Flavorwire Interview: The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn on Writing for Middle-Aged Bros, Slogging Through ‘Infinite Jest,’ and the ‘Fargo Rock City’ Movie

I read that the rest of the band had started writing the music to Teeth Dreams separate from you, which is a little bit of a different process than usual. Did it change anything in the way you approached the lyrics?

The music typically comes first, but I’m usually in the room. [Guitarist] Tad [Kubler] will show it to the other guys while I’m there scribbling in a notebook. But this time I was doing a tour for my solo record, so those guys went down to Memphis and started fleshing things out, recorded I think seven songs and sent them to me. Three or four of those songs ultimately made the record. It was different in a good way, and it allowed me to think about what the music was saying without words and what my words would say to that music. After six records, if you can figure out a different way to do things, some of the best stuff can come out of that.

Is there anything you wish you’d known about being in a band 11 years ago when you started the Hold Steady?

I feel in some ways thankful that we started in our thirties. There’s some amount of gratitude we’re able to get from seeing success later, feeling blessed that we get to travel around the world, that people are paying attention. This is a little more of a light-hearted answer, but something I learned was that I had the wrong idea about tour buses. I always assumed a tour bus was a big debaucherous rolling party, but the tour bus leaves at 4 a.m. which means everyone who isn’t going to the next city has to leave. And everything calms down, everyone starts partying less, because you’re stuck with the same old dudes. You look around at each other and then just go to bed.

The Hold Steady marries the unabashed energy and enthusiasm of classic rock with modern indie rock. When I think about it this way, I’d be curious to know whom you consider peers in the music space.

Drive-By Truckers were always one we liked and considered friends, but even the War on Drugs are a band we’ve toured with, and even though we sound nothing like them, I’m excited to see what they do and the dudes in the band. But there are also lyrical peers. John Darnielle is someone whose music sounds so different than ours, but when I get a Mountain Goats record, I’m excited to see what he’s written. Not in a competitive way, but an inspirational way.

Are you still working on the screenplay for Fargo Rock City?

Not really. We did that and took some meetings, but it didn’t seem to happen. There were, on our script’s part, some issues we wanted to work out. But then Tom [Ruprecht], the guy I was writing it with, had another project that caught our eye, and we’ll continue to do stuff together. But the Fargo thing is probably not happening. The big thing is, finding someone who has the money to produce the thing, and we weren’t able to do that.

What’s the other project you and Tom started working on?

Well, we had an idea for TV that’s still working. We’re good friends and he’s had a bunch of stuff on TV lately so he’s not always available, but at some point we’ll have something.