Interview: The Hold Steady
Mon, 14 Jul 2008 17:33:13
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The Hold Steady's fourth record is titled Stay Positive but the question is, to whom is this advice directed? At 36-years-old, frontman Craig Finn is still touring a grueling 320 days out of a year, still sleeping on a tour bus bunk bed, and selling incrementally less records than ever before in this digital age of downloading—never mind gas prices. If someone needed a pick-me-up, it's the lead singer of an indie-rock band.
But Finn is on the phone from Los Angeles feeling the best he's ever felt; he's exercising more, drinking less, and, if you've heard the Americana-rock band's fourth, he's even carrying a tune. All this culminates into the band's best album yet, topping off their quartet of critically acclaimed records with a maraschino cherry. And if the trajectory continues in this stellar nature for the Hold Steady, it's an effective endorsement for the power of positive thinking.
You've come out with three records in your first three years. This is your fourth album in less than five years. What's the hurry?
Well, we would have put out a record once a year every year but we did some touring in Europe, which slowed down the schedule by a half year.
You're incredibly prolific. Are you taking advantage of our temperamental community's granting you your moment in the spotlight?
There's something to that. Being in that industry for as long as I have, things have definitely changed. There is an insatiable musical appetite. People are consuming music so much quicker than they had previously.
You make most of your money from touring, right?
Absolutely. But we're also trying to be creative about our income. We're lucky that our fanbase is a little bit older and they're more willing to buy albums instead of wanting just one song—heck, we still think of vinyl when we say album—but we've tried giving exclusive tracks to digital outlets. We tried different artwork. Whatever helps.
This is your life now? No more day job?
Yeah, I toured for practically 320 days last year. No one would want to hire me anymore.
“I don't feel like a rock star. I feel like our fans are rooting us on... [our success] is half a fluke and half good timing.”
How do you like this lifestyle?
I like it quite a bit. It's definitely tough on relationships, but I love the fact that I have friends all over the world, in every corner of the world. We travel and go to different places, and when we have a day off in between shows we hit a tourist spot or go to a casino.
How are your traveling conditions? That's a lot of travel time, isn't it?
We have a tour bus with beds in them. We're not sleeping on people's floors anymore, really. We finish a show and get on the bus and sleep there over night while traveling from city to city, eight of us on the vehicle. But it's the only way to do it. Who wants to waste time traveling and sleeping when you can do it at the same time? And you know, there's something strangely hypnotic about the wheels on the bus that help you sleep easier.
What's your UK label?
Our last record was on Vagrant UK but this one they licensed to Rough Trade, which is a really great label.
Your music is so inherently American. How does it translate in the UK?
We had a really hard time for the first two records for exactly that reason. We didn't think it would work there. But, when it eventually came out, it really blew up in England. Now we're playing bigger venues with 2,300 tickers. I think it's because they saw how much attention we were getting in the states and they reacted to that. But there's also a big scene for Americana in Europe, like [Bruce] Springsteen and Wilco. There's a real affinity for us among the older rock listeners.
You keep mentioning older fans, and I cant help but notice that you have a blog presence and that your records are being swapped on music share programs. So it would seem you have a pretty significant, younger fanbase as well.
Yeah, I guess we do. But I think that's a new phenomenon for our fanbase. The older ones were early adapters, and I think they're also the harder ones to reach. You got a wife and kids and you don't have time to invest in a new band. The fact that they reached out to us initially is a high compliment.
You'll be 37 this August and your lyrics are getting slightly autobiographical. What's going on in Craig Finn's mind?
It's a weird place to be. Being 35, 36 years old and being a rock and roller still... it's really strange to me.
Do you ever feel like a rock star on stage, or do you get all metaphysical and think, "Dude, I'm a guy with glasses and a buttoned down shirt. How the hell did I get here?"
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