Carolyn Pennypacker-Riggs is in a giggly mood. But that's okay, because it's a Sunday afternoon, and life can't always be serious, can it? Her band, The Finches, make music that's simple and she tells stories that are pleasant, interesting, and, as her laughter would imply, sometimes light and fanciful. The Bay-area based duo have a simple aesthetic, and that's to make simple, enjoyable, pleasant music. I think they've succeeded.How did The Finches come together?
We went to school together in Santa Cruz. We were friends, then Aaron graduated and then I graduated. Aaron was already playing guitar, and I had all these melodies in my head, and I kind of enlisted him in my efforts to get them out! We started with covers, and I gave him a tape of some rough songs I had recorded. He was on tour with his band Roots of Orchis. It's like the opposite of our band! (Laughs) They've got two bass players, no words whatsoever, and they scratch and sample live. Anyway, he listened to the tape on their last tour, and when he came back, he said he wanted to work with me on my songs.Is The Finches the first thing you've ever done musically, in terms of performing and recording?
Yeah, definitely. Well...I did a senior project when I was seventeen, a little EP of keyboard music--you know those keyboard samples they have, with drum patterns and things? (Laughs) I used those. It kind of bordered on Goth! (Laughs)So you're not necessarily coming from a musical background, were you?
Well, my parents were into music. My mom's played music her whole life, but not professionally or anything like that, and my dad, he's actually written a few musicals about scientists. (Laughs) That's also very amateur, but it was fun and I guess that sensibility influenced me as a kid. When I started, it wasn't such a technical experience.Your lyrics are also very narrative. Do you write your lyrics like poetry, or do you come up with a melody first?
Often they'll come at the same time. It's really strange; I'll get a little idea while walking around or washing dishes or something like that, or a little phrase will come to me. Sometimes, it's even just the sound of words. I'll tape record 'em and listen back to them and then try to translate them, but I've written songs in all those ways. But it's easier for me to write when I have a melody in mind.I know there are some who consider themselves to be a bit of a poet, and they'll write their lyrics first and then put their poems to music, and sometimes you can tell these people's styles from listening, and I definitely picked up on the storytelling quality of the lyrics you've written.
I'm usually not trying to cram a lot of words into any particular phrase. That's why you will hear a lot of "and's" and "oh's" -- those are little phrases I insert to help the story move along. It helps the music a bit--I hope! (Laughs)Well, in the 90s, there was the lo-fi movement, with the idea behind it being that the message and the emotion of the song is much more important than technical proficiency. I kind of had the feeling you're continuing that tradition--only better! (Laughs)
(Laughing) Oh, really? Yeah, I can see that. We try to make it sound as good as we can, but we know our musical resources are limited, but we're not intimidated by that.So what are you working on now?
Touring. We're leaving for a California tour on Friday, and it's only a week long. On February, we're heading out to the East Coast, and hopefully in April and May we can do a full tour. I dunno, though--I kind of want to go Japan and play! (Laughs) I went there for the first time in my life this August, and I really loved it, and I came back thinking, "I'd love to work out a tour over there!" We're going out this time by ourselves, and it's the first time we've done that. We're so excited! It's easy for us to travel; we just get into the two-door and go!Another aspect of your record that I really liked was the packaging. Did you do the artwork for it?
(Excited) Thank you!! Yeah, I did. I actually studied art in college--music wasn't my thing at all. So when we got the songs together, I thought, "Wow, this is a really good excuse for me to create an assignment for myself!" It's nice, when I get tired of playing guitar, I'll go and do some drawing, and then I'll be satisfied and will go back and play guitar. It's a great way to work!In the future, do you foresee bringing the two worlds together?
Oh, definitely! We're trying to figure out ways to do that. I'm thinking that making videos would be a nice way. We have an idea about creating this scroll, a rolling one with a super-wide print on it, and the video would be a pan of that long scroll while we play along. I don't know; it's all fantasy at this point, but people have told us that this kind of video is easy to make, so it seems more and more possible.
You never know until you try!
Exactly! (Laughs) That's our motto!Human Like a House, The Finches' debut, will be released on January 30th on Dulc-I-Tone Records