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The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn talks about lyrics

August 28, 2008

Buzz band The Hold Steady combines a classic-rock sound with druggy coming-of-holdsteady.jpgage tales set in singer Craig Finn’s native Minneapolis. Characters with names like Gideon and Hallelujah stagger through nightclubs and parties, cropping up from song to song and album to album. 

We talked to Finn recently for a story, and below he answers some additional questions about his creative process.

Q: Many of your songs feature recurring characters and recurring themes. When you set out to write lyrics for a record, do you think ‘OK, this is going to be the theme for this record’?

A: Absolutely. … I tend to think of things in albums. Much more than I think a lot of bands would today. When it kind of comes out, I think, what am I trying to say with this album?”

Q: Do you have a giant map to keep track of all the characters and stories?

A: “Yeah, like an arc that I think of the whole thing, and really it’s like, almost a tree. You’re just hanging stories on it like Christmas ornaments. So there’s this big structure that I can fill in details on.”

Q: Where do you see the stories going over your next couple of records?

A: “I’m actually deliberately not talking about that. Because I think on this record there’s more of an effort to obscure. There is a story, but there’s more of an effort to use less proper names. I think I made up my mind early that I was going to keep it that way, at least for this one.

Q: Is too much specificity a bad thing?

A: “I think so. I think what people get out of songs is a different thing than what people get out of novels. I think you want to protect that a little bit. There’s an economy of words, so there’s more fill-in-the-blanks with your mind. I think having people guessing what happens is infinitely more fun than explaining it to them. I think in some ways I’d be doing myself a tremendous disservice to spell it all out, at least at this point. Maybe I’ll do so further down the line.

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