Craig Finn and Patterson Hood interview.

Definitely not a typical day for us. The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers leaders are in town to introduce their respective new solo albums. Two of the greatest personalities of the American music put aside their bands to release Clear Heart Full Eyes (Finn’s first solo album) and Heat Lightning Rumbles On The Distance (Patterson’s third).

Patterson Hood needs no introduction. Despite the high standard set by his father, the respected bassist and producer David Hood, Patterson has made himself a name with the southern rock of Drive-By Truckers, probably one of the best alt-country bands on earth.

And Craig Finn, well, if Bruce Springsteen had ever established his own School of Rock, Craig Finn would surely be the top student of his generation. The genius of The Hold Steady has managed to shake America with genuine Bar rock, which can be easily enjoyed by the average family or in Mick Jagger’s lounge at the same time.

The Hold Steady, which released one of the best albums back in 2006 with Boys And Girls In America, have now taken a short break before recording their 6th studio album. In the meantime, Finn has released his first solo album.  Now the storyteller is presenting it in a very original tour, together with his close friends Patterson Hood, and Will Johnson from Centro-Matic, who also presents his solo album, called Scorpion.

Craig and Patterson became friends in the early 00’s. Craig left his Boston local band, Lifter Puller, who only managed to get recognized in Massachusetts, to move to NY, where he temporarily silenced the music. But it only lasted 2 years, just until he saw Drive-By Truckers for the 1st time at the legendary Bowery Ballroom. That moment led him to form The Hold Steady 10 years ago, with whom he has released five albums and has traveled through the whole world several times.

Finn is considered the Kerouac of the American Rock and also one of their best song-writers, although sometimes unfairly underrated.
Two undeniable talents with brilliant new albums. We’re pretty glad we sit to talk about music:

First of all, who got the idea of touring together?  

CRAIG FINN : In February I was on the Tour from my solo record, and I had lunch with Patterson and we started talking about doing something, and then we immediately thought of Will because he’s singing on my record and he sings on Patterson’s record, and he is a good friend and also had a solo record coming out at the same time so… We said let’s try to make this happen and is one of those things you talk about a lot of times but here we are, it actually happened.

PATTERSON HOOD: Will and Craig are two of my favorite songwriters/performers/musicians/singers in the world as well as two of my best friends.

Craig, Clear Heart Full Eyes is your 1st solo album, how was the recording? What’s the difference between playing with The Hold Steady and doing a solo album? Is it an experience every musician should try?

CF: Well what was interesting about the solo record is that, I haven’t met any of the guys who are playing on it until we started recording it, so I just came out and shook everyone’s hand and we started. So it was really cool for me, to be able to communicate with people through music that way, without knowing them before you know? That was really exciting, and I think that’s the big difference with The Hold Steady, we’ve been known each other forever and we have a great chemistry, but this was a little more loose.

Patterson, how do you feel with the new album? Is Heat Lightning Rumbles On The Distance the album your most proud of?

PH: I’m pretty much proud of all of our albums, but Heat Lightning is an extra special one to me. I think it’s definitely among the best of what I’ve ever done.

Hood: “I’m very proud of our legacy of music”

You’ve been opening for Alabama Shakes lately on Germany, how did that come up?

PH: I was a very early fan and supporter of Alabama Shakes and they were nice enough to invite me to play with them in Germany. They are one of the best bands in the world right now.

Is it easy to classify the songs? I mean how do you know if a song is made for the solo project or if it suit better into the Hold Steady/Drive-By Truckers sound?

CF: It’s a little different because for The Hold Steady I mainly only write the words. So like by writing a full song it’s almost like it’s going to be a solo song, for the most part. The solo stuff is more Americana, more wide open, and maybe a little simpler. And The Hold Steady it’s more of a rough thing.

PH: So much of that is based on gut instinct and what I hear in my head. I tend to always follow those things. This album was so very intimate and personal that it just made sense for it to be a solo album. My band mates in DBT do all play on it, although not necessarily at the same time.

Hood: “Alabama Shakes are one of the best bands in the world”

Patterson said, that whenever he finishes a song, he likes the approval of his family. Craig, do you also like to have the verdict of your loved ones?

CF: No (laughs), I don’t think my girlfriend would want it; she won’t do that for me. I usually play it for few people, but basically what I try to do it’s, write a lot of songs and then I have the producer to help me out.

But you give a lot of importance to your lyrics, how do you realize if what you have written is actually good enough? I mean, I recall Ryan Adams throwing away his last whole album after listening Laura Marling

CF: Well Ryan writes a lot of songs, definitely… (laughs) You know there is this moment, I keep working, and I re-write a lot of things, and sometimes I take a song, all right, then see what I got and I actually just copy it, and I might change one or two words and then copy it again, and eventually is just sort of… there’s a moment where you are like, ok here it is, and you just kind of know inside. But oftentimes, just when it’s ready to record, before the recording it’s done, is when you realize you can play with that forever, you can change it forever.

Drive-By Truckers and The Hold Steady will be in the rock history books, but do you think you actually were at the right place in the right moment of Rock history? Or do you think you would be doing better in a different period? 

CF: Well… certainly when Rock music was born we would definitely do better (laughs). I think we are definitely an album band, we play straight Rock and Roll which is you now, a little less popular than it used to be. I think we maybe could have done a little better, but I’m pretty happy with all we’ve got.

PH: I guess I have no way of knowing such things. People often say that if we had been around in the 70’s we would have been selling millions of records and selling out arenas, but I don’t know about such things.

Finn: “Internet is taking some of the magic out of music”

Could you tell us your best and worst moments of your career so far?

PH: This career has lasted a good while with lots of ups and downs

CF: Well, the worst moments are whenever you have a bad show; they come up once every few months. Or sometimes when you’re on Tour and a member of your family gets sick; and it’s hard you know, to be away.

And the best moments, I’d say, one of the highlights for me is getting to sing with Bruce Springsteen, singing “Rosalita”… that was pretty magical. But you know meeting one of your heroes it’s a big deal but also opening for the Rolling Stones in Dublin with The Hold Steady was a big one. Doing a lot of things that you never thought you’d be able to do…  it’s just awesome.

Patterson, what about the best and worst concerts you remember?

PH: Drive-By Truckers has played nearly 2000 shows in three continents. I feel that most of them have been pretty good and many way better than that. I am very proud of our legacy of music, both live and on record.

Why did you guys become musicians?

CF:I just love Rock and Roll and I wanted to get involved with it.

PH: I guess it’s a calling. I’ve been writing songs so long and someone had to play all these songs, so I had to learn how to. It’s been an amazing journey.

Do you remember the first time you grab a guitar?

CF: Yeah it was a fake guitar when I was 3 years old, and I always wanted to play guitar and I got a guitar when I was 10, to play for real. I always loved dance and music and I wanted to be around on a show. I was always buying records, always going to shows… I was just obsessed with Rock and Roll so it just had to happened.

PH: I started writing songs in 1973 when I was in 3rd grade. I started playing, bass first in 8th grade, then switched to guitar the next year.

Patterson, which artist or band would like to play with?

PH: It’d be cool to play with Neil Young and Crazy Horse, but otherwise I’m pretty happy with what we do and who we get to play on bills with. Playing with Will, Craig and Alabama Shakes this month has been really stellar.

Finn: “I was obsessed with Rock and Roll”

I sense a lack of illusion in music listeners, is like if they don’t get as excited for the music as they used to get some years ago. What do you think of the current situation in the music industry?

CF: Well I think people now have unlimited access to songs, see Spotify or whatever. It made people distracted. There’s too much. They don’t know what to be excited about. There are things not special that it’ll make it more special. But I still believe that going to a concert is a very unique and amazing thing and getting people on a room who all love Rock and Roll that’s a pretty cool thing and I think there’s still a lot of excitement out there I believe.

PH: The industry is pretty fucked up these days and the economy isn’t helping it any, but there is still lots of great music being made, you just have to look a little harder for it.

Craig, during the song No Future, you mention Freddie Mercury and Joe Strummer, great personalities in music history. Are we running out of legends, or is it just that we are too busy to value them?

CF: Well I think they aren’t as big as they used to be for that reason. Internet is taking some of the magic out of it. We used to not be able to find out everything about someone, right?,  so in some ways they might become more humans to us. Like Led Zeppelin, they never did interviews; all you had was the record covers. Because of that there’s magic I think. The people really wanted to know more.

Do you think the internet and the social media nowadays makes it harder to actually find interesting music? Or does it help?

PH: Both. There is more out there, but it’s harder to find what’s great and filter the crap

CF: Well it makes it easier, but almost too easy. Removes the barriers. Part of becoming a music fan was just going to a special record store etc… It has changed, but I don’t know if it’s better or worst, but it definitely has changed.

If you could have the chance to play your music anytime and anywhere you wanted in History, what would it be?

CF: I think the late 70’s is my favorite music, you know, you had The Clash which is, maybe my favorite band. Late 70’s and early 80’s, with Replacements, even Springsteen was making Darkness In The Age Of Town. There was a lot of interesting music coming out, also hip hop was sort-of-kind-of gearing up… I think that that was a really great musical era.

PH: I’ll have to settle for right now and hopefully well into the future.

I know Craig has his own beer brand which is pretty cool actually, but do you guys have any projects on your mind for next year?

CF: Next year, make a Hold Steady new album, that’s the big thing right now, when we got home we’re gonna start working on it. And hopefully we’ll have it out on 2013.

PH; I hope we start making a  new Drive-By Truckers album sometime next year, but right now it’s all up in the air. I plan on continuing to tour behind Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance well into next year also.

Are you happy?

CF: Yeah I am happy, I am very happy to be here, to be able to do the shows with Patterson and it’s been a really great year. I love Rock and Roll, and I really love being here and play music.

PH: Most of the time.

Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes (2012) [PIAS]

Patterson Hood – Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance (2012) [PIAS]

Sergio Rodriguez

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