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portrait of an artist: bonne finken
the rise of a courageous new singer/songwriter
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)

Some people chase a dream, and others create an elaborate rope and pulley system to capture it and hold it tight, even as it squirms. Singer and songwriter Bonne Finken's determination to have her music heard meant giving up her apartment to raise money for studio time. She and her son led a nomadic life for nearly a year while her debut, “Soul on Display”, was in session.

Maybe more artists should be so bold. Cultivating years of influences from rock, R&B, and funk, Finken’s music unveils emotional purpose unafraid to face the experiences of life, supported by a backbone of experimental rhythms and enhanced with fresh melodies. Strong vocals and insightful lyrics stem from a vibrant spirit evident in Finken’s live shows and on her new release.

So, do you and your son have a home now?

Honestly, the way I look at it, we have many homes, thanks to wonderful friends and family. But, no, we still don't have one of our
own yet. We actually have just started looking and have been stockpiling new furniture, so it shouldn't be much longer.

Looking back, are you surprised at yourself for making that leap?

Not at all, and I'd do it again. Even knowing what I know now.

You turned down a spot on the reality show, "Rock Star: Supernova". Knowing how huge that exposure might have been, what was the catalyst for your decision?

At the time, there was a perfect storm of reasons that all pointed to not going. There wasn't just one reason I didn't go. However, the final thing that made up my mind was during conversations with the series, it came out that they planned to not only air the performance show on CBS -- which is what I was interested in -- but also a reality show on VHI that would air our living day-to-day in the house we were supposed to share, very similar to MTV's “The Real World”. I was not interested in that. So it definitely helped make up my already uncertain mind.

In the current musical climate, what do you think it takes for a woman to push her band and her music forward without becoming a dance robot or wearing a diva cloak?

What I think it takes is changing human nature! To a point, being seen as a dance robot or wearing a diva cloak is out of your control, just as there's no way to have control over everything written, said, or perceived about you. So I think you have to be prepared to weather misperceptions, and have confidence to keep pushing forward regardless, and always remember you're never so good you can't be better.

I also think having true talent and true love and passion for what you're doing provides the best foundation to enable you to have the
confidence to keep going. If you push ahead without having the talent or enjoyment for it, there's more room to be pegged robot or diva.

But, I think that is the case in any profession. If you aren't talented at your job and don't love your job, then why are you doing it? For money or the sake of having a job? Robot. Fame or recognition? Diva.

If you love what you do, it doesn't really matter what others think of why you're doing it. It doesn't change the true fact that you're still doing what you enjoy

Much of your debut, "Soul on Display", reflects the intense energy of your live shows. Was that an organic result, or intentional?

No, it wasn't intentional that it reflect the energy from my shows. However, there was a consciousness of letting the emotion come through. That's more a credit to Jon Locker, my producer. I was a little scared to let it come through that strongly, but he made a comment after I sang one of the songs. I sang it thinking it'd just be a scratch -- there were a few cracks and wavers in my voice and listening to it, and I knew I could do it better technically. Locker blocked the equipment when I went back into the booth and said, “We have our final vocal. I don't know what you're singing about, but I know you mean it.”

That kind of mindset was there throughout the entire recording process, and it's an appropriate one for me. I've never focused on being a technical singer. I've always focused on the feeling surrounding the song. So perhaps that is where both the album energy and the live show energy comes from...the emotion that goes into each song.

Your songs are richly layered with sound. What do you hear as you're weaving them together?

I am going to give an answer to this, but also an answer from my producer, Jon Locker, since I feel he was so involved with this part. What I hear is the story of the song, and what mood or vibe or attitude is associated to the story. So I explain that mood and vibe to Locker, lay the melody line, and then comes the actual instrumentation, then Locker would direct the musicians around the melody line and vibe of the song.

Then as you begin, ideas start popping up, and we simply followed them. I do believe we let every song be what it was. We didn't try to make any song any certain style or genre. Each one was allowed to grow into whatever it became.

Now, Locker says, “I agree with Bonne. We never set out to make a certain type of record. Once we got the basic tracks down, we would just start experimenting with whatever came to mind. She would describe the song almost as a movie and I would just try to make that movie a reality, an aural reality, that is.”

Locker continues: “I loved that there were no rules. Most bands have their band members and everyone is worried about their special part being heard, or even on the song."

"With Bonne, it was, 'Do you want to try some synth here?' or 'We probably need three different bass parts, but no real drums on this one' or 'Let’s (insert crazy idea)' and we would go for it. Sometimes it was awesome and sometimes it was awesomer. Either way, I'm really proud of what Bonne and I, and a pile a sweet players, made from just some ideas in her head.”

You perform with your band the Collective, featuring Jamie Mahan on bass guitar, Adam Ross on drums, and Josh Schryver on keyboards and piano. In addition to dates throughout the midwestern U.S., you’ll play SXSW in Austin, TX, in March, 2009. What does it mean to you to be there, and what are you doing to prepare for the gig?

Honestly what it means to me is that I feel like, “I did it!” Or, maybe now, “WE did it!” But not because it's SXSW. Because I'm going with the Collective. To Austin, TX. When I started the album, I was alone and everyone was hired. I wouldn't have been near as excited about SXSW because to envision taking a hired band down to Austin, TX, for a music festival would have been hard to coordinate.

But now, I'm not alone anymore. I have a great manager and label helping me, and I get to go to SXSW with fun, talented, and passionate musicians who are my band mates and friends. That means more to me than I can put into words. And it makes going to Austin for a music festival another show rather than an event, albeit a super fun show!

And the preparation is coming along quite naturally, really. Our current performance schedule is getting the songs and transitions tighter, and our spending more time together is making the relationships tighter, too. The combination will hopefully make for a good show!

You truly project an attitude of can do and no fear: you're a single mother, you've overcome cancer, and you front a band of original music. So what really freaks you out?

Honestly, what freaks me out is thinking of how short life is. Whether you live to be 30 or 110, life is short. It’s still something I think about daily and am trying to sort through and not have it so ingrained in me. I have a wonderful son who I want to see grow to be a grandfather, and I very much enjoy spending time with friends and family.

I love my world. It definitely freaks me out to think that I don't have control over when it's taken away from me.

Who would make you squeal like a groupie if you met him or her in person?

Beth Hart. For sure meeting her would make me act stupid for an undetermined amount of time, although I'd probably be in shock she actually exists, so maybe I'd just stand there!

So actually squeal like a true groupie? Madonna or Steven Tyler!

*Listen to clips of "Soul on Display", the debut CD from Bonne Finken, on her website.
*Buy the disc from Authentic Records.


Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

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juli mccarthy
1.29.09 @ 12:52a

Great column, Tracey. Your last musical suggestion to me was Vienna Teng, so I trust your judgment without reservation. I'll be scoping out Bonne's music for sure!

matt snyder
1.30.09 @ 4:27p

Good stuff. I love her voice -- so forceful!

The question about robots and divas is great, and her response is even better. "There's no way to have control over everything written, said, or perceived about you." Right on.

sandra thompson
1.31.09 @ 10:39a

I really like her music, and will buy the album ASAP.

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