America in 2004 needed a great bar band, so Craig Finn and company started America’s best new bar band, man. Since then, The Hold Steady has catapulted into the national presence behind singer Craig Finn’s tales of late nights, early mornings and the complications that can arise between the two, all of which is packed with Finn’s lyrical specificity concerning characters, places and cultural allusions. Finn says he’s writing about pursuing certain lifestyles and where they can end up. They go together when he writes songs. “The highs and lows are part of our human experience,” he says. The lyrical craft is something he works on constantly. The musical half of the Hold Steady is written primarily by guitarist Tad Kubler. Finn says it’s important to keep the discipline of writing going, even if he’s on the road. “For me, I think it’s writing every day,” he says. “If it’s what you want to do, it’s what you do.” That means working even when the writing isn’t going well, because that helps Finn to write better stuff later on, he says. With that comes a willingness to let material sit around while working on making everything fall into place. Finn says some ideas can percolate for a year or two before finally becoming a song. “First Night,” the centerpiece of 2006’s Boys and Girls In America and “Soft in the Center,” the rock song kickoff to the band’s latest, Heaven is Whenever , were songs that sat around waiting for the pieces to fall into place to make them work. At times, Finn says if something is not working, he will cherry-pick strong verses and other parts and incorporate them into other songs. Finn’s writing is also taking on different shades as he gets older. At 39, he says he’s still trying to tap into universal themes. “Your age and your experience is going to play into it,” Finn says. Those experiences have added a new twist on the band’s 2010 release Heaven is Whenever , which contains an awareness that the party does in fact end and everything eventually catches up with you. That record’s kept the Hold Steady on the road for most of the year, unraveling what is an epic, uplifting rock show that, while echoing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, is its own celebration of partying in Midwestern metropolises. The Hold Steady has spent the bulk of the touring behind Heaven is Whenever settling into a new lineup after the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay and the addition of Dan Neustadt and Steve Selvidge. “We’re six months in and we’ve been around the world with it,” Finn says. After some 100 shows with the new members, the band is playing to new strengths and reinventing older material to fit the three-guitar lineup. Finn says the songs are featuring more guitar. The band is using the new lineup to stretch material out. On songs new and old, the new lineup is carving out different dynamics. Some song ideas will need time off the road to take full bloom, but Finn says he can already see how the lineup might transform songs Kubler and Finn take to the band. “It will sort of change when we play it at full volume,” he says On Heaven is Whenever, The Hold Steady approached making the album with a new angle. Finn says instead of locking down and doing 30 straight days of recording, the band did shorter bursts of work. The band would record four or five songs, then listen and evaluate them. “It allowed us to see what we thought we needed,” Finn says. By not being in such a rush to complete the album, the process was taking place in bits and pieces over six months. “It was a more deliberate record,” Finn says. He says there was an awareness going in that there are people listening to what the Hold Steady is doing these days, and it colors what goes into making the record. “You’re hyper aware that it’s your fifth record,” he says. While there was a willingness to change some of what the band does, Finn says he knew that in the end, the music was still going to sound like it was made by The Hold Steady. “You always make music you want to listen to yourself,” he says. The Hold Steady play w/ Company of Thieves and the Filter Kings Tuesday, Nov. 16, at the Bourbon Theatre, 1415 O St. in Lincoln, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $14 in advance and $16 day-of-show. Visit onepercentproductions.com.


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