Jane and Brian Spencer use the word "addicted" when they talk about their vocation as songwriters.
Over the last five years, these Michiganders (who are currently based in L.A.) have honed their craft through consistent participation in various workshops that they seek out between tours. This married couple are known as FINKEL, and they've established their signature sound through a wave of singles they've dropped over the past 15 months. What you'll hear when they come to Hamtramck this weekend to perform as part of the record-release party for local art-rock quartet Saajtak is an invigorating smorgasbord of experimental-pop and indie-electronica — melodic, rhythmic, sweetened with harmonized vocals, and containing a range of sonic flavors, timbres, and instrumentations, all while keeping it simultaneously danceable and cerebral.
"We're constantly creating new and fun ways to limit ourselves," says Brian. This helps them "create something totally new that we never would have been able to come to, otherwise." Jane adds that their newly enhanced versatility was nurtured by the community of musicians they were welcomed into, after their relocation to Los Angeles in 2016.
"We didn't think we would like it because everyone says the same stuff about L.A.," she says. The two met through an a capella group during their semesters at Albion College back here in Michigan, and were good friends and musical collaborators before they eventually got married two years ago. "We performed together at the only bar in town, for pizza and beer," continues Jane. "But after that we started writing music together up on Mackinac Island, where I grew up,"
"We started as an avant-garde folk-duo," says Brian, referring back to 2013 and 2014, when they started performing as Less Is More. "We toured with Less Is More as a duo, and it was kind of our introduction to the national music scene. We self-booked a four-month tour that took us all around the country." They landed in L.A. and quickly became enamored of not so much the glamour and the industry, but of the state of mind.
"And I would argue that you can find what you want out of any city," says Brian. "It just takes a little bit of looking, and a bit of patience and to be staunch on what your morals are and what you want out of a situation. Wherever we live, though, first and foremost, we have a built-in community, because we have each other, so we're never moving anywhere alone." Jane adds that they long ago adopted the mindset that they can create their own reality wherever they're at — "a place doesn't have to be a utopia to be a fine place to live for a while," she says.
But back to the fruition of those writing workshops: "We didn't want to sound like anyone else," is what it all boiled down to, according to Jane. "We developed a taste for what we liked from different realms, like the kind of beats, the kind of basslines," and that went along with maintaining a disposition that's open to change and experimentation across the entire spectrum of the creative process. "Because it becomes more about 'elements' than about specific 'genres,'" she says.
And that, says Brian, leads them to "ignore all of the noise, the tertiary noise that can distract you, like the way the marketplace dictates that artists need to write 'a certain song' or that it needs to be 'this way ...' We're essentially responding to what the music is dictating we do; it's all reactionary."
You might not otherwise key in on the photo you see along with this text: how they're wearing specifically tinted glasses. That's all part of a workshop "that's really been changing our perspective," said Jane. "We went through six months of color-affected writing, wearing certain lenses from the moment we woke up to the moment we went to sleep." Fascinatingly, the duo says it altered their perspectives, as well as their moods and appetites, along with shifting the way they approached the parameters of arranging their latest batch of songs.
"One of the reasons our compositions do vary quite a bit is because we allow ourselves to go into the mindset of practically a different person," says Jane. "Or a different version of us."
Thus, you'll hear a few of these songs that were forged through color-affectation live at the Ghost Light this weekend. And then you'll hear them later this year, as the crowdfunding campaign to bring their debut EP (co-produced with L.A. artist Kush Mody) is nearing its full funding. And while they naturally credit their very recent collaboration with Mody as another means of expanding their perspectives, they especially praise Michigan's own Bill Skibbe (an in-house engineer at Third Man Records), who, five years ago, implored them, in a quasi-pep-talk way, to start pursuing a maximal amount of songwriting workshop experiences.
Looking back to the several years they spent developing as part of the Kalamazoo music scene in the early 2010s, the Spencers both agree that there was some courage required in "taking the leap" to make a big move such as to L.A.
They say they were addicted to workshopping their writing styles, but Jane adds that, really, "we're gluttons for change, in a way." Monotony is the enemy, in a sense. And the way they see it, constantly changing their geographic location is, in itself, also a "form of a writing workshop."
You probably wouldn't be surprised, at this point, to discover that they're both graphic designers, as well as musicians; hence, the expansive-vision and amalgam of experimental approaches to song design. Even as far back as their previous group, Less Is More, they were once told that their sound/style was "like Cirque du Soleil meets System of a Down."
FINKEL performs at Saajtak's record-release party with Duane and Throwaway on Saturday, Aug. 10 at the Ghost Light, 2314 Caniff St., Hamtramck; Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.
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