Record of the Week: The Hold Steady’s ‘The Price of Progress’

This month, The Hold Steady celebrates its 20th anniversary with the release of their ninth studio album, The Price of Progress, WNXP’s Record of the Week.

The Price of Progress is released March 31, 2023

Singer, songwriter and frontman Craig Finn said that recording these songs together felt like a homecoming for him and his bandmates Bobby Drake, Tad Kubler, Franz Nicolay, Galen Polivka and Steve Selvidge. After swapping song stems and lyrics remotely, the six-piece got together in Rhinebeck, New York to make a joyful noise in-studio. There, they rejoined Heavy Covenant collaborators engineer D. James (Dan) Goodwin and producer Josh Kaufman to bring these 10 new, rich storytelling tunes to life.

While no Nashville dates have been announced to support this new release (and please trust that I pouted plenty about this with Finn on the city’s behalf), The Hold Steady is playing some two- and three-night runs in select cities this spring. Fingers crossed that Music City makes the cut for later in 2023, and we can pump fists with this musically evolved (hear: “Understudies”) and yet still steady-as-she-goes (hear: “Sideways Skull”) sextet on Tennessee soil before too long.

Take a listen to clips of my conversation with The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn.

On the residency touring model

Very happy for you, Portland and Chicago. :: twiddles thumbs and refreshes The Hold Steady’s tour page ::

On studio magic with producer Josh Kaufman

For what it’s worth, we’re also big fans of Josh Kaufman. You may know him from his fine guitar work in folk trio Bonny Light Horseman (which visited our Sonic Cathedral last year), his fuzz in the indie rock supergroup Muzz, or his arrangements for Josh Ritter, The National and The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir. Let’s not forget his heavy lifting as co-producer on the multi-disc Grateful Dead tribute project Day of the Dead. Finn says Kaufman started as one of “[his] guys,” having produced his last four solo records, but Kaufman’s keen ear for The Hold Steady’s full-band arrangements takes the group someplace they wouldn’t get otherwise:

There are six of us now in the band, so he really separates the instruments well, finds the places for everyone. And most of all his sessions, as a person and as a leader — which I think a producer mainly is, a leader — they’re fun. We always have fun when we’re in the studio with him.

Craig Finn on working with Josh Kaufman

On some semblance of normal

The pandemic wasn’t over when The Hold Steady got back together to lay down the tracks for The Price of Progress, but Finn said it felt more normal than before. In early 2021, just after the band released Heavy Covenant, the guys squeezed into a backstage room at Brooklyn Bowl in New York to record this NPR Tiny Desk from Home concert:

On writer vs. frontman energy

Once the music starts, there’s a surge of gratitude for what we get to do, how many people are there to watch us do it, and the people I’m on stage with….The Hold Steady has always been a celebration, we’ve always tried to be that. And it’s somehow very easy to get there.

Craig Finn on the “something” that happens when they perform

On Hold Steady fans abroad

Dukes up against the Brits, my fellow Americans — Finn says fans in the U.K. really bring the energy. Here’s same fan footage of the band live in London last spring:

On Craig’s podcast “That’s How I Remember It”

Now in its second season, Finn’s interview podcast “That’s How I Remember It” features fellow musicians and artists of all kinds, including a recent episode with Nashville’s Amanda Shires.

A Season 1 episode with Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz revealed that he and Finn have both shared criticism — or at least commentary — about their very place-based lyrics. And here I believe that songs vividly depicting cities, neighborhoods and establishments I’ve never been to represent the very essence of The Hold Steady!

Finn disagrees with the so-called songwriting “experts” on what connects listeners to people and places illustrated in the music.

On best American bands

🚨 Hot take alert! 🚨 A non-binding backstage election among The Hold Steady bandmates elevated Van Halen as the G.O.A.T. American band. Others that got votes:

*The Grateful Dead
*The Velvet Underground