Heads up, rock nerds. This isn't some package tour bullshit. These dudes really like each other.
And, for our part, we don't believe there are two frontmen better suited for a tour than The Hold Steady's Craig Finn and Titus Andronicus' Patrick Stickles. Let's lay out the evidence: both are prone to almost suffocating honesty. Both are wrapped up in history (of the Civil War [Titus Andronicus' The Monitor], of early 2000s Brooklyn [everything Finn has done past 2001]). Both have a tendency to wig out onstage all shaky and sweaty.
They're also great admirers of one another's work as well, so you can (fingers crossed) expect a stage experience featuring both at one point or another tonight during their show at Bloomington's Bluebird. Stickles and Finn have already covered each others’ tunes in advance of the tour, after realizing they both have tracks called “No Future.” The results, released as a 7-inch called No Faith/No Future/No Problem are pure rock chaos with, in Craig's case, a wink; and, in Stickles' case, a spiraling noisy descent into madness (in the best way).
Separately, Finn has promised a forthcoming Hold Steady project (of what shape that will take he's not yet quite sure) and Stickles has a nebulous idea for a future Titus Andronicus project in the works. Both are cruising on stellar 2015 albums: Titus' epic – as in Homeric, this thing is EXTENSIVE – double album release The Most Lamentable Tragedy is still smoldering in record store bins after a huge drop last summer. Craig's solo tour on Faith in The Future brought him through Indiana a few months ago, where he whipped out a couple classic Hold Steady and Lifter Puller jams, albeit without bandmate Tad Kubler.
They've hit the stage together a number of times at this point, both for Titus' tandem 10-year-anniversary-and-record-release-bash, which included covers of The Replacements' “Bastards of Young” and Billy Joel's “You May Be Right.” Will those covers make an appearance tonight at the Bird? Hard to know. I spoke with Finn and Stickles before their tour together had commenced – our stop is smack in the middle of the dates together – and they weren't entirely sure how their setlist would work out yet. Below are selected portions of my interviews with both frontmen who both 1) 100 percent respect each other as men and musicians and 2) are 100 percent confirmed delights to chat with on the phone.
Find additional portions of both interviews online at NUVO.net and listen to playlists of Hold Steady songs and Titus Andronicus songs curated by Stickles and Finn, respectively. We told you. They love each other. They really do.
Patrick on Craig’s music
“I guess I like [The Hold Steady] because they sort of have it all. Well, not necessarily have it all, but they have two very distinct areas well covered. They’re really rockin’ and really work to hit the pleasure centers and really work to get the foot tappin’ and get everybody groovin’, and there’s shredding solos and big riffs and boomin’ beats and all these fun things that everybody loves all the way back to Thin Lizzy and Free and any of these classic rock bands that so many of us still enjoy. [They] embrace the hedonistic pleasures of those things in a way that a lot of bands then and now kind of are reluctant to do.
“But they also have a whole literary, more intellectual and thoughtful thing going on with the lyrics and the whole overarcing mythology and immersive universe that they’ve created. The on-going point of view that Craig shares in his lyrics. You can appreciate their music on a number of levels. You can bob your head to it, rock out to it with the windows down in the car and feel good. Maybe it doesn’t mean so much what they’re talking about. Or, you can focus on the words and think about what ideas are being communicated. Or best of all, find the synthesis of the two and see how the jovial nature of the music can support and amplify the views of the lyrics.”
Craig on Patrick’s music
“[Patrick] said something on [an interview with Marc Maron on WTF] and actually I came up, Maron was talking about going to see The Hold Steady and seeing bros yelling things. And Maron was like, ‘I’m not sure they get this.’ And Patrick had a really beautiful way of saying, ‘Well, sometimes just yelling out and putting a beer in the air is sort of saying, “We’re all here.” ‘ That was really moving to me, and I think about it all the time because I do believe that. … [Titus and Hold Steady songs] are both explore your own spot in the world. Obviously you can be standing in lower Manhattan and 9/11 happens, and you’re not in the building, nor are most people you know, but you’re turning 30, and you’ve moved there from the Midwest a year earlier and you’re wondering if it’s such a good idea. Then you get a divorce. Is 9/11 part of this story? Or isn’t it? I think it is. That’s a really interesting thing when art can raise those questions.” [Editor’s note: Recommended listening for understanding this anecdote: Finn’s single “Newmyer’s Roof.”]
Craig on coming to Bloomington in the future
“We’re doing this as a three-piece, but with the idea that as we get into it there will be more collaboration, and maybe some space for some other people to join in, is kind of what I’m hoping. [I’ll play,] then Titus will play, then hopefully we’ll do something together. I think our intention is to do something collaborative in some way. These things sort of have to evolve naturally. Hopefully by the time we roll to Indiana, things will be pretty ironed out, but we’ll have to figure out in the first few shows how it’s all going to work.”
Patrick on coming to Bloomington in the past
“When we were first starting out, one of the first tours we did that we would just book on MySpace, we used to play a lot at this place called the Statehouse. It was a very cool scene. Really inclusive, friendly, welcoming dudes that lived there. They always had some cool bands that we probably wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.”
Craig on politics
“I remember being in New York a few elections ago, having never seen a George W. Bush poster. Then I went home to Minnesota – which is still a pretty blue state – and I saw my first George W. poster on somebody’s lawn, and being like, ‘Oh my god, somebody’s voting for him?’ And of course a lot of people voted for him! He became our president after that! You can kind of be in a bubble here. But the Trump thing, is weird because you’re like, that guy’s on the cover of The Post every few weeks [before the election], kind of as a joke? I mean he’s obviously wealthy and on some level successful, but he’s sort of just a blustery dude. … I remember there was a Trump board game at some point in the ’80s. I don’t remember him as being political in any way. He was just a rich dude who built things. … I don’t understand why he wants to be president, and I’m not sure that he does. Could we end up with [a situation] where he just sort of dips out? He just sort of says, ‘You know what?’ -— a month out – ‘I’m out. You guys figure this out. I got what I wanted from this.’ ”
Patrick on politics
“There was a lot of energy around [Occupy Wall Street, which Stickles’ blogged about and played a show in support of] and a lot of people were really fired up about it, and really recognizing how screwed up it was. It seems to me that, like so many things, fatigue set in. People got to be more and more disenfranchised, and the hope of affecting any change or reform got to be more remote. I don’t know. People don’t just seem to be as fervent about it anymore. I think they’re kind of beaten down about the inevitability of it all, the triumph of the establishment, besides those who are feelin’ the Bern anyway. It’s nice that these kind of issues are back in the headlines again, but I do suspect that – not to sound too cynical – once the election is over and Bernie is probably not the president, that those discussions are going to fall by the wayside again, and people are going to go back to trudging through life, trying not to think about it, anesthetizing themselves against it, you know.”
Craig on his next album
“I’ve been working on [a new solo album]. I’m like nine songs in, and usually I make probably twice as many songs as end up on the album. I think we’re halfway there. I like to think by the end of 2016. We’re trying to figure out something to do with the Hold Steady, too. You take a break and you gotta get rolling again. I’m not sure what we’re going to do but I’d like to get back at some point. You take a break for like a year, and when you come back it can’t be just like, ‘Well, we’re going to play a show.’ You got to figure out something cool to do. We’re talking about that, and I hope that will come up soon, too.”
Patrick on his next album
“After the last record we did [The Most Lamentable Tragedy] which was the most inwardly looking self-obsessed piece of art that one could imagine, I feel like it could be only logical to look a little more outward at the wide world for whatever the next thing is going to be. I’m not really certain what shape that is going to take, but hopefully it won’t be more navel-gazing.”
Craig on his band's new lineup:
“Falcon [Valdez] played with me on the Clear Heart Full Eyes tour. I've know him for a while. He's from Texas. His real name is Paul but everyone calls him Falcon. If everyone called you Falcon, I think you'd just roll with it. … He's a guy I've liked playing with for a long time. He's from Austin, so he's the out-of-town guy. Will [Berman, bassist] plays with MGMT. He's the drummer in MGMT, but he lives in the neighborhood. I've always chatted with him at the bar that we both go to. He just seems like a cool dude, and everyone when I was like, 'I've got to find a bass player,' said, 'Well, Will can do it, he plays everything.' And he does. He's a really good musician. He plays everything. He's a little bit younger, probably 10 years younger than me. But he's been on the road a lot through MGMT, so he gets it. He was just a spectacular addition, in vibe and in music. Just a really nice person to have around that loves music. He fit in right away.”
Patrick on his band's new lineup:
“Hanging on from last year, we've got Adam Reich on guitar. He's a very special guy. He was actually the co-producer of the last album. He's a very talented musician and a lovely man who knows a lot about music and has produced a lot of records from bands around the scene. He knows the whole game from tip to tail. Also playing guitar is our friend Jonah Maurer, another lovely guy who keeps things lighthearted and has always got us laughing. Someone named Elio DeLuca, who plays the piano. I've known him for a very long time. He besides myself is the only person who has played on all four of the records, though he didn't tour with the band until last year. He's a record producer also; he's got a studio in Boston where he lives. He's very schooled, you know. He knows all about jazz, rock and roll, all sorts of things. He can do it all on the keys.
“We've got a new bass player. His name is R.J. Gordon. He worked with us for the past several years as our live sound engineer, so when our old bass player moved on, I knew that R.J. could play the bass. He's played the bass in a bunch of bands in Brooklyn. He had the most familiarity with the material and was the most ensconced in the gang, so it seemed only natural to move him up to the stage. And on drums is a man named Chris Wilson, who is most famous for playing drums in Ted Leo and The Pharmacists. I was looking for a drummer and called him up. Just by some chance he had some time off, so he agreed to do the tours with us this year that we had on the books, which is a great gift. He's a seasoned veteran. He's been on the road for years and years, so he knows the game. He can rock. And then, of course, me.”