So far in our At Home – Creative Isolation series we’ve featured some very inspiring artists who have given us an insight into their daily routines which hopefully have helped other artists to maintain and make it through this pandemic. For the next featured guest, we have one of my favorite singers who has taken the modern day soul scene by storm while carrying on with the essence and tradition of what made greats before him stand out and become legendary. Having recorded both solo and group effort albums as well as a handful of 45’s, Kelly Finnigan has been rather busy with recording and touring, that is until everything recently came to a standstill. So how does someone that busy suddenly go to not being so busy without losing their creative drive all while staying physically and mentally healthy? Let’s find out all we need to know from Kelly himself, at home in creative isolation.
Skeme – As a singer / songwriter, when did you realize that you had these talents inside of you and who were some of your inspirations?
Kelly – Well I didn’t really start singing until around 2009/2010 and didn’t really start writing lyrics until 2011 so technically I was a late bloomer in both regards but once I started, I took to both pretty fast. With singing, I think I might have suspected I could, but I just never felt the need or want to. To give folks some background my father has been a professional musician since the late 60’s and is an incredible singer. I have witnessed him get praised as a vocalist by legends such as Etta James, Jerry Wexler, Allen Toussaint and Stephen Stills. So of course my father is very much an influence on my singing, my playing, my work ethic and commitment to music. In terms of writing, It’s a very similar journey. I never thought of myself as a lyricist or someone who would play a major role in the creating of songs from a lyrical standpoint, but once I dug in, I really got into it. I would say like most people in the beginning, I had not really pinpointed my influences. I just knew what I liked and what spoke to me. Songwriters I admired when I started are all legends and obvious choices. People like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, James Brown, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Sly Stone, and Leiber & Stoller. As I do with most things, Once I got into it, I really wanted to learn more about it and learn about the people who were writing all these wonderful songs that were not necessarily artists or singers. People like Bert Berns, Dan Penn, Gerry Goffin, George Kerr, Burt Bacharach, Holland, Dozier & Holland and Gamble & Huff. When it comes to my singing influences, it’s really a wide range of people because I love those razor throat singers who came out of the church like Syl Johnson, O.V. Wright and Lee Moses but I also love the smooth and falsetto sounds of Eugene Record, Mike James Kirkland & William Hart. And of course I love all the greats like Ray, Sam, Aretha, Marvin, Donny, Gladys, Smokey & Otis.
Skeme – You have a wide range of musical styles that are present on your albums, what genres or artists were you listening to as a youth and does reflect your output.
Kelly – I’m an 80’s baby so as a young kid I was listening to the radio a lot but my favorite dude was Michael Jackson and Thriller. I wore that record out and was for real obsessed. My parents mostly listened to soul, Jazz, gospel and R&B so I was exposed to music by Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith, Mahalia Jackson, Horace Silver & BB King at a young age. When I was around 12-13 I started getting heavy into Hip Hop and got into DJing. By 14 I was DJing school dances, house parties and events. It exposed me to lots of different music that you needed to have in your crate for those parties. From the age of 13 to 19, I mostly listened to Hip Hop, R&B, Soul, funk & some rare groove, but mostly Hip Hop. Hip Hop Groups such as A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, Gang Starr, OutKast, De La Soul, Dr. Dre, Nas & Biggie were really inspiring and it was through their records that I got into beat making and production. Those years definitely play into my music today and I still proudly display those influences in my records with great pride. I think the biggest thing I took away from Hip Hop and that style of production and the art of sampling is that the quickest moments and smallest details in songs really matter and in turn can inspire someone else to create something fresh and new just from those 2, 4 or 8 bars of music. That made me realize how important the details in production, arranging and the sonic quality of records are.
Skeme – You’re extremely talented in multiple areas and wear quite a few hats. Not only as a singer and songwriter but also as a producer on both, your projects as well as the Monophonics but now you’ve also added playing strings to your repertoire as we heard on “Last One Standing” off of the new album. How important is for you to try your hands at multiple things and do you ever feel like you’re spreading yourself too thin or overwhelmed with being everywhere at once?
Kelly – I’m extremely passionate about being creative and self expression. I’m also very enthusiastic about the process and really love being involved in the production, audio engineering, arranging and songwriting. The studio, recording and making records is what I fell in love before anything, it’s my life’s passion. It was really exciting to be part of the string arrangement for the new Monophonics and I’m very proud of the arrangements and how they elevated the song. Of course being so involved in so many facets of the record can be tough and stressful at times but it’s always worth it in the end when you’re holding the physical record in your hand and witnessing folks embrace the music.
Skeme – Since we’re on the topic of the new Monophonics album “It’s Only Us”, congratulations are in order on making such an amazing album. It’s a beautiful work of art from beginning to end. One of our favorite cuts without a doubt is “Last One Standing” which is a 7-minute excursion of musical joy. It captures 3 of our favorite sounds all in one song, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and Philadelphia International Records. What was your thoughts and process going in and creating such a masterpiece and capturing each of those elements?
Kelly – Well the song came together very natural in terms of the writing and pretty fast. Besides being very inspired by the artists you mentioned above, we were also deep in some groups and 45’s by Brothers of Soul & The Precisions. Once we got most of it put together we talked about a reprise and that’s how it came together with having the 2nd part be instrumental. Considering Curtis’s ‘Move On Up’ is a legendary track and hugely influential, it was only right that the reprise we came up with went in that direction. When it comes to the attention and detail that went into the whole record, this is definitely one of the songs that I put extra time into because I wanted it to make sure the vibe was perfect. A record like that and the length does not happen a lot now a days so I had to be sure It would move the listener and keep them engaged for the full 7 1/2 minutes.
Skeme – You recently finished up your first solo European tour, which looked like you had a great time. As someone like myself who tours as well, it can be a fun and tiring experience being away so long, how was the overall experience for you and what were some of your favorite cities that you played?
Kelly – I’ve done a lot of touring in Europe with Monophonics and working with other musicians but this was definitely special cause like you said it was my first tour promoting my solo record. It was success from all standpoints and I really enjoyed the whole experience. I love playing for audiences in Europe and the UK, it’s a unique vibe compared to the states, plus just exploring new cities & countries. Experiencing new food, art, architecture, culture and meeting a lot of lovely people. Some truly unforgettable shows and plenty of great stories/memories to bring home from this last one. There were so many good gigs and it was a long tour with 30 shows but I’d have to say my top 5 were Dublin, Paris, London, Hamburg & Espinho.
Skeme – You released your solo debut album “The Tales People Tell” in 2019, which is a serious contender for Soul album of the year in my opinion. Were you performing this album on your European tour or did you go in with a new song lineup?
Kelly – Well thank you, I appreciate that. Yeah my set was about 80% songs off my record with the others being some choice covers by artist or groups I love and some soon to be released tracks, so it’s a nice mixed bag. I think people for the most part came to the show’s really wanting to hear the record live so I was happy to oblige.
Skeme – What’s a typical day look like for Kelly Finnigan?
Kelly – Well unless I worked in the studio real late the night before, I usually get up around 9am, get the coffee going and eat something. Check socials, answer emails, make some phone calls and get any business out of the way. Chill for a bit and then I usually get over to the studio around 12pm and start working on whatever needs to get done. Sometimes that’s working on my own stuff, Monophonics, something for Colemine or other artists/bands I work with. This could be anything from recording, mixing, writing, overdubs, transfers, editing. Because I’m at my own studio, I can work at my own pace, take my time and make sure things get done the right way. At the moment I’m focused on writing and recording to finish a project I’m working on with Terry from Colemine Records, that I have dropping near the end of this year as well as mixing a record for a band I’m working with while also recording some acoustic versions of Monophonics songs off our new record which the overseas radio folks love. Unless I’m in a session working with others and we are working late, I try to get home no later than 8pm to eat some dinner, watch something on TV or relax in some way. Then I head to sleep so I can do it all over again the next day. It’s funny for me, because besides not being able to work with many people in sessions or playing shows, the current situation of being quarantined and isolated hasn’t change my life too much schedule wise. I try to get out there and take walks, hikes and be outdoors but I don’t really go out much at night to clubs or bars unless there is a band or DJ I dig. I would much rather be at the studio using my time to be creative.
Skeme – We’re really going through a crazy time with this pandemic situation, which is affecting almost every artist in the same way especially with being creative or being on tour. How are you maintaining as not only an artist being creative but also as a human in general during these times?
Kelly – You know sometimes the current situation a bit distracting and kind of a mindfuck because there’s a lot of unanswered questions and uncertainty surrounding what’s going on. There’s no promise of when things will get back to some sort of normalcy. For the most part I’m staying productive, staying creative and getting things done which is exciting because it means I will have a cannon full of music once everything is back on track. But I’d be lying if I said it’s not weighing on my mind heavily sometimes and it can make it hard to focus when you know that people all around the world are going though it, losing loved ones, friends and family members.
Skeme – There’s no telling how long this will last but what do you have lined up for when things return to a place where we’re able to give the world the art that we create?
Kelly – I got a lot coming between now and around this time next year. A 45 dropping in late May of 2 songs off my solo record, the instrumental version of my solo record from last year “The Tales People Tell” is coming out as an official RSD release on June 20th, a possible bonus kind of track that will be released digitally in early summer. Some 45’s and tracks attached to Monophonics and our new record. A dope new single from Alanna Royale who I have been working with. That full length I mentioned at the end of the year which I can’t say too much about as well as some singles under my name that I’ll drop to keep people satisfied until I start working on my second record. I’m also doing some writing, recording and producing for some other artists but that’s all hush hush at the moment. So definitely a lot coming and more!
Skeme – Any last words or things that you want to plug to the readers?
Kelly – Please just be sure to keep your ears open and look out for my music, Monophonics music, Colemine records, Transistor Sound and anything you might see my name attached to. I think I covered it all. I just really want to show my gratitude to all the fans and people who support my music in any way. Of course I am extremely grateful to folks like yourself Skeme who do so much for music, the culture, the movement and really just making sure you are spreading the word about good music and art so people have a way to escape. We all need that more than ever right now. Keep your eyes peeled for some show dates once we are allowed to get back out there and do the live thing. I am definitely miss that element and look forward to seeing everybody out at the shows and venues!