The Hold Steady has been around only since 2004, but it's already developed a storytelling tradition of its own. The band's fifth album, Heaven Is Whenever, finds singer Craig Finn and company addressing themes of struggle and redemption.
The Hold Steady is known for its smart lyrics and rock 'n' roll guitar riffs. Finn says he started the band to fill a void he saw in music.
"At the time when we formed there was a lot of sort of dance-punk kind of things happening, in Brooklyn especially. But also, there was the garage rock thing," he says. "I think we wanted something more sophisticated lyrically. And it seemed like a simple concept, but when you looked around at the time, there wasn't many bands doing that."
A Prolific Partnership
Finn met his writing partner, lead guitarist Tad Kubler, in Minneapolis while Finn was playing in a band called Lifter Puller. When Lifter Puller's bassist left the band, Finn called in Kubler to fill in on bass. Lifter Puller eventually disbanded, but by coincidence, both Finn and Kubler ended up in New York City. When Finn became inspired to found The Hold Steady, he called upon Kubler to join him again — this time on lead guitar. Finn says it's a prolific partnership.
"Tad has a lot of music coming out of him at all times, and I have a bunch of lyrics," he says. "The partnership allows us to write songs really quickly, which is how we ended up with five albums in seven years."
Their latest record, Heaven Is Whenever, revisits characters from albums of the past and, as its title suggests, confronts some heavy themes.
"Heaven is the ultimate reward in the Christian sense," Finn says. "I was thinking about how in life we have to embrace the struggle, embrace the suffering, as part of a joyous life. So the record is really about understanding our whole life as an arc, as a positive one, even through the dark times."