Since their formation, Bay Area-based soul outfit Monophonics — Austin Bohlman (drums), Ryan Scott (trumpet, backing vocals, percussion), Max Ramey (bass) and Kelly Finnigan (lead vocals, keys) – have developed and honed a sound that continues in the classic and beloved tradition of Stax Records, Muscle Shoals, Daptone Records and Dunham Records: an incredibly cinematic sound that features elements of classic soul, heavy funk, psych rock and psych soul recorded on vintage analog recording gear paired with a healthy amount of old-fashioned woodshedding and craft. .“We’re from the same school as the producers from the studios we love. We use the tools that we have to make the best records we can,” the band explained in press notes.
Monophonics’ third album, 2020’s It’s Only Us, which featured “Chances,” and “It’s Only Us” received praise from the likes of Billboard, Flood, Cool Hunting and American Songwriter, while selling 10,000 physical copies and amassing over 20 million streams across the various digital streaming platforms. Thematically, It’s Only Us touched upon unity in a fractious and divisive world, strength, resilience, acceptance — and of course, love. (Hey, it can’t be ol’ school soul without love songs, you know?)
The acclaimed Bay Area-based soul outfit’s fourth album, the Kelly Finnegan-produced Sage Motel is slated for a May 13, 2022 release through Colemine Records. The album’s title is derived from an actual hotel. What started out as a quaint motor lodge and common pitstop for travelers and truckers in the 1940s, Sage Motel morphed into a bohemian’ hang out by the 1960s and 1970s: Artists, musicians and vagabonds of all stripes would stop there as seedy ownership pumped obnoxious amounts of money into high-end renovations, eventually attracting some of the most prominent acts of the era. But when the money ran out, the motel devolved into a hot sheet hotel.
If the hotel’s walls could talk, they’d tell you tales of human highs and lows, of a place where big dreams and broken hearts live, and where people find themselves at a crossroads — sometimes without quite knowing how they got there. And thematically, Sage Motel tackles all of those subjects while seeing the band further cementing their reputation as one of the world’s premier psychedelic soul bands.
Sage Motel‘s second and latest single, the swaggering, “Love You Better” continues a remarkable run of period specific, cinematic soul centered around Finnigan’s soulful vocals, twinkling keys, hip-hop-like breakbeats, a gorgeous horn arrangement, an expressive and lengthy flute solo and an all-woman backing vocal section. But underneath the prideful swagger, the song captures the bitter heartache of someone who gave a relationship — and their partner — their all, and yet still wound up being taken advantage of and abused.
“The song ‘Love You Better’ is rooted in the spirit of soul music and hip hop,” Monophonics explain. “It’s a braggadocio tune with a clear message to the one you loved that no one will ever be as good to them. It is that feeling of knowing you gave your all to your partner and really tried to love them the right way, only to be hurt and taken for granted. It’s empowering and important to have that self worth and remind somebody that they really missed out on a really good thing.”