Craig Finn: ‘You Learn A Lot Putting Yourself In New Situations’

Craig Finn tells us about his time away from The Hold Steady, and the creation of his debut solo album.

The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn has - temporarily, at least - set sail on his own with a brand new album, ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’. Recording with producer Mike McCarthy in Austin, Texas last summer, the material marks his debut solo release and sees him ‘a little quieter and perhaps more narrative’ than before. We talk to him about the creation of said record.

Hello Craig. How are you, and what have you been up to today?
Today was a big driving day. Drove from Brooklyn NY to Washington DC for a promo thing on National Public Radio. A lot of time spent on the not so lovely toll roads of the Northeast US. Still, it was a nice time when were at the station, just a lot of travel. When I came home I cooked dinner and unwound a bit with my girlfriend.

First thing’s first: What prompted this batch of solo material? When did work on it begin?
I had been thinking for a while about making a solo record. I had a few songs that were quieter than the usual Hold Steady stuff and seemed like it would be better to approach separate. It became more possible when we decided to take a few month break. At that point I started writing more intently and was able to gather a bunch of songs towards the album.

Were you writing towards an album from the start?
Yes, as I always think about songs as part of an album. That might be something I never escape. I know technology allows people to release songs in any number these days, but an album always makes the most sense to me.

The press release says you set out to write a new song every day - was that a target you achieved?
I did for the most part. Probably 5-6 a week for six weeks. Some of these songs were really underdeveloped and sometimes not so great but the idea was to put something down on paper and then come back to them and try to improve them.

Was there ever the possibility of these being Hold Steady songs?
In the Hold Steady, I really don’t write any music, so it was unlikely. I think the Hold Steady is bigger, grander, more celebratory music, and this seem more intimate and vulnerable. So it really seemed like a different thing for me.

You mentioned to Pitchfork that one of the narrative themes over the album is displacement. Do you find life as a musician difficult in that respect?
It’s difficult but you very much get used to it and start to crave it a bit. I think most musicians deal with their solitude very well and maybe even too well. There is this part of touring that is being alone in a crowd that gets very comfortable. Luckily, living in NYC oftentimes simulates that experience almost exactly.

What do you think has been the biggest influence on the record?
I think the biggest influence on the record was just the act of doing it. It was important to me to set this goal to do it, have a new and unusual experience for me, and to get it done and make something I really love and am very proud of. I think going to a whole new group of people really changed the way I look at songs, arrangements, production, instrumentation, and the whole act of making a record.

Are there any songs on it that are especially meaningful for you?
I like them all a lot, but I think ‘Western Pier’ is my favorite as it was the first one that I wrote that got me excited about making a solo record. The rest fell quickly after, but ‘Western Pier’ seemed like the first big push and sort of defined what I thought it would sound like.

How did you go about recruiting people to appear on the album? Were you all friends beforehand, or..?
I met the producer, Mike McCarthy, about a year before we started recording. He put together the band. I hadn’t met any of them until we met on a Monday morning and started recording. By Friday evening we had recorded 14 songs.

How much of the album was complete before you brought in other musicians?
I had made very rough demos of the songs on the album, just voice and guitar. The musicians heard those and played what they felt on the recordings, with some direction from Mike. So not very much was complete at all without the musicians.

Is this the last solo material we’ll see from you, or is there more to come?
After the tours for this record, the priority is the Hold Steady. I’m hoping we can release a record in 2012. But down the line I would definitely consider another solo release, as I enjoyed the process.

Finally: what’s the best lesson you’ve learnt from recording this album?
I think the best lesson I learned is that you learn a lot putting yourself in new situations, especially ones that you aren’t totally comfortable with.

Craig Finn’s debut solo album ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’ will be released on 23rd January via Full Time Hobby.

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