Of all the storytelling rock 'n' roll frontmen out there, Craig Finn and Patterson Hood probably spend more time than anyone singing and talking about the bands they love.
Finn's New York-based, Minneapolis-rooted quintet the Hold Steady has issued a flood of songs with rock-referencing lyrics, including the Joe Strummer-toasting anthem "Constructive Summer" and the Zeppelin-roasting "Joke About Jamaica" on their new album "Stay Positive." Hood, meanwhile, made his mark along with fellow singer/guitarist Mike Cooley on the Drive-By Truckers' 2001 two-disc masterpiece "Southern Rock Opera," ostensibly a concept album about Lynyrd Skynyrd but really an ode to rock's high place among lowly blue-collar Southern boys.
With all that in mind, we knew it wouldn't be hard to get Finn and Hood to gush about each other's band now that they're on the road together on the so-called Rock 'n' Roll Means Well Tour -- a name taken from the Truckers' song "Marry Me" ("Rock 'n' roll means well, but it can't help telling young boys lies").
Finn talked by phone before the tour from a house his band rented in South Carolina while guitarist Tad Kubler recuperated from pancreatitis. Hood e-mailed back answers on the first off-day on their tour, Election Day.
Q What was the appeal of touring with each other's band?
Finn: We haven't really been able to hang out with or see the Truckers all that much, because we both have been touring so much over the past few years. So it's not a joke when we say we wanted to tour together just so we could see each other's band more.
It'll also be interesting to see how it plays out in terms of the audiences. It's kind of like one of those Venn diagrams with circles intersecting. There's a lot of people who are into both bands, but the Truckers also have an audience that's more on the alt-country side of things, and we might come in with more indie-rock/Pitchfork-centric fans.
Hood: It's always more fun when we can tour with a band we really love. Our band and the Hold Steady really have some cool common ground, even though we take those elements in very different directions. I absolutely love Craig's songwriting, and the band rocks balls.
Q How did you first come to appreciate them as a band?
Finn: Back even before the Hold Steady, I went to see the Drive-By Truckers play the Bowery Ballroom in New York. I was like, "This is exactly what I want in music. They're a rock band with big guitars but really smart lyrics, and they had a lot of fun onstage." It was something that really influenced the Hold Steady once we started.
Hood: John Agnello [the Hold Steady's producer] has mixed a couple of our records and is a friend. He gave me a copy of "Boys and Girls" when it was first coming out, and I really dug it. The song "Chillout Tent" was the one that really cinched it for me. An amazing song.
Q What's your favorite album of theirs?
Finn: All of them, really, but I'd probably have to go with "Southern Rock Opera" because it's the first one I heard, and it has the song "Let There Be Rock." It really speaks to me about rock 'n' roll before the Internet, when all the information you got was kind of rumors and innuendos. He says, "I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I sure saw AC/DC/ With Bon Scott singing, 'Let there be rock.'" It's almost like it's a handing-down of this great tradition of rock. And Patterson's old enough and smart enough -- and, of course, Mike is, too -- to interpret that old rock to really be kind of brilliant and beautiful. It's not just "Heavy Metal Parking Lot."
Hood: Right now, I'm going back and forth between "Stay Positive" and "Separation Sundays." I just finally got a copy of "Almost Killed Me," and it's really gaining on me, too.
Q Favorite song?
Finn: I think "Heathens" might be my overall favorite song. And "Zip City" off of "Southern Rock Opera," too. Both those songs have something to do with a car going into a ditch. I've never put a car into a ditch, but I wonder if those guys do it a lot, because both their guys have songs about that.
Hood: Besides "Chillout Tent," I'm really loving "Little Hoodrat Friend." I love how the song is structured like a well-told joke with the punch line/hook at the very end. Great song. I also think "Stay Positive" should be a huge hit single. It's about the catchiest song of the year.
Q How would you describe what your bands have in common musically?
Finn: We're two bands that appreciate classic rock or straight-ahead rock. We're also bands that write about people we know from the places we come from. In Patterson's and Mike Cooley's case, it's down South, and in my case it comes largely from growing up in Minneapolis. Different parts of the country, but there's something right in the middle. We also all liked a lot of the same stuff growing up, be it Springsteen or the Replacements, of course.
Hood: I think both bands have a keen eye for details in story. Both bands reflect the geography that reared them. Both bands were heavily influenced by some of the same artists -- the Clash, the Replacements, Springsteen -- even though we take those influences in different directions -- which makes it all more interesting. "Tim" by the Replacements was the album that inspired me to drop out of school and form [his first band] Adam's House Cat back in '85.
Q How will your band alter its set playing on a double bill with those guys?
Finn: I don't really anticipate we'll have to shorten our sets much. I think both bands are pretty much going to play full sets every night. Maybe not 2 1/2 hours [which the Truckers often do], but full sets by most bands' standard. Once the tour gets along, I imagine we might start doing some cool stuff for the encores. And one thing the Hold Steady started to do on our last tour was to vary our set list every night, mainly because we now have a lot of people traveling to see multiple shows. I think this tour, we'll see that even more.
Hood: We alter it every night anyway, as we never use a set list. We decide on the first song as we're walking onstage, and then it flows from there each night. Everything affects the set, from the audience to what time we play. This double bill seems to be inspiring extra-high-energy shows so far.
Q Both bands have made First Avenue a regular stop on their tours, even after graduating more to theaters. What keeps you coming back?
Finn: Last time we were there [in July] was amazing. It was so nice to be back. It's always super-fun, but there's also always a little more anxiety before those shows because I want them to go off so well because that place means so much to me. I'm really glad we're doing two nights there instead of just one night at a bigger place.
Hood: "Purple Rain!" I've loved First Ave since the first time we played there back in '00. Great room and history. Our show there back in July was one of our best shows this year so far, so we look forward to trying to top it.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658