Interview with Kelly Finnigan of Monophonics

Lead songwriter and bandleader of Bay Area psych-soul band Monophonics was kind enough to field some of my questions ahead of their show at the Wonder Ballroom to talk about their new album, Sage Motel.

Monophonics (5)
Photo credit: Jared/Diamond J

It looks like the first leg of your tour was in Greece. How was that?

KF: It was really great! Monophonics and myself have been over half-a-dozen times since 2012 and it’s always a wonderful experience. Greek people are very passionate, so they really appreciate the music and the fact that we take the time to come all that way to share the live show.

Your approach to Sage Motel seems to be more of a conceptual one from some of your earlier albums. What brought about the change? What are some of the ideas that inspired the concept behind the album?

KF: It just happened that way naturally. The idea, which became the concept, was totally organic, which is how we like ideas to form. This wasn’t a change, it’s art. As you grow as a human and artist, certain inspiring events can have an affect on you. When you get into writing and recording your fourth album and all of a sudden you are faced with the possibility of creating something unique, challenging, intriguing and fun, you take it head on. It’s what we live for as humans and artists. It seemed like the natural next step. Plus we are fans of concept records… ones that come to mind immediately are great ones by David Axelrod, Marvin Gaye, De La Soul, The Beatles, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd & David Bowie… there are a lot of classic ones!

A lot of the album’s emotional content sounds like it comes from a place of dealing with some of life’s many struggles. Do you feel there was more of a conscious effort to connect emotionally with audiences with this album than with earlier ones?

KF: I have always written with my heart on my sleeve. I try and write from a place of personal experience – honesty, as well as things I’ve witnessed, read about and stories I want to tell. I can think of at least a few songs on every LP where I made a very conscious effort to share personal stories, while ensuring the subject matter is ubiquitous. I think my songwriting has a lot of vulnerability to it and I always want to connect with the listener on a deep and human level.

What does your approach to songwriting and composition look like as far as collaborating with the rest of the band? Is there a significant degree of input from the band or do you handle most of that area?

KF: For the most part the rhythm section shares the bulk of writing the music. In this instance it was myself, bassist Max Ramey and our drummer Austin Bohlman. I handle the lyrics, vocal melodies and background vocal arrangements. The horn players Ryan Scott & Alex Baky take on writing the horn arrangements with my assistance and guidance, given that I am producing & recording the albums. It’s definitely very collaborative from start to finish. It’s important that everyone feels like they made a contribution to the songs, record, creative process.

What are some hobbies/activities outside of your musical career that inspire you creatively?

KF: I love being in nature and being near the ocean, or really any body of water. I also really enjoy films, new or old, as well as documentaries. I love being with friends, family, my girlfriend, our dog Bear. I also love to read books about other artists/musicians. That’s always very inspiring! And, of course, I love listening to music.

Do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations that you are excited about?

KF: We have a really great track we are finishing up with Kendra Morris that I think people are gonna really dig! Myself & Monophonics are also finishing up a full-length record with West Coast soul legend Mike James Kirkland. It’s been an enjoyable process and soul fans are gonna definitely love it! Collaborations are always fun and we’re lucky to be working with such talented people.

Be sure to check out Monophonics’ new album Sage Motel which is out now on Colemine Records.