Letting their music do the talking

The Hold Steady are more concerned about how they sound than how they look, says Ed Power.

CRAIG Finn is paunchy, with chunky spectacles, thinning hair and a vaguely disheveled demeanour. The Hold Steady’s lead singer looks nothing like a conventional rock frontman. This wasn’t planned — but he is proud to know he is pushing against stereotypes and waving a banner on behalf of schlubby middle-aged men.

“I wish I’d kept a scrap book of all the things I’ve been compared to in the press,” he says. “I always get this line about ‘he doesn’t resemble a lead singer. He looks like a math teacher, a science lecturer, a guy working in bar…’ I grew up in Minneapolis and nobody I knew looked like Steve Tyler from Aerosmith.”

Finn was, he says, drawn to musicians who belonged to the ‘real world’. It is immensely satisfying for him to carry on that tradition.

“The music that mattered to me as a kid was made by people who appeared believable. We recently played some shows with [legendary alternative act] The Replacements. Like I said, I knew nobody who resembled Steve Tyler. I knew a hundred guys who looked like The Replacements. It made rock and roll feel like something you could achieve.”

Finn turned 43 halfway through the recording of The Hold Steady’s sixth album, Teeth Dreams. He was conscious that, at his age, artists often start to mellow (“they bring in the string section”). He pushed against that: it is one of the reasons the LP is the most ferocious the group have yet recorded.

Also contributing to the air of feverish unease that stalks the record was a suspicion — a pet theory, really— that society is in the grip of an anxiety epidemic, and that social media may be to blame.

“Some of the riffs feel quite claustrophobic and that is reflected in the lyrics. I started thinking about tension and about anxiety. It seems something there is a lot of — the New York Times now has an anxiety column. A friend of mine, who is a psychologist, says that half the people coming to see him are seeking treatment for anxiety-related issues.

“I’ve been thinking about how we communicate through Facebook and Twitter — it allows us produce images of ourselves that aren’t exactly ‘us’. I have this mini-thesis that telling the truth will eliminate a lot of the anxiety from your life. If you never tell lies,you don’t have to keep reflecting on what you said in order to keep the story straight.”

Last year, The Hold Steady’s potential fan-base increased considerably when they were featured on HBO’s cult fantasy romp, Game Of Thrones.

In one of season three’s most shocking episodes — slithery Jaime Lannister’s hand is lopped off — the band perform a punk-rock version of a poem from George RR Martin’s original novels, The Bear and the Maiden Fair.

“I hadn’t watched the series up to that point,” says Finn. “It was astonishing to see the reaction online. As soon as that episode went out, we definitely noticed an uptick. It does show you how much attention Game Of Thrones receives. I’ve heard some other bands have actually appeared on the series [Finn refers to cameos by Snow Patrol and Sigur Ros].

“We got a call from the producers saying that if we were ever in the vicinity of Northern Ireland, we could be in the show. We’ll have to see how schedules work. But we’re open to the idea.”

  • The album Teeth Dreams is out now. The Hold Steady play the Academy in Dublin on Saturday.


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