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Craig Finn - Interview

  by Andy Cassidy

published: 16 / 2 / 2012

Craig Finn - Interview


Andy Cassidy chats to Craig Finn from critically acclaimed New York-based garage rockers the Hold Steady about his just released first solo album, 'Clear Heart Full Eyes'

As front man of the Hold Steady, Craig Finn has had his share of accolades and success. Widely praised for the literary qualities of their song-writing, the band’s five studio albums, 'Almost Killed Me'(2004), 'Seperation Sunday' (2005), 'Boys and Girls in America' (2006), 'Stay Positive'(2008)and 'Heaven is Whenever' (2010) have won fans far beyond their native Brooklyn. Drawing on influences from Bruce Springsteen to Jay-Z via Husker Du, the band formed in 2004 after Finn and lead guitarist Tad Kubler watched 'The Last Waltz' together and Finn reportedly asked, “Dude, why aren’t there any bands like this anymore?” After having taken a five month break from the band, Craig Finn steps forward with a solo album which, while maintaining many of the themes found in the group’s material, finds him treading new ground, both musically and lyrically. He spoke to Pennyblack about his new album, 'Clear Heart Full Eyes', his forthcoming solo tour and his future work with, and outwith, the Hold Steady. PB: Firstly, congratulations on the new album. How does it feel to be going out alone after so many years as part of the band? CF: It’s cool, because it’s a new experience. There is the one thing when the record comes out and it’s doing pretty well you don’t have that camaraderie and that’s maybe a little bit of a down side, but mostly I wanted to do something, to have a new experience, and I’ve certainly done that. PB: You’re touring later this year. What can fans expect to hear – mainly solo stuff or will you be including some Hold Steady material? How do you feel about touring on your own as opposed to touring with the band? I imagine it will be quite unusual for you. CF: It’s going to be all solo material, but it will be with a full band so it will sound like the record. It’s not just me or anything! It’s going to be really cool. I have a pedal-steel player who’s really great and the band are a bunch of guys from Texas that I hired and everyone really plays well. We did one show so far. We did it in Texas, and it’s going to be really cool. I think people are going to really like it. PB: I thought the pedal steel playing on the album was really atmospheric. CF: The pedal steel is fun – whatever you sing and the pedal steel plays behind you it sounds pretty eerie. PB: You recorded the album in Austin. What made you want to record out of town? What impact do you feel the change of atmosphere had on the finished record? CF: I love Austin. I have a bunch of friends there, but the main reason I went there was that the producer I wanted to work with was there and he put together the band. I didn’t know any of those people. That was sort of the deal. I wanted to create some discomfort. I’ve made five records with the Hold Steady and I wanted to do something that was a little bit of a push for me. It was a little intimidating, but it was exactly what I wanted. I wanted to get outside and scare myself a little bit. PB: In the build-up to this album you challenged yourself to write a song a day. That’s quite a challenge. How did it work out for you? CF: Well, they weren’t all good songs! That was part of the deal. I was trying to write, and rather than wait for the inspiration to strike me I was trying to get in there and really punch the clock. I’m lucky enough to be able to do this for a living and I wanted to treat it like a job. I was really excited about it. I’d go in and I’d write them, and they’d be terrible some of them but then I’d look back a week later and it’s kind of like you’re a writer and you have to write something and then edit it, and that was the approach I took. And I think it’s made me think that way about songs in general. You really have to put in the work to make them work. PB: You have called the album ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’. You say that clear heart stands for honesty and full eyes for experience. I take it the eyes are filled with tears? CF: Yeah, filled with tears or just having seen a lot, having had a lot of experience. The idea was maintaining positivity and optimism even with ongoing experience. The album deals with adult characters and I want to talk about having adult experiences and adult problems. It’s part of being an adult. We’re smart enough to say, “Okay, this is my problem,” but sometimes you can’t do anything about it and that’s really frustrating and scary. It could be something like trying to quit smoking , but it can be worse. It can be bigger. I think those are adult problems and those are really kind of frustrating and scary. PB: I really enjoyed the album. I found myself being reminded of Neil Young’s ‘On the Beach’ album. Did you have any particular influences in mind when you were writing the material? For example, ‘Apollo Bay’ sounds to me like a Neil Young influenced track, while ‘When No-one’s Watching’ reminds me of Paul Simon. CF: The Neil Young one is for sure. ‘Apollo Bay is’ very much ‘On the Beach’ – ‘Apollo Bay’ is a beach town so there’s kind of a nod there. Records like ‘Tonight’s the Night’, those are big records, records I really love. They’re simple but very beautiful, restrained records. Similarly, the way we recorded this record was kid og live and a little bit loose – we’d learn the song and then we’d record it really quickly. Paul Simon, not so much - I do like Paul Simon, I don’t know if I was listening to a lot of that at the time, though. A lot of the stuff I was listening to was traditional songwriter stuff, Townes Van Zandt, Randy Newman or Warren Zevon, good story-tellers basically. PB: The album seems more reflective and quieter than The Hold Steady’s material. Do you feel more comfortable with quieter music or are you more at home with heavier rock? What is the true voice of Craig Finn? CF: I think the older I get I feel a little more comfortable with the quieter stuff. The Hold Steady is very celebratory. We get up, we have a good time, throw beer around and I like that, I love that. But at the same time I don’t always feel that way. This album came from a different part of me. It’s the creative expression of a different part of who I am as a person. That’s a very natural and honest thing. I’m forty years old, so the moment is right. I wanted to be able to express that melancholy and reflectiveness. I think with the softer music you can be a little more intimate, a little more vulnerable. So I think I had the chance to do that, and that was a real cool thing to do. When it’s not loud, ripping rock, you can get that bit more personal. PB: You mention Freddie Mercury in ‘No Future’. I’ve never really heard any Queen influences in the Hold Steady’s material to date. Are you a fan of Freddie? Who would you say you’ve taken most influence from? CF: I like all rock and roll, but I think what I was interested with in that song when I mention a lot of rock people it’s not always people I especially love. It’s more a nod to the mythology of rock and roll and how rock and roll fits in our lives. It’s the idea of going back to your records to try to find the answers! When you’re in a real bad mood, you listen to Ozzy or Kiss. You’re looking for an answer in a Kiss album – it’s probably not there, but we’ve all done it! PB: Writing, performing and producing your own music must be a dream job. What were your plans career-wise when you left school? Did you always intend to go into music, or did you have another career pathway in mind? CF: I thought when I left school that maybe I’d try to be in a band for a while and do something around music, working in it or writing about it. I’ve always loved rock and roll and I’ve always wanted to be close to it, but I realised that what I really wanted to do was be in a band, so I’m lucky that eventually worked out. When I started the Hold Steady it was two years after thinking I was done with music, so it’s been a real blessing and it’s the best job I’ve ever had! PB: You have the tour coming up, and the band’s on hiatus until later this year. Is that right? CF: No, we’re in the middle of writing a record. When I come back from this tour we’re going to be writing more and hopefully get in the studio and I’d like to say we’ll have a record out in 2012. It’s obviously not entirely in my control, but I’d like to think that we could have a record out this year. PB: And do you think there will be more solo material in the future? CF: I think so. I’ve really enjoyed this process and I think it almost helps me with the Hold Steady , to get the quiet stuff out of the way and we can get excited about the loud stuff! PB: Thank you.

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Craig Finn - Interview

Craig Finn - Interview

Craig Finn - Interview

Craig Finn - Interview

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