“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.” – W. C. Fields

THL cover

The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar is out now on The New Press!

Order: Directly from me Amazon Powell’s UK

Read reviews or come to events

“The Humorless Ladies” in NYTimes Book Review and again—”Season’s Best Travel Books”

“Franz Nicolay has always been the kind of musician who can sound like he’s roaming the world in the course of a single song. In this amazing road tale he captures how it feels for a wandering artist, scrounging in the underground punk scenes of Russia and the Balkans—sleepless nights and shaky trains, see strong beer and unsavory companions–watching history turn inside out.” – Rob Sheffield (“Love Is A Mixtape,” Rolling Stone)

“If there isn’t already a shelf for Classic Punk Literature, we need to build it and stock it with Franz Nicolay. Part low-budget tour diary and part Slavic history lesson, this book is a love letter to the punk vie boheme; a delicious and hilarious borscht stew of untold histories, literary references, beautiful strangers and backstage vodka.” – Amanda Palmer (musician, “The Art of Asking”)

“Funny and wistful, The Humorless Ladies of Border Control is an engrossing romp that casts fresh eyes on Old World cultures rich in paradox. Franz Nicolay taps into the current cultural zeitgeist in the best travelogue tradition, with vivid scenes capturing the absurdities of daily life in the context of history and a deft reading of some of the most important cultural figures. – Gregory Feifer, NYTimes best-selling author of Russians: The People Behind the Power

“A truly remarkable book. On the surface, it’s a tour diary of shows around the wilder reaches of Eastern Europe and Russia, which would be interesting in itself. In actual fact, however, Franz has written a profound and perceptive travelogue in the vein of Paul Theroux or Rebecca West; like them, he teaches you about the places he visits, about the people he meets, about a forgotten but fascinating corner of world culture, and ultimately, about himself.” – Frank Turner (musician, “The Road Beneath My Feet”)


Here’s the latest round of my audio yearbook, a running playlist I keep of all the music, new and old, that stuck in my ear this year. In no particular order, best on shuffle:


The new Hold Steady record, Open Door Policy, will be out February 19, 2021. The first single “Family Farm” is streaming now!


I wrote about Alex Ross’s Wagnerism for Slate.


Good morning! My second book and first novel SOMEONE SHOULD PAY FOR YOUR PAIN is coming in spring 2021 on Gibson House Press. PRE-ORDERS HERE or wherever you buy your books.

It’ll be followed in 2022 by BAND PEOPLE, a non-fiction study of the working and creative lives of musicians, on the American Music series at University of Texas Press. More info soon…‬


I wrote about Randy Newman for Vol. 4 of Hyped On Melancholy (“smart words about sad songs”).


I wrote about Glenn Gould’s radio documentaries and the fantasy of solitude for Moistworks.


I have a track on the “Don’t Stop Now III” comp benefiting Movimiento Cosecha and their fundraiser for undocumented and immigrant workers in the USA during the pandemic. It’s a demo of a song called “New River, Spring For Me,” and it’s the first new song I’ve put out in a while. A little rough but that’s what we’re dealing with at the moment. Other great stuff by Brian Fallon, Jeff Rosenstock, Erica Freas, Gladie, Chumped, and many many more.


I wrote a short parable involving home invasion and pomegranates for Hindsight Magazine.


Here’s the twelfth edition of my Audio Yearbook, a running playlist I keep of all the music that stuck in my ear. In no particular order, best on shuffle.


Craig and I appeared on the MSNBC show Morning Joe.

The other four songs from the Thrashing sessions will appear on a limited-ed Record Store Day 10″ called Four on Ten.


Perhaps you heard there is a new Hold Steady record. It is called Thrashing Thru The Passion. It debuted at #21 on the Billboard album charts and #8 on their vinyl charts, both of which we think are high-water marks for us. We talked to the Washington Post and Line of Best Fit about it and the current (healthy) state of the band. We played “Denver Haircut” on Late Night With Seth Meyers, and more live on WFUVWorld Cafe, and KEXP.

We recorded a version of the theme song for Adult Swim’s Squidbillies

Also, I found this batch of old solo piano demos in the vault that I never got around to writing lyrics for, which you can listen to if you like.


I wrote a little about “Punks In The Beerlight” for Slate’s David Berman memorial.


I wrote about contour drawing and characterization for Ploughshares.


I have an essay on Dubravka Ugresic’s American Fictionary in the Spring issue of the Threepenny Review.


Hi, here’s the eleventh edition of my dumb little Audio Yearbook, in which I make a mixtape of music that got in my ear this year. In no particular order, best on shuffle.


I participated in a roundtable of writer/musicians at Lithub and a speculation about the “New American Songbook” at Slate.


My story “Non Fui, Fui, Non Sum, Non Curo,” is now online via The Kenyon Review; and I wrote about Charles Aznavour for The Paris Review. (Thanks for the citation in The New Yorker’s Aznavour obit—though I’m not, nor would I claim to be, a musicologist!)


Pleased and a little bemused to say that Guignol and Mischief Brew‘s “Fight Dirty” is in the director’s cut and soundtrack album to “Deadpool 2: Super Duper Cut,” along with other obscure acts like Cher, Dolly Parton, and Celine Dion…



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