Kelly Finnigan – The Tales People Tell

"My music is soul music." Damn straight it is. A conversation with Kelly Finnigan.

Photo: Whitney Pelfrey

Shake out your bones and shuffle your feet. It’s time to get down, people. 

Kelly Finnigan, the lead singer of Bay Area-based indie-soul group Monophonics, has just released his debut solo album, The Tales People Tell, on Colemine Records. The 10 new, original songs sound both timeless and current, a credit to Finnigan’s sense of craft and his blending of classic soul with the R&B and hip-hop grooves he started out sampling as a DJ and producer. 

In between the first two stops on his North American tour for the record, Kelly graciously took time to exchange emails with WtMM. 

[WtMM] Congratulations on the new record! Every album has a story to it (or a lot of stories). What’s the story of The Tales People Tell? How did it come to be? Where did the title come from?

Being a songwriter and singer, I very much feel like a messenger and a storyteller. I also grew up in a house with two parents who were great at telling stories. The stories in the lyrics and compositions is a big way the listener connects or feels connected to the song. I’ve always loved that aspect of songs and music and it seemed like an appropriate title for this group of songs. 

You’ve been playing music nearly your entire life. What needed to be in place for you or what needed to happen to write and release this record now? 

Well, I actually didn’t start playing music till I was 20 years old, and I didn’t start singing till I was around 29. I was a late bloomer as I was more into vinyl, Deejaying, sampling and making beats. The process of this record was extremely organic. During the downtime after Monophonics’ last record and tours I was feeling inspired and started writing some songs and working out ideas. I was just writing or co-writing with friends or musicians. Once I got an idea, I would work it out and get it developed. Then once those ideas developed, I would put them down to tape. After I got a handful done, I started to see these songs as a really strong start to making a great record. So I kept on writing and recording until I had about 12 done. The first 5-6 songs I made with a very loose and fast approach which I love. But, as I wrote more songs, I really started crafting the last few with great detail to ensure that they all were unique with the right kind of character and they had something special.

To our readers who have never heard of you, how would you describe your music and craft?

My music is soul music, steeped in the traditions of R&B, Doo Wop and Gospel but inspired by today’s world. I like to make records using a lot of old-school techniques and recording equipment but also embracing all the great tools that today’s technology offers.

What track off this record is the most exciting to perform? 

Honestly, it sounds cliché but I’m really enjoying performing all the songs off the record. I will say there is a certain special vibe to Impressions of You live. 

What are some of the things you learned in making The Tales People Tell that hit you hardest?

Can’t say that I learned anything, but making this record solidified that I feel very at home in the studio and that I’m good at producing and making records from the ground up. I feel very comfortable taking a leadership role and being hands-on with all aspects, whether it’s the songwriting, the recording, arranging or the mixing. 

For you, what’s so powerful about soul music?

It is truly a feeling, so it’s hard to explain. But, I think it’s the honesty, vulnerability, and the emotion that lives inside the music and lyrics. And a lot of soul singers bring a level of emotion that can tug at your heart. 

What comes first when you write songs: music or lyrics?

It changes with each song and each time. Sometimes it’s one before the other or vice-versa. I don’t have just one process of writing. If I feel inspired, I’ll sit down at the piano, play some chords and maybe stumble across something I love, or maybe I’ll come up with a phrase or melody that I like. 

When writing the songs for this record, were you conscious of crafting them to sound —or not sound — a certain way, e.g. like classic soul tracks? Did you care? 

My goal is to make timeless music, so, of course, that takes a certain je ne sais quoi. But, I make records with my ears and heart. I don’t like overthinking or calculations when it comes to creating. It’s a gut feeling and if I dig something, I move on and don’t second guess the decision. 

Besides the release of your own album (!), what’s going on with soul music now that excites you? 

What excites me the most is the fact there there are a healthy amount of talented soul artists and bands doing the music a great service. 

How can people get their hands on The Tales People Tell and where can they catch you live on your tour?

Well, the physical LP and CD are available at most fine music stores worldwide, except I believe it’s basically sold-out so you might have a hard time finding it. Of course it can be streamed or digitally downloaded on all the usual places.

Yes, I’ll be doing some shows coming up soon in Kansas City, Columbia, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. All dates are on my website or on the Internet 🙂 


Big thanks to Kelly Finnigan for taking the time to rap with WtMM. Look for “The Tales People Tell” at Colemine Records and/or your local record store and/or on the sites below. Learn more about Kelly and find him on tour on his website.

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