The Hold Steady and the course

The Hold Steady is a New York band, but the Twin Cities will always be at the core.

The Hold Steady are keen on keeping their music accessible.

Courtesy of Big Hassle

The Hold Steady are keen on keeping their music accessible.

by Joe Kellen

The Hold Steady’s lead singer and lyricist, Craig Finn, never realized that all his band needed was a little space.

The classic rock emulating group took their guitar flexes and Friday night drum fills to just south of Nashville for their latest record, “Teeth Dreams.” This was the first time they recorded outside of Brooklyn, New York.

“To put everyone in a different city makes a huge difference,” Finn said. “It was funny, we arrived in Nashville and always said we were going to go out and discover new stuff, but we kept going down to the store, getting beer and hanging out in the backyard. The studio had this huge amount of land with horses and stuff, we were throwing baseballs and that kind of communal experience helps the creative process for me.”

Though Finn is an NYC resident now, his roots are Minnesotan. Growing up in Edina, the local ’90s music scene was his home as the frontman for art-punk four-piece Lifter Puller.

Lifter Puller’s discography showcased the ascent of Finn’s now-trademark elaborate lyricism. Weaving together complex narratives chock-full of raver kids, misunderstood drug dealers and existential angst, Finn used internal rhyme schemes with conversational delivery to tell stories through his music.

“We would play shows with Atmosphere and Dillinger Four, and no one would blink twice,” Finn said. “Other cities find that strange.”

When Lifter Puller disbanded in 2000, Finn said goodbye to Minnesota and headed to Brooklyn. There, he formed his current band, the Hold Steady, in 2003. Intending to be a bar-ready rock band with a penchant for detailed storylines, the Hold Steady released “Almost Killed Me” in 2004 to rave reviews, laying the groundwork for characters and structures Finn would return to in his lyrics for many years.

The pivotal fictional character, Holly, of the group’s second album, “Separation Sunday,” first appeared in “Almost Killed Me.” In the song “Barfruit Blues,” listeners hear “Holly can’t speak, she don’t feel all that sweet / About the places she sometimes has to go to get some sleep. / She said ‘I’m sorry, people think I’m pretty.’”

Holly is a drug-addled spirit with a heart of gold and religious baggage — a character that Finn would hold on to until the release of “Heaven Is Whenever” in 2010.

When that album came out, Finn decided to make a shift in his lyricism. Instead of specifically illustrating the seedy bars and riverside tweekers of his creative universe, he switched over to a broader lyrical style, favoring “big city” girls who can’t be tied down over a girl with “a cross around her neck that she ripped off from a schoolgirl in the subway on a visit to the city.”

“I’m the guy who’s been to every Hold Steady show, every time [those songs have] been sung, I’ve done it. I’ve heard people do very good Craig Finn impersonations,” Finn said. “There’s a way to write the lyrics that I could follow. I could name a lot a names and a lot of places and have internal rhymes, but I wanted to do something maybe a little more elliptical. If you have a song that’s so specific, there’s not a lot of room for people to put their hopes and dreams in there.”

This new writing style means the band has lost some of the intricate storylines they originally became famous for. Fans have pointed this out and some have disparaged the shift.

But, Finn said, the community surrounding the band is stronger than ever.

“The world has become much smaller for me. Before we started the Hold Steady I hadn’t been to that many places. It sort of opened my eyes,” he said. “There are people like you everywhere, and they’re not that hard to get to. Those friendships, I think, are why we’re here.”


What: The Hold Steady
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Minnesota Zoo, 13000 Zoo Blvd., Apple Valley
Cost: $45-57.50