Craig Finn is one of the true gentlemen of American music.
As lead singer and creative force within The Hold Steady the songwriter earned enormous acclaim, matching hardcore energy to a near Springsteen-like sense of the anthemic.
Now focussing on his solo work, Craig Finn will release new album 'Faith In The Future' and it finds the American artist ruminating on his place in the world.
Set to play a pair of London shows this month, Clash caught up with Craig Finn to uncover the Influences running through his new album.
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Lou Reed - 'Romeo Had Juliette'
I listened to Lou Reed's New York all the time when it came out in 1989, and the first track remains a favourite. It's a great record because it works as a whole, and also because it is grounded in a particular place, New York City. I now live in an NYC that is admittedly much different than the one Lou was writing about, but this album fed my fascination with ending up here.
Like most great stories, he uses the love and lust between boy and girl to speak of something much bigger, in this case New York City and the USA in the late 1980s. I really like this method of storytelling, starting with a romance and seeing where it goes from there.
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Van Morrison - '4% Pantomime'
The version of this song that made the 'Cahoots' album is wonderful, but this demo that was released later on 'The Band - A Musical History' is such a beautiful thing. It starts out with Van Morrison taking on the vocal and someone cuts it off. There is laughter and voices and then Richard Manuel takes the vocal. John Agnello, who produced, 'Boys And Girls In America' for The Hold Steady, had me listening to this a lot leading up to recording.
You get to hear Van and Manuel take the same first verse and it really shows how different attacks and timing can really make the song push and pull. Both vocals, of course, are amazing, just slightly different. Most of all, it's a lot of fun.
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England's Glory - 'Devotion'
I only first heard this record a while back but I've listened to it a great deal since. It's a 1973 recording of a group fronted by Peter Perrett of The Only Ones. England's Glory is not totally dissimilar to Perrett's more known band but leans heavier on the Bowie and Velvet Underground influences. Perrett is a killer vocalist, with such a great distinctive voice, and the band behind him is certainly up for the task.
But what really gets me here is the sentiment of the chorus lyric: "I don't want your love. I want your devotion." It's not a love song, it's a call for complete and utter adoration. I love lyrics like this, where the stakes suddenly are raised significantly.
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The Grifters - 'Eureka IV'
When I first heard the opening line on this song- "Here's a message from the Goldboy" it sent me flying. I wanted to know more about this Goldboy, everything about him. Who was he? Where was he from? Of course the song gave me some clues but I wanted more. This and many other songs that used characters ('Hello Wendy' from 'Born To Run') always appealed to me in that they brought an air of specificity to a story that can sometimes actually increase the mystery and intrigue. This is a great example of that.
I like using characters in songs because they can be more exciting that I am in real life, and I think if characters are written well, listeners can come to love, admire, and obsess on them.
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Mink DeVille - 'Venus Of Avenue D'
There's something about this song that radiates downtown NYC cool, it makes me feel cool each and every time I put it on. I think my favourite era of music might be late 1970s in NYC. Here, Willy DeVille acknowledges punk and new wave but also keeps the groove of old soul and rock and roll, which gives this a timeless vibe. Piano, sax and finger snaps add something hip and sweet to the proceedings. Put this on your headphones and walk around and dusk, you'll feel good.
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'Faith In The Future' will be released on September 11th.
Catch Craig Finn live in London at the following shows:
15 London The Slaughtered Lamb
17 London Rough Trade West Instore - 6PM