meta-scriptThe Hold Steady Drop New Song, "Denver Haircut," Announce New Album | GRAMMY.com
The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady

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The Hold Steady Drop New Song, "Denver Haircut," Announce New Album

The Brooklyn indie rockers will be releasing their seventh LP, 'Thrashing Thru The Passion,' on August 16

GRAMMYs/Jun 19, 2019 - 11:52 pm

Brooklyn indie-rock figureheads The Hold Steady have released a new song, "Denver Haircut," along with the announcement that fans can expect a new album, Thrashing Thru The Passion, on Aug. 16. The LP will include five new tracks, including the new one, and five previously released singles.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Announcing our new album, Thrashing Thru The Passion! Learn more and pre-order now: <a href="https://t.co/DJyZUOvenG">https://t.co/DJyZUOvenG</a> <a href="https://t.co/3sergYRiiP">pic.twitter.com/3sergYRiiP</a></p>&mdash; The Hold Steady (@theholdsteady) <a href="https://twitter.com/theholdsteady/status/1141300339024519169?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 19, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

The forthcoming album is their seventh LP, and their first since 2014's Teeth Dreams. In a long statement on their Bandcamp page, the group, whose lineup consists of Craig Finn, Bobby Drake, Tad Kubler, Franz Nicolay, Galen Polivka and Steve Selvidge, explained how the album came together.

"Just after the New Year, we headed up to Woodstock to The Isokon studio to record some new songs. We were joined by producer Josh Kaufman and engineer D. James Goodwin, who have helped us record everything we've done for the past few years. It was a highly productive session, we pretty much just set up and cranked through the songs. The songs came together quickly and we were psyched on how they sounded," they wrote. They also spoke to the decision to make a somewhat non-traditional album (i.e. not all new music):

"We thought 'Denver Haircut' sounded like the first track on a record. 'Blackout Sam' sounded like it should close an album side. In fact, these five songs together sounded like a cool A side of an album. So, after D. James Goodwin mixed the songs, we decided to put them together with some of our favorite songs we'd recorded in the past few years and make it an album."

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/HA3CF9rusvE" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

The band will be performing several batches of shows in five cities late summer/fall. They will be bringing "Constructive Summer," to Seattle, Chicago, Boston and Nashville for three to four nights each. In December, the group will do four nights in their hometown for another round of "Massive Nights" at the Brooklyn Bowl. They also spoke to their non-traditional approach to touring in the same statement:

"A lot of things have changed since we started in 2003. We've changed the way we approach touring, opting for multi show weekends in bigger cities rather than the skullduggery of month long slogs. This is more realistic for where we are at now, and we've also found it to make the band much more musical. More of our time together is spent playing and performing music than setting up and taking down gear, driving it to the next place, setting it up again. Also, these runs of shows have reinforced what an amazing community exists around this band, and how it keeps growing. All in all, making this change to the way we approach shows has given a new life to the band. "

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">New headshots! Thanks to Adam Parshall. <a href="https://t.co/1GPu0ZUFW5">pic.twitter.com/1GPu0ZUFW5</a></p>&mdash; The Hold Steady (@theholdsteady) <a href="https://twitter.com/theholdsteady/status/1141347605651349504?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 19, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Spoon Find A Spooky Groove On New Song, Announce Greatest Hits Album

Cigarettes After Sex press photo
Cigarettes After Sex

Photo: Ebru Yildiz

interview

X's Mark The Spot: How Cigarettes After Sex Turn Difficult Memories Into Dreamy Nostalgia

"We’re all in the same boat," Greg Gonzalez says of the band’s new album, ‘X’s.' The frontman speaks with GRAMMY.com about how channeling Madonna and Marvin Gaye helped him turn his memories of a relationship into sublime dream pop.

GRAMMYs/Jul 9, 2024 - 01:23 pm

When Greg Gonzalez sat down to start writing the next Cigarettes After Sex album, the dream pop frontman relied equally on memories of heartbreak and the ballads of the Material Girl. "‘90s Madonna was a big influence on this record," he tells GRAMMY.com with a soft smile. 

Though the end result won’t be mistaken for anything off of Ray of Light, that timeless, almost mystic cloud of emotionally resonant pop carries a distinct familiarity on Cigarettes After Sex's new album, X’s.

Cigarettes After Sex has championed that sweet and sour dreaminess since their 2017 debut. Two years after that self-titled record earned rave reviews and was certified gold, the El Paso, Texas-based outfit reached even deeper for Cry. And while those records cataloged Gonzalez's heartbreaks and intimacies in sensual detail, Gonzalez knew he could reach deeper on the band’s third LP: "These songs are just exactly as memory happened." 

Arriving July 12, X’s fuses Cigarettes After Sex's dream pop strengths with ‘90s pop warmth and ‘70s dance floor glow. Always one to bring listeners into the moment, Gonzalez imbues the record with a lyrical specificity that gives the taste of pink lemonade and the tension of a deteriorating relationship equal weight. On X’s, the listener can feel the immediate joy and lingering pain in equal measure.

"This is specific to me and what I'm going through, but then I go out and talk to people on tour, and they’re like, 'Oh, yeah, I went through the exact same thing,'" Gonzalez says.

Leading up to the release of X’s, Gonzalez spoke with GRAMMY.com about the appeal of ‘90s Madonna, finding a way to dance through tears, and his potential future in film scoring.

Tell me about the production process for this record. You've always been able to build nostalgic landscapes, but this record feels smoother than before. Were there any new touchpoints you were working with?

That was the thing: trying to make the grooves tighter. It was coming from more of a ‘70s Marvin Gaye kind of place, trying to make it groove like a ‘70s dance floor.

Which is an especially interesting place to be writing from when dealing with that line between love and lust.

Yeah. The stuff we've done before was really based on the late ‘50s, early ‘60s slow dance music. But it was always supposed to be dance music; I always wanted Cigarettes to be music you could dance to, even if it was a slow dance. 

When I think of pop music and I think of songs that really feel powerful, they usually make you want to groove in some way. I love a lot of music that doesn't do that: ambient music or classical or some jazz. But there's so much power to music that makes you want to move. And I found throughout the years that I could just never get enough of the music that makes you want to dance. So I thought, Okay, the music that I make should be really emotional. It should feel like music you could actually cry to, but in the end it should make you want to also move in that way.

It’s the physical necessity of the music, some forward motion to match the emotional journey. I’d imagine that is related in some sense to the fact that you’re writing in a somewhat autobiographical way. Is that a way of not getting stuck in the stories, in the feelings?

I'm writing it for myself. Of course, I can't help but picture the audience in some way. But it's never like I'm writing it for them.

There is an audience that I can visualize that would like the music. [Laughs]. There have been times where we’re recording and I close my eyes to visualize an arena or a stadium to picture the music in that setting. It’s a nice feeling. And that's just based on the music that I love that I thought had similarities. 

Is there any particular music that you love that fills that feeling?

There's so much music that I was obsessed with, but with Cigarettes I narrowed it down. Since I was a kid, I did every kind of style I could do. I was in power pop bands, new wave, electro, metal, really experimental bands. 

But when I finally sat down and said, "Let me make an identity for Cigarettes and make it special," I had to think about what my favorite music was and what music affected me the deepest. And it was stuff like "Blue Light" by Mazzy Star or "Harvest Moon" by Neil Young or "I Love How You Love Me" by the Paris Sisters. And I kind of put all that together and that became the sound of Cigarettes. And now I do that every time I make a record: I'll make a playlist of what I want it to feel like. I mentioned Marvin Gaye. I feel like ‘90s Madonna was a big influence on this record.

Madonna in the ‘90s? No one could touch that era. I don't know when the last time you listened to that music was, but… 

No, I grew up with Madonna and I used to watch the "Like A Prayer" video on repeat. It blew me away. But then I came back and I got into the ‘90s stuff, like "Take A Bow" and that record Something To Remember. It's all of the slower tunes. And that was a big influence, especially songs like "Rain."

You clearly have a diverse musical appetite, but you’ve also highlighted people with such identifiable voices — something that I think is true for Cigarettes as well. Your vocals are so front and center in the identity of the project.

That's great. The singer pretty much makes the song for me, whatever I’m listening to. The entire spirit comes down to the vocals. I'll hear a song like "Take A Bow" and be like, This feels so special. What if I made something that felt like this? If I told someone this [record] was based on Marvin Gaye and ‘90s Madonna, I don’t know if they would think it really sounded like that. It's more just trying to capture the spirit of what those records feel like.

That's what's cool about it too: You can remember those songs that were filling the air back in the ‘90s and what those feelings were, what you were up to, and draw a line between that and whatever's happening now that I wrote about. 

You don’t seem like the type of person to avoid negative feelings when you come up against them in that process either. The songs feel like you just embrace it, even if it's really painful.

I've always felt that's the best way for me to go through things, to face it head on. It's supposed to be painful. You have all these really great moments with somebody and all these great memories, and then when it ends, honestly, that's the way it goes, right? That's the trade off. 

Yeah, but not everybody goes through a breakup and then makes an album about it. Isn’t that like returning to the scene of the crime? How does it feel to deal with it in that way?

That's funny. The thing was, I was writing a lot of this stuff while I was still in a relationship. It took so long to finish it. 

Finish the album or finish the relationship? [Laughs.]

Actually both. But yeah, the record is mostly about that one relationship, but there are little diversions with some of the songs. A lot of the key images and songs are based on that romance and little memories that I took from it.

I like that I have all those moments kind of set in stone. It’s hard to listen to this record too because I'll just really see these moments, all these memories, and it can be a bit much to flash back to all that stuff and see it so vividly. But I love that I have it. Those memories meant so much and I’m glad that they're collected and displayed in this way.

And you were able to collect them when it was happening as opposed to having some time between, which could warp those memories. Writing and recording when you’re as raw as possible makes sense, so what you capture is really honest.

That's why I like to write these songs that are as honest as possible or as autobiographical as possible, with a lot of details. If I'm writing a song and someone heard it, they would know it was about them just based on all the imagery that's in that song. It's like a little letter to them. It could be like a secret little letter to someone. 

That makes me think of "Holding You, Holding Me," which is so lovely and feels as immediate as anything you’ve done. 

It was the pandemic, and then the other girlfriend I had at that time, we were living in downtown L.A. and just wanted to get out of the house and stay somewhere nicer for a while. And we went to this AirBnb that was in Beverly Hills with this beautiful backyard. The song was meant to be kind of Fleetwood Mac-ish, like "Gypsy" or "Sara", that nice ‘70s country pop feel.

Over the years I’ve noticed you frequently use taste as a sensory link in your songs, which really creates an evocative moment — I’m thinking about references to candy bars and lemonade on this album. What is it about that sense that sticks out to you?

If I'm going back to memory, then that's just what really happened. We went to the store to go buy wine and candy because that was the vibe that night. "Let’s watch movies and get red wine and some candy bars." And it was just a big memory that we walked outside and it started raining. I think too, what's nice about using objects is that it gives you so much mood in a song. You can tell what the feeling is of that moment when you put those things together.

And it can have an almost universal understanding. People will understand what it means to have a "candy bar night."

That's the craziest thing. It's almost like you're trained to write universally, meaning generically. Like, "Oh, this is a song that everyone can like and the lyrics can be really simple." But I’ve found that the songs that are really detailed and were more personal stories, a song like "K." from Cigarettes After Sex, those are the songs that everyone really loves, the ones that take up being really specific.

I suppose that's pop's way of being a doorway. When you're talking about your personal experiences, somebody is going to enter into it and feel like you're singing about theirs. 

You realize that we're all in the same boat. This is specific to me and what I'm going through, but then I go out and talk to people on tour, and they’re like, "Oh, yeah, I went through the exact same thing." I feel very lucky that most people I talk to that love [our] music are always saying that. It’s so special.

It makes me trust my instincts. That's the hard thing when you're writing. You're wondering, Is this too much to disclose? Is this too much information? [Laughs.] That instinct is really important to know, to trust it. That's the tough one. That's what's also therapeutic about it too. You want to share things that feel really personal because then you can process them. You can really start to unpack what those moments meant and what they can mean going forward. It gives me more confidence when I hear that kind of stuff from people.

What then is it like when you sing it for a crowd? You’re performing, but you can’t fully separate the emotion that inspired that song. 

That's tough because, ideally, if I did my job well enough writing the song, then it should be hard to sing live — especially if I really see those moments when I'm singing it. It could bring me to tears, honestly, because it should feel that intense. And it's even worse if I look in the crowd and someone's crying. I can't even look at them. And that happens very often. If I started crying, my voice will stop.

That brings a real cinematic feeling to your music too, which makes me think you’d be good at scoring a film. Is that something you’d tackle?

I'm definitely obsessed with film and have been since I was a kid. The idea that I keep saying — and I almost feel like I'm going to jinx it because I keep saying it too much — is that I really want to direct and write something. And I've written some ideas down for screenplays and things. It seems like it's hard to transition from musician to filmmaker and really make it stick. But that would be something I want to do in the next 10 years. I'm giving myself 10 years. [Laughs.]

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

10 Essential Facts To Know About GRAMMY-Winning Rapper J. Cole

Margo Price
Margo Price

Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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6 Things To Know About Margo Price: Her Struggles, Writing Process & Unforgettable Success Story

Country-adjacent singer Margo Price is a craftswoman with gallons of candor. At a special GRAMMY Museum event, she got real about her new album, 'Strays,' and memoir, 'Maybe We'll Make It.'

GRAMMYs/Jun 28, 2023 - 08:09 pm

The adjective "vulnerable" is something of a music press cliché. Margo Price is capital-v. Because before she released her 2022 memoir, Maybe We'll Make It, she was in a state of abject terror over how her family would react to her confessions therein.

"I was having panic attacks, thinking about all of this being out there," Price told The Guardian. "I know what people do on the internet, and I was imagining the names they were gonna call me. They're gonna say I'm a horrible mother, that I'm a drunk."

But then, there's that word again: "I also [hope] that people are going to appreciate my vulnerability."

This attribute — married to sterling craft — has launched Price into the stratosphere; none other than Willie Nelson provided a blurb for Maybe We'll Make It's front cover. ("Margo's book hits you right in the gut — and the heart," he wrote. "Just like her songs.")

As she details in the book, the masterful Nashville singer/songwriter knocked around town for more than a decade in search of a record deal, and dealt with poverty, alcohol abuse and numberless other calamities. But Price was stubborn and persistent; her ascent began with her exceptional 2016 solo debut Midwest Farmer's Daughter, released on Third Man Records. 

She continued her winning streak in 2017 with All American Made; the following year, she was nominated for a GRAMMY for Best New Artist. That streak continued with 2020's That's How Rumors Get Started, produced by Sturgill Simpson. In 2023, she released another excellent album, the Jonathan Wilson-produced Strays, which she's promoting alongside Maybe We'll Make It.

At a recent edition of the GRAMMY Museum's "A New York Evening With…" interview and performance series at the Greene Space at WNYC and WQXR in New York City, Price sat down with moderator Craig Finn of the Hold Steady. Together, they discussed the counterbalances of Strays with Maybe We'll Make It, and her wild, tragic, joyful story that's contained in both; the result was a window into Price's psychology. 

Here are six takeaways about this GRAMMY-nominated master of words and melodies.

Her Album And Memoir Influenced Each Other

Early in the conversation, Finn inquired about the dynamic between a book and an album, as the publishing process typically takes much longer than the writing and recording process.

"They definitely ended up kind of influencing each other, because I was working on them in tandem," Price said. "I did kind of lose myself in it for a moment. My husband would say things like, 'You haven't written a song in months.' I was like, 'I'm an author now.'"

Price Finished Her Memoir Through Routine

In 2018 — upon getting pregnant and coming off the road — Price needed to keep her mind busy.

Despite not having a book deal, she and her husband, fellow musician Jeremy Ivey, would take their son to school, go to an East Nashville coffee shop and write from "about 8 in the morning until maybe noon or 1. And I just did that for maybe five or six months." By her telling, there were "many, many, many drafts" prior to the one we can hold in our hands today.

Observing Herself From The Outside Proved Beneficial

In reading about her experiences in the way a consumer of her memoir would, Price identified a seam of compassion for herself that she didn't realize she had.

"You can suddenly give yourself a break. I feel like I'm my own worst critic," she said. "There was always a breadcrumb to keep us going — and then there was something to knock us back down." However, "if there wasn't a struggle, I wouldn't be Margo Price."

Patti Smith's Memoir Influenced Her Own

Patti Smith's 2010 book Just Kids, a document of her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, is a go-to rock tell-all; Maybe We'll Make It shares some of its DNA.

"I had heard some of her songs and things before, but I think once I really devoured her written works, I started digging into her albums," Price said of Smith. "And I just thought it was incredible the way that she used poetry and just felt unafraid to throw it all in the pot and mix it all up."

On the literary front, one cue Price took from Smith was her use of descriptive detail for everyday scenes: "She talks about living off of tomato soup," she says, connecting that to the $2 frozen tilapia filets and bags of edamame she and Ivey used to subsist on.

"When you can taste what's going on, it puts you there in the kitchen with us," she said. "You can starve with the artist."

Price Is Becoming More Open To Collaborating — Judiciously

Price is skeptical of some of the team-ups she sees in the music industry. "Sometimes, I see a collaboration happening," she says, and I'm like, 'That looks forced. I don't know, man. I feel like they're just doing that for the Spotify plays.' So, I really try to only do it if it's meaningful."

Somebody in her camp presented a list of potential writing partners; she didn't bite. But when her manager suggested GRAMMY-winning guitar great Mike Campbell, she changed her tune.

"I'm like, 'Duh, of course. We're trying to write Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers songs over here anyway, so if we can get him in on it, then it legitimizes the whole thing… he sang on ["Light Me Up" on] my record, and it was just very natural."

She Might Join Your Band

"I'd love to play more drums," Price said during a brief audience Q&A before performing tunes like All American Made's "Pay Gap" and Strays' "Country Road" for the crowd. "Just drums in a band sometime, where I'd just be in the pack. It'd be so much less pressure.

"I need to find a gig," she added mirthfully. "If anybody knows something, let me know after the show."

The Hold Steady's Craig Finn On New Album The Price Of Progress, The Band At 20 & His Constant Search For New Stories

The Hold Steady Craig Finn
The Hold Steady (third from right: Craig Finn)

Photo: Shervin Lainez

interview

The Hold Steady's Craig Finn On New Album 'The Price Of Progress,' The Band At 20 & His Constant Search For New Stories

For singer Craig Finn, modern life is endlessly fascinating. And his characters in the Hold Steady's new album, 'The Price of Progress,' grapple with it in all its disorienting dimensions.

GRAMMYs/Mar 31, 2023 - 04:18 pm

For most of their two-decade career, the Hold Steady have traveled in a bus, not a van. But just a few weeks ago, with their hardest-touring days behind them, the cult rock band found themselves back in a six-seater, like the old days — in England, for a string of Rough Trade in-stores.

While packed like sardines, their brainy yet utterly unpretentious leader, Craig Finn, had something of an epiphany. "I was looking around, and there were three of us this way, and then three of them facing this way, and I'm like: Here it is. We're still in the van; we're still enjoying each other," he tells GRAMMY.com.

"As we turn 20 — which is this year," he continues, "I think one of the most beautiful things is that the friendships are still intact."

Indeed, the Hold Steady have crossed an impressive rubicon. They've made it to two decades together, happy, fruitful and energized — and with an upcoming oral-history book, The Gospel of the Hold Steady: How a Resurrection Really Feels, out Jul. 25, to mark this milestone.

Catch any night of any residency, and it's still guaranteed to be a rowdy lovefest, a feedback loop between the galvanized band and their beery disciples. Riveting storytelling, bar-band bonhomie, Midwestern boys who landed like space invaders in Meet Me in the Bathroom-era Brooklyn: that's the Hold Steady for you.

And after nine albums as a unit, including five acclaimed solo records, Finn is not even close to running out of stories to tell. The band's inspired latest LP, The Price of Progress, out Mar. 31, finds Finn's characters flailing through life in contemporary Western society, in all of its boundless access, convenience-on-steroids and spiritual unmooredness.

In "Grand Junction," a couple driving through the expanse of Colorado battles over the woman's Amazon wishlist, frequented by creepy strangers. In "Sixers," another woman watches NBA replays alone while flying on stimulants. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"I think a lot of it is how the advances in technology have made us so efficient — as a society and in business and all that — that it's kind of left us reeling in a million different ways," Finn describes. Rarely does that inertia feel so crackling and alive.

Read on for an interview with Finn about The Price of Progress, how he avoids repeating himself or losing inspiration, and the rare feat of keeping a rock band together for 20 years — with more of a rabid, grassroots following than ever.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What fascinates you about the experience of living through this particular time in human history, in Western society?

The Hold Steady's been pretty prolific — nine records in 20 years. And then I've got the solo records — five of those. I'm constantly writing songs; there are songs coming out all the time. It's not like, "Oh, I pulled this one back from 2009." These are always fairly fresh. So, they're always being written under the influence of whatever's happening in the world.

But I've been doing this podcast ["That's How I Remember It"] and I had George Saunders on, the writer. I thought in his newest book [2022's Liberation Day], the sort of late-stage capitalism backdrop had moved up a few steps.

That's very much what I feel about this record. I think a lot of it is how the advances in technology have made us so efficient — as a society and in business and all that — that it's kind of left us reeling in a million different ways. That sort of adjustment is what we're going through now — the sensation of reeling.

And that's where these characters find themselves. They're a little older than the ones I started my career writing about, and they're being affected in different ways.

**Before we continue to unpack The Price of Progress, how would you draw a conceptual thread between this album and its predecessors?**

[2019's] Thrashing Thru the Passion, which was the first album we did with Josh Kaufman producing, was kind of a collection of songs we recorded a little bit piecemeal. But [2021's] Open Door Policy was the first album we made with Josh where it was like: This is going to be an album.

The Price of Progress is the continuation of that. There's a comfort in working with Josh; we went to the same studio, same producer, same engineer. It was like, We know this works, and there are going to be no surprises. Like Open Door Policy, a lot of the songs talk about people — their work, how they survive, how they get by.

Those are two threads that definitely connect the last two records. I think they speak to each other in that way.

And as far as making it: a) because we're older, b) because we don't live in the same exact place anymore — a couple of us live in Brooklyn; one lives in Manhattan; two are upstate, and one's in Memphis — there's a lot more trading files leading into it, where people are sending stuff around, sending ideas, and I'm writing lyrics to different ideas people are sending me.

And then, we go through a period where we all get in the same room, physically, and play these songs — try to build them into songs. Then, there's a third part where Josh, the producer, comes in and says, "What if we tried this? What if we tried this?" We kind of put him through those stages and ended up with the record we have.

How do you keep your storytelling sharp so you don't end up repeating yourself or losing impact?

You know, Jeff Tweedy wrote a book about creativity. I think he's written a few, but the one I read, I think was his first — or maybe it's just his biography.

But he talked about taking things in. If I'm feeling stuck or feeling like I'm doing the same thing again, I like to just stop and read something. Or watch a film, or something. Make sure I'm taking other stories in and thinking about how other stories are told. Thinking about how I relate to my own stories. That really helps me.

What have you been reading, listening to or watching lately that's been inspiring you?

I've been reading the new Bret Easton Ellis book [2023's The Shards], which I love. It's really hard to tell what is him, because it's set in his high school and he's the lead character, but it's a novel. So, as far as storytelling, it's kind of confusing in a good way. I've really been enjoying that; I'm about halfway through.

When I'm playing shows, sometimes I can't read anything of much depth except for rock bios. So, we were in Rough Trade in England the other day, and I picked up a biography of Fat White Family, who are totally insane, and that was very entertaining. I read that in, like, a sitting.

The last thing I watched that I really liked was "Industry," the British finance drama — which seems pretty lurid, and probably a little more sex-and-drugs than working in finance in London, but who's to say? I don't know.

I interviewed John Cale recently, and he was talking about how he collaborated with Fat White Family and they were constantly raring to brawl in the studio.

I forgot they worked with him! That book is harrowing. All I could think about, as a 51-year-old man, is how hungover I would be. It's like: How are you walking around? How bad do you feel? But I guess youth is different.

Can you talk about your specific inspirations for the characters in The Price of Progress? Are they wholesale inventions? Amalgamations of real people? Reflections of your past or present?

All of the above.

For instance, the first song on the record, "Grand Junction," talks about a couple that's driving out west. I've done that this year; I bought a car in Arizona and drove back. So, there's some me in that, but in the story, it's a couple; I was just with a platonic dude friend.

But the couple was fighting, because the woman, she's got an Amazon wishlist, and strange dudes she talks to online are sending her presents, and the dude — her partner — is not that into it, so they're fighting about that.

So, you know, I did drive through Grand Junction, Colorado, and I thought that'd be a good place for a song, but then I made up the rest. I was thinking about people who ask for presents on Amazon, and how that's sort of a modern thing that didn't exist 10, 15, 20 years ago.

It seems like you guys are growing more and more ambitious as per how the music can reflect these stories in a way that transcends simple rock songs; the arrangements and production are growing more ornate. How do you conceptualize and execute these musical backdrops?

I think part of that is thinking about it ahead of time and reflecting it in the demos we're passing around. Some of that is also Josh Kaufman.

We've kind of had three periods of the Hold Steady. 1.0 would be, like, up to [2008's] Stay Positive, and then [keyboardist] Franz [Nicolay] leaves, and then [guitarist] Steve [Selvidge] comes in. That's kind of 2.0, and we made two records that way, and then Franz came back in 2016 and we made three.

In this 3.0, I think a big part of the story is how Franz and Steve have learned to play together — against each other, with each other — because they are the two people who, up until fairly recently, haven't been in the band together. So, in some sense, that's allowed us to expand a lot.

Also, now that there's six of us, I think Josh Kaufman does a good job of directing traffic. Just because there are more people there doesn't necessarily mean it's going to sound bigger. It could sound smaller if everyone's playing at once.

So, creating space with everyone and making sure everyone's got their space — I think Josh does a great job of that, and I think that's led to a more expansive sound on these records.

The Hold Steady 'The Price of Progress'

On that tip, I tend to be more interested in asking about moments on records than songs. Would you like to shout out any MVP moments from your bandmates on this album?

I think the rhythm section had a particularly great showing on this record. When I listened to it most recently, that was what stuck out to me. There's a drum fill on the first song, "Grand Junction," that blows my mind.

But what's especially interesting is: on the fourth song, called "Understudies," it's really somewhere we haven't gone. There's strings; it's almost got, like, a disco thing. It might be like our "Miss You," like when all rock bands made disco songs.

In the third verse, there's a bass thing that's panning back and forth. It's a real funky [Mimics a syncopated bass line] and it's going back and forth in a Nile Rodgers sort of situation. 

I was out of the room in the studio, on the phone or something, and I came back, and Josh and [bassist] Galen [Polivka] were working on that, and I was like [Mimics mind-blown gesture] Wow! That is awesome, and that has absolutely never been done on a Hold Steady record before.

I've always thought of the Hold Steady as existing in a similar realm as other bands I adore, like Drive-By Truckers and Guided by Voices. These acts aren't necessarily chasing hits or trends; they're just consistently productive and excellent — almost meekly so. Can you talk about how your various personalities merged to create a well-oiled machine — one that's built a following on a local, grassroots level?

It's funny, because when [guitarist] Tad [Kubler], Galen and I started the band, we weirdly talked about wanting to have a band that people felt part of. I really experienced that from hardcore, mainly; I didn't want to be in a hardcore band, but I was like, What if we had a rock 'n' roll band people felt that away [about]?

From what I've read of the Clash — and Mott the Hoople also — their followers really felt part of it. They sort of had this army marching with them. I'm not exactly sure how we did it, but there is a community, now, around this band that feels supercharged. Just getting back from London, where we do these weekends every year, there are people from all around the world, and they all see each other that weekend, and they all plan on it.

When we were right about to start, I saw the Drive-By Truckers at Bowery Ballroom. I wasn't sure I wanted to be in a band; I'd been in a band in my 20s in Minneapolis. But when I saw that show, I was like, This is my model, sort of. They're never going to be of the exact moment, because they're timeless, you know? But they shouldn't go wildly out of style, either, because there's always a place for it.

I guess that's what we tried to do. I definitely think of them as peers — friends and peers, because before too long, we were touring with them, and we got along like wildfire.

Any great rock 'n' roll band should become better than the sum of its parts, and there's something about getting on stage; everyone plays their role. There has to be an understanding that six people are going to have to move around.

To turn the clock back once again: when the band's stature and fanbase were precipitously growing, and you were on late-night TV and all that stuff, how did you nurture and engender that cult following?

I think one thing that makes it easier — or less difficult — is that this band started when I was 31. I think I had some perspective as to what it's like to be in a band that's not working.

So, I think we still have a lot of gratitude. We're grateful for the things we get to do. I say it jokingly, but also very truly: it's the best job that I've ever had. I think we all take it very seriously and know that we have to respect it and remain in gratitude.

I remember interviewing Jay Farrar of Son Volt about that band's early days; he told me stories about doing "crazy things" like hooking a U-Haul to a Honda Civic and bankrolling studio time on his girlfriend's credit card. In the early days of the Hold Steady, what did you guys do that would make you cringe today?

We had this box truck that we bought. It was a windowless box truck, and it was converted by these guys. Someone connected it to the Bouncing Souls, but it wasn't them. At the time, we thought it was f—ing amazing. You went in, and there was a cab up front, and there was one seat behind, but then you entered a door into this windowless box.

There was a couch that was not bolted down. There was a TV; you could play video games. There was a loft; the merch lived up there. If you were really tired, you could go up there and sleep among the merch, but every time the brakes hit hard, the merch box would fly off and become like a missile. We thought it was amazing, and now, I'm just so thankful that we didn't die in that.

One time, we did a western Canadian leg of a tour, and we drove over the Canadian Rockies in Banff. It was raining, and there were tiny roads; I remember that it was white-knuckled, and, like, please let us get to the end of that. I remember coming around one corner, and there were mountain goats all up the side of this very sheer-looking face. It was beautiful, but it was terrifying.

I don't know how Drive-By Truckers made it through those hard-drinking, hard-touring days intact.

You know, I asked them about that. I asked who drove, and I guess [co-leader Mike] Cooley drove. He was the late-night driver. I was fascinated by that, because by the time we met them, they were on a bus. Actually, so were we.

Twenty years in, I've really come to like the van better than I like a tour bus due to sunlight — seeing sunlight more often. A tour bus can make me and a lot of other people pretty depressed. I don't think that's talked about enough. We talk about mental health in rock, but we put people in these submarines, basically, and they go from town to town.

My biggest example is — because I just did a solo tour in a van — when you drive from Portland to Seattle, it's so beautiful. But if you're in a tour bus, you're in, like: downtown Portland, ehh, and then you go in the bus and you go to downtown Seattle, ehh, and you see none of it. It's disorienting, in some way.

Craig Finn The Hold Steady 2006

*Craig Finn performing with the Hold Steady in 2006. Photo: Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images*

Speaking of that solo tour, you've built an acclaimed body of work on your own, in parallel to this cult rock 'n' roll band where energy keeps flowing between yourselves and your audience. How do you conceptualize your solo work versus the Hold Steady? Do some stories seem more appropriate to tell on your own?

In some ways, it's pretty easy, because in the Hold Steady, I pretty much just write the lyrics. People are giving me the music, and I'm writing the lyrics to it.

For the solo stuff, I'm either here with my piano or an acoustic guitar figuring out very basic chords. Josh Kaufman, who also produces the solo stuff, does a little more co-writing on [that]. But when I do that, the stories in those songs tend to be smaller.

I have this joke that in the Hold Steady, someone's always falling off the roof or getting shot. In the solo stuff, they might just be sitting in a supermarket parking lot, wondering what happened with their life.

So, it's maybe a little less dramatic, but maybe a little more vulnerable, and probably a little closer to my own life.

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