Sometimes the muse is working in our sleep. For singer-songwriter Lauren Fincham, the depths of the subconscious can be a well from which to draw inspiration. The title track from her most recent and fourth release, One Red Wing is a fable-like ballad in which Fincham “awakes” as a crow with “one red wing/one black wing.” Under a sky of falling stars, a cast of creatures, including a fox and rabbit, along with a buried treasure, arrive as otherworldly archetypes, the story developing over a bed of trippy, nearly psychedelic, instrumentation. “One Red Wing” plays out as a fable, with Fincham’s signifiers rising and falling throughout the song’s narrative, as well as her being—and not being—the crow.
“I’ve always loved dreams and I’ve had a question about what is the reality of dreams in my world. Even as a child I was this way when I would draw and paint my own dreams because it was so real to me,” explains Fincham, of the flickering dreaminess that drives the tune. “So that song is really written in the way that I’d talk about a dream. It went into the imagery of how in my dreams things constantly morph: this was ‘this’ and now it’s ‘this.’ But underneath was always me wondering, ‘What was the purpose of this in my dream?’ I think the underlying story of that song is simply a wounded person.”
While there are upbeat tunes on One Red Wing, the 10-song collection veers toward the more introspective, if not somber. Fincham’s songwriting style is that of a contemplative; happy to experience the stories that play in her music, but seemingly just as content to absorb everything as a witness.
“You think it’s somber?” she says laughing, from her Riverside home. “I find a lot of humor in that album that made me laugh,” citing the laid-back, minor-key shuffle of “Road to My Salvation.”
“‘My mother was a sailor/my father made time/my enemies are foolish/and greedy and blind.’ That makes me laugh; it’s true. My mother was an army sergeant. She was the enforcer in the house.”
If Fincham has a strategy in writing and working, it’s tapping into empathy and intuition. “It’s always a discovery for me.”
She admits that self-promotion and the technical side of music are not her forte. “It gets too frustrating for me,” she says. “I’m amazed how some people can handle that side of things. Also, I don’t think I fit into any genre that people identify with and I’ve always had a hard time with that.”
The song “Heartache Tsunami” reveals Fincham’s skill at turning her hard-to-pin-down sound into a creative asset, featuring a skewed riff that staggers around, outside, but never truly within a straight blues-riff chug.
“I’m surely not a blues player, but I have some roots in there.”
Fincham grew up in the ‘70s in the high-crime neighborhood Azalea Terrace, located on the Southside. “It was scary back then. Someone broke into our house. We had our phone lines cut. We used to hear about some naked guy wearing a ski mask hanging out in the woods,” she laughs. Fincham says her dad routinely spun records by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and Hank Williams Sr. “But I heard everything in the house since I had three older sisters and my mom loved musicals.”
When Fincham was 15, her father gave her a guitar. Her neighbor Alan Chester, a local luthier who worked on the guitars of the local Southern rock players, taught her basic chords. Fincham’s tastes were eclectic. “I had whatever I could afford and whatever people would give me: Joni Mitchell, The Beatles Revolver and Rubber Soul, and CCR. And I was really into T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, and Leon Russell’s Carney.”
One Red Wing features key players from Northeast Florida’s singer-songwriter community. Co-produced by bassist Roy Peak, the album also features, among others, keyboardist Craig Spirko, pedal steel player Brian Homan, singer-guitarist Terry Whitehead, and violinist Philip Pan. Fincham had played with Spirko and Peak in the ‘80s band, The Soul Guardians; 15 years ago, she and Peak were also in the band Blue Veronica. Spirko had produced much of Fincham’s earlier solo work. “Craig is more of a perfectionist; he’s very meticulous and likes to have many takes,” she says, of her longtime collaborators’ production styles. “Whereas Roy is looser and more likely to let things fly.”
The collective performances and Peak’s production work make One Red Wing a strong offering; it’s arguably an extension of that aforementioned scene that has thrived for decades, almost indifferent to rising and falling music trends. “I think it’s based on a camaraderie,” says Fincham, of that particular scene’s longevity.
One Red Wing became a kind of unexpected tribute, when guitarist and longtime collaborator Michael Pearson died last year. “Most of those songs came through playing with Mike. He had some struggles.” Two weeks before Pearson died, Fincham’s beloved dog Anya had died. “You have to understand; she was my life. We walked over 6,000 miles together.”
Fincham recently recorded a new song, “The Lights Go Down,” featuring her voice and acoustic guitar, Homan on pedal steel, and Powerball guitarist Thommy Berlin playing stark, impressionistic tones on electric guitar. While the song was written before the deaths of Pearson and Anya, it became a kind of tribute, even therapy, benefitting from Fincham’s dreamy albeit dark lyricism. Over a tango-like motif, images of a carnival, caged animals, and a weary performer shimmer through its narrative.
“For me, that song has a couple of layers. It’s about a darker future and feeling old and tired and experiencing all of this craziness that’s going on in the world. And not wanting to deal with it.”
Decades into her career, Fincham seems content in being an off the radar artist. Perhaps most importantly, Fincham has created her own radar, as like-minded songwriters continue to tune into her wavelength.
One particularly standout track on One Red Wing is her cover version of the 1970’s pop classic “O-o-h Child,” released by the Chicago-based family soul group, The Five Stairsteps. In her version, Fincham reinterprets the upbeat, major-key tune into a soft, minor key ballad.
“I don’t decide to do these things,” she admits, about her toggling ideas in her creative approach. “It comes out and works for me. But I did have a really cool feedback from the song’s writer, Stan Vincent.”
When an artist licenses a song for a newly-recorded version, the original songwriter is made aware of its use. “This is how out of touch I am: I didn’t even know there were so many versions of that song until after I did it.”
Vincent contacted Fincham and asked to hear the song. “Afterward he sent me this really fantastic, giant email and he was so nice and complimentary. He said he thought it was a most unusual version and really liked what we did with the pedal steel; he thought it was a very unique take on his song. I never saw that one coming.”
Lauren Fincham’s music is available on iTunes and through her website, lalalaurenland.com. She performs from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Sept. 11 at The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.
This feature originally appeared under the title “Dream Letter” in Void Magazine Vol. 9, Issue 4, The #1 in the 904 Results Issue.