Franz Nicolay’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, The Paris Review Daily, The Kenyon Review Online, Ploughshares, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Threepenny Review, LitHub, Longreads, Fiction Advocate, The Week, VICE, Noisey, Talkhouse, NewMusicBox, Blender, Impose, InDigest, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He was a contributor to the anthologies It All Changed In An Instant, Rock Torch: Volume 1, The Road Most TraveledWaiting To Be Forgotten, and Punks Listen. He studied writing at Columbia University (where he was awarded a Felipe P. de Alba Fellowship). He was awarded writing fellowships by the Ucross Foundation, the Edward F. Albee Foundation, and Art Omi, has taught at Columbia University and UC Berkeley, and is currently affiliated faculty in Written Arts at Bard College.

THL cover

His first book, The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar (The New Press, 2016), was named a “Season’s Best Travel Book” by The New York Times and was an Amazon Editors’ Pick for “Best Nonfiction.” (read press here).

“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, author of 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, author of The Road Beneath My Feet)

His second book, the novel Someone Should Pay For Your Pain, is out now on Gibson House Press. Buzzfeed called it “a knockout fiction debut,” and it was named one of Rolling Stone “Best Music Books of 2021″—“finally, the great indie-rock novel…like Dostoyevsky in a DIY punk space.” (read press here).

Wise, brutal and funny, Someone Should Pay for Your Pain is a bruising and beautiful glimpse of the endless tour of broken dreams some of us call life. But as Franz Nicolay shows in this stunning fiction debut, there is still hope. You just might have to fight yourself for it. —Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask

I love this for novel for its sensitivity to the tenderness and absurdity of human after human, city after city, year after year. Someone Should Pay for Your Pain is a marvel, and when I finished it, my first emotion was to return to the opening pages and read it all over again. —Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances

If you’ve been waiting for the great rock and roll novel look no further. Franz Nicolay’s Someone Should Pay for Your Pain smashes Don Delillo’s “Great Jones Street” against a chaste “Lolita.” Nicolay’s book focuses on the illusion of stardom and the reality that most musicians play mainly in dingy clubs to sparse if passionate fans. Rudy, the book’s hero, lays down insights into art making as well as the wide variety of hangovers all the while moving fitfully toward a great dilation of care. —Darcey Steinke, author of Suicide Blonde

Someone Should Pay For Your Pain is a poignant and powerfully honest meditation on aging, art-making, and failure. With a sharp ear and an unsparing eye, Franz Nicolay has reinvented the road novel, stripping it of wide-eyed, Kerouac-ian grandeur to expose the frozen landscapes—both external and internal—that are part and parcel of a rootless existence. It’s a book that will haunt me for a long time to come.
 —Adam Wilson, author of Sensation Machines

“Nicolay’s ear goes beyond music. There is confidence and grace in these pages, characters that feel pulled from daily life, none of their rough edges sanded down. A debut novel not just for artists, but anyone who’s ever felt like they’ve grown up and distorted, uncomfortable moving through the world.” —Jean Kyoung Frazier, author of Pizza Girl

The life of an artist is really about giving. That’s especially so for the musician. You give all of yourself to your art and it’s likely you won’t get much back in return. It’s a tough world, but few can write about it as beautifully as Franz Nicolay. With Someone Should Pay for Your Pain, Nicolay gives us the sort of fully-realized, there’s no going back kind of story that’s hauntingly reminiscent of something between Denis Johnson and Nick Hornby, but filtered through the lens of somebody who has actually gotten in the van. —Jason Diamond, author of The Sprawl

Franz Nicolay’s poetic takedown of a musician’s extended adolescence goes down smoother than a drink ticket beer. Read it before you get in the van. —Chris Terry, author of Black Card

Rudy Pauver is a middle-aged musician with mid-level talent, still out there on the road, still grinding, still trying, but he’s not quite sure why. In this beautifully and brutally honest novel, Franz Nicolay challenges our romantic notions of freedom and the working artist’s life. He crafts a story that any reader, mired in the daily disappointments of what their life was supposed to have been, can embrace. —Cari Luna, author of The Revolution of Every Day

Rolling Stone‘s Rob Sheffield tweeted, “Remember buying a novel at an actual bookstore & taking it home & starting it, then you can’t stop & you’re up till 3 a.m. plowing through it? Thanks to the great Franz Nicolay for writing That Novel. A punk rock tale like no other.” UPROXX‘s Steven Hyden called it “an essential addition to the canon of literature about rock musicians…Laugh out loud funny and sneaky sad.” Razorcake said “Nicolay’s pitch-perfect observations make his story intriguing and all too true, zooming by like trees on the side of the highway.” Chronogram wrote that it was “punchy and wise…brutally funny and heartfelt.” Jewish Currents editor Nathan Goldman selected it for their Shabbat Reading List, saying it’s “simultaneously suffused with the glamour of music and attuned to the self-deception that glamour enables.” Author Jeff Jackson called it “an exceptional rock novel.” Dan Ozzi wrote: “The kindest praise I believe a writer can give another about their work is: I wish I’d written this. About 100 pages into Franz Nicolay’s debut novel, Someone Should Pay for Your Pain, that thought hit me like a baseball bat. God, even that title fills me with envy….bleak, beautiful, authentic, sweet, and sobering. I can’t recommend this book enough for Rockers Of a Certain Age.”

Band People: Life and Work in Popular Music, a study of the working and creative lives of musicians, will appear in September 2024 on University of Texas Press’ American Music Series (which you may know from books like Hanif Abdurraqib’s Go Ahead In The Rain and Alex Pappademas’ Quantum Criminals). It’s about creative, personal, and political dynamics in bands, and draws on interviews with the likes of Nels Cline, Janet Weiss, Josh Freese, and many many others. Pre-orders are available wherever you buy books.

“What makes Band People so unlike most books about popular music is that it’s actually about music, and not really anything else. Instead of projecting a meaning onto songs, it explains the craft of song creation; instead of lionizing the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, it describes how a life in rock ‘n’ roll can be realistically achieved. It’s the difference between learning about a war from a general and learning about a war from a soldier.” —Chuck Klosterman, author of Killing Yourself To Live and Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

“Most books about musicians focus on the superstars that everybody knows. Franz Nicolay’s writing is so valuable because he cares about the other 99.9 percent of performers—the sidemen, the session musicians, the road dogs who make their living in the shadows. In Band People, Nicolay shows just how fascinating—and difficult, and rewarding, and important—the lives of these people can be.” —Steven Hyden, author of Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me and Twilight of the Gods

“Franz Nicolay brings together musician interviews, pop-music sociology studies, and social-psychology research to demystify the world of the workaday band member. Partly an oral history of the post-DIY musical present, partly a how-to manual for getting along with your bandmates and getting paid, Band People offers a thorough crash course in what it means to be a working musician in the pop and rock scenes.” —Sara Marcus, University of Notre Dame, author of Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution

“Festival catering is where working musicians knock out our water cooler talk. What drummer’s a dream on tour? What singer pays dirt? What bassist should never, ever drive? With Band People, Franz Nicolay has assembled festival catering’s fantasy roster, a wrecking crew of career players in astute conversation with one another on business and relationships and how those collide in music work. A fascinating guide to the labor and love of playing in a band, with invaluable insights for newbies and lifers alike.” —Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz and Sad13), author of Cry Perfume

The four Complicated Gardening Techniques chapbooks are permanently out of print.


On the Ukrainian music scene in wartime; Spin, March 2022

On Jack Terricloth; Threepenny Review, December 2021

On Alex Ross’ Wagnerism; Slate, October 2020

On Randy Newman; Hyped On Melancholy, June 2020

On Glenn Gould’s radio works; Moistworks, June 2020

Housebreaker,” Hindsight Magazine (short fiction), February 2020

The Outlined Subject,” Ploughshares, June 2019

On Dubravka Ugresic’s American FictionaryThreepenny Review, Spring 2019

On the Mermaid LoungePunch Drink, November 2018

On Charles AznavourThe Paris Review Daily, October 2018

Non Fui, Fui, Non Sum, Non Curo,” Kenyon Review Online (short fiction), Sept/Oct. 2018

On Gene Fowler and purple prose; Threepenny Review, Summer 2018

On musicians who tour with their childrenSlate, February 2018

On three new books on literature and pop music; The LA Review of Books, October 2017

On Ann Powers’ Good BootyThe New York Times, August 2017

On the history of calling musicians sellouts; Slate, July 2017

On graded music criticism and regressive readingWatt, July 2017

On Lizzie Goodman’s Meet Me In The Bathroom; Slate, June 2017

On Listening to Jens Lekman in January 2017The Talkhouse, February 2017

The Inevitable Institutionalization of Rock,” Watt, December 2016

A Stranger In The World,” Longreads, October 2016

Dispatches From A Punk Tour of the Balkans,” LitHub, 2016

The Hotel Mongolia,” Fiction Advocate, 2016

Editorial: The Fair Play Fair Pay Act and why copyright law needs to change,” Punknews, 2016

On the lesser-known Prince albums;The Week, 2016

“Changing The Country, We Apologize For The Inconvenience” Part One Part Two Part ThreeNoisey/Vice, 2014