Rock Gods: Sermons From The Hold Steady's Craig Finn
Ever since their breakthrough album Separation Sunday, the Hold Steady have written songs examining characters in difficult situations (addiction, sex problems, dangerous communities) stumbling their way toward redemption. That peaked with a character called Holly (which is short for "Hallelujah") in "How A Resurrection Really Feels," wherein she shows up at church on Easter Sunday, a complete mess, and offers to preach herself. The band's latest album, Heaven Is Whenever, focuses on these concerns from an older perspective. Songwriter Craig Finn's ties to Catholicism have an overt influence – saints in "Resurrection," crucifixion in "Both Crosses." But there's less explicit symbolism, and the characters search for meaning in the little moments, like listening to music with a friend or seizing a romantic opportunity.
The Hook: Do you see this album as a climax to the past few?
Craig Finn: II always feel like we're just adding to a body of work.
The Hook: With that body of work, are you starting to see what your legacy might be?
Craig Finn: We've got a lot of music now. I can see every night when we go to make the setlist and I think, "God, we've got a lot of songs to choose from."
The Hook: Could you talk about the role Catholicism plays in this album?
Craig Finn: With the Catholic church, one thing I feel a lot of comfort in is the ritual. I don't consider myself a traditional Catholic. I go back and forth. I do enjoy going to church and sitting there and having time to reflect. For all the negatives you can think about organized religion or the Catholic church in particular, there is a beauty there in things like the concept of forgiveness and the concept of redemption that applies to everyone.
The Hook: That redemption could seen as coming in the afterlife or in this one. On Heaven Is Whenever, are you finding a connection between the two sorts of redemption?
Craig Finn: That's what Heaven Is Whenever is really about. Metaphorically, you load the equipment into the venue, you set it up, do the soundcheck, and play the show. Playing the show is by far the most fun part, but you should also find some enjoyment in loading in the equipment. Every human's going to have highs and lows. The struggle is part of our human experience, and to be able to try to find some joy in that is what I think the record's about.
The Hook: You frequently write about people in tough circumstances; does that come from the same place?
Craig Finn: I deal a lot with people in compromised situations, with drastic highs and lows. That illustrates people who are in need of redemption.
The Hook: Are you sure people need this sort of thing from their rock music?
Craig Finn: There's a real communal aspect to rock 'n' roll. People in our generation have found a lot of positive from rock 'n' roll. It sounds overly dramatic, but rock 'n' roll can save your life, or certainly can change your life. Going to a show, being with friends, and communing around music can be a very moving experience, and oftentimes not too far off from going to a religious service.
The Hold Steady perform at the Jefferson Theater on 9/2. $18-$20, 9pm.