“We named this collection We All Want The Same Things after a line in the song God in Chicago,” says frontman Craig Finn says. “It seems like a bit of dark humour in these turbulent political times, but it also rings true: no matter our differences we all have some very basic wants and needs that line up with each other.”
It’s solo album number three for the Hold Steady frontman, and he’s doing what all great musicians do when faced with such turbulence: he’s doing a tour of his fans’ living rooms (see dates, below). Prospective ticket holders are given no more information than the postcode in which the gig will take place, then furnished with full venue details once they’ve completed their purchase.
In the meantime, we asked Craig for a guided tour of the album, a collection of songs exploring the vagaries of loss and love in the modern world. “The characters in these songs are normal people trying to help themselves,” says Finn, “trying to move forward, and in some cases trying just to survive. All the while they are negotiating what space the others in their lives can occupy.”
1. Jester & June
This couple has tries to return the the site of their past glories and finds that there’s nothing left for them there anymore. They have each other but also a desperation to capture something left behind. This one features some of my favorite guitar moments from Josh Kaufman, who plays as well as he produces and brought a ton to all of these songs.
This was what I remember 1994 being like, coming back to the Twin Cities after being away for college. It’s a time in my life that I felt most adrift, but there was a also a feeling of wonder in being out of step and alone. This is the song that is closest to being autobiographical, but I think it fits with these other character studies in I was trying to figure out my place in a world that didn’t seem to have a lot of room for me.
3. Ninety Bucks
This is one of a few songs on the record about a relationship based on convenience. The question is whether Nathan really is her only friend. This has an especially nice keyboard solo from Sam Kassirer that sounds quite a bit like a guitar. This also is one of a few songs that features some guitar by my Hold Steady bandmate Tad Kubler.
4. Birds Trapped In The Airport
Producer Josh Kaufman had the fantastic idea to bring in Caithlin DeMarrais to sing on this. This song is about a near death experience, which in often causes people to try to attack life with less inhibition, make the most of things, live in the moment, etc. In this case though, the protagonist can’t quite get out of his own way.
5. God in Chicago
I’ve done a lot of songs that have been called “talky” but this is the furthest I’ve gone towards spoken word. It’s a story about a guy and a girl pushed together to try to fix a problem. In doing so, they push into unchartered territory for both of them. Going to a bigger city without supervision for the first time is a huge moment, no matter how you get there. I was trying to capture that. Also, I wanted to show how easily it is sometimes to take a break, if briefly, from our regular lives. Annie Nero has a lot of vocals I love on this record but this one might be my favourite.
6. Rescue Blues
This is another of the co-dependency jams on the record. In this case, a man has attached himself to a woman to find security and shelter. In that, he feels some version of love has been achieved. Perhaps she does too. “I guess we all get by in different ways” might indeed be a thesis statement for the record. This also features some great horn playing from Stuart Bogie, who made huge contributions to this record.
The structure on this one is somewhat symmetrical. I wanted to illustrate how these characters wants and needs are complimentary on some level, but unsatisfying in other more major ways. Both parties are looking for something and not quite connecting. The term “finer things” means different things to different people.
8. It Hits When It Hits
This is kind of a PTSD “love” story. The guy singing is amplifying a casual romantic encounter into something bigger and much more meaningful. She’s not so sure. He’s desperate to find someone, he’s lonely, and he believes that this is the one- fate has finally brought love to his doorstep. This might be the saddest song on the record.
- The 10 best Sugar songs according to Scott Sorry
- The Hold Steady, live in London
- Brian Fallon: The Gaslight Anthem didn't save rock'n'roll
- Read Classic Rock, Metal Hammer & Prog for free with TeamRock+
9. Tracking Shots
While on tour with Titus Andronicus in March 2016 I was struck by how much time we all spend in parking lots. This was the genesis for this song. I was thinking about parking lots as a place in an increasingly transient world where we take important phone calls, make big decisions, move our lives forward. The people in this song are trying to keep their heads above water, and adjusting their “dreams” to reflect this reality.
10. Be Honest
So many of these songs are fiction in that they deal with characters that are not me, but it’s also my struggle to keep them honest. I try to keep them honest in the way they deal with each other and push through their lives. This one speaks to progress, change, technology, etc. and how these things allow us to potentially move further from telling each other the truth. The song, and the album, ends on on the line “Maybe it’s just best if we both take care of ourselves”. In the end, ourselves are the only ones we can control.
We All Want the Same Things is out now.
Craig Finn Living Room dates
Apr 17: Bungay
Apr 18: Letchworth Garden City
Apr 20: Nottingham
Apr 21: Liverpool
Apr 22: London
Apr 23: Glasgow
Apr 24: Edinburgh
Apr 25: Manchester
Apr 16: Music Hall, Ramsgate
Apr 19: The Courtyard, London