When Hailey-based band Finn Riggins announced its new release, even their established fans probably didn't really know what to expect from this group known for their eclectic sound.
Finn Riggins is 29-year-old Eric Gilbert on keys, 30-year-old Lisa Simpson on guitar and 28-year-old Cameron Bouiss on drums. The three met in around 2000 while attending school in Moscow and began making music in various incarnations both together and apart. "Cam was playing with Lisa," Gilbert says. "Cam and I were both in Oracle Shack and collaborating with a lot of other bands in Moscow." Their connection through their musical backgrounds, close friendship and, as of five years ago, Gilbert and Simpson's marriage to each other made for an obvious and organic development into Finn Riggins. "Lisa wanted to record a new album," Gilbert says. "I had done some recording and, of course, being her husband, I was going to help her. Cam was playing drums and I started doing some of the keyboard arranging." At the time, Bouiss, Gilbert and Simpson were all playing in a band called Bunnycuss.
"We just thought the dynamic worked really well," Gilbert says, "but we had a different vision [from Bunnycuss] for what we wanted to be doing." In August of 2006, the trio moved to Hailey and started practicing the sounds and songs that would become Finn Riggins.
"We carried some of the Bunnycuss tunes, such as 'Blackrock' and 'Hraka' (both on A Soldier) forward and started writing a bunch of fresh tunes," says Gilbert.
A Soldier, A Saint, An Ocean Explorer is the band's first full-length release and, depending on how you look at it, might be a complete surprise. It's a collection of oscillating time signatures, rumbly drums, frenetic organ/keys and occasionally banal subject matter ("Glove Comprtment [sic]:" "I have a glove compartment / you got to love it, love it") with the three members sharing vocal duties (though Simpson has the lion's share), that sometimes slide into atonal territory. The gorgeous steel drum intros on "Carbonate" and "Pancakes" are indicative of what's to come in both of the mostly instrumental tracks. In "Pancakes," Simpson offers some ethereal vocalizations, and the track ends with a melange of '80s prog-rock bass and synth lines, a binary chant of "zero-one-zero-one-one-zero-one" weaving in and out of the instrumentation.
A Soldier is out on Portland's Tender Loving Empire label—a label still in its infancy—which promotes music, art and literary endeavors. TLE's proprietor, Jared Mees—an accomplished musician in his own right—produced and contributed vocals to the CD. Gilbert said putting A Soldier out on TLE was a obvious choice for FR as the band's and the label's aesthetics are definitely in line. A Soldier is TLE's first major release, an arrangement beneficial to both parties. Gilbert says he knew the relationship would work from the moment FR met Mees at a New Year's party in southern Colorado. Of Mees and TLE, Gilbert says, "[The label] wanted to work with us. They liked our work ethic and the fact that we were touring all the time. We were doing kind of a DIY aesthetic, kind of an arts-and-craftsy approach and that's kind of how they're doing things. It's been cool. It's more like a really healthy partnership as opposed to a typical label/artist relationship." Releasing their first full-length with TLE wasn't a gamble, Gilbert says. "There's a lot of trust on both sides."
There might have to be, considering that FR's music—and even their name—is definitely outside of the mainstream.
At the band's genesis, they called themselves "Finn Riggins,()" odd punctuation intended. (Actually, they probably never called themselves that at all; how do you pronounce open and close parentheses and a comma?) They have since dropped the punctuation. Gilbert explains, "There was never any major decision made about [losing the punctuation]. The title of the album and the title of the last song ("A President, A Pacifist, An Auto Restorer") all play on a concept, a multiple characters thing. The parentheses were kind of confusing.
"Initially, we just wanted to create a character that didn't have a story. We wanted to write that story. We didn't have a lot of pre-associations, although there are some associations that come with the name Finn and a little with Riggins being from Idaho. But we just liked the sound of it. We had this whole concept of this character that we could [assign] different roles to, like Finn Riggins, electrical engineer. Whatever we wanted to do with it. It was a whole blank-slate concept ... It's still a concept we're playing with and we still use it when we feel like it, but we just weren't that attached [to the punctuation] in the first place."
Gilbert explains that the concept of Finn Riggins as a character really came into play when making the album as well. "We basically took three days out of a tour and recorded the album. On that tour, Cam had this encyclopedia and I was reading about characters in history, like scholars, scientists, inventors. We were playing with the whole listing concept, and that's where the last song references that as well. It's kind of weird, but that's how the album came about."
When asked if each of the members of the band was one of the title characters—a soldier, a saint or an ocean explorer—he says, "No, not necessarily. But we chose three consciously because it works well with what we're doing here. It just makes sense. It's a proper dynamic. We found in larger bands, you get stragglers that aren't as committed. It's the strength of the triangle kind of thing. That goes for making the decisions, too. In the trio, everyone is as important as the other. We've known trios that are a little less balanced. We do have a female who sings more lead than the rest of us, but at the same time, there's a lot else that's going on, so it's not like we have a frontperson."
That understanding of each member's importance bleeds into the band members' personal lives as well. "It really helps with the personal strengths. A lot of times, it's the personal stuff that can make or break a band."
Dec. 22, Finn Riggins CD release party as part of the Boise Bicycle Benefit Project, 9 p.m., $5, with The Universal and Secretariat. Neurolux, 111 N. 11th St., 208-343-0886.