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Through a Song: Kelly Finnigan of Monophonics talks style, substance

Courtesy Monophonics

Musician Kelly Finnigan of the band Monophonics was set to spend much of 2020 on the road in support of his band's new album.

The COVID-19 pandemic put some of the group's plans on hold, but there were a few positive things that happen for the band.

Monophonics will perform at Wave on Saturday, Dec. 4.

The band is fronted by Kelly Finnigan, who has spent his share of time in Wichita over the years. He is the son of late keyboardist Mike Finnigan and Candy Finnigan, author and a regular on the A&E series “Intervention.”

The vocalist/keyboardist fondly recalls spending time with his mother’s family in the Air Capital, eventually making the city a regular tour stop with Monophonics across the last decade.

Kelly Finnigan has also issued a number of solo recordings, including the Christmas album “A Joyful Sound” and the well-received 2019 collection “The Tales People Tell” in addition to a variety of production and studio credits with acts such as Blackalicious and Orgone.

Monophonics’ incorporation of soul and psychedelic sounds are on full display via the 2020 album “It’s Only Us,” issued on the Colemine label. The label has become home to acts such as Black Pumas, Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio and Rudy De Anda, who will also perform at Wave on Saturday.

Finnigan recently spoke with KMUW about the group’s sound and how 2020 turned out to be a better year for Monophonics’ profile than expected.

Interview Highlights

Monophonics is a band that's known for its live shows, as well as its records. But 2020 was, for most people, very much about being off the road. What was the year like for the band?

We released a record on March 13 of 2020. March 13 was that Friday, where basically everybody was told to stay home from work, everything’s shutting down. There’s no more anything except grocery stores and hospitals.

We spent those first few months really just promoting the record, not being able to tour but just trying to be active online and on socials and keeping an open dialogue with the label, Colemine.

So having a new record out, and then having one of the major ways of promoting it completely off the table, it has to be a kind of point of frustration. So how do you sort of continue to promote it and get the word out there and get it in people's hands at a time like that?

Pre-sales did great for the record. There was a lot of people who pre-bought the record. Obviously everything was kind of shut down but [the record] was still available for streaming. Someone couldn’t walk into a record store and buy it. By April, May, a lot of shops figured out, “Oh, I can be safe and have a very small team of people shipping so people can make online orders.” The record kept moving and kept selling and has done, up to this point, better than any record of ours, which is interesting, just considering everything. That says a lot about the growth of the band and the record and Colemine. I think part of what people needed was new music, new media, something new to distract them, to keep them busy, to keep them calm. I know a lot of people that just spent so much money on new music in 2020 because it was kind of this savior to them.

In 2019, I didn’t have a lot of time for recreational listening. In 2020, I wasn’t going to concerts, I wasn’t driving to work. All of sudden, it became a matter of, “I can listen to this and this and this.” It wasn’t all stuff that was related to my job. It was like being 15 again.

I definitely dug into my vinyl collection. Some things I hadn't heard in a while. So I agree. We got really lucky in that sense, the pandemic didn’t harm the reach of our record. People have really embraced it.

Monophonics is known as live band but you also make these studio albums that have specific production touchstones. Is there much in the way of discussions about how the songs will be replicated live?

We’re very much in the mindset of the Beatles or Brian Wilson. We just want to be cool. We want to use whatever tools and sounds and textures and approaches are available. A record is its own thing. Live, it’s really about presenting the songs in a form that has a new energy. Especially with the older songs.

One of the things that I really love about Monophonics is that there’s a certain aesthetic that’s in tune with records from the ’60s and maybe early ’70s. And yet it’s not a museum piece. It’s evident that this is a band that exists in 2021 and is thriving. It’s not about not letting contemporary influences in.

We're fans of the way that older records were made and the sonic quality and an overall vibe and approach, which is human beings in a room creating art and expressing themselves together. Of course, we approach it [from the perspective of], “This is today; this is now.” We’re not stuck in a time capsule, and we’re definitely not trying to re-create something or, like you said, a museum piece or a copy. It’s just that we’re so influenced by a lot of older records and a lot of older groups that that just comes naturally because it’s what we know, what we feed ourselves with, that art. We’re sponges, so it’s just going to naturally come out the way the drums sound or the way I’m singing or the way the horns are playing. That’s our influences, which happen to be a lot of older music.

It's funny because I remember listening to the radio with my grandmother one morning, probably in the early ’80s. She was in her 70s at the time; I was about 10. We heard this Elton John tune and she said, “That’s an old song.” What she meant was that it reminded her of something she’d heard when she was young and that she liked it. So, here was this unlikely bridging of generations through one tune.

That’s the beauty of music and the power of music is the fact that people who are generations apart can have the same moment with a piece of music that brings them together, connects them. They share something through a song.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.