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Craig Finn on his 'Carver-esque' solo albums...and the Minnesota Twins

Craig Finn at The Current in 2017.
Craig Finn at The Current in 2017.Nate Ryan | MPR
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by Jay Gabler

June 10, 2019

Craig Finn remembers when...Donovan played the Fine Line. Yes, Donovan.

"I think it was right around my 21st birthday," he told The Current's Mac Wilson, "so I'm guessing about 1992. That's the last big show I saw at the Fine Line. [...] It was actually a pretty good show. He had a pretty good story before every song."

Finn was in town to play his own big show at the Fine Line on Saturday night, but he's not doing a lot of talking on this tour. "I've got a really good band on this tour," he said. "I kind of keep the stories somewhat limited because I want the band to be able to play."

Not that Finn's averse to storytelling. Having admired Bruce Springsteen's autobiographical Broadway show, Finn talked about his songs extensively during a recent acoustic tour with Brian Fallon (the Gaslight Anthem).

Finn's touring behind his latest solo release. "I see this record as the third part of a trilogy," he said, "that began with 2015's Faith in the Future, continued in 2017 with We All Want the Same Things, and here we are in 2019 with I Need a New War."

He called the new albums "a little more vulnerable, a little more personal, and possibly a little smaller. With the Hold Steady, I'm mainly writing the lyrics and the other guys are writing the music, bringing in these huge riffs so that big things need to happen in a Hold Steady song. On these [solo] records, I've kind of put the microscope on things, examined things that a bit more mundane and day-to-day but might actually resemble my real life a little more."

When Mac prompted him with a literary reference, Finn agreed. "Yeah, I think these are Carver-esque stories, where they're kind of vignettes. If they aren't totally connected as far as one big story, they're the same kind of people. In the Hold Steady I often write about people who are actively making pretty bad decisions and pursuing those bad decisions, where on these last three solo records, I've written a lot about people who are trying to do the right thing but still are having a hard time keeping their head above water."

Mac played the Hold Steady song "Stuck Between Stations," which landed at number 84 on The Current's recent poll regarding the most essential songs released so far in this century — just ahead of Portugal the Man's "Feel it Still" and Phoenix's "1901." That Hold Steady album, Boys and Girls in America (2006), was a breakout for the band, even landing coverage in People magazine.

"That record, for me, I could actually call it life-changing," said Finn. "It not only opened up a lot of avenues, but several other continents for us. Our level of busy-ness was probably tripled."

Of course, as a fellow sports fan Mac had to mention the Minnesota Twins and their division-leading performance this season. "We're all pleasantly surprised about the Twins this year," said Finn. "Strangely, they're hitting so many home runs! They've had great seasons before, but I don't know I've seen such an offensive surge from them in my lifetime."

Finn used his Twins expertise to help his friends in the Baseball Project write and record a song about his hometown team, "Don't Call Them Twinkies" from 2011's Vol. 2: High and Inside.

"The funny thing about that," said Finn, "is that Mike Mills, the bass player, is an Atlanta Braves fan. So when we do the line about Ron Gant being out in the '91 World Series...he's pleasant about it, but he respectfully disagrees."