2012 has been a good year for Monophonics. The group was initially formed as an instrumental funk and groove outfit more than eight years ago. However the recent addition of singer/Hammond organist Kelly Finnigan to the lineup has opened up a new dimension of the band’s sound that’s enabled them to take their careers to another level. Recently the band even recorded an album for famed funk label Ubiquity.
That record, In Your Brain, is a heavy psychedelic pastiche of rare grooves, funk, soul, and a largely unexplored genre known as “Black Rock.” And while it’s currently pretty easy to name a half dozen or so vinyl groove-inspired funk revivalist groups, no other band at the moment is taking the genre into such heavy psychedelic territory.
“We want it to be trippy,” explains Finnigan, speaking by phone from a festival the band is playing in Tahoe City. “Obviously the title is In Your Brain. The psychedelic movement is drug-influenced and we embrace that.”
Monophonics have been out on tour in support of In Your Brain for the past several months; playing a mixture of club dates for three to four hundred people and festivals with crowds in the neighborhood of ten thousand or more.
“I think we’re making a lot of new fans,” says Finnigan. “If you can write a good song, that talks to people you can really crossover to a lot of different people. That’s what’s cool about music. After you find your sound you can really start turning some heads.”
With the stony tripped-out funk of In Your Brain, it seems that Monophonics have indeed found their sound. The musicianship on In Your Brain is decidedly reined in compared to past releases by the band. The addition of Finnigan as a Hammond-pounding frontman has also helped usher in a new emphasis on songwriting.
“That’s become a new focus,” agrees the singer. “Songwriting was something we wanted to take on because past records had been more about really cool grooves and arrangements. Once you start adding words, there’s just so much more.”
On In Your Head, Finnigan, whose vocal style is a kind of black rock take on blue-eyed soul, spins lyrical tales of urban discontent over the funky wah-wah-driven beds of psychedelic soul laid down by the band; which consists of guitarist Ian McDonald, bassist Myles O’Mahony, sax player Alex Baky, trumpet player Ryan Scott, and drummer Austin Bohlman.
Listening to the album, it’s easy to discern the influence of Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton, Sly & the Family Stone, and even Jimi Hendrix in his Band of Gypsies period. However for many longtime fans of Monophonics, the bands new heavier direction came as something of a surprise.
“We started pulling out heavier songs and people were like `You guys are getting heavier and more rock,’” explains Finnigan. “Yeah, but it’s all rooted in funk and soul. That’s why we really like the term black rock.”
Not many bands are throwing the term black rock about these days. Especially bands from Marin County that consist mainly, if not exclusively, of white guys.
“It’s just a term for a genre,” says Finnigan. “You had people like Jimi Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone, and George Clinton. And you had Freddi Henchi & the Soulsetters, Cane And Able in France, all these black groups and soul groups that while other guys were doing the more traditional soul thing, were embracing the rock sound with guitars, feedback, and heavier drums. That’s how we look at it.”
Whatever you want to call it, it seems to be working well for Monophonics. In addition to selling well in the usual domestic hipster record markets like SF, LA, and New York, In Your Brain is also moving units in Greece and France, while garnering airplay in Seattle.
“It’s taken a big turn in the last six months,” says Finnigan. “We kinda found our own identity. It helped us to reach goals like we signed with Ubiquity and with an international booking agent. Now we’re touring so much and really getting after it and trying to spread the music.”
Monophonics are scheduled to keep touring until August, when they’ll take some time and regroup for their next recording project; possibly a four or five song EP of covers. In the meantime for information on when they might be playing near you or where you can purchase a copy of In Your Brain, check out the Monophonics website.