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The Hold Steady, including Craig Finn (left), rings in 2011 in Milwaukee. (PHOTO: Mark Seliger)

Talking New Year's Eve with The Hold Steady

New Year's Eve offers the perfect excuse to go crazy and throw caution to the wind, but Craig Finn doesn't need to mark his calendar for a good time.

As the free spirited and fun loving frontman of America's reigning party band of choice -- The Hold Steady, Finn and his bandmates -- including a couple Milwaukee-area natives -- embrace rock and roll's gregarious nature better than just about anyone.

Touring on the heels of its latest disc "Heaven Is Whenever," the band brings its Springsteen-esque brand of bar punk to the Riverside Theatre on Dec. 31 along with Jaill and So So Radio.

Finn spoke with OnMilwaukee during a tour stop in Vegas to talk about the new album, keeping a midwestern perspective and why being a bar band isn't such a bad thing. How far are you into the tour at this point?

Craig Finn: We're in Vegas at this point. I don't particularly like it here because I'm not a gambler, but we do a show here tonight and it's kind of fun to be here for 24 hours.

OMC: You seem like the kind of band who can have fun wherever you go.

CF: Yeah, absolutely. I'm sure once the show's done we'll have some fun here. There's always watching your friends gamble, you know? It's just weird to be anywhere you can't just walk around. Everything is just on a larger than human scale here. It's like if you see something you can't really get to it.

OMC: The tour hits Milwaukee on New Year's Eve, which feels fitting given the Hold Steady's reputation as a very festive, celebratory live act. A lot of people would probably peg you as the perfect band to ring in the New Year with.

CF: Sure, and for a lot of reasons. One is I do think we're a celebratory band, so people drink a bunch and generally have a good time. Secondly, two of us are from Minneapolis and two of us are from the Milwaukee area, so even though we've operated out of New York for a while those places have been like a second home. And funny enough our bass player is from Milwaukee and it's his birthday on New Year's Eve, so it's perfect on a whole bunch of levels. It'll be great, just a big party.

OMC: It's your last show of the tour, too.

CF: It'll be our last show for about a month, so I think we'll probably go pretty hard. I feel like anyone who's going to a New Year's Eve show in Milwaukee is expecting a party, and I think we'll deliver it.

OMC: You mentioned your Midwestern roots, and that really shines through in the songs. Even now that you're based out of Brooklyn, do you still find you draw inspiration from the region?

CF: I do, yeah. For one thing I just think that the Midwest approach is a sincere, honest approach. That's one of the things at least as a lyricist that I find important. In an age of a lot of irony, one of the things we offer is a lot of sincerity. That's important to me, and that sort of comes from that Midwest upbringing.

After living in New York for almost ten years, I've found there's that one type of person who moves to New York, often times from the Midwest, who declares him or herself a New Yorker after, like, three days and they start rooting for the Yankees and everything. I think those people are the worst, and I just try to make sure that I'm the opposite, whatever that is (laughs). I always try and identify myself as being from Minneapolis.

OMC: Speaking of Minneapolis, a lot of people consider you guys the best American bar band since the Replacements. Is that a label you identify with or do you try to keep some distance from that?

CF: I think it's a blessing. Growing up, the Replacements were my favorite band. At 39 years old, I've been to a million rock shows, and the Replacements put on probably three or four of the best I've ever seen. So that's pretty high praise in my world. But the bar band thing is funny. A lot of people bring that up in interviews like it's sort of a backhanded compliment or something, you know, being a bar band.

But the funny thing is I wrote our bio when our first record came out, and I called ourselves a bar band. It was supposed to reflect the lack of pretension and the sincerity and honesty, the idea that we get up and play shows in the same clothes we wore that day. We don't wear outfits, you know? So the bar band thing doesn't bug me. In fact I'm responsible for it (laughs).

OMC: So if we're going to point the finger at anybody you're the guy.

CF: Yeah, yeah it'd be me (laughs). I can't really get angry about it.

OMC: But listening to the new album it sounds like you're expanding into broader terrain.

CF: It's kind of just where we're at. It's funny because we've been through a lot of different things now. On this last tour in October, we sold out the Beacon Theatre in New York, and two nights later we were playing a club that held 250 people in Delaware. And this is our fifth record, so why not try something a little new. That's an attitude that was sort of influenced I think by going in and playing bigger rooms. It influenced the sound a little bit.

OMC: You've been at this a long time between your stints with Hold Steady and Lifter Puller, but the music really retains a wide-eyed, youthful attitude and perspective. Do you find writing and playing music helps keep you young in a way?

CF: I do. I'll see people that I graduated from college with when we tour around, and they'll say 'Wow, I really don't feel the same age as you' (laughs). What we do, to say the least it's a nontraditional lifestyle. It's a little less sedentary. I think the cool thing is there's still just so much wonder in it. I hadn't traveled much out of the country before we started this band, and now in March we're going to Australia for the third time. We've literally been around the world, and there's people singing every word along. Some days are more tiring than others, but overall it's a pretty amazing way to spend your life.

OMC: You mentioned touring the world, which is interesting because the music has a distinctly American lean to it. Do people in other parts of the world relate to what you're doing?

CF: I know what you're saying, yeah. As you might predict, countries that don't speak English as their first language we have a harder time with, but the UK and Australia, especially the UK, those have been our best markets. It's strange because I agree that we're a very American band, but Americana in general does very well in England. I think there's a fascination with things that are distinctly American that carries over there. But when you think about it, the Beatles, the Stones and Zeppelin were all fascinated with American music too.

OMC: It's almost like you're people's window into American life in a way.

CF: Yeah, I think so.


rabid652 | Dec. 30, 2010 at 11:45 p.m. (report)

Well that does it! I'm goin. First Hold Steady show, Riverside, $3 tall boys and the fiance will be happy. Excellent!

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