The Hold Steady have hit their stride. And reached their limit.
Once famed for their hard-living ways and bad habits on the road, the Brooklyn rockers have mellowed with the years, admits frontman Craig Finn.
"Thatís true," the 40-year-old singer-guitarist agrees. "When we started, we all thought it was going to get taken away from us at any time. So we thought we had to do it all every night. But after a while, you start wanting to feel good tomorrow. And for me, the more touring we do, the more I have to take care of my voice. So more time on the road now is spent taking care of myself.Ē
Thankfully, they haven't watered down their potent sound, which mixes Finn's heady lyrics and braying vocals with longtime musical partner Tad Kubler's muscular, gritty guitar-rock. Fans can hear for themselves this month when the Steady return to Canada to blast through highlights from their five studio albums ó along with a taste of new tunes slated for their forthcoming followup to 2010's Heaven is Whenever. Before packing his bags, Finn chatted about rocking into middle age, his recent rootsy solo album and trying to keep up with Ted Williams.
So, how does it feel being in a rock íní roll band at 40?
You know, it feels pretty good. We started the band when I was in my early 30s, so it was a late start. Thatís a different perspective than a lot of people have. We still have a lot of fun, but when you get a little older you have a different view of it.
Is it more like a job?
Yeah, in general, thatís something Iíve shifted my thinking to: Treating it more like a job. Even with songwriting ó I'm punching the clock, putting in the time. Weíre lucky enough to do this as a job, so letís be organized.
You haven't been touring much lately. Are you looking forward to hitting the road again or dreading it?
Looking forward. I really dig the travel. Thatís something I canít stress enough. Before the band, I hadnít been anywhere. Now I get to go to all these cool places, and there's the excitement of having new things to play. I've been working on stuff, and it's pretty much all-encompassing right now.
Tell me about the new songs and the new album.
Well, I donít really have any titles. They always come later. And I don't know if I'm ready to talk about the theme of the album yet, but it is coming into focus. I guess the biggest new thing is that weíve got two guitars and no keyboards right now, so the songs might be a little more guitar-oriented. Other than that, theyíre Hold Steady songs ó upbeat and wordy. I donít think theyíll be that surprising to people. Theyíre good solid rock songs.
You must have a massive backlog of material ó on your last Canadian tour, you played songs that still haven't made it to a record.
When we write a record, we write a lot of songs. We write 20 or 23 and then choose 10. A lot of the others get used for things like B-sides. But honestly, a lot of them just go away. It's like baseball; Ted Williams was the last guy to hit .400. So if you write 20 songs and a third of them are good, thatís OK. You gotta write a lot.
Did making your solo album Clear Heart Full Eyes have any influence on your work with the band, or is it apples and oranges?
Theyíre mostly different. The solo album was constructed different. For one thing, I wrote the music myself, which was different. And we did it really quickly. I just came into these musicians that a producer introduced me to. I played them the songs and we just did one or two takes to get them down. So there was some thing about it that was more free and easy in some way. And we were playing at a whole different volume than The Hold Steady. When youíre playing this big loud rock íní roll, you gotta tighten it up. I didnít really have to do that with the lower volume and the Americana approach of the solo record.
So what's the long-range plan? Are you just gonna stay the course?
My only plan is to keep working and to try to make choices that feel artistically right. I donít know if I should have a better plan.
The Hold Steady's Canadian tour dates:
June 19 | Winnipeg | Jazz Winnipeg
June 21 | Saskatoon | Louisí Pub
June 23 | Calgary | Sled Island Festival
July 12 | Ottawa | Bluesfest