Not all of the members of Fingers of the Sun have the same sense of Carnaby Street fashion as Nathan Brasil. Meghan comes close, in short dress with maracas in hand she could be the little sister of Michelle Philips, while Suzi Allegra is pure Portland Punk, with tattoos and labret piercing, she’s like a mix of Kim Deal and Zia McCabe. Marcus Renninger’s look is probably the most unique of the band, unable to pin him down to any cultural stereotype, his dress is at times tragic but always distinct. If you took Nathan out of the equation, a picture of Fingers of the Sun would look simply like any other hipster band.
“There are a lot of bands who are, like, totally retro-‘60s pop,” Suzi explains, “and we’re not really like that. I feel like it would be a lie if I told people we were and then they came out to our shows expecting to see something like that.” And for anyone who has heard their music this is somewhat exasperating: Fingers of the Sun are probably more heavily drenched in the music of the ‘60s than anyone listed in the history lesson above. Nathan somewhat disagrees with Suzi, stating that he will sometimes tell inquirers of his band that they are pretty ‘60s sounding, but he understands why Suzi would be apprehensive to label them that way. “Musicians never want to be pigeonholed into something,” he says.
When the question of influences comes up everyone at the table has something to say. They have no shortage of bands to list that have inspired their music, but not one of them mentions a single band from 1964-72. Jaimie is into Cat Power and Beach House, Marcus likes late ‘70s bands like Wire and Richard Hell, Suzi lists categories like Space Rock and Shoe-gaze. Even Nathan, the band’s resident Mod, only brings up K Records bands like the Beat Happening, and jazz records by Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. When I bring up Love or the Mamas & The Papas, they will nod their heads and say “yeah, we like them too”, but never take it further than that. It’s clear that the members of Fingers of the Sun do not want to be portrayed as a ‘60s revivalist band… which means they are probably at least a little annoyed at being featured in an essay about ‘60s revivalist bands.
“Sometimes I worry that I’m ripping off a melody,” Nathan says, admitting that their music is indebted to several other bands, “but I don’t subscribe to the idea of pure inspiration 100 percent of the time.” And he defends his band’s borrowing from flower children culture, by explaining that the icons of the ‘60s were stealing from their grandparents playbook just as much as anyone today. “A lot of Paul McCartney’s music could be traced back to the ‘30s. And at the time everyone was wearing antique clothes from the 1890s, drawing posters like Aubrey Beardsley and wearing haircuts from the ‘20s. That skinny, flat chested look had come back, which was totally from the ‘20s.”
Nathan has a point.
Every societal movement has been at least partially indebted to the generation before them. Without the Pixies there would be no Nirvana, etc. But there’s no denying that in the years 1964-72 there was an oil reserve of magic tapped into by the music makers of that time. And it could be argued that it was much too heady an elixir for them to handle, all of them playing with a fire they couldn’t understand or control. Screaming girls, crying and scratching their faces; the sleepless months of amphetamines, recording several albums inside a year; the mania building up to violence, overdoses and ideologies that crumble like rotten cake. Perhaps it’s taken all these decades for one generation to sift through the ash and pluck out the diamonds that still remain, only now able to touch the great monolith without being destroyed by it.
And if that’s true, then Fingers of the Sun are perhaps the only Denver band with the courage to face that challenge down. In Suzi’s song “The Sailor”, she sings about being “stranded between painters painting each other”, which sounds like the perfect metaphor for the Denver underground music scene. Bands that are afraid to look outside themselves for inspiration. It is obvious why Fingers of the Sun would rather not be seen as a ‘60s revivalist band, such a designation pigeonholes them into being simple theater, like Civil War re-enactors or Renaissance Fair jesters. But either way they are music nerds and are highly indebted to their influences, and they are also unafraid to write happy songs their parents (probably) enjoy, all in a city where if the music isn’t steeped in an ear-drum splitting riff, then it just isn’t worth a damn.
A week after my conversation with Fingers of the Sun, they headlined a show at the Gothic, a Denver mega-venue that typically hosts sold-out shows by Coco Rosie or the Dandy Warhols. It was a Hot Congress Records showcase, highlighting the label’s best bands. Fingers were probably the youngest band on the bill, and yet they were the headliners, bringing the sparse crowd collectively to the front to dance and sing along to songs most of the kids in the black hoodies knew by heart. A few acts before them, the Kissing Party performed equally cute songs with a delicate, early Marianne Faithful type singer. The Kissing Party have been around for a few years, establishing themselves at shows all over town. And yet they eked through their songs, seemingly embarrassed by their own sound. Their set was like one long apology, begging forgiveness for making the audience suffer through it. It was like watching a high school freshman at his first slam-poetry night.
But when Fingers of the Sun came on stage they projected a confidence unseen by any other band that night. There was no self conscious posturing, no second guessing the worth of their songs. No desire to try and convince you of what and who they were. The band and the audience all disappeared inside those songs, forgetting where (and when) they were; no trace of the ideology that any art worth liking needed to be 100 percent self inspired. Suzi and Nathan are finally living out the fantasies that so many other bands they were in denied them. Playing music that owes more than a little debt to their grandparent’s radio stations.
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// Notes from the Road
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