The Prior Procedure
Me & Magdalena
Parade Days (Bonus Track)
"I have this idea that if the record was a movie poster there'd be a tagline that was like, 'Power, Wealth, and Mental Health,'" Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn tells Apple Music. "It felt like a heavy time in 2019 to write all this stuff, and then 2020 came and just kind of like put a bow on it." With their eighth studio album, the Brooklyn-based sextet tackles subjects like technology, consumerism, and income inequality over a sonic palette that broadens the band's dose of heady alternative rock. Open Door Policy is the second release since keyboardist Franz Nicolay rejoined the band, laying the foundation for tracks like the burnt-out "Heavy Covenant" and sleek "Hanover Camera," solidifying what Finn calls the best collection of Hold Steady tracks yet. "I think The Hold Steady 3.0 feels sort of like a Super Steady," he says. "The thing I'm really psyched about this record is the story of [guitarist] Steve [Selvidge] and Franz finding space for each other and kind of defining the sound of this version of The Hold Steady. It's a huge part of the success of this version of the band." Here, Finn and Nicolay guide us through Open Door Policy's 11 tracks.
Craig Finn: "I felt like this song's kind of an invitation into the story. This could be a dramatic opener in the sense of a drama or a play or a musical or something, something that kind of starts soft and builds up.'"
Franz Nicolay: "It announces that this is the kind of record that's going to be on this sort of grander scope and dealing with these darker themes."
CF: "I've got a phone that saves your contacts even when you change phones. And so like if I look through my phone I have so many people in here and each one of them could pop up at any moment, each one I could get a text from. And I was obsessed with that as sort of like your phone is this device that might lead you into a situation or story. There's this disembodied connection to it that we didn't have with landlines as much."
CF: "This is a song about someone going out to California to follow their dreams. It relays the parallel stories in the choruses when he talks about lanyards and laminates and wristbands. All these things that we use to get access to like the VIP area, or trying to get into the party where the free drinks are or whatever. So it kind of was a meditation on that, of pursuing that kind of access and going and trying to find it and it not working out."
FN: "This for me is really the heart of the record. There's a real texture, like this sort of carpet of guitars and the keyboards, and it's just like all melded together with these amazing lyrics. It's not showy, but it's got all the parts in their place."
CF: "The lyrics mention the Eddie Van Halen guitar solo in 'Eruption,' and here we are when the record's released and Eddie Van Halen has passed. And I think that the reason I love this and why I bring this up is because a lot of people talk about things like Springsteen or The Replacements when they talk about The Hold Steady. But in some ways, Van Halen was also a big influence. There's one guy who's kind of talking or yelling, and there's another guy playing a lot of guitar solos."
CF: "I think this is a song that we might not have done a few years back. But we just did these shows at the Brooklyn Bowl in December  and Franz informed us that we have like 119 songs. So when you have 119 songs, you can kind of be like, 'Well, this one's going to have a drum machine.' It's possibly my favorite song on the record because it tells a really good and a really sad story and I love that it's unique to our catalog. It may be something that people weren't expecting."
FN: "I think Craig has said before the thing that he brings to the table is he's not really a hard-rock guy. He's much more in this sort of midtempo groovy jam-band world, and so he's really drawn to a song like this that puts us a little more out of our comfort zone in a productive way."
FN: "When we were down in Nashville for our shows a couple years ago, I stayed in the hotel room and did computer demos. And this came from two of those. Basically the verse and the chorus were one song and the bridge was an entirely different song that Craig and Josh [Kaufman, producer] were like, 'What if we just take the beginning of that second demo and plop it right in the middle of the first demo?' And it worked."
The Prior Procedure
CF: "This track has to do with people who are kind of displaced, wandering the desert, so to speak, and go to a place that a really rich guy owns and is making available to anyone who wants to. So there's your open-door policy. But the idea is that this guy's really rich. He still has control over it and he still won't give up the control, and I think that that's a thing we find a lot with like really rich guys having their own charities, et cetera. It still has a thumb on it."
CF: "This might have been the last song that came together. And there's kind of a fast-talking thing that I just tried to do. But mainly, it just rides that groove and it's one of those that I think that benefited from not overthinking or pushing too hard on it."
FN: "Every time we were on a break, [guitarist] Tad [Kubler] would just walk around with an acoustic guitar playing this riff. And eventually we were like, ‘I guess that's a song that has some creative energy right now behind it.’ There was an idea about doing it like a Guided By Voices thing with that sort of blown-out acoustic guitar vibe."
Me & Magdalena
CF: "When we got done with this and the record was all turned in, I somehow came across another song called ‘Me & Magdalena’ by The Monkees. And what's weirder is it's a new record by The Monkees which Adam Schlesinger produced and Ben Gibbard wrote the song. And then I listened to the song and it's a great song. And I know I've never heard that song before, because I would have known it because I like it so much. But that said, I must have seen the song title and like subconsciously internalized it, because it seems like too much of a coincidence to come up with the first line of the song and then name the song that. So apologies to everyone, but it's a totally different song."
FN: "Kind of a creepy song, right? Again, it's that expectation of, like, 'Oh, here's where the solo's going to go in,' and then it's like there's this gaping absence where it might be that I think is really evocative."
Parade Days (Bonus Track)
CF: "This is a bonus track rather than an album cut because thematically I think it's set aside. It's about someone like myself who grew up in Minneapolis, and it's about the changes that the city's made during their lifetime. If we recorded like eight more, maybe we'd hold on to them and wait for the bonus edition down the line. But it just felt like we should let people hear the other song recorded, especially with the digital platform these days."