Finch Goes ‘Back To Oblivion’

Finch bassist Daniel Wonacott talks with Pollstar about the band’s new album, playing this year’s Vans Warped Tour and why he and his fellow musicians prefer to do things “the old-fashioned way.”

Founded under the name “Numb” in the late 1990s, Finch has experienced personnel changes, reunions and breakups during its 15-year history.  But regardless of what might have been happening in each bandmember’s life, the group was never destined to fade away.

This week Finch released its third studio album, Back To Oblivion, on Razor & Tie Records.  Pollstar spoke with Wonacott just days before the LP’s release and got a direct-from-the-horse’s-mouth viewpoint of what it’s like to be the bassist in one of the hardest rocking bands around.

Photo: Jonathan Weiner

Did you join Finch before or after the band’s first reunion?

It was right before. The band broke up after Say Hello To Sunshine.  Nate [Barcalow] and I … are cousins, and we grew up playing music together.  So when Finch was on hiatus in 2005 we started a band called Cosmonaut and played around a little bit. When [Finch] got back together they asked me and Drew [Marcogliese], who was the drummer in Cosmonaut, to be the rhythm section for Finch.

With a hiatus, breakups and reunions, is Finch the band that refuses to die?

Seems that way, doesn’t it?  To us, it’s crazy. We put our fanbase through a lot of bullshit and the fact that they’re still there willing to listen to a new record or come out to a show, follow the band at all, is incredible. … Along with a lot of other bands that started in the early 2000s or the late ’90s, [Finch] still toured heavily and earned a fanbase kind of the old-fashioned way, before MySpace and Facebook.  When you make a connection with people in a live setting, I think that connection lasts. [As opposed to] “Hey, check out my favorite band on Facebook” – there’s no connection there.  Early on the band was able to make a really great connection with the fanbase and it stuck.  That’s more credit to the fan than the band.  They’re a great fanbase.

When you say Finch came up the “old-fashioned way” – are you referring to putting out albums and supporting them by lots of touring?

Absolutely.  We’ve always done as much touring as possible.  We love touring.  It’s probably the thing we’re best at as far as our personalities and our friendships and stuff. We have a blast on the road. It’s awesome.

What do think is special about Finch?

I think with any band, not just Finch, when you have a connection with a band, I think it’s 100 percent about the songs. … It’s just like your favorite band or my favorite band – when it comes down to it, it’s really about a song that moves you.  Someone’s songwriting, someone’s voice, the drummer, whatever it is about a band that grabs you and makes you feel something, makes you feel better, validates your anger or uplifts you when you’re sad – I think it’s a real testament to songwriting.  There are special songs in the Finch catalog.  Those songs to us are ones that come easily. … When you’re in a band … and you’re playing every day, rehearsing, whatever, it becomes pretty obvious when something feels right, feels special.  Especially when you play with the same group of guys forever, you know when those special moments happen.  You’re just trying to create an environment that allows those special moments to happen more frequently, so you have a bunch of special songs.

Finch’s live presentation sounds as if you and your bandmates remember what it’s like to be fans of bands.

We’re a unique bunch.  It’s not like we got together and were like, “OK.  We all love The Clash and Rancid so we’re going to start a band that sounds like [them].”  All of us have a pretty wide variety of influences.  I think that creates a lot of turmoil, internally [but] also creates a lot of magical moments. It has a lot to do with us being fans of music.  We’re pretty passionate about the music we love.  I haven’t been to many shows lately, because I have a family and son … and it’s hard to get out.   When we were younger we went to a lot of shows or just listened to records.

We come from suburbia.  Down in Temecula – suburban hell.  There’s nothing to do but sit around and listen to records.  When we were growing up it wasn’t “Listen to this single on SoundCloud.” It was “Hey, I bootlegged a tape.”  We passed a lot of cassettes around or taped radio shows.  You found out about bands organically.  You fell in love with them because it’s like, “I only have 20 tapes in my collection.  I’m going to listen to all of them … I’m going to find what’s good about each of these bands.”

I feel some of that is slipping away with technology.  Also, I think there’s a very smart music fan out there today that uses Spotify … and the internet to find what speaks to them.  Back in the day it was like, “I paid $12, $18 for this.  I’m going to listen to this whether I liked it the first time or not.”  Then you end up finding something [you like] about it – “That drum beat is cool, that guitar tone is rad.”

In the early ’90s, late ’80s when we were kids, there was such a wealth of interesting music happening with alternative music at the time.  But a lot of those bands took a lot of time to get into.  You don’t put on a Bikini Kill record when you’re 12 and get it right away. It takes time.

Was it always the bass for you?

No, I started on guitar, drums and bass all at the same time. Me and my brother, Nate and his brother, we’re all around the same age.  At some point my dad bought us a drum set.  We had a guitar kicking around and a bass.  The four of us learned how to play all three instruments when we were kids.  We were covering Nirvana songs, Guns N’ Roses, all kinds of stuff as kids.  When one would get bored playing drums, another would step up and play a beat.  We all figured it out in a two-year window.

But guitar was my first passion.  I still write on guitar.  I don’t really write on bass.  I love playing the bass.  It took a while when I started as a musician in Finch, to think about what the role of a bass player is.  I listened to enough records, I played music enough and played in enough bands that I know what to do on the bass.  But when it’s really your job and you’re holding down a 90 minute set, you very quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.  It’s been a really fun musical journey for me to think about how the bass fits in with Finch, how to be little more melodic, how to be tasteful, learn to leave spaces … it’s a lot of fun.

How do you define the role of a bass player?

You have to be able to hold the entire show down.  I’m thinking of it as a performer.  The whole 90-minute set has to be held down by something.  No mistakes.  A guitar can be wild and out of control and it’s cool.  It’ works sometimes.  Bass? Nobody wants to listen to a wild and out of control bass player.  You have to be on your game, have to be focused. 

Luckily I’ve had the privilege of playing with great drummers.  Between Drew [Marcogliese], the drummer that was in Finch when I joined and Alex Pappas, they’re both phenomenal drummers and have very different feels between the two of them.  Both of them bring a lot to the table and it’s a lot of fun to play with them.

Who were the bass players that inspired you?

Flea, probably.  Although it’s very little to do with what my role in Finch is but as far as musicianship, quality and creativity. … Or Krist Novoselic in Nirvana.  With rock music and the bass, you want to have memorable bass lines, stuff that gets people moving and enhances the melody of the song. You want to support what your singer is singing.  That’s always the goal.  So I listen to people like Flea, Novoselic or Mike Dirnt from Green Day.  Except for Flea, it’s not necessarily the most complicated bass playing or it’s not about virtuosity, it’s about finding your niche, finding out what is going to take a song to the next level and on the bottom end … keep it moving.  It’s a challenge. It seems simple but it’s not.

Finch is a high energy band.  Are you drenched in sweat by the end of the show?

Yeah.  We’ve been headlining for a long time, which is a real privilege to be able to do.  But it also means you gotta put in an hour and a half, hour and 45 every night, which is a lot of work.  Sometimes you’re tired.  You’re a month or two into a tour and you’re like, “I’m just going to take it easy tonight.  I’m not going to rock out.” But it’s hard (laughs).  The music starts playing, you’ve got a whole club packed with people and you can’t not rock out.  You got to have fun.  You end up beating yourself up pretty good. … Adrenaline kicks in.  That’s the one thing that’s great about Finch.  And it goes back to what I was saying earlier about songwriting.  When you get to a certain song in a set, there’s always that song that pumps you up.  And it’s a different song, sometimes, than what you expect it to be.  But it feels right at the time and it gets you pumped up and I think it’s a testament to the work we put in with the songwriting.  You don’t want to go out and play questionable songs every night. You want to go out and feel like you’re really killing it.

Do you and your bandmates have any pre-show rituals?

We do, like a little group huddle [and] tell each other to have a good show. But, besides that, there’s usually a fair amount of drinking (laughs).  You gotta get loosened up.  We try not to drink too hard, but it inevitably happens.

What are you hearing when you’re onstage?  Is it the same mix as the audience? 

We don’t have in-ears.  A lot of people have the wireless in-ear packs where you get a perfect monitor mix. Some people in the band have used them before.  We’ve gone in and out [with that].  I think we’re more of a punk rock band at heart.  Whether our music ends up really sounding punk rock or not, I think as far as our ethic on stage and how we think about our presentation and how we play, it’s like we don’t necessarily need all the fancy stuff.  Just give me a kick-drum snare and let me hear the vocals a little bit.  I sing harmony, too, so I have to hear Nate a little bit.  Everyone has an individual mix in their monitors.  Everybody likes something a little bit different.  As long as you can hear a little bit, you should be able to play the show and you shouldn’t complain.  I see a lot of bands that scream at the sound engineer, the monitor guy and it’s like, “if The Beatles can do it at Shea Stadium without hearing themselves, you should be able to do it, too.

Are you ever surprised when hearing bootlegs of your shows and it sounds different than what you imagined?

Yeah.  Sometimes it sounds worse than what I thought it did.  You hear something back and say, “That was a little bit of a mess but the energy is there.”  And others are very surprising [in a good way].  Those are the confidence boosters.  You say, “Hey, we sounded great.  That song really came alive that night.” We don’t have a very formulaic show.  Sometimes it’s really, really good and amazing and other nights it’s a struggle. I think that’s why you go to see live music.  You want to see a special performance.  You don’t want to see someone just hitting all the cues because that’s what the computers are telling them to do.  You don’t want to just hear back tracks out of the P.A.  You want to hear the band fight with themselves a little bit. You want to hear them try to get to the pinnacle of that moment.

There are a lot of great bands that put on amazing shows that have the whole thing dialed in, like Nine Inch Nails.  But Trent Reznor is bringing something else to the table.  His vocal performance and his stage performance is incredible. … They have a lot that goes into their shows.  It’s not like you’re watching a karaoke performance or anything.  They’re really killing it but they’re killing it in a different way.  We’re not like that.  We’re a little bit more of a punk rock band in that sense.

How did you like being part of this year’s Warped Tour?

It was great. … We were kind of dreading it. Warped Tour is notorious for hellish schedules, long, long drives, routings that don’t make sense in 110 degree heat.  But the tour is very well put together now.  They take very good care of the bands.  We were lucky enough to do the main stage and they treat you very well on the main stage.  We kind of thought we would be the old dudes on the bill and no one was going to care but we had a lot of support out there.  It was a real pleasure to do.  We only got to do half of it.  I’m hoping in the next year or two, we can do, maybe, a full run on Warped Tour if that makes sense for us. … We have a lot of friends out there so you end up seeing people you haven’t seen in a long time and you get to watch bands you haven’t seen in a while.

What is the creation process like for Finch?

We’re not one of those bands that sits around and jams for 8 hours and then finds a riff and a song happens.  That happens once in a while but it’s not traditionally how we work. Usually someone comes in with a song idea.  They have a little bit of a chorus, chord progression or a verse riff.  Then we take it from there.  If I write a guitar part or arrangement, it doesn’t always stay the same because I don’t play guitar in the band.  I’ll hand it off to Randy or Alex and they’ll put their own spin on it.  Or, likewise, someone will come in with a bass line for a song and I’ll take that and run with it.  We end up with a finished arrangement, eventually.  Most times Nate is there in the room … and he’ll be trying out melodies or whatever.  Sometimes we’ll write something when he’s not there and send him a quick demo or call him and say, “Hey, come down.  We have a couple of songs.” And he’ll start singing stuff.  Then he goes home and works on the lyrics and melodies.  I think, traditionally, he’s not really done with his vision of the song until he’s in the studio doing the final recording.  Stuff is always in flux.  But for the most part, once we have an arrangement down in the room, it usually sticks.  We end up toying with bridges a lot, and intros, and kind of the peripheral parts of songs a little bit.  When we land on a good chorus, riff, verse or something, it usually sticks and we’ll try to find the ins and outs.

Does Finch have a collection of song parts – riffs, choruses or bridges that you can draw from?

For the new record we wrote probably 30 or 40 demos, scratch ideas, full songs in the varying space of being good and bad.  At least with this record there is a library of ideas sitting there that weren’t finished … or were abandoned for one reason or another.  I think that’s [because] everyone was pretty hungry to make a great record.

The first record [What It Is To Burn], they went and recorded the first 14 songs that they had.  Say Hello To Sunshine, the second record, it took them four years to make that record, for a lot of different reasons.  There weren’t many B-sides that came from those sessions. Then we had a scrapped album in 2009 before we broke up.  That was just a creative mess and was all over the place.  There is a library of stuff out there but … when we go to write the next record, I don’t think we’re going to go back to Back To Oblivion ideas and try to rehash anything.  Those are kind of the casualties of making a great record.  If they didn’t work then they might not work in the future.  Or they might.  You don’t want to discount anything, but we’re pretty adamant about pushing forward. If you wrote a good song a year ago, you can write a good song today.

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You’re just a few days from the release of Back To Oblivion.  Are you and your bandmates nervous during this time or are the days before a new release more like being a kid looking forward to Christmas?

It’s like looking forward to a marriage.  You’re married to these songs and you love them.  But you’re committing to them forever.  There’s a little bit of trepidation in big life decisions like that.  But for us it’s positive.  We’re very proud of the record and we can’t wait for people to hear it.  We know we have a lot of work ahead of us.  We have another year and a half, maybe two of touring. It’s all good.  But [the album] has a weight to it. It’s like, “OK. We did it.  Now we have to go work it.”  We don’t trust just doing stuff online. You have to go out and earn those fans. You gotta play those songs well. 

What do you think fans will like about the new album?

I think they’re going to like that it’s a whole piece.  I know there are a lot of music fans out there that like to listen to whole records.  Vinyl sales are up, big time, and I think there’s a big appetite for digesting whole records.  At least, I would like to believe that.  That’s how we approached this record.  There was never any talk of [needing] a hit single. It’s like, “Does the album make sense?”  I think, hopefully, that will be the gratifying experience for people to put the record on.  It’s not going to go from pop hit single to a bunch of filler.  We wrote this longer statement and I hope that’s what people enjoy about the record.

Also, on more of a surface level, there are a lot of great rock songs on the album.  There’s a great dynamic [song], a couple of slow-burners and a couple of really aggressive songs.  Nate sounds fantastic, his vocals came out amazing.  Hopefully people will put it on and have that headphone moment … close your eyes for 45, 50 minutes and go on a trip with us.  It will be fun.

Photo: Jonathan Weiner
“There was never any talk of [needing] a hit single. It’s like, ‘Does the album make sense?’”

Upcoming Finch shows:

Oct. 4 – Santa Ana, Calif., The Observatory
Oct. 8 – Las Vegas, Nev., Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Oct. 10 – Salt Lake City, Utah, In The Venue
Oct. 11 – Denver, Colo., Summit Music Hall
Oct. 13 – Minneapolis, Minn., Mill City Nights
Oct. 14 – Chicago, Ill., Bottom Lounge
Oct. 15 – Detroit, Mich., St. Andrews Hall
Oct. 17 – Millvale, Pa., Mr. Small’s Theatre
Oct. 18 – New York, N.Y., The Gramercy Theatre
Oct. 19 – Philadelphia, Pa., Electric Factory
Oct. 20 – Boston, Mass., Paradise Rock Club
Oct. 22 – Baltimore, Md., Baltimore Soundstage
Oct. 23 – Raleigh, N.C., Lincoln Theatre
Oct. 24 – Jacksonville, Fla., Freebird Live
Oct. 25 – Orlando, Fla., The Beacham
Oct. 26 – Atlanta, Ga., Heaven At The Masquerade
Oct. 28 – Houston, Texas, Warehouse Live
Oct. 29 – San Antonio, Texas, White Rabbit
Oct. 30 – Austin, Texas, Red 7 Patio
Nov. 2 – Phoenix, Ariz., Joe’s Grotto Music Venue
Nov. 5 – San Francisco, CA  Slim’s
Nov. 6 – Sacramento, Calif., Assembly
Nov. 7 – West Hollywood, Calif., The Roxy Theatre
Nov. 8 – Ventura, Calif., Majestic Ventura Theater

Please visit Finch’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram page and YouTube channel for more information.