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Funky Fresh

06/27/2013 11:11AM ● Published by Enjoy Magazine

Funk music emerged when African American musicians invented a rhythmic, danceable form of music mixing soul music, jazz and rhythm and blues.

It never has gone away, it simply evolves.

A bit of the “old style” with a modern edge best describes the Monophonics, a six-piece Bay Area psychedelic soul and funk group.

Formed in 2005, they played local clubs, eventually finding a home at San Francisco’s Boom Boom Room, continuing to hone their chops every Sunday as part of a year-long residency where their evolving style of sound and performance gained a huge following.

After purchasing a vintage quarter-inch 8-track reel-to-reel recorder, they began experimenting and recording with old-school effects such as the maestro phase shifter, space echo and Moog synthesizers in a converted studio and rehearsal basement which they aptly named the Soul Barracks.

Next came their debut album, “Playin’ Simple,” and they took their music around the country, including annual trips to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. They built a following on the festival and jam band circuit.

By 2010, Monophonics had released its second album, “Into The Infrasounds,” followed by the departure of their longtime keyboard player, who relocated to Brooklyn.

After a few temporary musicians sat in, the band found the perfect replacement in East Bay producer, keyboardist and vocalist Kelly Finnigan of the hip-hop group Destruments.

“When I joined,” Finnigan says, “I became the lead singer and front man. I had never had that role before. But I grew up watching my father (Mike Finnigan of the Phantom Blues Band) lead bands and sing, so I had lots of years of absorbing what that was like, which I know has helped. I had sung only a little bit before this band, and mostly in the studio, but the feedback has been more than I could ask for. Support and kind words from fans and friends has been very encouraging.”

Finnigan’s creative input pushed Monophonics to switch gears with its music.

“The band used to only do a couple of vocal tunes and now we are basically a vocal band that does a couple of instrumental tunes,” Finnigan says. “We went back to our roots and the roots of San Francisco and the Bay Area and the whole funk movement. Historically speaking, all of the band loves the classics, the Motown, Blue Note, Etta James, Jimi Hendrix. We are greatly influenced as a band by early Funkadelic records, Sly & The Family Stone, Isaac Hayes and The Norman Whitfield-produced Temptations records, but we also love groups from that time period that flew under the radar like Black Merda, Mandrill, Baby Huey and David Axelrod. In terms of contemporary music, we love artists like The Bees, Tame Impala, all the Daptone records and Truth and Soul releases, the Black Keys.”

The results of this mix can be heard on their latest album, “In Your Brain,” on Ubiquity Records. Says Finnigan, “People of all ages and backgrounds, from all over the world are listening to it and finding out that it speaks to them on many different levels. We just played a show in Paris in front of a great crowd and lots of people were singing along with a handful of songs off the record. We have been experiencing this more and more around the world, which is one of the most flattering things to us.”

Finnigan’s bandmates are Alex Baky (tenor and baritone saxophone, flute), Austin Bohlman (drums), Ian McDonald (electric guitar and electric sitar), Myles O’Mahony (electric bass) and Ryan Scott (trumpet).

He adds, “Music will always reshape, revisit and find new avenues to explore, but it will always stay rooted in the past and play off the inspiration that has come from over 50 years of popular American music. I see funk and soul finding a balance between what will always be a classic sound and approach but also exploring endless possibilities. There are so many subgenres that the possibilities are huge.” •

Monophonics at the Sierra Nevada Big Room July 22, 7:30 pm. For tickets, visit www.sierranevada.ticketleap.com

In Print, Life+Leisure 2013 showtime
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