Shaky Knees 2016: Craig Finn X Vinyl Mag

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If there’s one thing to learn from Craig Finn, it’s how to weave an intriguing story. While the Hold Steady frontman knows what it’s like to rev up an audience as a loud rock band, he appeals to the more mellow side of things as a solo artist. We sat down with Finn following his Friday set at Shaky Knees to talk inspiration, Purple Rain and the importance of telling a story through rock ‘n’ roll.

Vinyl Mag: So have you played Shaky Knees before?

Craig Finn: Yeah I played with Hold Steady in 2014, had a really good time then. I’ve never seen so many guitars at a festival, it kind of feels like nice as a rock ‘n’ roll band to feel like it’s a rock fest.

VM: Are you gonna check out any other sets while you’re here?

CF: Well, we have to get to Nashville tonight but we played at an after party last night and I saw Beach Slang, and we have a ton of friends here, so that’s been fun.

VM: So what was the transition like from going as a band with the Hold Steady to going into a solo career?

CF: You know there’s ups and downs to both, obviously you have the camaraderie with a band, a history, you have different side jokes and all that. But the cool thing is I write so much. The solo thing is able to work on my schedule a lot more. If I want to record two songs, I’m going to get who’s available to try and record with me, rather than try to make everything work for all, or get schedules with all different people. And also the solo thing allows me to play with different people, under the umbrella of the solo thing so that’s really rewarding and helpful. So there’s great parts to both, I just sort of like getting to flex two different muscles.

VM: So in the future do you see yourself branching out into a solo-only career or do you want to stay with the Hold Steady?

CF: Well we already have a couple shows with the Hold Steady in the fall, but we haven’t played in 18 months or so, so right now I’m concentrating on the solo thing. I’m trying to do, I think it will probably be a mix of everything. My first band Lifter Puller played a show last summer. So I feel like it’s just all the things I do.  I’m hoping to do a different type of writing. So that’s kind of  my idea of where it goes. But I think now that I have the solo thing there will always be the solo thing. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it, you can’t break up with yourself. Like my next record could be electronic, but it’s still Craig Finn. And then it’s like you’re still building a body of work.

VM: So do you think your audience as a solo artist is different than the Hold Steady? Or was there a lot of crossover?

CF: I think it’s quite honestly a lot of the same people. Hopefully you grow into, and some of the tours I’ve done in the last year have grown. I went out with Jason Isbell and Heartless Bastards and certainly met a lot of people at those shows. That’s always encouraging. But you’re also getting people who were at the Hold Steady. Hold Steady is a lot louder rocking band, so some people are disappointed they aren’t going to be able to throw beer in the air, but hopefully those people are also getting more mellow as I am, so hopefully it’s at least the Hold Steady people.

VM: It’s nice to have a good mix.

CF: Yeah, I mean I hope it will appeal to people of all ages. And we’ve done a lot more shows with the solo thing that are seated shows, which is kind of nice, a different energy, and hopefully it will appeal to a different group.

VM: Yeah, you get to play a lot of different types of venues I guess.

CF: Yeah, we did Lincoln Center in February and I did a lot of small theaters with Jason Isbell. Just kind of different. Again, it’s like flexing a muscle. Playing down south with Jason is a lot different than playing Chicago with the Hold Steady. Playing Bristol, Tennessee, that was a really small town in the south and no one knew who I was and that’s cool, that’s a challenge. You’ve got to be funny and you’ve got to try to charm them a little bit.

VM: So to someone who’s never heard your music before, how would you describe it?

CF: I would say it’s rock, with a focus on storytelling. Cause I think that’s one of the defining things that my songs are—stories.

VM: I like that. Do you pull inspiration from your own experiences?

CF: Yeah I do, I think we all do. I think novelists—I forget who said it, someone said “there’s one hero in every novel and that’s the author.” Gregory Dunn said that. But when I write, it’s myself but it’s also stories. And books. Like reading novels, cause I still just read, going on tour, traveling, walking around, looking in a house, and saying ‘what happens in there?’ Picking up a story, trying to entertain myself.

VM: So what has been your favorite venue to play at, in all the time you’ve been touring?

CF: So I’m from Minneapolis, and First Avenue is the club there, and it’s not only that it’s my hometown, but I think if you ask me, and most people would say that for a club this size, that and the 9:30 club in D.C. are probably the two best. But especially, First Avenue is where Purple Rain was filmed. And so there’s a lot of nostalgia, and it’s also my home town. But also I just think it’s the best club, and now that Prince has left us there’s a special nostalgia. I watched Purple Rain in 1984 when it came out, and then I watched it for the first time in full last week—it’s so good. I thought it was terrible when I was 13. But now I love it. I guess I’m in a sympathetic mood. It’s bizarre, but it’s entertaining,

VM: Yeah, seeing it from a new perspective of him not being here anymore.

CF: Yeah it’s very melodramatic. It’s not real feminist I have to admit. When they put the girl in the dumpster…

VM: Yeah it definitely has some bizarre moments. Well that’s about all I have for you, but is there anything else you want to share with Vinyl readers?

CF: No, I think we’re good. Just thanks for having me.

VM: Thanks for talking to us, and good luck on the rest of your tour.

A junior studying journalism and music business at the University of Georgia, Camren spends her time procrastinating under the discover tab on Spotify and taking pictures of her dog. After spending the summer abroad, she has a remarkable appreciation for good gelato, cheap wine and British accents. With favorites like Simon and Garfunkel, Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay and Moon Taxi, she is open to a variety of musical genres and is a connoisseur of any and all music festivals. In her spare time you can find her binge watching her latest obsession on Netflix or dreaming of ways to meet and marry John Krasinski.

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  1. Pingback: Craig Finn Interview – Camren Skelton

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