Band leader Kelly Finnigan talks about Monophonics' new album
In an interview with KNKX ahead of the Monophonics' concert at the Crocodile on Sept. 22 in Seattle, Finnigan spoke about the concept behind the new album and their retro-psychedelic soul that's connected to, but not stuck in, the past.
The Sage Motel is a real place in Oakland, a run-down wreck that's seen few recent renovations. Finnegan explained that the band was inspired by the possibilities of writing for the characters that might populate such an establishment, people at the crossroads of life.
The result is a fascinating concept album that tells an extended story, a soulful film score vibe with individual songs — or scenes — that make up a bigger picture.
As the album's producer, it was important to Finnigan to make a full album statement, a mood connecting the first second of the first song to the last second of the final song. "I'm a huge fan of cinematic soul," he explained.
The Monophonics sound has a core of pure soul, but the vintage production derives from recording preferences rather than a desire to copy the music of the past.
Finnigan explained that he and his bandmates appreciate the craftsmanship of old school recordings, capturing imperfections that retain the happy mistakes that come from musical collaboration.
"We like texture, warmth, character...it sounds like music made in 2022 but by people who really understand how records were made in 1960 or 1970," he said.
"We're not reinventing the wheel, we're just reminding you how much of an amazing invention that wheel is."
Classic soul, psychedelic rock, pop elements are all there on Sage Motel. It's Black American music, Finnigan explained, directly connected to the blues and jazz legacy.
He described their Seattle-based trombone player Jason Cressey as a jazz musician in a soul setting. Finnigan's high singing voice brings to mind the legendary Curtis Mayfield, blended with the smooth delivery of modern soul star Mayer Hawthorne.
Most of Sage Motel's songs settle into midtempo grooves or slow burning ballads that evoke the characters' hopeful desperation. The album's first single "Warpaint" picks up the pace but continues the mood, released recently with a video that brings you inside the rooms and lives of people in desperate situations. A catchy melody, classy backup singers and a sharp horn arrangement make this an instant favorite.
As for his own motel stories, Finnigan says he's been pretty lucky with accommodations on tour. Except for one memorable stop when the band all walked out of their motel rooms at the same time and promptly returned their keys, "somewhere in Texas" Finnigan said.
Monophonics perform at the Crocodile in Seattle, Sept. 22 with Colemine Records labelmates GA-20 and Kendra Morris. You'll hear soul, blues, funk, psychedelic rock that night, but Monophonics continue to push the boundaries of these genres. They're simply making Monophonics music. Take a trip with the band to the Sage Motel and explore the musical mysteries therein.
The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND