Craig Finn Forges A Strong Identity Outside Of The Hold Steady With ‘We All Want The Same Things’

In recent years, as the pace of new releases from The Hold Steady has slowed, Craig Finn has increasingly channeled his songs into sonically adventurous albums like We All Want The Same Things, his third solo LP in five years which is due out this Friday. On previous records like 2012’s Clear Heart Full Eyes and 2015’s Faith In The Future, Finn searched for a new musical identity removed from the riff-heavy arena-rock of The Hold Steady. But after dabbling in singer-songwriter folk and experimental indie-pop, Finn re-emerges on We All Want The Same Things with a mature rock sound that best suits his character-based story songs.

After constructing an elaborate mythology over the course of several albums in The Hold Steady, starring characters such as Holly, Gideon, and Charlemagne, Finn has set about creating new worlds on his solo albums. The characters who populate the songs on We All Want The Same Things — the couple in “Jester & June,” the erstwhile drug dealers in “God In Chicago,” the rootless midwesterners in “Preludes,” the lovers in the process of breaking up in “It Hits When It Hits” — are generally older and wearier than the typical protagonist in a Hold Steady song. They’re just trying to make it in Trump’s America, fighting back cultural malaise while trying to re-discover the special parts of themselves that have been lost in the process of growing up. If Hold Steady songs are about the party, Craig Finn songs are about what happens to the people at the party 20 years later. Read our conversation below.

The title for this record comes from a lyric in the song “God In Chicago.” But there’s also a vaguely political connotation to it. We all do want the same things — and yet we’ve never been more divided. Was it your intent to comment on the current moment?

I usually like to pull titles from lyrics. We got the songs done, we decided what’s going to be on the record, and I’m looking through the lyrics, and I kind of laughed to myself. Because we are in very divided times, and this record was named before the elections but during the campaign. It wasn’t like the election was some bombshell that we all want the same things. It’s been very obvious over the past year. We want safety, we want security, we want freedom. We just disagree on how to get there. I feel like it’s important to remember that. I’m constantly reminding myself that that’s true. Also, going further, I think that the characters on this record are … they’re not fancy people. They’re unremarkable people. A lot of them, I think if we looked, if these were real people, some of them wouldn’t necessarily vote the same way I do, and certainly a lot of them would be affected if you took away Affordable Care Act. So, it is stories about people who are out there, and are affected by all this stuff.

Is it fair to call this album a song cycle? It does seem to follow the arc of a relationship.

It’s weird because “Preludes,” the second song, is more autobiographical. It’s about me coming back to the Twin Cities after being away at college, and trying to fit in and figure out what my place in this world is, and having some hard times with it. That one sort of sticks out — even though I love the song, it maybe doesn’t fall in with the rest. The others are usually about two people and exploring modern love as a series of sacrifices — or as I say, uneasy alliances. People partnering up and teaming up to push through and try to make their way in the world. I mean that not as a cynical look at modern love, [because] I find some beauty in that. At 28 you have that year where you go to nine weddings, and then at 45, where I am now, those weddings unravel. You always hear people saying, ‘We’re such a good team, though. We get the kids to school on time. We put dinner on the table.’ You realize there is a beauty to being a good team. It just might not match our Walt Disney fairytale version of love, and that’s where I think some of these songs are.

With “Preludes” I remember when I got back… I mention this because you live in the Twin Cities. When I got back from Boston, from school, and was trying to build a life in the Twin Cities, I just remember thinking the whole trick of this is going to be, ‘I can’t get a DUI'” A lot of that song is about having that specter over you. There’s guys riding bikes that I realized aren’t riding bikes for exercise. I think about for someone who had $600 in his bank account on a good day, if you get a DUI, you see the signs on the billboards it’s going to cost you $10,000. It’s like, ‘Wow, for a normal person that’s really something to be avoided,’ and of course it’s something to be avoided. It’s very dangerous, and people get killed by drunk drivers. But I just thought about what a specter that was over the scene.

You’ve lived in Brooklyn for more than 15 years now. Why do you keep writing about the midwest?

I know where the streets are laid out. I have a handle on the people. I feel like when you’re in New York at my level, you’re living in the shadow of the city. There’s people on Page Six that are maybe living in the center of the city, going to the biggest and best parties. I’m just here. In Minneapolis, when I lived there, I felt like I was more inserted in the mainstream of the city. I might be at the best party that was in the city that night.