"I'm sorry if it's a little rough tonight," Carolyn tells me. It's the end of May in Santa Barbara and I've met The Finches at The Biko Garage in Isla Vista to record their show for One Night Music. Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs--who is in actuality as cute and well-formed as her name sounds--is best described as pure sweetness, as dicentra spectabilis, lemondrops, or CPR. She has been travelling a lot recently, and subsequently the band has had little time to practice. Still, there's no need for her to apologize. The Finches are awesome. Their songs have been strangely lodged in my head for the past month, looping between three of their catchier tracks to make a sort of Finches shuffle in my head.
It seems everyone else at Biko knows The Finches too. They've played before at the Pink Mailbox, another Isla Vista SBDIY venue, but I first heard them while channeling Joanna Newsom on Pandora. If you like this sort of quirky-folk-meets-fun-indie-pop, The Finches will stop you in your tracks. Carolyn's voice--mighty yet somehow delicate at the same time--is one of a kind, perfectly suited for her songs' gentle, lilting melodies.
Once an acoustic duo based in San Francisco, The Finches are now an electric trio from Los Angeles. Carolyn writes their songs, sings lead vocals and plays electric guitar. A visual artist as well, Carolyn created the artwork for their original EP Six Songs, their full-length album Human Like a House, and their new maxi CD single Dear Mili. On stage, Carolyn asks, "Do you guys know what a ‘maxi single' is?" She explains: one new song, several new versions of old songs, available for five dollars. Carolyn's accompanied by Gerry Saucedo on bass and Cam Jones on drums. Carolyn will tell you that Gerry gives the best hugs. Both Gerry and Cam sing harmonies, and together, the trio creates an especially full sound, lush in vocals and a bit rockin'.
During their set, The Finches are comfortable and easy-going, despite their relatively new line-up. Biko is packed with its typical indie-co-ed/artsy-co-op crowd, and by the end of the show, everyone's heart-warmed and dancing. Michael Albright films up front, and I stand at the back of the crowded room, Zoom mic in hand. It is not long before my arm throbs holding still, but I hear all my favorite songs. Step Outside, one of The Finches' more accessible and radio friendly tunes, is a kind of pastoral: a call to go for a walk after being cooped up all day. Deceivingly simple, it has clever lyrics and a two-part refrain that's layered as the song builds, resulting in different lyrics sung simultaneously. Daniel's Song is for Carolyn's brother. It's a good-natured ode to surviving their parents' house and to sticking together: Daniel, you can take the bus, but if you're not feeling right, I can pick you up ‘cause I kind of like to drive. At the end of the show someone requests Last Favor, a bittersweet break-up song of incomplete farewells, run-ins with former loves, and overdue goodbyes. In dreams, Carolyn sings, in dreams, we never say goodbye. Goodbye, goodbye...
Earlier that day, I sit in a busted lawn chair, alone in my ex-boyfriend's garage, at the house where we lived for nearly three years. I am selling my things. I did this yesterday too, to great success. But today the fog is heavy, the air misty, and the sky threatens rain. And so I am alone, surrounded by things--my things--I haven't seen in five months. I hate these things, the weight they carry. Disheartened, I pack up early. Goodbye, goodbye. At Biko, I am alone too but surrounded by familiar people. Here, I am not my things, my throbbing elbow, my worn and heavy heart. I am this bopping, this bass, these thirds, these fifths, this lovely voice, this pulsing and excitement and love. Oh, the beauty. I must share The Finches! Here you go, friends.
Recorded in Biko Garage, Santa Barbara, CA on May 31, 2009.