As the wry frontman for the Hold Steady, Craig Finn’s been noticeably absent outside of his band, enjoying his downtime without spewing out viral videos and/or 140 character op-eds. That’s until this past July, when he joined Twitter and unleashed the SteadyCraig Tumblr. But he wasn’t exactly longing for a connection with strangers. Instead Finn wanted to document his debut solo album’s recording process. He spent the better part of last month in Austin, Texas making tracks with a handful of session musicians. Finn’s solo album is tentatively due out in early 2012. Hive recently spoke with Finn from his home in Brooklyn about what we can expect from this new, untitled solo project, the Hold Steady’s future recordings and the process of adopting Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City into a movie script.
You’ve been in bands your whole career. Why make a solo album now?
Well, we had the time off, and I wanted to keep busy. But it’s also a matter of always being a band. We’re going to start writing the sixth Hold Steady record in September and I thought maybe going and trying something with a different group of people might allow me to step outside of what we normally do and maybe lead to some sort of artistic or creative growth. I went down there and made a record with musicians I’ve never met before. I’m not a super-strong musician, so there was some intimidation, so it was something I had to get ready for. We certainly made the record a little differently than I’m used to making records. In the end, I think part of it was to kind of grow a little, and I think that was something I was definitely able to accomplish. It was recorded fairly quickly in a way that was loose but really exciting. We were learning the songs and recording pretty much simultaneously. We recorded 14 songs in five days, and that’s with a bunch of musicians I met the day they showed up.
How do the new tunes compare stylistically to Hold Steady songs?
They’re definitely different, more reserved, quieter, more focused on the narrative, storytelling, lyrical thing, I’d say. They lean a little towards Americana; there’s pedal steel on a lot of the songs. A little more wide-open, a little less anthemic or celebratory. There are some rock songs and some qualities that will definitely appeal to Hold Steady fans.
Along those narrative-storytelling lines, is the album thematic or self-referential in the way Hold Steady material often is?
It wasn’t intended to be, but a lot of the songs are about displacement, being someplace that’s not at home and how that affects things geographically and/or spiritually. That’s something you’re very familiar with if you’re a touring musician. A lot of the songs seem to be about that in some way, about people who are feeling that struggle. There aren’t so much reoccurring characters, but there a lot of different characters within the record.
You mentioned a new Hold Steady record — how much is written and how much is there still left to do?
Oh, there’s a lot left to do, but we write pretty quick. It’s just a matter of blocking out the time. With the Hold Steady, the writing process is pretty collaborative. Tad will come in with the music and I’ll come in with the lyrics and everyone will start playing along and things will change a little bit. It’s not started. I certainly have a lot of lyrics and stuff. But I think once we get together, it’ll come pretty quick. I’d love to be recording by the end of the year.
You tweeted about Pandora recently, but are you keeping up with other digital-music developments like cloud storage and newer streaming sites like Rdio and Spotify?
Yeah, I tend to read all that. If it gets to the Times on a business level, I try to read on it. I really enjoy Pandora. It’s weird and sometimes frustrating. Sometimes it’s like, “No, no, no, that’s not what I was thinking about. Not that part of that band. I like this other part of it.” I was thinking if I put in Velvet Underground, I’d hear Sonic Youth yet, but instead it was something flowery from the sixties. But when it works, it’s awesome. It’s so great for hearing new things.
I wonder how the Hold Steady is going to embrace things like this, creative ways of getting music out there, especially given how fan-oriented you guys are.
I feel like it’s important to stay on top of those things, and that’s one of the reasons I like going to see bands. If you’re a chef, you probably want to go eat out a lot just to see what else is out there. It’s inspiring.
In October 2009, there were myriad reports about you and one of David Letterman’s writers, Tom Ruprecht, working on a film adaptation of Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. In the ensuing two years, almost nothing has been reported. How’s the script coming?
It’s done. That world moves pretty slow, so we continue to talk with people about it, but there’s no imminent news. Meanwhile Tom and I are still trying to do other things. It’s a really good creative partnership. Fargo is out there and Tom and I are going to continue to work together. That world is not something I totally understand. I’m on the creative end of it. A record is something you can really control a lot on your own. You can go make a record in two or three days if you want. But with something bigger in scope like that, it takes more partners, more meetings, more etcetera.
Was you and Klosterman working together a case of mutual admiration?
I think Tom came up with the idea. We were talking about Fargo, and how he had an idea; it’s not a real narrative story. I know Chuck from music writing, so we had a meeting with him and told him what we wanted to do it and he gave us his blessing. I think he liked it. He told me he really liked the script; that was really important to me.
Lastly, are you familiar with the @FakeCraigFinn Twitter feed?
[Laughs.] I don’t subscribe, but I’ve been told about it. I think it’s pretty funny. I don’t think I’ll be throwing up my lyrics on there. There was a fake Facebook page too, and a friend showed it to me and said, “I knew it wasn’t you because I don’t think you’d quote yourself on your own Facebook.”