tim finn

Spotlight on Tim Finn, music writer at The Kansas City Star

Tim Finn has covered the local and national music scene for The Kansas City Star for over two decades. In that time, he's seen hundreds of concerts and interviewed hundreds of musicians. Barry Lee, host of KKFI's Signal To Noise, felt it was time someone interviewed Tim.

The Deli: When you first started your career as music writer for The Kansas City Star, what ground rules did you set for yourself for writing concert reviews?

Tim Finn: Foremost: don't use a live review as a format for critiquing (or disparaging) the music. A review of a live show is different from a review of an album. The music itself isn't the primary focus, the performance is. No one attends a rock concert like they do a movie or a restaurant. You buy a ticket to a rock show because you've already decided you like/love the music. Likewise, no one goes to a movie knowing they hate the genre, or a to restaurant knowing they hate the cuisine. So, even if I must go to a show to see a band I don't like or whose music I don't like, I don't trash the music itself. Instead, I do some consumer advocacy: was it long enough? Did they do most of their hits? How did the crowd react? How was the sound? And in the middle of that, I may lay down a context that may illuminate my opinion of the music: "they're a mainstream hybrid/derivative mix of Band X and Band Y..." and leave it at that.

We typically stick to the large shows, the ones that attract big crowds (and more readers). Occasionally, we will review a local show. But I'd rather preview local bands/shows and mention the high quality of the music and the live shows and hope the exposure gets more people to those shows.

The Deli: During those first years covering the local music scene, which bands or artists caught your attention as being the most interesting?

Finn: Those were the years of Outhouse, Season To Risk, Shiner, Molly McGuire, Tenderloin, Frogpond, Grither, The Gadjits, Mike Ireland, Iris DeMent.

The Deli: What role, if any, did local record stores play in KC's music community?

Finn: Well, Anne Winter had a profound influence on me on my role as a writer and reporter, then as a friend. She either introduced me to people or bands, or advised me to get in touch with them. Recycled Sounds was the nerve center of the local scene for so many years. For awhile, I was going in two or three times a week, not just to buy music, but to hear about what was going on. Or see an in-store.

The Deli: Historically, local artists often felt that it was necessary to leave Kansas City if they wanted to be successful and make a living playing music. Do you think that's still true today?

Finn: There's evidence to support that. Janelle Monáe being one example. And it was sad to see Miles Bonny move away. But I don't think it's necessary, especially today. I think you can certainly start lots of momentum here and then generate it elsewhere. Look at Radkey. Or Making Movies. Or Beautiful Bodies. Or The Architects. The Republic Tigers. The Elders. The Wilders. Tech N9ne still lives here.

The Deli: What's your assessment of the current state of our local music scene?

Finn: I listen to more local bands just recreationally now than I ever have. Too many to name. So, there are more good bands these days, in every genre, I feel safe saying, whether it's indie-rock/pop, singer-songwriter, hip-hop, hard rock, country... There is more variety, too. And what I like most of all: way more collaborations, whether they are side projects or tribute shows. There has always been a strain of jealousy (or envy) within this music community. But I think this has subsided and there seems to be way more collaboration and internal support than there used to be, especially across genres. I love it when, say, Hermon Mehari, a jazz trumpeter, jumps in on a set with a rock band.

The Deli: Are there any local bands or artists that are not yet well know that should be?

Finn: So many local bands have been given the big label opportunity over the past 15 years, and many have come so close. But very few have cashed in on it, mostly because you have to be as lucky as you are good, it seems. Or maybe luckier. Music isn't sports, where the spoils go to the most skilled.

If I had to name one that I think has the sound, the recordings, and the live show to be a successful touring band I'd say The Grisly Hand. And I've always thought Mikal Shapiro was a good a songwriter and performer as many I've seen.

The Deli: You've been to every kind of venue to see and hear music, from Sprint Center on down to house concerts. What do you consider to be your optimum place to experience music?

Finn: It depends on the show. I've been to shows at the Uptown Theater when it's full, and it's as intimate or satisfying as a house concert (Sigur Rós and The Swell Season come to mind). Starlight Theatre can be the perfect venue. As long as the crowd is attentive and engaged and the sound is good, any venue can work for me.

The Deli: If you could assemble an all-star band using KC and Lawrence musicians, who'd be in that band?

Finn: That's too hard to answer. I'd start with Ernie Locke, though.

The Deli: What's the best local concert you've seen so far this year?

Finn: I have to list a few. The performance of Beck's "Song Reader" by Project H (Mark Lowrey, Jeff Harshbarger, Shay Estes, and many others) was brilliant. The recordBar was pretty much full that night, and everyone was hearing every song for the first time. Yet, for the most part, everyone gave the band and the music full attention that night.

Awhile back, I saw The Grisly Hand at Knuckleheads and for part of the show they brought up a three-piece horn section and created this country/soul sound that was delicious.

At this year’s Warped Tour, the Beautiful Bodies and Mac Lethal were performing at the same time at contiguous stages. I bounced back and forth between both. Each drew a big, rowdy crowd. Both are so much fun to watch, the way they engage their fans.

And The Pedaljets album release show was great. They are such a good live band. And the more I see Ghosty live, the more they impress me.

And I have to plug Middle of the Map, which showcases the breadth and depth of local music in this town.

The Deli: What advice would you give to an aspiring area band who are just getting started in the music world?

Finn: Don't do it for the money, glory or fame. Do it because you love it. And do it with the people you love.
--Barry Lee

Tune in to KKFI 90.1 FM on Sundays at 8:00 p.m. and listen to Barry’s show Signal To Noise, a two-hour free-form radio program dedicated to the proposition that all good music transcends its genre. 

Also, you can check The Star's music blog Back To Rockville, which Tim writes for, and you can often see him out at many local and national shows. He'll be the tall guy. 

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