Tickets at the door.
The birth of the soul music revival—galvanized by Lee Fields and the late Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley since the early 2000s—offered a potent dose of authenticity to an industry watered down by fabricated pop stars. These artists, orchestrated behind the scenes by vinyl collectors turned label heads at Truth & Soul and Daptone, poured their hearts out on stage and on records, and audiences responded in kind. But what the movement has been missing thus far is an auteur, a visionary that writes, records, performs and produces his own material. Enter Kelly Finnigan. The 37yearold, Bay Areabased singer, songwriter, engineer, and producer will release his first solo album, The Tales People Tell (Colemine Records), in the Winter of 2019.* The tensong collection is raw and gritty, tender and emotive, lush and symphonic. With Finnigan guiding these songs from their conception all the way to the record pressing plant, the new release provides the singular voice missing from soul music. In just under forty minutes Finnigan channels a multitude of influences that reflect a lifetime immersed in the music and culture of soul, R&B, and hiphop. The Tales People Tell is the story of an outsider that followed an unorthodox route, always guided by his own creative north star. Born in Los Angeles in 1981, Finnigan grew up in a musical household. His father, prominent sideman Mike Finnigan (Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Etta James), would start some days by sitting at the piano, sending songs like Ray Charles’ “Hard Times” cascading throughout their ranch style home. Despite having a father so deeply entrenched in the music industry, Finnigan resisted any formal musical education: “I only took three or four piano lessons before quitting, although I would bang around on a cheap blue Remo drum kit stashed in the corner of my room.” Finnigan’s watershed musical moment came as a 14 year old when he witnessed a DJ captivate a crowd of his friends at a party. He immediately dove into the world of hiphop, beats, and sampling, an unusual choice for a kid raised around rock royalty. “It woke me up to the possibility that this is what I wanted to do. Creating music was like magic, and the most fulfilling thing I’d ever done,” Finnigan recalls. In no time he was DJing junior high dances all over LA, but also digging deeper into the source material comprising his favorite beats. The luster of beat making on his Gemini DS8 sampler and Ensoniq MR61 sequencer wore off for Finnigan by the time he hit his twenties. He wanted to recreate the classic, organic sounds of electric piano, Clavinet, and Hammond organ that anchored his favorite A Tribe Called Quest and Pete Rock records. A midnight run to Las Vegas and $300 later, Finnigan owned a Fender Rhodes Suitcase 73 and set up shop in a small studio space in North Hollywood. He would spend hours dissecting old soul records and teaching himself how to play keys. In 2003 Finnigan and some friends founded hiphop production crew Destruments. Combined with the engineering knowhow gleaned from jobs at two legendary LA studios (Village Recording and Cello Studios), Finnigan and Destruments started releasing instrumental albums and writing for West Coast rappers, including famed hiphop collective Hieroglyphics. Finnigan’s appetite for exploring vintage instruments eventually got him fired from one of the studios—apparently staying late into the night to practice the studio’s Hammond B3 wasn’t allowed. “I didn’t care about getting fired since I didn’t really want to be someone else’s engineer,” says Finnigan. “I wanted to carve my own path.” Finnigan’s path led him to Oakland, where he relocated with Destruments in 2007, and he decided to stay in the Bay Area after the group dissolved in 2009. Although he was an accomplished beatmaker, keyboardist, drummer, and engineer at this point, Finnigan had only just started to sing, mostly on demo projects that he would shop around to other vocalists. Receiving positive feedback for his vocals on one of the final Destruments releases (a cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love”) gave Finnigan the boost of confidence he needed to start considering himself a lead singer. In search of a group where he could write original music and continue his progression as a singer, Finnigan found a permanent home in 2010 when he joined Bay Area instrumental funk band Monophonics. With Finnigan in the driver’s seat, the band’s rise in the music world has been impressive: a deal with famed label Ubiquity Records for their 2012 debut release of In Your Brain ; numerous tours of Europe and the US; a stint backing up and producing for French platinum seller Ben L’Oncle Soul; production credits and collaborations with hiphop legends Blackalicious and Lyrics Born; and prominent commercial and television placements. During this time Finnigan also started his own studio and record label Transistor Sound. Finnigan and company worked as a cohesive unit to create classic songs and resurrect psychedelic soul. Following up the success of In Your Brain , however, was an arduous process. Relentless touring left the band feeling fatigued, and Monophonics made the decision to get off the road and focus on their 2015 follow up Sound of Sinning . After another record cycle the band relaxed their recording and touring schedule even more. Finnigan felt the need to create music on his own and put his talents on full display: “I wanted to start writing more songs for myself and was hungry to be creative on a bigger scale.” One bright California morning in 2016 he sat down at his upright piano and hammered out the first few chords to “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” the album’s lead single and first track. Finnigan spent months slowly piecing new songs together by overdubbing drums, lead and background vocals, organ, and xylophone. Once satisfied, he called in brothers Max and Joe Ramey (The Ironsides/Colemine Records) to round out the bass and guitar parts. The Tales People Tell was off and running. Whether expertly placing vintage ribbon microphones, providing rocksolid pocket on the drum kit, comping classic keyboard parts, finetuning a mix, or giving an unforgettable vocal performance, Finnigan’s abilities are indisputable. Take “I’ll Never Love Again:” a restrained kick and hihat beat lays the foundation for fuzz guitar and an eerie melody doubled by female vocals and organ. These first four bars are as captivating as the samples that inspired Finnigan to create in the first place. Anthemic horn lines arranged by Finnigan and the horn section in studio set the stage for Finnigan’s desperate testimonial: “Some people spend their whole life looking for that long burning flame/but my flame’s been gone since it drowned in your pain.” Like the best soul songwriters before him, Finnigan marries the universal and the personal, delivering anguish and desperation in a jawdropping, gritty tenor. Not bad for someone that started singing less than ten years ago. Moments like this abound on The Tales People Tell . Although he’s credited with playing ten different instruments, Finnigan wasn’t afraid to call upon friends to finish the job. “It was really important to me to reach out to people I know and respect in the soul community,” says Finnigan. The credits read like a who’s who of soul artists; musicians that have performed on Daptone (Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Charles Bradley, Antibalas), Truth & Soul (Lee Fields, Lady Wray), Colemine (Durand Jones & the Indications, Jungle Fire, Orgone), and more grace these tunes. Even legendary drummer James Gadson (Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, Beck) and Finnigan’s father Mike make an appearance on the album’s final song, the secular gospel burner “Can’t Let Him Down.” Finnigan's bandmates in Monophonics appear on multiple songs as well. There may not be another album that synthesizes the current soul movement better. Finnigan mines the depths of soul music’s rich history on The Tales People Tell . This is a mature album, full of symphonic moments replete with strings and bells. Finnigan manages to utilize these elements in an understated way like Curtis Mayfield, Brothers of Soul, The Delfonics, and a select group of others before him. “Smoking and Drinking” evokes the mid60s gritty pop of Stax, deftly blending overdriven drums with upbeat horn lines and a choir of backup singers. Finnigan delves into the rich tradition of “answer records” with “I Called You Back Baby” (a tongueincheek tell off responding to Gloria Barnes’ deep funk classic “I’ll Call You Back Later”). Even West Coast lowrider soul—a sound Finnigan listened to every Sunday growing up courtesy of KRLA’s Art Laboe—makes an appearance on the tender ballad “Catch Me I’m Falling.” Finnigan’s vocal prowess—clearly a catalyzing force for Monophonics’ success—reaches a new level of emotional depth and expression. Whether it’s channeling the sensitive falsetto of Smokey Robinson, the rugged crooning of Sunny Ozuna of Sunny and The Sunliners, or the gospel perorations of Lee Moses, Finnigan slips in and out of character with the ease of a seasoned professional. These performances relate tales of love and loss, desperation and affirmation: “I love writers that tell stories, whether it’s Chuck Berry or Slick Rick.” His arresting lead vocal performance is nearly matched by his background vocal duties and arrangements. It is rare to witness such a combination of virtuosity and deep soulfulness. Finnigan clearly establishes himself as a onceinageneration vocal talent. “I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel. I just want to remind people why the wheel was such a good invention in the first place,” says Finnigan. He might be invoking a golden era of soul music, but Finnigan captures a timelessness on this album that transcends the “retro” label so often cast on music with a gritty aesthetic. Partnering with Terry Cole and his rising label Colemine Records was a key part of this project for Finnigan—he’s been involved in over a dozen Colemine releases as an engineer, producer, instrumentalist, and singer. Finnigan plans to tour heavily in 2019 behind the album release.
Kelly Finnigan & The Atonements