The Monophonics heard on the new It’s Only Us — out March 13 and premiering exclusively below — sound a bit different from the band that recorded 2015’s Sound of Sinning or 2012’s In Your Brain. And as excited as he is by that personally, frontman Kelly Finnigan understands the San Francisco Bay Area troupe is asking fans to make the musical stretch with them.
“Our last record came out in 2015, and a lot has happened as musicians — and people,” Finnigan tells Billboard. “There’s been growth and finding new ways to explore the sound, personal growth, people starting families, taking on new challenges in their personal lives. I think that always creeps into the music.
“It’s funny because like any artist you’re looking to show growth and trying not to repeat yourself. But being such a big music fan myself I remember obsessing over a band’s next record and going, ‘What are they doing?!’ when they change it up. So being the artist and being on the other side of the glass is interesting.”
Weighing in at eight tracks and a vinyl-friendly 40 minutes, It’s Only Us finds Monophonics shifting from the tight songcraft of previous albums into polished but expansive soul music in the vein of Curtis Mayfield and ’70s Marvin Gaye. Flaunting grooves and textures accented with a horn section, Mellotron, Moog synthesizer and flowing melodies — along with lap steel and strings — the album has a retro but timeless sound that could fit easily on a vintage Blaxploitation film soundtrack or in a festival field.
“We’re all big fans of soul music, and we’re not afraid to wear our influences on our sleeve,” says Finnigan, whose father was a musician and grew up on a diet of Ray Charles and, at Christmas, Mahalia Jackson. “We want you to hear something and say, ‘Oh, that reminds me of Isaac Hayes.’ That’s a compliment. We’re not afraid to say, ‘These are the artists we love, and we’re influenced by them.’ We feel so fond of their sound and the impact they made. I want to young people to know who Curtis Mayfield is, who Isaac Hayes is behind being a voice on a cartoon (South Park) or just being the Shaft guy. These guys are architects of this music. Everyone should know who they are.”
Finnigan, who also released a solo album recently, feels It’s Only Us is full of stylistic pushes for Monophonics, including an expanded use of live strings. “We really stretched the length on some of these songs, too,” he notes — particularly tracks such as “Tunnel Vision,” at more than five minutes, and “Last One Standing,” which heads north of seven minutes. “Writing a song like that, you’re willing to say that, ‘We’re willing to break the mold’ and do an arrangement and production that’s a tip of the hat to Curtis Mayfield or whoever — something we would not have done before,” Finnigan explains. “We want to show we’re not a one-trick pony, but we really do keep in mind our roots and why people were attracted to this band before. I think there’s enough of that still on (It’s Only Us) for people to grab onto and then take that next step with us.”
Like other acts, Monophonics are battling COVID-19 issues on the road, including a wiped-out South By Southwest itinerary. Nevertheless, Finnigan is “extremely excited to share the new music and go to some cities we haven’t been to in a while.” And there may even be some more new music to play before too long. “We’re pushing this record as such,” he says, “but we do have a couple other songs we’re gonna slip out later this year so we can keep the conversation going past this spring and summer. I think you’ll be hearing quite a bit of music from us.”