Stacks of British Badassery
Fintan Shares his Artistry with us “Ordinary People”
The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist The Fintan Stack, a.k.a. Ste McKenna, identifies his own sound as “BritishBadassery! … a happy, magnificent accident. like penicillin.” It’s this type of tounge-in-cheek and singularly British humor that characterizes the brand of rock-and-roll (and any other genre, if there is such a thing) I’ve come to expect when listening to The Fintan Stack’s artistic expression through music.
“ I try to capture the mundane and extrapolate the frickin life out of it. My main influence is every song I hear, nothing is sacred and I’m a musical magpie.”– The Fintan Stack
In an interview with Fintan, I’m treated to an impressive demonstration of music knowledge and overall music appreciation. And if you ask me, it’s pretty badass.
As it turns out, his artist name itself has its origins from across the pond: “Fintan Stack comes from one of the funniest programmes of all time, the Irish sitcom Father Ted. A character called Father Fintan Stack appears in an episode playing really annoying Drum n Bass/Jungle music. I thought it would make a great name for a band with ‘The’ at the start of it, hence The Fintan Stack.” And, here’s some food for thought: The Fintan Stack hipped me to the fact that the television character he refers to is an “obnoxious, rude, and destructive priest.” I think I hear a song here! If anyone could pull it off it would be The Fintan Stack. Read on to discover the impressive extent of his musical history, influences, tastes, and abilities, and you’ll know what I mean when I say, when I think The Fintan Stack, I immediately think of musicality in general. A bit about his musical history and what’s shaped him as the songwriter and performer he is:
“I’ve played keys, guitar, bass and, on one occasion, drums live in various bands. I’ve only had any official tuition in violin, trombone and three piano lessons. Everything else I have self-taught.”
As far as proficiency level goes, the ability to have self-taught the level of technical skill and originality in composition that his music reveals, speaks volumes. FIntan is a trusted source of insight from a theoretical standpoint as well, having “studied music theory in school (to A-Level) so I’ve still got a good ear and creative edge to the music I write.” He goes on to describe his entry into the world of musicianship, and remarkably pinpoints a specific moment in time in which that “fever dream” of musical magic began to unfold:
“I’ve been fascinated with music of all genres since I was 7 years old. One of my teachers in school played piano and I asked if I could use my breaktime to play around on the piano. Then I asked my parents to buy me a book on piano chords and they got me a keyboard for Christmas (80s casio special!) And then went about learning all the chords and coming up with my own melodies and little songs. Fast forward to 15 and I started my first band, Cliché, playing keyboards. We were awful, and played prog-rock covers … any non-complicated ones as we were not musicians by any stretch of the imagination.” This last statement is a supremely interesting insight into The FIntan Stack’s artistic growth and evolution, because he could now be regarded as the quintessential musician.
Since his start in music, The Fintan Stack has been involved in several highly talented groups–bands with real accomplishment. He first played live in Liverpool, an all-night event for a homeless charity at the Mutual Aid Centre. (Aside: Fintan confirms that “yes, I did lie to my parents saying I was staying in my mate’s house!”).
Following his time playing in Cliche, which underwent various permutations up until he was about 17, Fintan started his first own rock band called The Jamborees, which, pivotally, is where his immense guitar skills began and developed. In classic Fintan dry honesty, he says of The Jamborees. “We were good, or at least I thought we were.” The group met a bit of impressive success, earning gigs at some of North West England’s bigger venues. But as rock bands tend to do, The Jamborees as a band faded out due to proximity and, well, life…”the band members went to university around the U.K.”
“The next incarnation of rock stardom was a band called NiCER. Our drummer, a chap called John, was in Paul McCarney’s talent school LIPA, so we got a lot of recognition and opportunities through this, paying the world-famous Cavern Club several times and getting a residency there on a Saturday afternoon. Two of our tracks, Just See How You Feel and Grown Man Cry, made a Best of LIPA CD and we were on the brink of something big. But, due to excess, burnout and the obligatory musical differences, we split up.”
But, born a songwriter, always a songwriter. Fintan’s instinct toward expression through music creation persisted, and he “carried on writing and playing live with the NiCER bass player, Tex, in a combo called Dos Sombreros. Although this was a creative time, there weren’t many opportunities and we had grown up, had families and settled down away from music.”
Since the NiCER days, The Fintan Stack continues to contribute to the world of music.
“Other than the occasional NiCER reunion, I now try to be as creative and proactive as possible on my DAW and have become a bit of a bedroom producer. However, I think some of the stuff I write and produce is as good as anything out there. Maybe I just need a break and more ears to listen to the greatness I create!”. We’re all ears!
Fintan’s musical influences center largely around rock and roll and this is heavily showcased in most of the music he makes today. He explains his musical background in depth:
“The big turning point was when I was about 12. I didn’t hang around with lads my own age. My circle of friends were about 4 or 5 years older than me. They were into 70s prog-rock … Floyd, early Genesis, King Crimson, Yes & Rush … and I was heavily into grunge and the mid-90s UK indie scene. That’s my favourite type of music to this day.” But The Fintan Stack can’t be painted into one genre corner, he exemplifies a smattering of just about anything.
How Fintan’s Genre Sensibilities Stack Up
“When I was in The Jamborees, we wanted to sound like Nirvana and Radiohead but, if I was more accomplished musician, I would have pushed for a more ‘prog’ sound. But now, I’’ve learned to value and respect all genres.”
Though Fintan’s music typically falls into a rock genre classification, that is only because of the very nature of genre classification itself, that is, it is limiting. In Fintan’s music, however, we can hear technical and stylistic elements across typical genre boundaries. This underscores his overall fluency in the language of music theory as well as the intensity and sophistication of his listener appreciation. His tastes range from intellectually lively and lyric-based hiphop, to classical piano masterpieces, to any subgenre of rock. Especially of note is his penchant toward incorporating jazz fundamentals and instrumentation into his music-writing.
From my analytical standpoint, all of this stands to reason. Because Fintan himself is a gifted lyricist and student of words (I’ve come to learn he is also, as am I, interested in the intersection of poetry and music, specifically in the spoken-word scene), it only makes sense that his ears would be open to the hip hop scene. Hip hop is a genre that places high value on the content, impactfulness, creativity, significance, and delivery of words, much like FIntan’s own lyrics. To my ear, the lyrics of a FIntan Stack song represent the kind of word combination in which each lyrical decision is studied and deliberate, and no syllable is wasted. Take for example the following line from the song Afraid to Say Goodbye:
“It pains / to see / your passion is lost in misery.”
This line is succinct and paired-down just enough to resonate immediately on a human level, appealing to several universal themes; and yet each of the ten words accomplishes massive amounts of work very efficiently. Add to that the seemingly effortless incorporation of alliterative technique in the brilliant pairing of the words “pain” and “passion,” and you have an example of the type of classic lyric that has staying-power and longevity over time. Think lyrics, think The Fintan Stack.
Harkening back to his early foray into music, which was largely shaped by piano, Fintan remarks: “I will happily listen to Chopin and Rachmaninoff to get my piano fix.” Indeed, these classical elements are immediately identifiable in his keys-playing in both concept and technical execution; Fintan remains one of the best original songwriters to incorporate piano instrumentation that I have met in the virtual music scene. Think piano, you’ll think of the FIntan Stack.
…which itself helps to segue to a few observations on The Fintan Stack’s incorporation of many jazz-like sounds and fundamentals into (particularly) his recent and current music. In his own words: “the free flowing aesthetic of jazz excites me. Thelonious Monk is a particular hero. Played like a fever dream and being a young pianist, I wanted to emulate that hard hitting but free flowing style.” One listen to his song Fever Dream and it becomes immediately clear that jazz holds a permanent place in the Fintan style and sound. Fintan tells us, “My first foray into Jazz was the standards and sort of trad jazz and New Orleans jazz. I was briefly a guitarist in a jazz band and learned a shed-load of jazz chords and got obsessed with Django Rienhardt and Cuban Jazz…Buena Vista Social Club being a particular fave. Jazz fans might be amused to learn that Fintan, for all his stylistic inclusivity, notes his inability to connect strongly with jazz fusion, feeling it to be “a touch too far for my precious ears… [I] just don’t get Bitch’s Brew onwards…” We all have our tastes. Our tastes are often influenced by what we perceive our strengths to be, which also happen to influence our creations. Claiming an inability to emulate the jazz piano greats (“I couldn’t, needless to say”) The Fintan Stack made the decision to devote more time to crafting his skills on guitar. Which brings us to rock and roll. Fintan himself tells us: “Eclectic would be a word to describe my music taste–mainly rock…I crave punk, post-hardcore and post-punk and I love the music of The Doors, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.” It is quite evident, at the end of the day, that The FIntan Stack is definitely a rock artist’s rock artist. “When I was in The Jamborees, we wanted to sound like Nirvana and Radiohead but, if I was more accomplished musician, I would have pushed for a more ‘prog’ sound. But now, I’ve learned to value and respect all genres.”
Be it his often Dylanesque lyrics, or those driving bass lines, when you think rock, think the Fintan Stack. In fact, through all of his genre overlap and overall aptitude, when I think music I think The Fintan Stack. And vice versa.
My favorite part about talking to artists is learning how they tick. What motivates them, and what do their processes look like? For The Fintan Stack,“The whole process motivates me. How can you not be motivated by starting off with a beat or a guitar lick then moulding that into something greater than the sum of its parts?”.
Fintan also hipped me to the fact that he “did have a ‘Yesterday’ moment, when I wrote a song in a dream and woke up and had it down in 5 minutes. That was a song called Sunrise, which I haven’t recorded yet so watch this space….I might sit for hours playing guitar and eventually a riff or melody comes to me, or I could hear something and come up with a song from that.”
“That and rum cocktails.” Cheers to that, Fintan!
The titles of Fintans tracks, often reveal his instinct for the effective use of language. An example of this are the titles of A Time to Kill and A Time to Kill (slowly), the latter being an acoustic replaying of the former. I asked him about his process when it comes to crafting song titles, and what comes first, title, concept or music. He told me, it could go either way but that;
“More often than not the title and concept comes first. A Time to Kill came first. I decided I wanted to write it about a sinister Bonnie and Clyde [while] watching The Serpent.”
I asked Fintan to share some of his pivotal, definitive and current music. Here is a seven-song stack of tracks he chose to discuss with me, along with his commentary on his music.
A Time to Kill and A Time to Kill (slowly) are the same song but one’s an acoustic version. The song was written about the BBC America series The Serpent about serial killer and con-artist Charles Sobhraj. It’s supposed to [convey] the exotic and dangerous nature of the lead characters’ lifestyle. The track, A Time to Kill, was very complicated and intricately put together so I wanted to strip it down and release it acoustically, hence A Time to Kill (slowly). It’s Funk but not as you know it! A slowed down, stripped back version of ‘A Time To Kill’ imaginatively entitled ‘A Time To Kill (slowly)’ – Guitar, Bass and Vocals by me – with a bit of strings thrown in”
Fever Dream was a cathartic process. I was being perturbed by the whole music scene…and wanted to kick a bit of arse again. The newer stuff has this heavier feel, more the type of track I’d listen to and what I can see myself doing more of in the future – the epitome of BritishBadassery!
The song was a release personally! I was desperately frustrated musically in the couple of weeks prior, and I couldn’t get to sleep for three nights. So I thought, sod It, I’m writing a song… played the opening riff and decided to write about not getting to sleep. I don’t usually write about myself, don’t know why, I just don’t. But this one just came out. Also, I got my son to contribute screams in the background – it was fun bossing him about, to be honest!”
Empathetic “was a reaction to a course I was on. I’m an L&D Consultant and was involved in a course on Emotional Intelligence. An interesting subject but I imagined if someone was born with no empathy, no emotional intelligence, what would they make of social media and the things people say on such platforms. The song reaches no conclusions, so please don’t look for any answers…”
Afraid to Say Goodbye “was co-written with my son. I came up with what I thought was a pretty deadly riff, in a good way, and my son, Shea, who is into Japanese Death Metal and other such ‘heavy stuff’, loved it. I wrote the verses, he wrote the chorus. I didn’t get to boss him round this time but are recording an extended version with a bridge for my album – I’ll let him sing on the bridge.”
Fire and Wine “is a love song to my wife. As I said, I don’t really write personal sonfs but thought I should try it. I recalled the first night we met and wrote a romanticised version of the occasion. It’s still not very romantic but it’s the best I can do, goddamit! Seriously, I’m proud of the song but I’ve not told her it was about that. I’m best telling her before this comes out, eh?” (Fire and Wine happens to be one of this writer’s favorite Fintan Stack tracks, in its minimalist lyrics whose effectiveness lays in there sparseness, cast against a musically complex landscape)
Finally, Ordinary People “is the first song on my album, ‘Life Death Dignity and Shame’ (working title). The album is 70% written and only 10% recorded so I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I want this to open it.”
Ordinary People, the title track of The Fintan Stack’s upcoming album is a festival of timing and key changes instrumentalized with skillful guitar layering, and, according to FIntan, has caused a bit of sleep deprivation in the process of its creation. I look forward to hearing what’s to come musically in Fintan’s feverish dreams.
Current Projects, Future Plans
What’s Fintan working on at the moment?
“I’m currently putting together my first full album, [with the] working title Life, Death, Dignity and Shame. It’s a loose concept album about the moments we reassess our lives, whether that be because of loss, saving face…I’ll keep it light, though!”
And finally, what can we expect to see and hear from FIntan in the future?
“My dream is to have a vinyl record out and I still would love that to happen. I love art also so I would love to do more painting and design the album cover myself, and I would love world peace. In that order.”
Well, Fintan, I’m “afraid to say goodbye” for now, but I thank you for this feverish look into the dream-like world of your creativity. It’s your time to keep killin’ it…Cheers, mate!
The FIntan Stack’s music can be found on Bandlab, and via the social icons below;: