Posted March 28, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes

Craig Finn’s Stories Say More

© Craig Finn
© Craig Finn

In the wake of the death of his mother, the Hold Steady singer Craig Finn used songwriting as a form of therapy, He wrote a song a day for a period just to try to work through his feelings. For his second solo album, last year’s Faith in the Future, he collected the best of those songs. It should come as a surprise that they have a narrative structure to them. He spoke to us about the album from a hotel south of Charlottesville.

What inspired your tour with Titus Andronicus?
Well, we’ve been talking about it a while. I’ve been friends with Patrick [Stickles] for a long time. This last summer, when they released the new record, they did a number of shows at Shea Stadium, the club in Brooklyn. We did a number of covers together. It was really fun and a great night. We thought it might make a great tour.

Do you think your fanbases are similar?
Yeah, I think so. Mine might be a little older. The solo stuff I do is maybe not as big and rocking as the Hold Steady. That said, it’s nice the way it starts up. There’s no other tour support. I’m the first band of the night and it starts from nothing and builds into the big Titus set.

Do you give Patrick advice?
Only when he asks. I’m 44 and he’s 30 so he might look to me for advice. I think there’s stuff about being in a band that isn’t the most rock ‘n’ roll stuff. It’s about how you structure the payout on the tour and things like that. He’s asked me some stuff about that and I tell him what I think. The Hold Steady didn’t start until I was 31 so he’s already way ahead of me and knows more than I do.

Talk about what inspired the new album Faith in the Future. Your mother’s death influenced the material?
Yeah, that’s correct. Not so much in the content but in the process. When my mother passed away, I went back to Brooklyn and was not really doing much. The grief took on a thing that was not that productive. I wrote at least one song a day for a while and tried to work through it. The process led to a lot of songs. Again, none of them really addressed my mother’s death. A lot of them were about people moving forward about periods of tragedy and change. It’s still got that title, Faith in the Future. The title itself was inspired by my mother’s death.

The songs seem really somber and seem to reveal a more sensitive side. Do you think that’s accurate?
They are. It’s like the Hold Steady record Stay Positive. You don’t say “stay positive” or “faith in the future” when things are going perfect. With the Hold Steady, the music is so big that I have to write about topics that match the hugeness of the music. With the solo stuff, when it’s smaller in scope I can write about topics that are more personal.

You’ve regularly written songs as if they were short stories. Talk about that technique and how that’s developed.
I’ve always been interested in writing from characters. People assume that songwriting is always confessional. I’ve been interested in it in a more cinematic way, as telling stories about other people and building these characters. In some ways, I say that if I wrote about my own life always the songs would be about going to the grocery office and post office. You want to create something more exciting and that says more. I like that. On this record, there are a fair number of female characters and that’s a challenge. Because as a dude and as someone who has an audience with lots of males, I try to be really careful and make sure I’m representing women very humanly. To fall short of that would be a mistake and a big problem.

Do you read a lot of short stories?
I read a lot of novels. I read pretty much constantly. I do get a lot of inspiration from books.

Are you a Dylan fan?
Yeah. Big Dylan fan. It took me a while. I always liked the hits. Now, I’m obsessed. He’s a great artist to get to know when you go older because there are so many periods and places he went and you can go to those places. I’ve seen him a few times. The last times I saw him it was fantastic. It was maybe two years ago. It was great. I think he started playing the same set a lot. That helped. The band was dialed in and he wasn’t changing keys on them.

What’s the status of the Hold Steady?
We’re trying to figure out when to come back and play. Everyone needed a little break. I was excited to work on this batch of songs that I have. There are no immediate plans but there will be plans at some point.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].