The Hold Steady's lead singer/barker Craig Finn quits drinking every year for a month and a half for Lent, but he's back to imbibing for the headlining slot at an event in the Design District sponsored by the king of green-bottled beers, Heineken. The recently released fifth full-length album, Heaven Is Whenever, retains all of the band's depraved hood-rat characters and bar-rock riffing but boasts less piano following mustached keyboardist Franz Nicolay's departure. During a phone conversation with New Times, Craig Finn excitedly talks about the Hold Steady's first South Florida visit since 2007's Langerado Music Festival, shows his knowledge of the area, and — no shocker here — extols the virtues of beer.
New Times: The band took its longest break ever between last November and the return to the road in April. How does it feel to be back?
Craig Finn: What a rock band does is play rock shows. You don't know what to do with yourself when it's in that waiting time. Once you put on the guitars and turn up the amps, things just kinda work themselves out. It's a simpler life when you're on the road. We've changed up the lineup. Franz left, and we added two people. It's really injected some new life into the whole thing, and it's been a blast so far.
Heineken Inspire Miami: With the Hold Steady, Cold War Kids, DJ Chad Hugo, DJ Irie, and DJ Skratchy, 3 and 9 p.m., Friday, May 21; inspire.heineken.com
How has the lineup adjustment affected the way you play?
One of the things with Franz not being in the band is there's a lot less piano on the new record. The piano really brings out the E Street sound. These songs breathe a lot more. I don't know if it's a heavy guitar record, but it's definitely more of a guitar record than a guitar-piano record. The Replacements are my favorite band, and I feel like they've always been in our sound, but I think this record probably shows that a little more.
Your songs often explore seedy, drug-addled people, and we have our fair share here in South Florida.
Certainly a lot in the past, we've sung a lot about [Tampa's] Ybor City... But "Hurricane J" [from Heaven Is Whenever] is right there. Maybe "A Slight Discomfort" is the discomfort of summer down there. A Ponzi scheme is something I've always been super-interested in, but it never made it into a Hold Steady song.
You recently portrayed Walt Whitman on New Jersey indie rockers Titus Andronicus's Civil War epic of an album, The Monitor. How does it feel to see them succeed with it?
That's my favorite band right now. I love that record, and I was really proud to be a part of it. [Frontman Patrick Stickles] cat-sits for me and my girlfriend, and he did a really good job on that too. I'm pretty much pro-Patrick Stickles all around. And he's kind of my neighbor. He's more than ten years younger than me. I really love watching their band, and obviously things are going really well for them.
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Titus Andronicus seems like a comparable band to the Hold Steady because of its juxtaposition of thought-provoking lyrics and a wild live experience.
It's very intelligent but it's kinda rousing. Even if you go to the show and the PA is not great and you can't hear all the lyrics, you can still pump your fist, spill your beer, and put your arm around your buddy. That's something we strive for and something they probably do too. My favorite bands are historically, like the Replacements, bands with great lyrics and also huge guitars.
How about our recent buzz band, Surfer Blood?
I love that band. I have their album and I listen to it at the gym sometimes. I saw them when they played in Brooklyn with Art Brut. It was a really cool show. I got the record right after the show.