Rock Candy Interview: Craig Finn of The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady performs tonight at 9 p.m. at The Waiting Room Lounge. Tickets are $18 day of show. Mount Carmel opens.


The Hold Steady comes through town again tonight, but this time is at the Waiting Room Lounge. I’ve seen the band a ton of times, but never in that small of a venue, and I think they’ll do well with the energy in there.

I’ve been asked all week, “Is the show sold out yet?” Nope. Not yet. It’s sort of surprising, considering how “big” the band is, but they’ve been here a lot lately (including frontman Craig Finn on a recent solo tour) plus the band won’t have a new album out until next year.

I called Finn at his house in Brooklyn earlier in the week to talk about the band’s progress on its upcoming album and whether we’d hear any of it at the show. We also talked baseball and the possibility of forming a supergroup with some other great sognwriters.

Q. When do you hit the road?

A. We start in Sioux Falls Thursday. It’s our first-ever show in South Dakota, which makes our 49th state. It’s one of the reasons we’re headed in that direction. We have Wyoming left.

Q. You’ve played in Hawaii and Alaska, too?

A. Somehow we got those out of the way before even Delaware. We got Delaware last year. We’re closing in on it.

Q. The last time we talked, you said you were going to start working on some new stuff for The Hold Steady. Have you been writing new songs?

A. Oh yeah, definitely. We’ve been working pretty hard. I’m sure we’ll play at least a few on this tour. I don’t know how many each night, but I expect at least one or two in the set each night. We’re working towards a record. We’ve definitely got a fair amount of songs that we continue to work on. I think quite a few are ready to play live, so that will happen.

I don’t think it will dominate. I think we’ll play songs people know, mostly, but we will have some new stuff in there.

Q. The Hold Steady added Steve Selvidge on guitar. How has that worked?

A. We’ve got no keyboards and an extra guitar. For the older stuff, it changes less than maybe I would have thought. As the new stuff progresses, it seems like there’s more guitar focus.

Steve and Tad playing off each other is a really cool thing. They’re both really strong guitar players, so that becomes a defining part of it.

Q. Some of the older songs that are more keyboard-based sound less different than you would think.

A. Yeah. That’s sorta how I feel. Maybe that’s testament to Steve knowing how to cover the keyboard parts and finding the right parts for himself. There’s a couple that we had to rework pretty heavy, like “Stevie Nix” and there’s that big piano break in “Stuck Between Stations.”

Those were the main when we lost the keyboards that were the main two trouble spots. But 20 minutes after we started talking about it we figured out what we wanted to do and felt pretty good about it, so it wasn’t a huge problem.

Steve is really a great fit with the band, so that’s made things really good.

Q. Do you know when you’ll have the new record out? That may be too far out to know.

A. If I had to guess, I’d say early 2013. We’ll probably start to do a little bit of recording this summer. We’re sort of undefined on that yet. We’ll probably really work on it and have it recorded in the fall. With Christmas and all, no one wants to put it out in November or December.

Of course, with us, once we get it done, we’re gonna want to play it for everyone. But there’s other people involved who won’t let us do that. (laughs) So, I would say 2013 is more realistic.

Q. When you did the solo album, you said you had a bunch of extra songs. Do you ever plan to put those out?

A. I think I’ve just put them in the pile and if I ever do another solo record – it won’t be for awhile given The Hold Steady schedule – they might jump on there. Or I might throw them out there. These days, you can always throw things out on the internet.

There’s a lot of songs and the solo record kinda encouraged me to change the way I approach songwriting. I really tend to put more hours of the day into it and that leads to more material.

Q. You talked about writing every day. Has that changed how you write for The Hold Steady?

A. It changes how I put time in on the lyrics. On previous records, Tad would have the song and we’d work on that. I’d walk around during my days doing whatever and have it in the back or the front of my mind saying, “What should I do for the second verse on that one?”

Now, it’s kinda a little more like “I’m gonna turn on the computer and sit here and look at it and wait or try to throw some things down.” Be a little more proactive and punch the clock a little more.

It might be me changing as a person or getting older, but it tends to work better for me now.

Q. So, I was looking up some lyrics the other day and I found out there’s a Hold Steady wiki page.

A. Yeah, I know. (laughs)

Q. OK. I was wondering if you had seen that.

A. I know about it. I try not to spend too much time looking at my own stuff on the internet, but I know about it because I’ve been asked a number of questions about it. It seems to be pretty detailed.

It’s very flattering. I have to say, if I was maybe younger… I was a music fan like that. I think everyone creates music that they want to hear themselves and I was kind of an obsessive guy. If I was a certain age when the internet came out, I may have been that guy for The Replacements or The Clash.

Q. I did see The Replacements documentary that you were in. (“Color Me Obsessed” was directed by Gorman Bechard.)

A. Oh, you have? I haven’t seen it.

People told me it’s really cool, but I haven’t seen it.

Q. In songs, you mention Joe Strummer, Husker Du and the Replacements. I know those are musical heroes for you. What are some others?

A. Springsteen would probably be another one. Those are the big ones: Clash, Replacements, Husker Du, Springsteen.

The older I get, Dylan is something that once you get in, there’s so much to get into. It’s like, “Wow, I just discovered this weird record from the ’80s.” Then you get really into that for awhile.

There’s just so much, and the depth of it is so incredible. You can just keep going. Once you get in, it can last you a lifetime. I fully anticipate if I’m still here in 20 years, I’ll be going to Dylan. Maybe even moreso then than now.

Q. You did a song with Frightened Rabbit (a cover of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”) and did stuff with Ben Nichols from Lucero (“Magazines”) and plenty of others. Is there anyone you want to do something with?

A. That’s a good question. Of course, any of the aforementioned heroes would be good choices.

It’s always kind of something that has to happen naturally. I’d hate for my manager to be calling around trying to get something going rather than you meet someone at a festival and say, “God, you’d sound great on this song we have.”

I just did, awhile back, a track on a dude named Joe Pug – I don’t know if you know that guy -  but he’s from Chicago, a singer-songwriter. We crossed paths a few times and he said, “Hey man, would you sing on this? I think you’d sound good.”

That’s how that stuff happens that’s comfortable. The Frightened Rabbit thing was born out of a lot of late nights here in Brooklyn andGlasgowwhen we’ve been over there.

Q. That’s great. Scott Hutchinson from Frightened Rabbit has mentioned that he really admires your songwriting. That seems to happen more and more the longer The Hold Steady continues. What’s that like?

A. It’s super-flattering. In some ways, as a musician as a songwriter, whatever critical attention you have, it’s amazing to have someone like that say “This guy can write a great song” or “I love this music” or “They inspired me to do this.” Those are the people that you’re really trying to impress.

Regardless of whether I’d be writing songs or being in a band, I am still a huge music fan. With Scott Hutchinson or John Darnielle or Patterson Hood or any of these people, to be peers with them is the most exciting thing.

Q. The only thing left is for you to create a supergroup.

A. (Laughs) Like a Traveling Wilburys kind of thing? Yeah. We’d be international. We could base it (inScotland). That would actually be kinda fun.

Maybe there is. The Monsters of Folk thing happened, so maybe there’s room for something else. I don’t know.

Q. I grew up listening to the Traveling Wilburys. Was that something that appealed to you growing up?

A. Yeah! I knew enough that those were serious people. I listened to that record all the time when I was a kid. You always knew Dylan and George Harrison were pretty serious people. Jeff Lynne was a little over my head at the time, but now I understand his place in it. Roy Orbison at the time was maybe a little old for me, but now I realize he may have been the coolest one.

Q. Totally switching gears, are you bummed with the Twins this year?

A. Actually, I’m a ridiculous optimist. I’m pretty impressed with how they’ve played in the last 10 or 12 games. I tend to find the bright side in everything and that’s the perfect example. I think they’re better than they were at the beginning of the season, and I actually think they’re better than they were last year.

The pitching’s awful, but it’s nice to see Morneau’s healthy. If there’s one big bright spot to the season, it’s that.

There’s some young exciting players. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get rid of Willingham at the trade deadline and pick up some pitching prospects. That’s what I’d like to see.

Q. I’m a big Mets fan. Isn’t your home team away from home the Mets?

A. Well, in The Hold Steady, we hate the Yankees.  We live here inNew York, so going to a Mets game is really pleasant as opposed to a Yankees game, which is really kinda douchey.

If the Mets do well, I think everyone starts to pay attention. But no one’s living or dying for them if they’re nine games out of first.




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