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In the Studio: The Hold Steady

March 6, 2008 12:29 PM ET

From October 2006 to November 2007, the Hold Steady played nearly 250 shows behind their third album, Boys and Girls in America. Along the way, the quintet saw their crowds mushroom in size, heard their music featured on a Super Bowl telecast and got to jam with Bruce Springsteen at a Carnegie Hall benefit concert. "Bruce said, 'Does anyone know the lyrics to 'Rosalita'?" frontman Craig Finn recalls. "I said, 'I do!' I sang the first verse, then finished with him. It was surreal."

The band celebrated its success by going right back to work. The Hold Steady have nearly finished their new album, tentatively titled Stay Positive, and it's full of their trademark sweaty grooves, visceral riffs and slightly soused shout-along choruses. But there are a few changes. For one, Stay Positive is more tuneful than the previous three discs: "Ask Her for Some Adderall" is one of the catchiest things the Hold Steady have ever done, and the slow-burning "Discouraged" evokes the Stones. This increased tunefulness is thanks largely to Finn: The gruff-voiced vocalist recently started taking singing lessons. "It helped ensure my voice doesn't run out of gas so quickly," he says. "And they made me less afraid to try new things."

The album is also more expansive: The fivesome tossed in mandolin and talk-box solos, and spent more time layering guitar parts. On "Constructive Summer," they built a rip-roaring groove around harpsichord lines. Whether or not Stay Positive pushes the Hold Steady to greater success, the guys seem happy to be where they are, especially since they've been able to cut down on part-time work while not on tour. "Right now, we're able to live off the band — or get close," says lead guitarist Tad Kubler. "But we have to work at it. In order to be good, you can't half-ass it."

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