There’s a funk and soul music revival that’s been brewing, and Monophonics have found their own sound within that realm. Outside of Sullivan Hall after I witnessed vocalist/keyboardist Kelly Finnigan with his band in full form, he talked about the band’s beginnings, how they found their sound, and how they keep the funk alive.
Kelly Knapp: Tell me about where and how you guys formed.
Kelly Finnigan: Well, the band was formed in 2004/2005. It was a combination of some different bands around the Bay Area. It was one called Blue Lotus, and then another one called Mister Calypso, or something. I actually wasn’t in the band yet. This is what these guys were doing. They knew each other in college, and some of them knew each other in high school. Some of these guys go back…like Austin, the drummer, and the trumpet player have been friends since 5th grade, 6th grade. So some of them have known each other a long time. They’re all from Marin County; I’m from L.A.. Austin kind of put the band together, and they did their thing for a few years, and they got a great following playing around in San Francisco.
KK: And it was totally instrumental?
KF: It was 98 percent instrumental, and they’d bring in this older guy to come sing once in a while, but it was never like, hey this is the guy. So time passed, and their keyboard player ended up deciding to move to New York. He was trying to figure out a way to balance being in NY and being a solo artist and still being in the band, which is impossible. So, they slowly started looking for a new member, and I got called as a sub. I came in and did a weekend with them, and it just kind of clicked really well. When I got to rehearsal, they were like, well, don’t you sing? And I was like, yeah I sing a little. This is only my third year of singing – I had just started singing. So I was like, yeah I sing a little bit. So we learned some tunes and it was fun. Then, they called me to do a tour to New Orleans, and after that it kind of became unspoken that I was in the band. It felt right, we all got along and played really well together. It was like a puzzle that came together. This was two years ago at Jazzfest, and back at that time, the sound that we had was like, oh bands are doing this. It sounded like Galactic or Soulive.
KK: I was going to ask you, what drew you to psychedelic soul.
KF: Well that’s what I mean. Me and Ian, we were kind of the creative force behind the band. We produced the record, and we try to pick a lot of the songs we play, in terms of covers. Me and him are both records collectors, and at that time when I joined the band, we were heavy into psychedelic music. Being from San Francisco, and looking around the scene, there is a jam, hippy thing to it, but nobody uses the word psychedelic. And we don’t even want to be jam hippy, but it’s like, nobody’s using that term, and when you think about psychedelic soul, people think jam music. But really, the person who is the godfather of psychedelic soul is Sly…and the Family Stone. And that’s just kind of hard funk. People go, what’s psychedelic soul? And it’s like, well, it’s soul and funk music with psychedelic rock and 60s rock influence. Which is basically just rock influence.
KK: So if no one says the word ‘psychedelic,’ then what would you call it?
KF: Well, when people ask us we do say psychedelic soul, because that’s the tag that we want, because nobody uses it. And it attracts the hippies, the hipsters, and the diggers - the vinyl people and DJ culture. So we did that. We wanted to be edgier, we wanted to be harder. We tried to put a little more rock, a little more fuzzy, and that’s why you get the delay, vocals and all that.
KK: I also wanted to ask you about the name – your sound isn’t really monophonic.
KF: No, no. Well, that goes back before me, and it just sounds kinda cool and vintage, and I think that’s why they picked it. It is one note, but what I say to people is one sound. When you’re a band, you are trying to be one collective.
KK: Is it more a philosophy for you?
KF: I guess you could say that. I think it was honestly…like I said, this is a college band. So it was like, what do we not hate? Band names are tough. It’s hard to get everybody to go, yeah, I think I like that, I could live with that. I think, them being young college kids, it was like, yeah, we don’t hate that. I mean, they were Blue Lotus.
KK: It’s harder to nail down, without hearing the music, what sound that would be.
KF: Yeah, and we kind of like that. Monophonics – what kind of band is that? I’m not a fan of when you have genres in the name. It came from the Moog synthesizer, which is a monophonic keyboard – one note at a time. But I think, really, it just sounded good. It’s nothing deep.
KK: What do you think is the most important aspect of your sound?
KF: Just that we’re doing something different. A lot of people right now are playing funk, and R&B, and soul – it’s very popular.
KK: Do you think there’s a revival of that?
KF: Yes! There’s most definitely a revival, and it actually started in New York. I mean, the Poets of Rhythm - who are from Australia, New Zealand, Germany - they kinda started it, and then they inspired a lot of people; particularly Gabe Roth, who is Bosco Mann, who co-owns Daptone records, plays bass and writes, engineers and produces all the Sharon Jones stuff. Right now, he’s like, sitting at the top of this mountain and leading this revival of soul music. He’s the guy, which is amazing, because he was like, I really love these records and I just love the way they sound. And where people are like, oh, it’s retro and you’re trying to sound old - no, I just like the way these records sound, so I want to make music that sounds like this. I listen to new records and I don’t like it. People look at that and are like, oh, you’re trying to re-live and make things sound old. No – this was a period, and this is a period I like. You see some people and they still dress a certain way, and it’s like, hello, have you seen a catalogue? But going back to what I was saying, we were like, how can we not change as a band and people aren’t going to go, oooh this is so different! It’s like, alright, it’s gonna be funky, it’s gonna be soulful, and it’s gonna have an edge, and it’s gonna have the attitude of rock n’ roll. We’re a rock n’ roll band that plays soul. We wanted to separate ourselves from all these other groups that are basically just trying to sound like Sharon Jones. They wanna be like Soulive or Galactic. Yeah, we love those bands, but we wanna be this, because nobody’s doing this.
KK: Yeah, there’s a big difference between inspiration and imitation.
KF: Exactly, and that’s a great way to say it. You can be inspired by anything and everything, but what you take and create as your own from that inspiration is very important. Imitating and re-doing what’s already being pushed out there all the time, you’re going to get lost in the mix. That’s why we’re very excited about where we’re at and our sound, because it’s not so different, but it’s enough to be like, woah. And it happens to work so well with the roots of the band, because we’re from San Francisco, and the psychedelic movement is associated with Haight-Ashbury, and that whole scene; free love. We’re really proud of where we are right now with our sound. It’s very rewarding, because it took some time to evolve to be where we’re at today.
KK: When you’re playing live, what are you most conscious of?
KF: The energy of the crowd. There’s a cycle going on. Sometimes when you get on stage there’s an excitement before you even play a note. Sometimes you have to prove – people are like, what’s this gonna be? I want you to have a good time, because I’m up here having a good time, and if we can’t have a good time together, it can be a disaster.
KK: You were covered in sweat before the first song was even over! It was like you had already just played a show.
KF: I always am! It’s just the energy. And I like it when people are right up there (at the stage), because you can feel that. We fuel off you, you fuel off us, and you just get this great circle of, alright, I’m feelin’ it, they’re feelin’ it, we’re feelin’ it, just keep passin’ it back. It’s amazing because it’s the most immediate – you can’t get that from a recording. You can’t replace that feeling of satisfaction right away. When we’re putting it out heavy, it’s undeniable. I wanna see some bodies movin, man!
KK: So what’s next for you guys? You just put out this new album…
KF: We put out the new record last month – In Your Brian, off Ubiquity Records, it’s been going really well. We’ve gotten good reviews, and moving some good units, selling really well at shows, really good reaction. Just gonna keep touring throughout the summer. Then thing will kinda slow down, and we’ll play around California in August. In the Fall, we’re hoping to release a little free download, an EP, then release another album in the Spring. We want to keep a nice flow of releasing new music every year, and then touring, supporting it. We’re trying to cover as much of the planet as we can with music.
KK: And with this repetitive cycle, how do you keep the funk alive?
KF: The funk is inside you. The whole fakin’ the funk thing is true – it’s not like you can’t love it and you can’t appreciate it and want to pass it along, but if you are in this because you know right now it’s at a revival stage, fuck you. You gotta love this music. Funk has gotten thrown in with a lot of these jam bands, and I’m a purist, so I don’t like it because they’re not funky. There’s not a lot of soul in that. Orgone – they’re funky. Brownout, from Austin, TX - check ‘em out, they’re funky. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Charles Bradley, Lee Fields – that’s all soul, that’s funk. You can feel it. You keep it alive because it’s inside you. You just wanna keep that message alive, which is struggle meets love, meets pain, meets happiness, metes life. That’s the cycle of ups and downs, and that’s what funk and soul is.