When Monophonics singer-keyboardist Kelly Finnigan released the solo single “Heartbreak for Xmas” in December 2019, he says it was a way for him and Ohio-based Colemine Records to “dip our toe in the water” and find out whether listeners were open to new holiday-season music.
“People reacted really well to the single,” Finnigan recalls, “so that solidified to me and [Colemine founder] Terry [Cole] that we should make a [full Christmas] record.”
Finnigan’s goal with A Joyful Sound, released digitally in late November and due on vinyl and CD on Dec. 11, was to “include as many Colemine artists as possible to make this feel like a family affair.” And in the end, he did just that, with Cole, Neal Francis and members of Durand Jones & The Indications, along with others from the label, among the performers.
“And I think that’s why on the artwork we decided to have it say ‘Kelly Finnigan Presents,’ ” Finnigan explains. “Yes, it is a record of mine, but it is also me kind of doing the Phil Spector thing: gathering a bunch of great musicians who I appreciate and love, people who are on the label, and being able to involve them and also put a little bit of money in their pocket. [Doing so] would help them out, help take their mind off things and help them be creative. I thought that was a healthy thing to do. And as a musician who really cares about how [the pandemic] is affecting artists, it felt good.”
Another important goal was to have A Joyful Sound feel connected to his 2019 solo album, The Tales People Tell, as well as the soulful catalog of the Bay Area-based Monophonics (the band’s excellent It’s Only Us arrived in March).
“I have the loudest voice when it comes to those records,” he says, “so if someone sat down and listened to all of these things together, it wasn’t going to be a black sheep: ‘Woah, what’s up with this Christmas record?’ I was very careful to be like, ‘This needs to fall in line perfectly with everything else so it feels honest,’ so people don’t interpret it as a cash grab.”
Finnigan is all for other artists writing original Christmas music “instead of just doing the same old songs. You know, in terms of like, ‘How would Lady Gaga do “White Christmas?” Well, she’d do it different than Barbra Streisand. She’d do it different than Frank [Sinatra]. And obviously she’d do it different than Otis Redding. In the end, you’re like, how many versions of this one song do we truly need when there’s only three great ones?”
Once the pandemic hit, Finnigan had plenty of time throughout the spring to write and record the bulk of A Joyful Sound, which includes his aforementioned Christmas single (with the title restyled as “Heartbreak for Christmas”). Meanwhile, he and his regular bandmates were forced to pull the plug on touring in support of It’s Only Us.
“We had a few of those songs in our set when we played in 2019, but to go out and play the record and promote it and present it so it’s attached to the new merch, just the way you roll a record out … to start that process and get so close … it was devastating,” he says. “But it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you know [the pandemic is] affecting so many people in so many different ways.”
Monophonics did get a chance to perform all of It’s Only Us during a livestreamed show Nov. 12 from Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, California, and the band has U.S. concert dates scheduled for next spring.
“We’re going to approach next year still waving the It’s Only Us flag,” Finnigan says. “We’re going to be working on new music, but we’re not going to bypass this set of songs. We’re going to put out a couple of 45s from It’s Only Us, and we’ll probably release a couple of new songs as well. So for the next couple of years, our set is definitely going to be heavy leaning on these new songs because we want to make sure people get to experience them live. At this point, they really know these songs.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Photo by Chris Edwards