The Californian singer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, as well as leader of the Monophonics, has released his first solo album, The Tales People Tell, completing the loop of a beautiful family story.
Assertiveness, for a young boy or teenager, often means taking a different path from that of a father. Kelly Finnigan went through this, although he always had an admiration for his father whose co-workers included Taj Mahal, Etta James and Jimi Hendrix (on the Electric Ladyland album). Mike Finnigan – a master of the Hammond B-3 organ – and his wife Candy raised Kelly (born in 1981) in their Los Angeles home where records by Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson and The Jazz Messengers played on repeat. “I was very young when I first saw my father on stage,” he remembers. I was impressed by the fact that what he played affected people in a positive way. I thought to myself, ‘Is that what he does for a living? Cool!'” He was about twelve years old when he was taken on a few tour trips, discovering life on the road and the folk-rock of Crosby, Stills & Nash. However, the young music lover – unsurprisingly a Michael Jackson fan – had no desire to play music himself: “It was the classic case of the kid who doesn’t want to copy his father,” reveals Kelly who distinguished himself by diving into the hip-hop of Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Outkast, The Pharcyde or Souls of Mischief. He even tried beatmaking and sampling. But soul caught up with him eventually.
Kelly Finnigan now lives in Marin County, across from San Francisco, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. When he enters the studio, it is to produce music that his father would certainly approve of. “I grew up with hip-hop but I closed the loop when I became interested in samples from soul and rhythm and blues. Listening to a Pete Rock beat, I wanted to go back to the source: The Delfonics, The Impressions … That is how things have evolved. While I wanted to assert an independent personality, here I am: I play keyboards, I sing, I belong to a band, I founded my own, I record records … exactly like my father! (laughs). I guess I couldn’t avoid it. That’s what I was meant to do.” While he waited until he was nineteen to learn the piano, in 2010 he founded the psychedelic soul group Monophonics, who have now released four albums – with a fifth expected at the end of the year. It was a trajectory partly determined by the soul revival begun in the early 2000s by Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings: “When I first saw them on TV, I was amazed. It was authentic, it was true. I immediately bought the album, I became interested in Daptone’s productions. I loved so much different music that I was still looking for my way. The soul revival helped me find it.”
With a first album under his belt, The Tales People Tell, Kelly Finnigan took a new step forward, expressing his pride in being the only master polymath in the game: “No one else in today’s soul music composes, writes, performs, produces and arranges at the same time. No one! No one! I don’t have Gabriel Roth [founder of Daptone Records], I don’t have Leon Michels [Big Crown Records] and I don’t have Tommy Brenneck [Dunham Records]. I’m Sharon [Jones] and I’m Charles [Bradley]. I am my own team.” Having been truly involved in songwriting since 2012, he had already put together five songs when they fell into the lap of his friend Terry Cole, founder of Colemine Records. The idea of an album was born from that, and five additional tracks completed a set that features, in the main, stories of broken hearts. “I’ve had my share of heartache, I’ve caused it too,” says Kelly Finnigan. But when I write a song like “I’ll Never Love Again,” I also know that we have all experienced such a feeling after a break-up. These are life experiences with which I want the listeners to identify. Sharing emotions, whether it is sadness or happiness, that’s how I see my songwriting.”
While placing some clues of his love for hip-hop in amongst the production, Kelly Finnigan focuses on unravelling all the colours of the original soul he loves, the one shaped in the 1960s and 1970s in Memphis, Detroit and Philadelphia. He even diversified his singing, developing a falsetto on several tracks to channel Curtis Mayfield. Although he plays about ten instruments, his album has important collaborators, including drummer James Gadson (Bill Withers, Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye) and of course … his father, on the Hammond organ. Mike Finnigan can, in turn, be proud of his son. As the big fans of Sly Stone would say, It’s A Family Affair.
Kelly Finnigan – The Tales People Tell (Colemine Records)