CRAIG FINN (THE HOLD STEADY)
Perhaps best known as the singer of the Hold Steady, Craig Finn is a Minnesota-bred singer, songwriter, and guitarist based out of New York City. Combining literary influences like Jack Kerouac and John Berryman with the musical influences of Bruce Springsteen and fellow Minnesotan Paul Westerberg, Finn’s highly descriptive lyrical style has a focus on narrative, crafting whole worlds for the people in his songs to exist within.
In 1994, the singer put this style to work with the indie rock band Lifter Puller, refining his craft over the course of their three albums before the band called it quits in 2000. After the band dissolved, Finn relocated from the Twin Cities to New York, where he would collaborate with producer Mr. Projectile on the short-lived project the Brokerdealer in 2001 before eventually reuniting with Lifter Puller bassist Tad Kubler to form the Hold Steady in 2004. While the band’s whiskey-fueled bar rock sound was a departure from the angular, synth-filled sounds of Lifter Puller, Finn’s lyrically dense storytelling style remained intact, making the Hold Steady the thinking man’s bar band.
Faith in the Future After five albums with the band, the singer and songwriter tried his hand at a solo album during some downtime from his main project, and in 2012 released Clear Heart Full Eyes through Vagrant Records. In 2015, Finn dropped his second solo album; Faith in the Future, released by Partisan Records, was drawn from a set of songs inspired by themes of loss and survival that Finn wrote in the wake of his mother’s death. His third record appeared in March 2017. Like his previous solo work, We All Want the Same Thing sounded like a continued riposte to the wilder side of the Hold Steady, while retaining his much-praised narrative lyrical style.
After five albums with the band, the singer and songwriter tried his hand at a solo album during some downtime from his main project, and in 2012 released Clear Heart Full Eyesthrough Vagrant Records. In 2015, Finn dropped his second solo album; Faith in the Future, released by Partisan Records, was drawn from a set of songs inspired by themes of loss and survival that Finn wrote in the wake of his mother’s death. His third record appeared in March 2017. Like his previous solo work, We All Want the Same Thing sounded like a continued riposte to the wilder side of the Hold Steady, while retaining his much-praised narrative lyrical style.
Born January 26, 1968 in Queens, New York, Malin was just 12 years old when he joined his first band, handling vocals and guitar for the New York hardcore outfit Heart Attack. Though Heart Attack released a single and a pair of EPs between 1981 and 1984, Malin fared better when, in 1991, he and fellow Heart Attack alum Danny Sage formed D Generation, who fused old-school punk and glam rock guitars with a heavy dose of New York Dolls influence blended in. Through some critics dismissed D Generation as Johnny Thunders copycats, their teased hair and glossy wardrobe were just a part of the act, and substance and song structure were always a part of their music. As one of New York City’s more talented acts of the ’90s, D Generation released three albums before disbanding in April 1999. Malin, always a punk with the heart of a poet, kept writing music as he explored a new creative direction. His love for Neil Young, Tom Waits, and Steve Earle influenced his work, and he spent the next two years working on a fresh, rootsy sound.
Ex-Whiskeytown frontman Ryan Adams, who’d been a friend of Malin since the D Generation days, was impressed with Malin’s new approach. Adams offered to produce Malin’s debut album, even though he’d never produced a record before. The two headed into Lo-Ho Studios in New York in January 2001 and made an album in just six days. A deal with Artemis Records soon followed, and The Fine Art of Self Destruction appeared in the U.K. in October 2002. The first single, “Queen of the Underworld,” was a moderate hit in England, where the press quickly hailed Malin’s debut as one of the year’s best. Stateside fans finally got their hands on The Fine Art of Self Destruction when Artemis gave it an American release in January 2003. Road dates followed, both in America and the U.K. Malin contributed a version of “Hungry Heart” to the benefit album Light of Day: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen; he also picked up a nomination for the Shortlist Music Prize. (Malin and Adams would reunite in the studio later in 2003 when they recorded a hardcore punk album, We Are Fuck You, under the band name the Finger, with Malin billed as “Irving Plaza” and Adams as “Warren Peace.”) By November 2003, Malin was back in the studio, laying down tracks for his second long-player. The Heat appeared in June 2004, accompanied by a string of tour dates on both sides of the pond.
Malin’s s third album was recorded in Los Angeles during the summer and fall of 2006, which marked his first time making a record outside of New York (or even above 14th Street). Featuring guest spots by Bruce Springsteen and Jakob Dylan, among others, Glitter in the Gutter eventually surfaced in March 2007 via Billie Joe Armstrong’s Adeline Records label. (Armstrong was a D Generation fan who had brought the band along as Green Day’s opening act in the ’90s.) Malin spent most of the year on the road with his backing band, the Heat. With that group, Malin released Mercury Retrograde in 2008, which was recorded live in New York City. The same year Malin followed up with the One Little Indian release On Your Sleeve, a gutsy set of covers that featured imaginative readings of songs by the Bad Brains, the Rolling Stones, Fred Neil, Paul Simon, and others. In 2009 he founded a new band called St. Mark’s Social, who released Love It to Life in 2010 on the Side One Dummy label. In 2011, D Generation reunited for a handful of live shows, and Malin found himself dividing his time between his solo career and occasional road trips with the band, including a few dates opening for Guns N’ Roses. In March 2015, Malinreleased a new solo effort, New York Before the War, while D Generation announced they were recording new material. Only seven months after New York Before the War hit the streets, Malin was back with another solo effort, the gritty and straightforward Outsiders. The prolific Malin returned in 2017 with another studio effort, Meet Me at the End of the World.
Kris Gruen writes songs about grownup life infused with a mystic wonder, softening the world’s sharp edges like a glass of exceptionally fine bourbon. Kris grew up steeped in classic records. His Americana influenced new folk is grounded in the tradition of great narrative songwriters like Cat Stevens and Paul Simon and yet Kris’s voice is strikingly current. A New York City native who’s put down roots in Vermont, Kris effortlessly blends sagacious wit and emotional depth.
The new album Coast & Refuge is an album both about and created by partnerships where the sonic and thematic threads feel constant, equally at home in the old townships of Vermont where the new folk-artist lives, as it is in the new frontiers of Scandinavia, and the California coastline where much of it was written. The songs retain folk roots, but bring a contemporary urgency and a big sound. The result draws comparisons to Matthew Perryman Jones, Pete Yorn, Elbow, Griffin House, Ryan Adams, and Peter Bjorn and John; in fact, the latter’s Peter Morén appears on the album as vocalist and co-writer of one of the first singles “Every Day and Night Now.”
Over a four year period Kris worked with LA writer/producers Brad Gordon (Vance Joy, Dan Wilson, The Weepies,) and Justin Gray (Dirty Heads, James Bay & John Legend), Ramin Sakurai (Supreme beings of Leisure), Finnish singer-songwriter Peppina, and LA artist AM. During a seven country European tour in 2015, while supporting Jesse Malin, Kris was led to Stockholm to work with Peter Morén. Gruen also collaborated with filmmaker Melissa Miller-Costanzo on the song “Coming Down Around Me” for her feature film “All These Small Moments” starring Molly Ringwald and Jemima Kirke, which premiered at The Tribeca Film Festival this past April. Longtime producer Charles Newman (The Magnetic Fields, The Bones of J.R. Jones) produced the track in his Brooklyn based Cottage Sounds studio, as well as The Morén duet and the album closer, “2008,” a beautifully nostalgic ballad co-written with Los Angeles based artists Jim and Sam.
Gruen has also released acclaimed albums Lullaby School and Part Of It All, and his third studio album New Comics From The Wooded World had contributions from Anais Mitchell and Sean Hayes and was released in the summer of 2013. In 2015 Kris released a limited pressing of the Duos and Trios EP which included a few songs that appear on Coast and Refuge, as well as duets with The Bones of J.R. Jones and Rachel Ries.Kris has shared the stage with the likes of The Avett Brothers, Anais Mitchell, Billy Joe Armstrong, and Sean Lennon and recently finished a run supporting Alejandro Escovedo on the east coast.