Published Mar 24, 2014The Hold Steady have been the soundtrack to killer parties and massive nights for over a decade now, and although their last record showed signs of burnout after years without a break, Craig Finn and the gang are back in fine form with their hard-hitting sixth album, Teeth Dreams.
It's the longest break between albums for the bar-rock anthem makers, but since releasing Heaven is Whenever four years ago, the band restructured its line-up (making guitarist Steve Selvidge a permanent replacement for keyboardist Franz Nicolay, who left in 2010), while Finn released and toured his solo effort, Clear Heart Full Eyes. It may not have been that restful, but it was a much-needed break.
"When we first started playing it was like every night had to be the most," says Finn from his home in Brooklyn. "We had to drink every bottle of beer and whisky that was put near us and we had to go to every party after the show." But now, at 42, he's gained some perspective on the realities of making the band last. "At some point it was like, 'We might be doing this for a while,'" he continues. "It's more about putting on a good show every night and that means, sometimes, you go to bed after the show and rest up for the next one, the next day."
And yet after a relatively quiet solo tour, playing songs in which "no one gets shot and no one falls off the roof," Finn started to miss the wild crowds that he had grown accustomed to. "I really missed people throwing beer in the air or jumping up and down," he says. "So in some ways it made me really excited to get back in the Hold Steady and do that again."
It makes sense then that they'll be slipping less soft rock into the set list now, when Teeth Dreams hits the live circuit next month, with rock'n'roll and partying back in the forefront on songs like "I Hope this Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You," "Spinners" and "Big Cig." Finn admits, however, that anxiety was a big influence on the new material. The album's title refers to dreams about teeth — commonly triggered by stress related to money or personal appearances. "We all share these feelings, it's part of being human," he says. "Once we named the record that, people have been coming out of the woodwork and saying 'I have those dreams too!'"
But the new stuff doesn't disregard Finn's knack for storytelling and sneaking in allusions to his past work — a quirk that stems from what he always wanted as a music fan. "I was really into the minutiae and I would study music sheets when I was a kid," he says. "It's like a reward for people that are listening especially closely and hearing the song 75 times and maybe noticing something you didn't connect with on the 74th."
As for what the next decade looks like for the Hold Steady, he laughs off the idea of breaking up, saying that bands who do that just end up getting back together. "I'm still having a lot of fun, I think everyone is, and as long as people are interested and listening and coming to the shows and participating, then we'll keep doing it."