A buddy randomly found this piece written about The Hold Steady's new record, Heaven is Whenever yesterday on The Hold Steady's concert page for the famed Minneapolis venue, First Avenue. Beautifully written by HS lead singer Craig Finn, it's a rumination about the band's evolution to now, in terms of recording and what keeps them moving forward, as well as a touching and humble thank you to the fans that have made it possible for them to get to this point, their fifth record. Let's hope when Finn stops making records, he starts writing short stories or something because it's obvious he can do more with prose than just song lyrics.
This wasn't included in the liner notes of the vinyl version of HIW but let's hope it's included in the liner notes of the CD when it's released 5/4...it would be a total shame if it's not.
During our time as The Hold Steady, I've made a lot in interviews and onstage monologues about what little ambition we had when we started this band. We weren't sure if we would play shows or release records. We had seriously managed expectations. But in the end, we did end up playing shows and releasing records, and we are better people for it. We've seen a lot of the world, met a ton of great people, and played a whole bunch of rock and roll music. Our efforts have been rewarded beyond our wildest dreams. It's not exactly a mind-blowing statement when I say that this is the best job I've ever had. That said, there are sacrifices and discomfort that come with this territory: busted relationships, distance from family, physical exhaustion, disconnection from civilian life, ringing ears, interminable waiting around, trying to get through a ninety minute show when you have food poisoning, etc.
Our new record, Heaven is Whenever, is about struggle and reward. It's about accepting suffering as a necessary part of a joyous life. It's about how love can help us rise above these struggles. It's about faith. It's about how bad it hurts to settle for less. It's about not being scared to try. It's about four guys who still believe in the power and glory of rock and roll. Because even after a thousand soundchecks, a thousand load-in and load-outs, fifty missed birthdays, and a few hundred electrical shocks, our reward still vastly outweighs the struggle. In fact, the reward would not exist without the struggle. Thus, this struggle is inherently part of the reward. And in this way, the fantasy of playing rock and roll for a living is a lot like real life.
It's hard to pinpoint when we started making this record, but I think the genesis was when Tad was doing a score for a film in early 2009. He started laying down some song ideas in the studio and sharing them with us. I started writing lyrics and at one point we even set up a makeshift studio in the back of our tour bus to record demo vocals. We spent our down time in the Summer of 2009 making demos in our rehearsal space. Songs started to pile up, and it was time to hit a proper studio and start making an album.
We tapped Dean Baltulonis to produce the record. Dean had produced our record Separation Sunday and is an old friend. We headed upstate to Dreamland Studios in West Hurley, NY. Isolated and surrounded by amazing Autumn beauty, we spent two weeks living on site, playing music, drinking beer, and standing around the grill. We hit a few things that we had already demoed, but also jammed on a lot of new stuff. One memorable night is captured on the last song on the album "A Slight Discomfort". Tad did a few guitar tracks out on the front lawn that night, and you can hear the chorus of crickets chirping from the surrounding trees as the record draws to a close. We also talked our friend John Reis into coming out from San Diego and jamming with us for a few days. He played a bit of guitar on the record and helped write the song "Rock Problems".
After we left Dreamland we hit the road for a little bit, which gave us the opportunity to try out new songs in front of an audience. When we returned to Brooklyn, we hit our rehearsal space with a vengeance. We reworked some of the new stuff and wrote even more. We soon repaired to Wild Arctic Studios in Queens. We've done a lot of work at Wild Arctic in the past and it's a very comfortable place for us. We did a number of shorter sessions at Wild Arctic throughout the Fall and Winter of 2009. The record was starting to come together.
We broke for Xmas and wrapped up recording in January 2010. We began mixing and faced the usual heartbreaking decisions about which songs would and would not make the record. We mixed and remixed. We sequenced and resequenced. Finally, we turned it in, about six months after we started. It felt good to be done, but it also felt good to know that our time and perseverance had paid great dividends. I think we made something that is both different than our previous releases, yet unmistakably a creation of The Hold Steady.
Heaven is Whenever is our fifth full length release. This is both cool and a cause to stop and think, as there are some inherent truths in any fifth record. For one, the band has to stay together long enough to last through the first four. Secondly, an audience has to be interested enough to encourage the band to make album number five. And third, the band still has to have something to say that it feels that it hasn't said before.
I just went through my record collection to see how many bands I love never made it to a fifth record. I realized that most of the bands that mean the most to me had indeed made it through five and sometimes beyond: Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Thin Lizzy, REM, Creedence, etc. In some ways, album five implies a commitment and dedication and a realization that the band's success is not a fluke, and that it's not going anywhere. Albums like Physical Graffiti, Combat Rock, Fighting, Document, and Cosmo's Factory are all fifth records that show their creators confident and brimming with new ideas. In many cases, peaking. While I am not going to compare our record to any of these masterpieces by my rock and roll deities, I am proud to unveil Heaven is Whenever and add it to our body of work. Five records in seven years. Not bad.
The title of this record comes from a lyric in the song "We Can Get Together", which states "Heaven is whenever/We can get together." In the end, that might say it best. The most amazing part of this life is the opportunity to share music with a supportive audience. It is not lost on us that people make sacrifices of their own to see us perform. They spend money on tickets and travel, they get baby sitters, they take time off work. It's an honor for us to be a recipient of this kind of dedication. So when we say Heaven is Whenever, we mean that the greatest of rewards is our privilege of being able to tour and share our music and our lives with yours.
Thank you for being a part of this.