For nearly 20 years, Craig Finn has been a bright star in indie rock. From his days in his hometown band, Lifter Puller of Minneapolis, to the classic rock-infused, Brooklyn collective The Hold Steady, Finn’s detailed approach to lyrical storytelling of characters both debauched and redeemed has delighted fans time and time again. He return in March with his third solo record, We All Want The Same Things.
Weld recently spoke with Finn the morning after a Chicago show and asked him about the new record, living room shows, and Late Night with Seth Meyers.
Weld: You’re opening for Japandroids. How did that come about?
Craig Finn: I heard their music and went to their show up in New York. When I got to the venue, their manager came up to me and said how excited they were to know I was there and they wanted to meet me. So I met them and we ended up hanging out that night. For the last two years, if I was in Canada, I would see them and they’d see me when they came to New York. So we became friends. We lucked out this time around because we both had records sort of coming out at the same time, so we decided to tour together.
Weld: The new album is called We All Want The Same Things. Which “same things” are you talking about?
Finn: The title is darkly comedic in a way because we’re living in divided times. It’s a lyric from one of the songs. I saw the lyric when I was looking for a title for the record. I thought that We All Want The Same Things was interesting because even though we are living in these divided times, there’s a truth to that saying. We all [want] the big picture things. We want safety, we want security, we want freedom. We just vastly disagree on how to get there. The characters in that song from the album largely are not remarkably people. They’re the people who are trying to get by and trying to push through. It seemed like an appropriate title.
Weld: The cover art of a car in rainy traffic gives off that vibe of something you experience every day that you just have to get through.
Finn: Yeah, some of these people are just trying to get by. I’ve been interested lately in writing about believable people doing smaller and more vulnerable things. With the Hold Steady, the music is so big that the songs have to address the big stuff. The solo albums take things a little slower and turns it inward a little bit to examine smaller things that are more believable and realized.
Weld: A lot of artists like Stephen Kellogg have recorded up in Woodstock, specifically with your producer Josh Kaufman. Why did you choose that location instead of the usual New York City studio?
Finn: It started by working with Josh on the last record. He knew about the studio up there called The Isokon Recording Studio, so we went up there. It was a comfortable place to work. It’s very not surprising once you get there that there’s a lot of music made in that area. It’s fairly close to the city, but you also feel like you’re in a different world and really removed. There are no distractions. It’s a perfect mix because you’re able to really focus, but it doesn’t take that long to get there. For this new album, we made half the record in The Isokon and the rest at the Clubhouse Studio in Rhinebeck, which is very close to Woodstock. There are good studios all over that area.
Weld: The first song you released from this new record is called “Preludes.” Can you talk about that song?
Finn: I thought it was just a good place to start. Funny enough, it’s the only song on the record that seems autobiographical, and it just seemed to fit. The working title was “1994,” and it was about the time that I came back to Minneapolis after I had been away at college. I was a little bit lost and trying to find my place in the world. It was a scary and confusing time. It was an interesting sentiment to me, because I was trying to figure out what was so fascinating to me about that time in my life. I just felt it was the perfect song to lead with in that it was representative of the record. But it’s always hard to choose those things.
Weld: You’ve said before that when you look back on the Hold Steady album Heaven Is Whenever, that you noticed there were a lot of “advice” songs. Is that the kind of sentiment you’re going for with the song “Be Honest” from this latest record? Do you feel like you’ve gained some more wisdom since the 2010 release of Heaven Is Whenever?
Finn: I look back on those songs and realize that “advice” songs are things I should probably avoid. That was a part of my writing that didn’t translate well. So for the last few solo records, I’ve really made a conscious effort to remove myself from that and really just describe the situation. Even though the title “Be Honest” sounds like advice, I’m not sure it is. But it’s interesting you bring that up, because I have been cognizant of that lately.
Weld: In January, you embarked on a Living Room tour and also encouraged Q-and-A sessions during each show. That’s a type of tour that David Bazan is known for doing as well.
Finn: We actually did the living room shows through the company that David works with, Undertow. It went really well. What I was doing originally was going out and visiting radio stations to promote the record. I had done that for Faith in the Future, but I found the night time to be a little bit lonely since radio is usually in the afternoon or morning. The living room shows exceeded my expectations and were really amazing experiences.
There’s a real energy to inviting 35 strangers into your living room. It feels like a slightly political or revolutionary act. I was doing a lot of new material, so people could really hear the words. There are a lot of different reasons that people go to rock clubs, but if you’re going to someone’s living room and sitting on the floor to hear me play, you probably want to be there for the music.
Weld: The Hold Steady did several shows this past year to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Boys and Girls in America. How did the shows go, and will we be hearing any new Hold Steady music soon?
Finn: The four shows in Brooklyn were amazing, and we did three in September. It was the first time we had a six-piece lineup with Franz Nicolay and Steve Selvidge. I think it really is the best Hold Steady lineup. It was really rewarding. People came from all around the world. We were just really happy with the shows. It’s probably going to be more shows in the future. We don’t have any new songs, so a new record isn’t necessarily imminent.
I think what we did in Brooklyn of having multiple shows is probably going to be the model. People are a little older and people have kids. I don’t think we’ll get in a van and drive around to every city in the country. I think we’ll just go to a city and put three shows on sale and try to make those very special. Just try to have a cool place to do them and have people meet us halfway a little bit. Not always going all the way to them, but making it worth their while.
Weld: Finally, what was it like being the band leader for a week on Late Night with Seth Meyers?
Finn: That was amazing. It was fun for me because it’s been a while since I’ve had a place to go to work every day. It was also Christmas in Rockefeller Center, which is a cool time to go work up there. It’s a really creative thing where you go in, compose all of the music in the morning, rehearse it in the afternoon, and then you do the show. Then after the show, everyone goes home, and then you do it all again in the morning. It’s a great energy of building up to something every day. A lot of those guys in the band are my friends from before. It was a really spectacular week. Definitely one of the best weeks of the year.
Craig Finn and his band The Uptown Controllers will be at Saturn on Saturday, March 4 with Japandroids. Tickets for the 18-and-up show are $22 and can be purchased atsaturnbirmingham.com. Craig Finn will also be at Seasick Records from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. for an in-store performance and record signing.