The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn Talks Songwriting and Solo Project Coming to Dallas on Saturday

Craig Finn
Craig Finn Shervin Lainez
Craig Finn has had a busy year, with the April release of his fourth solo album, I Need a New War, and the release of The Hold Steady's seventh album, Thrashing Thru the Passion, in August. After a brief run through Antwerp, Amsterdam and the U.K., Finn is bringing his solo show to Dallas' Club Dada on Saturday, his second time playing the venue since 2012.

"I haven't played a show in Texas in a while, and our drummer lives in Austin," Finn says, "so it felt like a good place to start and go from there."

While fans of The Hold Steady may be craving the giant-rock-band sound the band is known for, Finn says that his solo shows bring a whole new energy to his performance.

"It's more of a lush thing," Finn explains. "It's piano, sax, guitar, bass and drums. I think it's just a little bit of a looser band and quite a bit less guitar driven. I think it puts the stories first."

In putting the storytelling first, Finn's solo project allows him to tell a different kind of story from those of wild nights and mornings filled with regret, which The Hold Steady tells in songs like "Killer Parties" with its refrain "Killer parties almost killed me."

"If someone in Dallas made us the right offer, we are open for business." — Craig Finn

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"With The Hold Steady, I always seem to be writing about people making bad decisions and following them to their logical and terrible conclusion," Finn says. "In the solo work, a lot of it has to do with people who are trying to do the right thing and still having a hard time keeping their head above water."

In "Grant at Galena," the song from which I Need a New War gets its title, Finn's focus on the struggles of everyman becomes clear: "Broke into the Biltmore / Got a couple of handles / Drifted back to the darkness / Lit a few candles / They sent me some letters / I did my best to ignore 'em / I couldn't make the payments / So they sat there unopened / They cut off the power / But I still got the water / When I lose light for reading / I walk up to the mall."

Finn's projects have always had a penchant for storytelling — even his first band Lifter Puller and short-lived electronic project The Brokerdealer gave faces and names to characters in the search for something pure.
Crediting his early love of authors like Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth and Larry McMurtry, Finn has always believed that songwriting should tell a story, whether that be a collection of short stories like those of I Need a New War or album-length tales of Holly (or Halleluiah), the struggling addict and devout Catholic in The Hold Steady's Separation Sunday.

"I don't know if that really influenced it," Finn says. "A year or two ago 'Slip Slidin' Away' by Paul Simon came on the radio. My parents didn't have a ton of records, but they had Paul Simon's Greatest Hits. I used to listen to it a lot and I realize there's a part of that song, in the second verse he says, 'I know a man / He came from my home town / He wore his passion for his woman / Like a thorny crown / He said Delores …' and I realized, holy shit! I do that all the time where I like withhold the woman's name until the middle of the verse."

While many songwriters tend to obfuscate specific details in their songs in an attempt to make the content more universal, Finn has always found that creating 3D portraits of characters and their environs can offer a universal connection to the human experience.

"I remember going over to England for the first time with The Hold Steady and wondering if they would get the naming specific street corners in Minneapolis," Finn recalls. "Then I thought about how The Clash were naming places I didn't know about when I first heard that song, but I knew it felt important."

While we look forward to seeing Finn playing his solo show in Dallas, it is still unclear when we will see another show from The Hold Steady in Dallas.

"We are really locked into this weekend model we've been doing," Finn says of The Hold Steady's weekend residencies in cities like Seattle, Chicago and Boston. "But if someone in Dallas made us the right offer, we are open for business."
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David Fletcher writes about music, arts and culture for the Dallas Observer. You can usually find him at a show in Deep Ellum whether he's writing about it or not. A punk scholar and local music enthusiast, David focuses his attention on the artists screaming in the margins of Dallas' music scene.
Contact: David Fletcher