The Hold Steady: Craig Finn on revolution tourists, desperate characters and exploitation

Thew Hold Steady sitting against the wall of a room
(Image credit: Shervin Lainez)

“Two records ago we made Thrashing Thru The Passion,” The Hold Steady singer Craig Finn explains, “a record that was very piecemeal, putting out the songs as we recorded them and then compiling them when we had enough for an album. The last one, Open Door Policy [2021], we said let’s make an album, and this seemed like an extension of that.” 

Taking a similar companion-piece approach as their celebrated 2006-08 era of Boys And Girls In America and Stay Positive, The Hold Steady’s ninth album, The Price Of Progress, revisited its precursor’s studio and has the same producer (Josh Kaufman), but brings fresh tones of funk and psych-rock to their ever-raging bar-band party – as well as an air of modern desperation to its stories of postrehab rockers, arguing drifters and revolution tourists.


Grand Junction, the new album’s opener, is about a couple driving with no plan, in search of meaning and belonging. Are you still living a life that adventurous? 

My joke is that if they were all about my own life there’d be a lot more going to the grocery store. The solo records I’ve done have allowed me to do smaller stories about people who are maybe more like myself and a little more vulnerable. But when The Hold Steady gets together and there’s big guitars and big drums, the stories I want to tell are bigger. 

What draws you to so many lost and broken characters? 

Desperate characters make sudden moves, which makes them useful in storytelling. A lot of the people on this record are being squeezed by the late-stage capitalism. They’re people that are interfacing with the way we survive in a capitalist world, and they’re being squeezed by things like inflation or income inequality.

There are sharp political diversions too – the tourist protagonists in The Birdwatchers seem to end up in some kind of private militia.

On the B-side of this record we start to see a little bit of revolution, which may or may not be a natural place to extend the notion of late-stage capitalism. In The Birdwatchers there’s this idea of people going to another country, maybe an island nation, to check out a revolution under the guise of being ecological tourists.

And Distortions Of Faith is quite withering about performers who play in corrupt nations for millions.

That was the idea. A pop star goes and performs for a dictator, and the people tear down the stage and she and her entourage barely make an escape at the airstrip.

A metaphor for the rich capitalist West exploiting poor countries? 

Yeah. It seems like, instead of bread or water, here’s a concert by a pop star. 

We also visit the regular Hold Steady song setting of a bar where you blag tickets, at the door a seductive girl gives you drugs, and you hang out with the band all night. Where is this and how can we get involved? 

It’s in Brooklyn. When we started this band, I kept imagining this band we could start that was a bar band that was actually kind of cool. So I always had this idea of the band in the corner being a part of the story, and maybe that’s us.

The Price of Progress is out now via Positive Jams/Thirty Tigers.

Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont is a music journalist with almost three decades' experience writing for publications including Classic Rock, NME, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times, Uncut and Melody Maker. He has written major biographies on Muse, Jay-Z, The Killers, Kanye West and Bon Iver and his debut novel [6666666666] is available on Kindle.