:: Bluebird Theater :: July 19 ::
By Timothy Dwenger
To say that San Francisco has a rich musical history may well be the understatement of the century. From the Grateful Dead to Sly Stone, and from the Fillmore to the Warfield, the “City By The Bay” is truly a city that rocks. The Summer Of Love and the scene that came out of San Fran in the ’60s laid a strong musical foundation that the city has continued to build upon to this day, and Bay Area band Monophonics is presently an integral part of the scene in the city.
Their gritty, psychedelic soul sound draws heavily on music from the ’60s and ’70s, and lead singer and keyboardist Kelly Finnigan admitted in a recent conversation with The Marquee that the band relies heavily on the influence of three people in particular. “Sly and the Family Stone, early Funkadelic, Maggot Brain in particular, and the producer and songwriter Norman Whitfield, who produced and wrote all that stuff for The Temptations in the ’60s and ’70s, including ‘Cloud 9’ and ‘Poppa Was a Rolling Stone;’ that’s our Mount Rushmore right there. Sly, George Clinton, and Norman Whitfield,” said Finnigan as the band sat broken down on the side of the road on their way from San Francisco to Reno, Nev. “It’s funny, because they were all very aware of each other and the reason that The Temptations took on that sound of ‘Cloud 9’ and ‘Psychedelic Shack’ and all that, really was because of Sly. Sly really changed the sound of funk and soul in the late ’60s. Incorporating rock and roll was powerful because you have heavy electric guitars and heavy drums, but still soulful vocals and an overall soul and R&B feel. So that’s the big three for us.”
Though a “big three” like that is the stuff dreams are made of for most funk and soul fans, Monophonics had their roots in something a little more akin to jazz and boogaloo music and established themselves on the scene in San Francisco as an instrumental band. Then, in 2010, Finnigan joined the group and things began to evolve. “I came on as a sub to do a weekend with these guys around Tahoe and Reno. We did the shows and there was something there that clicked and felt good right away,” he remembered. “I had never played or performed with these guys, but even after the first show we could all kinda tell that we had something. I guess I was the right piece of the puzzle,” Finnigan said.
The right piece of the puzzle for sure. It was Finnigan’s input that pushed Monophonics to run in a new direction. “The band used to only do a couple of vocal tunes and now we are basically a vocal band that does a couple of instrumental tunes,” he said. “It’s all psychedelic soul now, ’60s psychedelic rock mixed with hard soul and heavy funk. We just went back to our roots and the roots of San Francisco and the Bay Area and the whole funk movement. We opened the door to a whole new group of people. Not everyone likes instrumental music, so when you are doing that you are choosing to serve a certain kind of audience. Whereas with the way the band is now, it’s a little more, I wouldn’t say ‘commercial,’ but I would say ‘commercial.’ You know what I mean? When you are dealing with songwriting and songs and stuff like that it’s a little different than just playing grooves with horn hits or organ melodies on top.”
As he has slowly established himself in the band, Finnigan has offered up skills and talents outside of just singing and playing keys to help the group reach their growing audience. In fact, the group’s most recent album, In Your Brain, was recorded in his basement. “It was all do-it-yourself,” he said. “Me and the guitar player, Ian McDonald, co-produced and engineered the record together and the process was very organic and spontaneous. We’d get together as a rhythm section on Saturday’s and write, and then that day we’d roll tape. There wasn’t any demoing or sitting on things for too long, it was a very organic process.”
As to why they did it that way, Finnigan points back to the way some of the band’s favorite records were made. “It’s old school because all the things we love, the Stax, Motown and Chess records, were all done that way. You showed up to work and somebody had an idea for a song, maybe a couple of changes, and you worked it out and recorded it that day. A lot of bands don’t do it that way today because people second guess things and say, ‘Hey, maybe we can make this better.’ Yeah, sometimes you can, but for the most part a lot of the greatest music that was ever created was, at least songwise, done in a day,” said Finnigan.
Mixed by Sergio Rios of Orgone, the finished product has a vintage feel that will please funk and soul aficionados and newcomers alike. “Sergio has been a great friend to the band and has been a huge inspiration to me and Ian and he’s been very supportive. He was a huge help and it was an honor to have him mix it,” said Finnigan.
:: Monophonics ::
:: Bluebird Theater :: July 19 ::
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