For the local press, it's unjustifiably taken for granted that a once-local star will still always make time for us peons in flyover country.
And while Twin Cities scene dignitary Craig Finn might not be the blogosphere's brightest star as much as he is a pretty high-altitude airplane these days, it's nevertheless apparent in conversation and on his second solo LP, last month's Faith in the Future, that he hasn't left his heart here or anything.
"I've written a fair amount of songs about being drunk in Minneapolis," Finn says ahead of two Twin Cities gigs — Saturday at the Woman's Club in Minneapolis, and Sunday at the Turf Club in St. Paul. "You get sort of crossed into this place where you're like, 'Are you becoming a self-parody?' If only because you're getting sick of hearing yourself talk about that, that you want to talk about something new. And also, it's just not my experience. Even if you look back 10 years ago, [the Hold Steady was] in New York."
Recorded amidst snowed-in sessions in Woodstock, New York, Finn sounds much more at home with the dressed-down Hudson Valley acoustics on Faith in the Future than he did over the Texas-produced twang of 2012's Clear Heart Full Eyes, his first trust fall outside of the Hold Steady. And while the energy may never rise above a gentle 4/4 toe tap here, the individual ideas floating around each track have more beats to breathe when compared to Finn's typical barking.
"A lot of decisions were made in regards to making sure that the stories were able to be heard. That meant keeping instrumentation pretty sparse," he says. "You'll also notice that there's barely any cymbals on the record, and that's because they take up the same sonic space as vocals."
That measured hand feels a bit more necessary throughout the record. The opener, "Maggie I've Been Searching For Our Son," confronts doubts about the rapture by picking at some pretty recent national wounds with the lyrics, "Hey, pick up the paper / See the stories and the pictures / A kid went to the movies with a gun." When asked where those of-the-times moments come from, Finn says that the subjects sort of rose to the surface after the death of his mom.
"A lot of these songs were written in the time after that sort of pushing through grief," the Edina native shares. "I didn't write any songs about my mom or her death or anything, but then you look back and some of these songs are about people trying to purchase beer after change or tragedy."
That tragedy Finn alludes to comes up on "Newmyer's Roof," where he sings about watching the World Trade Center collapse while drinking beer. He had only lived in New York City for about a year at that point.
"I think the best way to say it is that there was really no emotion to access, and there was really no way to think clearly, you know. To say, 'What's going to happen next?' I don't know," Finn says. "The reason that song is interesting to me is, looking back, I also had turned 30 about two or three weeks before that. So, to spit it out 14 years later — since then I had also gotten divorced and started a band — it's a big sea change between what happened then and now."
So if the Hold Steady spent the aughts re-evaluating their collective 20s, it would make sense that, at 44, Finn is now plumbing his 30s for stories to tell. Especially considering how these days, a 25-year-old singing about being a 25-year-old sounds "terrible" to him.
"I think I need some distance to figure out how to speak intelligently about it," he says. "I always look back at the ages that I was and go 'God, I knew nothing then.' I take the long view, and I think that's a more interesting perspective."
With "Newmyer's Roof" being an atypically I-was-there moment, just for the record, "Going to a Show" plays like a comparably hooky antithesis to the Hold Steady's "Massive Nights." Finn is still backed up by gang vocals, but the crowd has thinned.
"Part of the Hold Steady and part of my personality or philosophy is that to do these things and not give up on them is a victory. I think maintaining a connection to the things you love is surviving," he says. "You see people getting older and throwing in some sort of towel, and I think there's some sadness in that."
Ten years into putting his age bracket on notice, it sounds like he can still back it up. Beneath his voice, there's the ceaseless crunching fuzz of walk-and-talk in the background. And while he expresses a disinterest in "scene politics" these days, he still gets "out there" — like back in July when he performed Hold Steady songs with New York City snot-punks Titus Andronicus at one of their album-release shows.
"I was probably getting toward the oldest guy in the room that wasn't a parent of someone in the band," says Finn, who's buddies with Titus frontman Patrick Stickles. "But that was very vital. I'm 44, and I started going to see punk shows when I was in the eighth grade. I've seen hundreds if not thousands, and I don't get less excited about it."
And if nothing else, the crowdfunded nature of Faith in the Future makes it clear that people are willing to pay to hang out with him. Leading to the record's release, Finn auctioned off a veritable bucket list of adventures that he'll go on with you, ranging from happy hours to record shopping to landing a spot in his fantasy football league (of which he's currently in dead last).
Assuming plenty of artists may have an understandable "no-kissing-on-the-mouth" policy toward such fan interactions, the long reads he's been posting about each excursion (no Minnesota meetups logged yet) make it seem like he's happy so long as he's moving.
"You end up meeting people who are into the music, and they kind of end up being reflections of yourself," Finn says. "Everyone I've met through this thing has been really easy to talk to and super interesting, and that makes everything feel good."
And as for when that main feel-good project of his may reconvene, Finn provides an answer in a roundabout way by saying that, in 2015, no bands break up that "aren't Husker Dü." If that's the case, maybe we should just be thankful they're more of a Brooklyn and less of a Twin Cities band after all.
With: Esmé Patterson
When/Where: 7 p.m. Sat. at the Woman's Club of Minneapolis and 7 p.m. Sun. at the Turf Club.
Tickets: $25; more info here.
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