Interview By John B. Moore
Craig Finn just finished the third album of a trilogy that was never intended to be a trilogy.
“I sort of feel like it only happened on the third one. When I was working on it, I thought, ‘This really feels like a trilogy,’ but I certainly didn’t have that intention from the get-go,” says Finn, who also fronts The Hold Steady. “It wasn’t like the ‘Star Wars’ prequels or something. We made three records in a row fairly quickly, three within five years with the same people, I used the same artist for the cover of each one, and when I looked back, I realized I was writing about similar things on each one.”
I Need a New War is out April 26 via Partisan Records and follows 2015’s Faith in the Future and 2017’s We All Want the Same Things.
For all three albums, Finn worked alongside drummer Joe Russo and producer Josh Kaufman, who also played a number of different instruments. The trilogy came about, in part, because of the way Finn and his collaborators made these albums.
“We worked together so hard over the past five years, and we’re so prolific that we never stopped recording,” he says. “Even as we were waiting for one record to come out, we were starting on the next one. In that sense, it felt like a trilogy. We’d get five or six songs together and then go and record them, and then we’d get another five or six and record them. Then, we’d figure which 10 or so were the best and put them on the record. We never once went into the studio and made a whole record all at once.”
While there aren’t specific characters who weave in and out of the albums, there is a general theme that we are inhabiting a modern, ever-evolving world, just trying to get by and keep up with the pace of the changes.
“It feels like there’s a lot of people who feel like they’re following the rules and doing the right thing but they’re also not getting ahead,” Finn says. “I don’t know if that’s symptomatic of our time or if that’s just human nature, but that really interests me.”
Like much of music that has come out since the 2016 elections, politics manage to seep their way into many of the songs here.
“I think I am writing politically, but it’s writing more about how things politically are affecting people directly rather than writing something like ‘Fuck Trump!’” Finn says. “It’s more like these are people who are working hard and not getting ahead and are feeling disillusioned and a little broken. I think what’s happened politically is almost a pushback from these changes. The world is getting smaller because of our technology and our travel, and I think some of the xenophobia is almost a weird nostalgia that has crept in because of that.”
Those changes are particularly obvious in a city like New York, the place Finn has called home since 2000. The city serves as a reoccurring character throughout much of I Need A New War.
“When I talk about change in this modern world, it’s almost like nowhere is better to see that than walking down the street in New York,” he says. “I just got back from touring, and there are storefronts that I pass every day that have changed since I was out. Things move quickly here, and if you don’t move quickly enough, it kind of grinds you up, and you see that amongst peers and friends sometimes.”
Finn is gearing up for an East Coast tour to promote I Need A New War in June and plans to bring along a full backing band. He recently finished a solo tour with Brian Fallon as well as a handful of dates with The Hold Steady in Europe. Over the past few years, Finn has discovered a solid balance between his solo work and his commitment to his other band.
“The Hold Steady played about 25 shows last year, and we’ll probably do about that many this year, so The Hold Steady is pretty engaged, and we’re recording—we’ve been releasing about nine to 10 songs directly to fans over the past year, so that feels at a good level,” he says, “but it also doesn’t take up that much time, so I’m going to keep doing both for as long as I can. I’ve enjoyed sort of flexing both muscles.”