Craig Finn

Craig Finn
Photograph by Mark Seliger

The lyricist and lead singer for the acclaimed New York band the Hold Steady and former front man for Minneapolis cult favorites Lifter Puller recorded his first solo album, CLEAR HEART FULL EYES (Vagrant, out January 24), in Austin. The title is a variation on “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” the rallying cry of the beloved TV drama Friday Night Lights.

How does a guy who has led bands in Minneapolis and New York City end up in Austin?
I always like it when I’m in Austin, and I have some good friends there. But the most important part was Mike McCarthy, the producer, who works in Austin. I really liked what he had to say about songs and music and making records. I’m a huge fan of the Spoon records he’s made and his work with Trail of Dead and Heartless Bastards. He had good ideas about using Austin musicians, so it just ended up being more realistic for me to go down there. It wasn’t like he just hit the record button. He really helped me through the process.

You were here for a few weeks this past summer during some brutal heat.
Eventually I got into Barton Springs. A lot of mornings I’d drive over there first thing to cool off.

You recorded with Josh Block from White Denim, Jesse Ebaugh from the Heartless Bastards, Ricky Ray Jackson from the Happen-Ins, and Billy White, whose résumé includes a stint in Dokken. You met all these guys for the first time in the studio.
It was intimidating. I was like, “Am I going to be able to keep up? Are we going to be able to communicate?” But we hit the ground running. It was really exciting to me; I’d show them a song, and all of a sudden we’re recording. We moved pretty quickly, and it was a real confidence-builder. We did fourteen songs in five days.

I think a lot of people

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