Earlier this week we headed an hour and a half east of Los Angeles to Palmdale, California—a city where there are Joshua trees and campaign signs for Dick Mountjoy, and all the streets are named after letters or numbers. The purpose of the trip was to check out the video shoot for the Hold Steady song “Chips Ahoy!,” the first single from their upcoming album Boys and Girls in America (out on October 3rd). Filmed at a deserted desert motel known as Club Ed by director Moh Azima (who also did their first video, “The Swish”), from what we could tell, the concept was sort of mid-’90s Foo Fighters clip meets Anchorman. We are intrigued. After the wet burrito lunch break, we sat on the curb with the Hold Steady’s lead-singer Craig Finn and had him talk into a microphone. Check out the results and more exclusive photos from the set of “Chips Ahoy!” after the jump. Short shorts are involved.
So are you getting tired of New York?
I come out here and get the real grass is greener complex because everyone’s place is so nice. The more you start to tour, the more you aren’t super excited to pay New York rent when you’re not there. Also coming out of a van after a few months and going into a New York apartment rather than a house with a backyard, you kind of want space when you come home.
It seems like more and more people live somewhere for a couple years and then go check out somewhere else.
Exactly, you feel like you’ve done it. There’s a lot of setting out to accomplish what you’ve accomplished in that city and then wanting to try something else. My best friend from growing up [Edward Kitsis] lives here as a writer for TV, so I stay with him and he’s got a nice situation, so I have to remind myself that my situation wouldn’t be exactly his.
You could start writing for TV, you never know.
I’d have to have some success before I bought his house.
What does he write for?
Lost. He’s been writing for a number of shows over the years, but this has been where he’s been very successful.
What’s going on in the video?
It’s for the song “Chips Ahoy!” which is about a girl who’s clairvoyant and can tell which horse is going to win horse races. That said, her and her boyfriend aren’t without problems, although they seem to have money. She’s kind of frigid, I think is the idea. So this video is me as a local news reporter reporting on the situation. Basically reporting on our relationship to the camera. And then it features cameos from the different band members, who I think the girl likes better than she likes me. It’s been fun, it’s had some good costumes and it’s certainly fun to be out here in the middle of nowhere. I think I have to get in the pool after awhile with all my clothes on, so I’m glad it warmed up, because it was freezing this morning.
Since there is such a narrative to your lyrics, do a lot of directors want to go really literal with you guys?
We saw a couple different treatments. We’ve never done anything literal, but it also costs more money to do something a little more conceptual. Before we haven’t really had that, so we’ve just done live videos. Now there’s a lot of opportunity to do things. It’s more fun to camp it up like this than it is faking playing live.
You can’t get excited about playing the same song 30 times in a row?
It’s nice that it’s more spread out. There’s a couple scenes I won’t be in, so it won’t be as taxing. We did an ad, or this short film, for Target like 18 months ago. It gives you an indication of how hard some of this stuff is. It’s early and it’s long hours, there’s a lot of waiting around; it’s not unlike recording an album. There’s a lot of waiting around and a lot of hanging out, sitting around waiting to do your thing. It’s harder than you think it’s going to be. It definitely gives you respect for the people who do acting for a living, and then all the crew stuff too. I have a friend who is a photographer and he said something funny last night. I’m like, “God, I have a 4:45 AM pickup tommorow,” and he’s like, “Yeah, but the good news is when you get there you only have to be yourself. You don’t really have to work to impress anyone.”
In a lot of your lyrics there is a lot of specific geography. Traveling around the country and coming out to towns like this, do you get to absorb the places that your lifestyle takes you?
Yeah, I think it inspires us. It’s like a weird feedback loop. Last year we played in Ybor City, which I namedrop a lot. I’d never been there before, I just liked the way it looked and sounded. So when we went down there it was fun because all these hardcore Hold Steady fans made sure they got to the show, and all of a sudden it was kind of a crazy show.
Was Ybor City what you thought it would be like?
Yeah, it kind of was! I liked it more than I thought I would. Everyone said it was kind of cheesy, it was like a Cuban section of town that they remade, it was cool though. I think the show was so good that it colored my opinion of the whole place. But we went out afterwards and it was pretty fun. Florida in general, we toured there for the first time in February, we did five shows in Florida. I didn’t know what to think because I haven’t really spent much time there, but it was a very good surprise.
I was reading an article a couple years ago that was saying how it used to be that California was like the insane state, that’s where everything crazy happened, but now it’s Florida.
Florida is crazy. You can see some crazy stuff go on. There was this dude who was hanging out, it seemed like he was hanging out a little too long, he was just asking me some questions and all of a sudden he leans in close and goes, “I can get you any drug you have ever heard of in ten minutes, right here.” And I was like, “No thanks…oh actually, do you have any weed?” And he just pulls it out of his pocket, it wasn’t even bagged, he just has weed. And I was like, “Oh OK, do you want some money?” And he was like, “For this? Nah.” I guess it was too small of an amount to bother with. I was like, “OK, could you please go away?”
Do you get a lot of weirdos?
Yeah, there are a lot of people who are kind of misinformed as to what you are and what you want. There’s been a couple instances where people have been like, “Do you want to maybe go to my apartment and maybe smoke some crack?” And I’ll be like, “No! And I actually don’t think you should either. Is it at all an option for you not to do that? I really recommend not.” People are like, “Oh, I thought you might be into that.”
From the lyrics about partying?
Yeah exactly. It’s kind of funny because people hear what they want to hear. When I hear our lyrics I think about something that is really hopeful and also with a stern warning against partying too much, but a lot of people hear the same song and will be like, “It’s really depressing and it just says you should do drugs.” So you know, whatever. I hope I’m telling a positive thing with all the lyrics. That’s how I hear them, but you can only control what you write, not how people hear.
What were your themes you were trying to get across for this new album?
This one is kind of based on this one thing I read in On the Road. I re-read On the Road by Kerouac a couple years ago, I saw this sentence, he is kind of talking about this farm girl he tried to make out with on a bus and she said no because he only knew her for like 20 seconds before that. And she goes “No, how can we? Stop.” And he’s like, “Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together.” And I was like, “That is what my record is going to be about.” The last record was such a linear story, this one is much more of a theme record with songs that go back to that theme. I think we have an audience that is as young as 15 and as old as 60. Love and relationships between guys and girls is something that no matter how much smarter you get in life about a lot of things, it doesn’t help you really understand that part of life. There’s been a million songs about love and that is why, because it is such an interesting topic. So that was how I framed everything. Most songs were about one guy and one girl and relate somewhat to love.
Have you gotten a sense that people wanted more of the same story from the last album?
I don’t think so. The one thing I would say is that people start to imagine a story in there that might not exist. I’ve heard people say that it is clearly a sequel, and it’s like, what would make you think that? It’s very deliberately not a sequel.
You said you read that line two years ago, how far in advance are you thinking with your albums and lyrics?
Not in advance enough that I’m thinking about the next one now. I would say that with that one I sort of just filed away. It’s funny, we ended up writing kind of slowly because we were touring a lot and it’s hard to write on tour. We took off from touring to write and we got a lot of stuff quickly. When you make a decision about what things are going to be about, it can kind of come pretty quick, pulling the trigger and just building that framework to build the album anway.
What other contemporary bands do you feel akin to or just like what they are doing?
Drive-By Truckers is a big one. Lucero, the Constantines, the Thermals, the Mountain Goats, the Weakerthans. That’s a pretty big list and those are all bands that we are friends with and have respect for. Actually to be honest, we don’t know some of those bands. We don’t know Drive-By Truckers at all.
I’ve kind of noticed the similarities between you and the Drive-By Truckers. I know you guys both worked with John Agnello.
He mixed their record and he produced ours. Someone said in our first record review that it was like Drive-By Truckers for Yankees, and I actually liked that. It’s both people telling stories based on where they came from. The Drive-By Truckers obviously have that specific southern place they are coming from, mine is Minneapolis, but it is also just more suburban—kind of universally suburban, having a car and living outside the city but not in it, driving around and listening to the radio, getting high or whatever. That’s where my songs come from. A lot of the stuff takes place in Minneapolis when I was a teenager. It’s easy in rock & roll to go back to your teenage years because it seems like a rock & roll age.