Franz Nicolay

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Franz Nicolay
Nicolay in 2009
Nicolay in 2009
Background information
Born (1977-08-27) August 27, 1977 (age 46)
OriginCenter Sandwich, New Hampshire, U.S.
GenresPunk rock, indie rock, Balkan jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, writer
Instrument(s)Vocals, keyboards, banjo, guitar, accordion

Franz Nicolay (born 1977) is an American musician and writer. He is best known for playing the accordion and piano in The World/Inferno Friendship Society and keyboards in The Hold Steady from 2005 to 2010 and again from 2016 onwards. He is also notable for founding Anti-Social Music, a composer/performer collective based in New York City, and for performing in the Balkan jazz quartet Guignol.

Nicolay has worked as a producer, arranger, session musician, and collaborator with Mischief Brew, Leftöver Crack, The Dresden Dolls, The Loved Ones, and The Living End. He has performed with Frank Turner, Star Fucking Hipsters, and Against Me!

His first book The Humorless Ladies of Border Control, about DIY touring in the former Communist world, was published by The New Press in August 2016. The New York Times named it a "Season's Best Travel Book".[1] His second, the novel "Someone Should Pay For Your Pain," was called "a knockout fiction debut" in BuzzFeed and named one of Rolling Stone's "Best Music Books of 2021".[2][3] His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review Daily, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, LitHub, Longreads, The Week, VICE, and elsewhere.

He has taught at University of California, Berkeley[4] and is currently on faculty at Bard College[5] and Columbia University's MFA fiction program.[6]

In 2012, Dying Scene named him the #1 accordionist in punk rock.


Early career[edit]

Nicolay grew up in Center Sandwich, New Hampshire,[7] and graduated from New York University's music program.[8]

World/Inferno Friendship Society[edit]

Nicolay joined the New York City anarcho-circus punk band the World/Inferno Friendship Society in late 2000. He recorded three full-length albums with the band and was a member of their longest continuous lineup 2000–2008.

Anti-Social Music[edit]

In 2001, Nicolay organized "An Afternoon of Anti-Social Chamber Music" at Columbia University, a program of new music from emerging New York-based composers. This concert led to the founding of Anti-Social Music, a non-profit new-music collective of composers and performers that presents concerts of premieres by emerging (primarily New York-based) composers. Since the first "Afternoon," the group has played over 75 shows, premiered 123 new works by 28 composers, and seen over 110 performers have played or recorded with them.[9] Nicolay's compositions appear on their CDs "Greatest Hits…LIVE(ish)"[10] and "Sings The Great American Songbook".[11]


Guignol, described by the Times of London as "a combination of punk, jazz, folk, tango, klezmer, cheap red wine, woolly pinstriped suits, newsboy caps and one waxed moustache,"[12] is a quartet founded in 2002 by Nicolay and clarinetist Peter Hess (World/Inferno Friendship Society, Balkan Beat Box) to accompany performers from the Coney Island sideshow at a weekly show at CBGB. They became a part of the growing New York gypsy-punk scene[13] and released a full-length, self-titled album in 2004 and the EP "Drink The Best Wine First" in 2005.[14]

In 2005, Guignol made a guest appearance on the album "Smash the Windows," by the Philadelphia folk-punk band Mischief Brew. In 2009, they released a full-length collaboration called "Guignol & Mischief Brew Fight Dirty," which included six songs by each band, as well as covers of songs by Django Reinhardt and Iron Maiden.[15][16]

"Fight Dirty," off "Guignol & Mischief Brew Fight Dirty," appeared in the superhero movie Deadpool 2: Super Duper Cut, and on the soundtrack album.[17]

The Hold Steady[edit]

After guesting on The Hold Steady's debut "Almost Killed Me," Nicolay joined the band in 2004: "World/Inferno played some shows with Lifter Puller in Chicago a long time ago, then when Craig moved to New York he was doing A&R for the now-defunct DCN live label and signed us up for the live record "Hallowmas at Northsix". Over the course of working on that, we'd go out drinking with him and Tad when the Hold Steady was kind of coming together as "this new band we're sort of working on". When it finally happened, they called and asked me and Peter to come play on the first record ("Almost Killed Me"), which led to me coming and playing those three songs on NY shows whenever it worked out, which led to "Hey, do you wanna get together and work on some songs for the new record?", which became "Well, do you want to join the band?"[18]

During his time with the band, The Hold Steady earned almost universal praise by the press for their performances and records.[19][20][21] In 2010, Nicolay announced he had left the Hold Steady after five years with the band.[22] In 2016 The Hold Steady announced a series of concerts celebrating the tenth anniversary of Boys and Girls in America, featuring Nicolay with the band.[23] Their 2021 album "Open Door Policy" was their first Billboard top-ten record.[24]


In 2007, Nicolay released Black Rose Paladins, a set of solo demos. Only 50 hard copies were made, which were sold at his concerts.

On November 5, 2008, Nicolay announced he would be releasing his first full-length solo album, titled Major General, with former World/Inferno bandmate Yula Beeri currently of Nanuchka, Brian Viglione of World/Inferno and The Dresden Dolls and Jared Scott of Demander. World/Inferno saxophonist Peter Hess also appears on the album. The album was released January 13, 2009 on Fistolo Records.[25]

In fall 2009, Nicolay released the 10" EP "St. Sebastian of the Short Stage," with art by Nicholas Gazin and including a short story by Nicolay. The EP featured "The Ballad of Hollis Wadsworth Mason, Jr.," based on the character from Watchmen.[26] He also published his first story collection, "Complicated Gardening Techniques," on Julius Singer Press.[27]

In 2010, Nicolay released "Luck and Courage" on Team Science/Decor Records, and in 2012 "Do The Struggle" on Xtra Mile Records (followed by the outtakes EP "Bad Advice"). 2015 saw the release of "To Us, the Beautiful!" on Xtra Mile/Silver Sprocket, produced by J. Robbins (Jawbox, Burning Airlines) and featuring Andrew Seward (Against Me!), Ara Babajian (The Slackers, Leftöver Crack), and guitarist Yoni Gordon.

Recent activities[edit]

Nicolay produced the album The Birth and Death of Meaning and EP "Follow Me" by The Debutante Hour, as well as playing several instruments and providing guest vocals. He co-produced the album Killing the Darlings by the New York trio Pearl and the Beard.[28] In 2014, he produced songwriter Emilyn Brodsky's sophomore album "Eats Her Feelings."

In summer 2010, Nicolay was a touring member of the Florida punk band Against Me!.[29]

In 2015, he announced that his book "The Humorless Ladies of Border Control," about DIY touring in the formerly Communist world, would be published by The New Press in early 2016.


Nicolay appeared in the music video for the Star Fucking Hipsters' "Two Cups Of Tea."[30]

He also appeared in the video book trailer for Salman Rushdie's Luka and the Fire of Life.[31]



  • Black Rose Paladins (2007) (collection of demos)
  • All Aboard: A Tribute to Johnny Cash (2008)
  • Major General (2009)
  • St. Sebastian of the Short Stage 10" EP (2009)
  • The Bushwick Book Club, Vol. 1: January–November 2009 (2010)
    • Compilation including three of Nicolay's songs
  • Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute to Bob Dylan's 'Bringing It All Back Home' (2010)
    • Compilation including Nicolay's "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding (feat. Sxip Shirey)"
  • Luck & Courage (2010)
  • Live Free (Tour EP 2011) (2011)
  • Do the Struggle (2012)
  • Bad Advice EP (2013)
  • Bearing Torches: The Rottingdean Session (with The Cut Ups) (2014)
  • Low Bridge, Everybody Down / Home Is Where They Take You In (Double A-side 7" UK Tour release) (2015)
    • Released on Scottish DIY label Make That A Take Records
  • To Us, the Beautiful! (2015)
  • No Plan B (dance score) (2017)
  • PEOPSSONGS (2017)
  • New River (2022)

The Hold Steady[edit]

World/Inferno Friendship Society[edit]

Anti-Social Music[edit]

  • "Greatest Hits…LIVE(ish)" (2005)
  • "Sings the Great American Songbook" (2005)
  • "Fracture: The Music of Pat Muchmore" (Innova Recordings 760, 2010)[32]
  • "Is the Future of Everything" (producer) (2011)


  • "Guignol" (2004)
  • "Drink the Best Wine First" EP (2005)
  • "Mehanata New York Gypsy Mania" (2005)
    • Compilation featuring the Guignol tracks "All or Nothing Machine" and "Agada"
  • "Guignol & Mischief Brew Fight Dirty" (2009)
  • "Guignol: Live on WUML 3/9/10" (2010)

Selected sessions and collaborations[edit]


  • "Complicated Gardening Techniques" (short story collection) – Julius Singer Press
  • "It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs" (contributor) – Harper Perennial
  • "Work-Rest-Play-Die: Essays on Bob Dylan & The Subhumans" (chapbook)
  • "Tour Diaries 2007–2009" (chapbook)
  • "The Troubadour and the Patron: Music Writing 2007–2011" (chapbook)
  • "The Road Most Traveled" compiled by Chuck Ragan (contributor) – Milner Crest Publishing
  • "The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar" (non-fiction) – The New Press
  • "Someone Should Pay for Your Pain" (novel) – Gibson House Press


  1. ^ Schillinger, Liesl (29 November 2016). "Itineraries Await in the Season's Best Travel Books; The New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-05-12.
  2. ^ "42 Great Books To Read This Spring, Recommended By Our Favorite Indie Booksellers". Buzzfeed. 22 March 2021. Retrieved 2021-08-23.
  3. ^ "The Best Music Books of 2021". Rolling Stone.
  4. ^ "Franz Nicolay". 10 January 2020.
  5. ^ "Franz Nicolay".
  6. ^ "Franz Nicolay".
  7. ^ "Multi-instrumentalist and Hold Steady member Franz Nicolay goes solo with Major General". Archived from the original on 2012-03-01. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  8. ^ "Franz Nicolay: Interview: | Prefix". Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  9. ^ "History". Anti-Social Music. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  10. ^ "Anti-Social Music". Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Roberts, Nina (2005-05-06). "The Gypsies pitch up". The Times. London.
  13. ^ Sisario, Ben (2005-07-02). "The Rise of Gypsy Punkers". The New York Times.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Vettese, John. "Mischief Brew & Guignol :: Music :: Article :: Philadelphia City Paper". Archived from the original on 2009-12-18. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  16. ^ Weingarten, Christopher (2009-12-17). "Yes In My Backyard: Download Guignol's "Branks" (Featuring the Hold Steady's Franz Nicolay) – New York – Music – Sound of the City". Archived from the original on 2010-04-13. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  17. ^ "Deadpool 2 (2018) – IMDb". IMDb.
  18. ^ "aquarium drunkard: AD Exclusive :: Franz Nicolay Interview". 2004-02-26. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  19. ^ "Stay Positive Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More". Metacritic. 2008-07-15. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  20. ^ "Boys And Girls In America Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More". Metacritic. 2006-10-03. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  21. ^ "Stay Positive Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More". Metacritic. 2008-07-15. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  22. ^ "Franz Nicolay Leaves the Hold Steady | News". Pitchfork. 2010-01-21. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  23. ^ Gordon, Jeremy (2016-04-05). "The Hold Steady Announce Franz Nicolay's Return". Pitchfork Media.
  24. ^ "BTS' 'Be' Returns to No. 1 on Billboard's Top Album Sales Chart, The Hold Steady & Mogwai Earn First Top 10s". Billboard. 2021-03-01.
  25. ^ "Franz Nicolay from the Hold Steady/World Inferno Friendship Society announces solo debut". 5 November 2008. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  26. ^ "Franz Nicolay – St Sebastian of The Short Stage [EP] | Reviews". 2010-03-07. Archived from the original on 2010-07-02. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  27. ^ "Hold Steady's Nicolay Writes a Book | News". Pitchfork. 2009-10-01. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  28. ^ "Franz Nicolay". 2010-01-26. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  29. ^ "Franz Nicolay announces West Coast solo Tour". idiomag. Retrieved 2010-03-26.
  30. ^ Two Cups Of Tea Music Video
  31. ^ Moskowitz, Syrie (2010-11-04). "Salman Rushdie's Luka and the Fire of Life – Book Trailer on Vimeo". Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  32. ^ Coombs, Daniel (2010-07-19). "Classical CD Reviews: PAT MUCHMORE: Fracture – "Anti Social Music" – various performers – Innova". Audiophile Audition. Archived from the original on 2012-07-19. Retrieved 2010-07-29.

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