“Going solo” can be a pretty loaded term. Sometimes it points to loneliness, or alienation. Sometimes it’s a breaking-free, an inner-wildness. For Craig Finn, the tendency is simply one of being “alone and separate,” a “highway” individualism.
“In a touring band like [the Hold Steady], there’s two types of people. There’s the kind who spends all their time around people. And then I’m the guy walking on the side of the highway in my down time, with people yelling out of their cars at me.”
The Hold Steady singer endeavored to write his solo debut “Clear Heart Full Eyes” in a similar, confrontational and unfussy way.
When his band finished yet another touring hike in 2010, he found himself at the young end of 2011 wanting to “entertain myself,” using what he described as his own “limited” guitar talents and “build up a song form a simple thing. And that’s what I had -- a very simple thing,” he told me in our recent interview.
He wrote the songs at hoome in Brooklyn and took them down to Texas, to work with Spoon producer Mike McCarthy.
“Over the years, my idea of what a producer is [has] changed. I thought it was a guy that told you to, y’know, clip a mic on backwards and sing into this kind of room and stuff. I don’t think they’re there to sonically change your record… but a leader,” Finn said. “They are there to literally produce a record, to get something out on the other side. Leadership is the biggest thing.”
McCarthy helped to build up folky, acoustic-rock and pop-based tracks with plenty of guitars, but never to diminish the wordy singer’s lyrics. Finn’s phrasing – like in Hold Steady – still stays front-and-center, certain to satisfy the rock band’s fans who follow him there. Finn mentioned that the songs were “quieter,” but don’t fixate on the vision of a sad bastard sitting solo in a room with the lights out. The fare is still bouncy, like on “Honolulu Blues” and “New Friend Jesus,” both below, though the 40-year-old songwriter still touches on the weird lives of imaginary “others,” like sick drinkers and couples in trouble. It’s not party-loud.
“The lyrics can be a little more mundane,” he continued. “When it’s just me, they don’t have to be quite as dramatic and more intimate. It’s some of the same vulnerability without all the amps and all that.”
Finn says he’ll be returning to “all that” after he’s done touring with The Felice Brothers in promoting “Clear Heart Full Eyes” (a title inspired by TV show “Friday Night Lights). The Hold Steady are writing a follow-up to their last “Heaven Is Whenever” (2010) now.
“It’ll be fun going back to that.”
"Clear Heart Full Eyes" is out on Tuesday, Jan. 24 via Vagrant.