at 15, what would be your advice to new bands trying to get signed?

Getting signed is fine, but just make sure you experience the whole picture before you do. My only real advice is to just go on tour. All the questions get answered on tour. Even if you spend your life savings and play for 6 people....just go on tour.

Will you be signing other bands to Terrible Thrills?

Haven't thought about it yet, but it's not out of the question. Right now we kinda have our hands full on the label side with this record. Maybe we'll sign redd kross!!

The all-female cover album of Steel Train, Terrible Thrills Vol. 1, was such a unique idea. All of the covers sound amazing but were you at all hesitant to let other artists take your material and interpret it-make it their own?

Not at all. The whole point of the project was to hear the songs through each artists own ears (heart). The cast of characters on terrible thrills is so outstanding that I never had a worried moment. It was the opposite. The past few months of getting the songs sent to us was magical. It was better than any gift I've ever recieved.

Will there be a Terrible Thrills Vol. 2? Is this the beginning of something? Will there be other compilations in the future?

There will be something. Not sure exactly what yet...but something. Part of the glory of releasing your own music is the ability to do projects like terrible thrills without some other parties cock blocking you at every turn. We were held up for so long that we have every intention of going completely over the top with music, art and different projects like terrible thrills. Think we'll probably go with the tour friends covers sooner than later?

Do you write all the lyrics for Steel Train songs? Do you ever feel like you're exposing yourself at all or sharing too much lyrically?

Yes to both. The only way I know how to write is to be totaly candid and just to tell the stories I've lived. I believe it's the only way any writer can be tell their story. Anything else to me feels like meaningless fodder. But that comes with a massive price. For me personally, I can only talk so much about the darkest moments in my life, and when I put it into songs, it makes me never want to go there in the other moments of my life. It disconnects me from friends and family. Almost like I have nothing left to share cause I've spilled it all out in the songs. It's complicated and isolating. That's why I love touring. I love the silence of being around people that understand that there is often nothing to say. I live my life feeling like I've constantly said too much, so you could only imagine the mixed feelings about putting my history into the songs. It also creates a real issue at the live shows. There is no way to half ass songs that mean that much to you. And that's a wonderful driving force, but it's also draining. Every show is over the top, every story and darkness has to be revisited to play the songs the way they need to be played. It's an honor to share my life, but not always easy or healthy.

I'm also a fan of your other band, fun. How do you balance being in two bands? Will you tour more with fun. later this year?

It's a lot. When i'm not on tour with steel train, i'm out with fun. I used to be in a relationship, that ended and I basically replaced her with another band. I hate not working. I hate not running. Having both bands allows me to constantly press on. It's a shit ton of work, but they are all good problems. The bands also help each other artistically. I feel less of a need to jam every idea into one band. That really helps the individual styles mature as they should.


photo by: Lindsey Byrnes (


Abril said...

I have to shamefully admit that i've never listened to Steel Train, but after reading this i've decided that it's a necessity. Thanks for that. Awesome interview.

leehoosierforlife said...

well thought out & great questions! another great interview with an interesting subject! "cock blocking" lol!