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Picking Figs and Taking Names: Finom's Journey to Their Upcoming Album 'Not God'

18, wide-eyed at a venue in Omaha, Nebraska I watched Finom open for Twin Peaks. I stood in awe of their harmonies and creative indie pop that Macie Stewart and Sima Cunnigham exchanged–throwing a musical hot potato between them. Finom’s sound is unique, experimental, and spunky. They’ve been a duo for 10 years, playing in various states, spending nights in national parks, and releasing three albums in the process. With three singles under their belt from their upcoming album, I sat down with them (virtually) for a conversation about their origins, track play, and journey as a duo.

Stewart and Cunningham met in high school. After graduating college, circling each other in the music scene, and eventually working together on various projects, the duo realized they found something that just clicked. “We were able to sing together in a way that felt very…easy. We didn't have to communicate too much in doing that, and that was an enlightening thing,” says Stewart. Cunningham was involved with opening Constellation, an experimental jazz venue in Chicago. Being surrounded by risk-taking creatives, the love of a new venue, and of course electric guitar, Stewart explains they “just really wanted to make noise and sing.” In 2014 everything came together, and they started their band, Finom, previously under the name OHMME. 

The switch of Finom to OHMME kickstarted a change in direction for Cunnigham and Stewart. Jokingly Cunnigham explains, “We’re sort of in our third Pokemon iteration. We're more powerful. We've taken all the things we know how to do, and also allowed ourselves to develop new ideas.” They’ve shed who they were, welcoming in this rebirth, a clean slate, while also staying grounded in their distinctive style. Their evolution is a personification of themselves, a call to change, a “yes and.” 

The Chicago music scene is known for its community. The more you get to know it, the more it mirrors a spider web--expansive, and intricate, with collaboration and support tying bands together. NNAMDI, Twin Peaks, Neptune’s Core, and now Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy are all parts of Finom’s web. Stewart states, “I feel that living in Chicago and being able to be surrounded with such a vast variety of music and so many different kinds of musicians and styles of music and people is endlessly inspiring.” Being both musicians and producers, creating a new album had a different air to it, and led them to Tweedy, “...we got to dive in and explore what it was like to work with him as a producer and work on some song craft with him…Wilco sort of introduced this very, foundational idea that songwriting and songs that come from the American folk and country spirit, can be infused with a lot of experimentation and exploration.” Across their discography, Finom toys with folk elements, twisting and spinning them into their own creations.

Photo of Finom by: Anna Claire Barlow

What captivated me initially about Finom five years ago was their insane harmonies and oscillating tones that mimic a shared yodel. In tracks like “Water,” “Haircut,” and “Icon” they take turns at the microphone, bouncing and throwing vocals at each other, creating a boomerang of raw, unfiltered emotion. This “hocketing” technique derives from Cunnigham and Stewart being “drawn to any kind of singing where you're not holding back at all.” Although folk weaves into their tracks, Cunnigham further explained that in “Bulgarian choral singing, or Georgian music or, traditional Sacred Heart…it's kind of understood that people that are going to be singing aren't going to be trained and therefore know how to control their voices…they're built around the idea of singing as powerfully and as full-blown as you can.” It is no coincidence that Finom is divinely inspired. Their voices' varying pitches and characteristics seem to collide as one force, almost knocking you back as you listen. I might go to church again if hymns sounded like Finom's raw-cut voices. It’s the kind of harmony that one can only accomplish well after working with each other in different periods of life, or as Cunnigham describes it, a “long strange love affair.”

Finom’s tracks contain a multitude of subjects, from seemingly mundane acts like getting water in your eye to spiraling internal conversations. For their upcoming album Not God, Cunningham thought “about power and control a lot on this record, even if we weren't thinking about it, or meaning to write about it. A lot of psychic frustration on both micro and meta levels–whether it's deep internal, your relationship with yourself, or feelings towards people who hold positions of power.” If you’ve read The Bell Jar by Slyvia Plath, you know about the fig tree metaphor. The tree cradles figs on its branches, holding and releasing different versions of yourself, leaving you with the choice to stay frozen or to pick a couple of figs. I was reminded of the novel when Stewart said, “On the edge of our last record, Fantasize Your Ghost, we were both feeling like we were walking in a direction and there were suddenly 30 paths that sprung up in front of us and both of us were feeling overwhelmed by, ‘oh my god, which of these paths do we go down.” Stewart mentioned that the pandemic allowed for them to “take a breath and find a little bit of clarity, not necessarily that we figured out exactly which road we were gonna take, but it helped whittle down some of it. We felt like ‘Okay, well, we made a choice. Let's move down this one.’” Not God seems to be a fig picked from Finom’s tree. A new direction and a new emotive, cathartic, path ready to be enjoyed.

Finom’s recently released singles are an undeniable indicator of what to expect from their album and my steadfast will to be at their show. Mark your calendars. On November 2nd, Finom graces the Metro stage again, this time with a new album and their final Pokemon form. 


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