The Hold Steady has been writing songs for the last few weeks. Now America’s greatest barroom rock ’n’ roll band is heading out from Brooklyn to the Heartland to test out the new material on stage.
The new songs likely will be recorded in September or October and released in early in 2013. But frontman/singer/lyricist Craig Finn says The Hold Steady isn’t yet finished with writing.
“We’re getting close,” he said from Brooklyn Tuesday. “We’ve got a fair amount of new songs. We’re not going to be hitting the audience with 50 percent new songs. But we’ll put a fair number in. By the end of the summer, we’ll hopefully be ready to record. I’m not sure with whom or where.”
Why tour in the middle of writing?
“The economics of it kind of determines that, in some way,” Finn said. “Where we make our money is going on the road. We’ve never had six months to make a record.”
Playing shows while writing is in process has been the case for every album since The Hold Steady began eight years ago. That’s not a bad thing, Finn said.
“I really like playing new songs on the road,” he said. “Sometimes a song sounds great in the rehearsal room, then you get it out live, and it doesn’t work right. You can feel the energy a little better when you play live.
“When you’re playing live, you might say that second verse needs to be changed or maybe that bridge doesn’t go on long enough, something you wouldn’t know in rehearsal. Probably the best thing is you put the (new) song between two songs we’ve been playing for five years and see if it's up to the level of those songs.”
That’s a pretty good challenge, given the quality of Hold Steady live staples and the band’s powerful performances, including a brilliant show outside Omaha’s Slowdown last summer.
“There’s no point in doing it if you’re not going to hold yourself to a high standard,” Finn said.
Longtime Hold Steady followers who head to The Waiting Room Friday night will hear one significant difference in the new songs. There are no keyboards. Guitarist Steve Selvidge joined the band in 2010 after keyboardist Franz Nicolay left. Selvidge gives THS three guitars, with Finn and Tad Kubler.
“I’m not sure you should really count me,” Finn said. “Tad and Steve on the lead guitar playing off each other has become the key sound of the band. We’ve been doing this long enough that it's settled in live. Writing it’s still coming together.”
Kubler brings the basic instrumental outline for Hold Steady songs to the band. The group then works at turning that structure into a song, to which Finn fits lyrics he’s already written.
“I try to write a few stanzas, at least four stanzas of lyrics a day,” Finn said. “I’ll flip through my book or my papers and say, ‘This one has the right feel and the right meter for this.’ And the meter can be changed. A lot of the times, I’m changing lyrics up to the minute the tape rolls.”
There’s also a lyrical shift in the new songs, but it’s not as obvious as the musical change.
“I wouldn’t say a major difference,” he said. “But every year I get more interested in writing about adults rather than kids. It’s kind of been the trajectory all along of The Hold Steady. As a 40-year-old guy, I’m more interested in writing about adult things now than teenage stuff. When you look at Springsteen, Dylan or Neil Young, that’s what they’ve done.”
Friday’s Omaha show is the second stop on The Hold Steady’s summer tour. The first will be Thursday night in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“We’ve played 48 of the 50 states,” Finn said. “South Dakota is the 49th state. Then we have the Rock the Garden festival in Minneapolis on Saturday, which is a pretty big festival. We didn’t want to have a day off, so we’re coming to Omaha, then Minneapolis then up through Canada. We’ll do more East Coast stuff later this summer. But we won’t get to the 50th state. Wyoming is the only one we’ll have left.”