An eclectic 13 song album of blues rock ballads, intertwined with lyrically harrowing tales of loss, pain and sickness.
Melbourne blues-rock band FINN are set to release their new album ‘Stonewalling’ on May 28, a meditation on an eclectic range of topics from world wars to COVID-19. An album that twists and turns through some of the deeper aspects of the human condition yet stays married to a sense of groove and lightness. The 13 track LP asks you to think and still gets you to move. A balance that isn’t simply achieved, but so simply felt, and all the while making it all seem really easy.
Our first taste of ‘Stonewalling’ came from the seven-minute single ‘The Firing Line’, a sombre track of tragedy on the front lines of Europe in World War One. A potent introduction and taste of what is to follow, this song doesn’t need to rush, as it paints a vivid picture of a soldier’s demise on the front, embellished with colours of bluesy electric guitar licks over a bed of acoustic rhythm. Frontman Mark Finn admits “it isn’t your conventional single”, yet with the company of songs like ‘Go to the Wire’, set in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and “Donald Trump Blues”, it couldn’t be better placed to introduce the album.
Speaking on his songwriting and recording process for the album, which happened over lockdown, but culminated in a week at Sing Sing Studios in South Yarra, Mark speaks on his influences, and why this collection of songs came to be so reflective of the turbulent times we were facing as a community.
“I’ve never really been a huge fan of current, topical songwriting. Because it can be quite temporal. But it’s the first time we’ve kind of done current topics like ‘Donald Trump Blues’ and ‘Second Wave’. So maybe it was just the environment. And I guess it was just hard to avoid the oppressiveness of the period, we didn’t want to sort of provide strong opinions on things and be political. We just wanted to try and capture a mood.”
“One of the things I’ve always enjoyed and respected is the way artists like Bob Dylan would pick a topic and go deep. Like the songs ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Joey’. I think that can be quite liberating for a songwriter. You almost remove yourself or become a third party to this theme. It also opens up a great vocabulary on things. You can stick to this constraint or landscape and really go deep.”
The track ‘Go to the Wire’ is a tune, like ‘Donald Trump Blues’ and ‘Second Wave’, that’s reflective of this type of songwriting. It sees the band produce what may be the most harrowing corner of the album, inspired by the book ‘The Happiest Man on Earth’ by Eddie Jaku and his time in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Sonically, a plucked acoustic guitar offers a hopeful light amongst melancholic strings offering a bed for the lyrical content to really shine through.
“The story on ‘Go to the Wire’ is that I bought The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku, this book that speaks on the lessons he’s learnt in life, and they’re lessons for everybody, and this is with the backdrop of being a survivor of Auschwitz. The inmates had this expression, “Go to the Wire”, which was basically them saying go and grab onto the electric fence surrounding the camp, which was for them the best way out in a bad situation. And I think with such heavy material like that I just wanted to go deep on it and resonate those ideas into music. Music that people can latch onto.”
Good albums let you know what they are. They keep a string running from the first to last track, that guides the listener through the world it creates, in a way that’s interesting, but still unpredictable. It opens doors you thought were locked. ‘Stonewalling’ is one of those albums, because amongst the explorations of loss, death and sickness, comes a balance of groove, grit and movement, in their effortless marriage to the classic blues-rock style, reminiscent of the legends like Hendrix, that offers light to the darker moments, and it’s how FINN approach the recording process that allows them to achieve this.
“We make deliberate choices in the studio about the direction of the song. Then we get specific on what contributes to or detracts from that. We try and make a stamp or draw a line around what the song is, then really double down on that.”
And it’s in each track’s self-assurance that we can find a real expression of creative control and cohesive storytelling.
The songs of ‘Dead or Alive’, a real blues-driven groove that will clearly be a high point at live performances, or ‘Tangerine’, with its charisma and screaming guitar tones, walking us through musings of illicit substances, offer lighter counterpoints to the heavier narratives of the album. The twists and turns these take us on are welcomed and made all the more enjoyable with displays of serious musicianship.
But the lyrics and songwriting are what really distinguishes ‘Stonewalling’ as a standout local release. And what’s more evident, from speaking with Mark, is that FINN is not resting on their laurels. 25 songs came from their week at Sing Sing studios, yet only 13 made the album. This 13 was representative of a narrative-driven collection that delves deep into dark topics, whilst balancing those with classic blues oozing confidence and class. Yet the songs that didn’t make it, will not be lost to our longing ears. Later this year, Mark teases the band will be releasing another album, inspired by the sounds of E.L.O and George Harrison. Warmer, melodic flavours, shifting from the cool, blue tones of ‘Stonewalling’, into an album welcoming a new direction for the band.
So rather than offering an instruction, a way they think we should see the world, FINN give us a vessel for catharsis in this upcoming album. A meditation on deep and powerful subject matter, from concentration camps to the impact of the pandemic, with musicianship that allows us to be placed in these situations and understand them from a new perspective. ‘Stonewalling’ isn’t an album that forces you to listen, rather an album that lets you sit back and flow through these moments of pain, into moments of lust and allure. A ride that is very much enjoyable, and in contrast to its name, ‘Stonewalling’ offers no barriers, just an experience we should all jump into.
Stonewalling by FINN is out May 28. For more info on the band, click the link here.