QSC Aspiring Interview: Finkel on marriage, Priorities and “getting wild and weird”

Defiantly alternative indie-pop, concept albums about the frozen Mackinac Island, and all on top of being married to each other, these are a few of the tidbits associated with Los Angeles-based Jane and Brian Spencer, AKA Finkel. Following up the incredible concept album Islanders from 2022, they bring us Priorities, their new EP which combines introspective and party music moments coupled with deep questions.

Fittingly, especially when you’ve heard the tight harmonies in Finkel’s music, the Spencers met each other at an acapella group while at college. Their romantic and musical relationship began more or less in tandem, spawning a pre-Finkel project.

“Finkel started in 2018 but we’ve been playing together a lot longer than that,” Brian says from their Californian home via Zoom, with the morning L.A. sun pouring in from the window behind them. “Our previous project was called Less Is More, which we started in 2013 — that was a lot more Troubadour-style, just us singing with guitar.”

“I had my ukulele too,” Jane says. “It was such a sweet time period, and we learned so much, but it was never really our writing style.”

I wanted to move to L.A. and wear coloured lenses. I was like: I'm out of Michigan, baby! I'm going wild and weird!

The music of Finkel is often tied into a strong concept, and this tone was set very firmly with their debut five-track EP, Backpack Of Snacks. They had recently moved from Michigan to Los Angeles, which triggered in Jane the zany idea that the EP would be based on.

“We wanted it to be something beyond music,” Jane says. “We’re both very visual artists and creative in different avenues. Backpack Of Snacks started because I wanted to move to L.A. and wear coloured lenses. I was like, ‘I'm out of Michigan, baby! I'm going wild and weird.’ And Brian said, ‘What if I also wear them?’ And then we saw what the different colours did to us.

“So that quickly became a seven-month-long commitment where we would wear a specific coloured lens for about a month at a time, write a tonne of demos around pink and blue and green and orange. And we only didn't wear them when we were working out or when we were sleeping or showering, or every once in a while a rogue moment where I was like, ‘I can’t stand it anymore!’”

To push the concept album even further, the Spencers decided their first full-length LP would be written with and accompanied by a documentary. Islanders, which was released in 2022, which was written and recorded in Jane’s childhood home of Mackinac Island, sitting in Michigan’s Lake Huron, with the Canadian border hovering just above it. It’s famous for having completely car-free streets and as a summer resort, however, Finkel made the album and documentary during the Winter when the island essentially freezes over entirely.

I used to have this weird idea that because I’ve had a privileged life, I’m not worthy of feeling upset and feeling my emotions.

As if making an album in these remote, icy conditions and bringing a film crew along for the ride wasn’t already impractical and ambitious enough, Finkel reveals the more outrageous original idea that was halted by the COVID lockdown.

“We started the album concept back in 2018,” Brian says. “We’re big (Anthony) Bourdain fans, and the travel series that he did.” “We watched an episode where he went to Antarctica,” Jane recalls. “And Brian, every once in a while, kind of similar to the Backpack Of Snacks premise, he will get a look in his eye, where I know there's no turning back. He said to me, ‘We have to go to Antarctica, we have to make music in Antarctica.’ And I was like, ‘Whoa, it's Tuesday!’”

The Spencers had already recruited a film crew to develop this Antarctica album idea and were working on researching grants to make it a reality, which was put on ice by the pandemic lockdowns that shortly followed. The film crew, however, when learning the Spencers planned to return to Jane’s home island and make music there, suggested making the frozen-themed documentary there instead.

The Islanders album reflects its geographical setting brilliantly, with some of Finkel’s finest tunes thus far including Original Form, I Am Machine, Dray Doctor, and Snow Globe. “It's a 500-person Island, eight miles around, no cars, snowmobiles in the winter, and bicycles and horses in the summer,” Jane says. 

“The majority of the land is the state park; it's just beautiful forests and beautiful rocky beaches. I have such a close relationship with that land, and the people have such a rigid identity of who is and isn’t an islander, which is something I’ve grappled with because I haven’t lived there year-round since I was 18.

We wanted it to be something beyond music.

Going from that huge body of work to the present day, Finkel has just dropped their new three-track EP, Priorities. In keeping with Finkel's history, each third of the EP is completely distinct and unique to the rest.

First up is Slow Down, an opening track which examines modern life expecting us to live at an unrelenting pace, always looking to do and achieve more and never taking a moment for ourselves. It’s a delightful slice of indie-pop with fuzzy guitars and synths, with Jane and Brian trading stunning vocal arpeggios and melodies in its chorus. It comes with a music video that could spoil the most ardent sweet tooth, as the Spencers and Dave B (guest emcee on the song) are put through a gruelling pie-eating contest.

“We’ve been moving at 100 miles an hour since we came out to L.A.,” Brian says. “So we wanted to have a piece to remind ourselves to take life a little bit easier, to be more gentle. It’s a reminder for everybody, I think.”

“For the video, we wanted a gross visual representation of what it looks like, what it feels like to not slow down – that awful feeling that your body has when you have no time for rest or recuperation,” says Jane.

“You’re unintentionally traumatising yourself. And those pies were the worst. We didn’t have a big pie budget for the video, so they are Walmart pies. Our poor friend Dave B — he’d had a big night out the night before as well! My mum saw the video and said, ‘Janie, I never need to watch that again.’”

We didn’t have a big pie budget for the video, so they are Walmart pies.

Following the excessive pie consumption, the Spencers thankfully do get to let their hair down with Miami Vacation. It could be described as Finkel’s party song, with hazy and intoxicated vocals atop a bed of lo-fi pop. It’s a fully visual EP, and the second music video is a compilation of time spent with friends and partying. The more literal inspiration for the song were coinciding bachelor and bachelorette parties in Miami the Spencer’s attended, perfectly following the first track with lyrics about not taking life too seriously.

“Brian and I are very reflective people,” Jane says. “We enjoy the thoughtful pausing times in life. But we also love to party. We love having fun with our friends and being silly. I’ve been known to dance on a table or two. Why not? Life is not that serious.”

“I won’t be dancing on any tables,” Brian adds with a laugh.

Somehow, this all culminates with Digging, an indie ballad with a goosebumps-inducing piano intro. Lyrically, the Spencer’s approach this track from different but ultimately interconnected places — for Jane it was a traumatic experience in 2021.

“I had a crazy misdiagnosis that ended in major surgery that I didn't need,” she says. “It messed with my mind a lot, thinking I had something that I didn't have, but being totally convinced, and then healing from this major surgery took a long time. But it did bring the opportunity to slow down and experience my emotions and my life. I used to have this weird idea that because I’ve had a privileged life, I’m not worthy of feeling upset and feeling my emotions, so I started experiencing a lot of stuff properly for the first time.”

“That experience caused us both to go into therapy for the first time,” Brian says. “But we came out of that as more rounded people, I think. My verse is also speaking to us pushing our music career as independent artists, largely funding this ourselves, but also having to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. We’re often put in the position of wondering if we’re doing the right thing, and I sometimes worry it’s even a narcissistic endeavour. I ultimately do remember it’s the right decision, but it is something I grapple with.”

Finally, the Spencers ponder on what ‘play out loud’ means to them. For Brian, it brings to mind “having the ability as artists to express ourselves in ways that folks who aren’t in the art world perhaps can’t. For me, it means putting 110% into that and never being shy or quiet about our music, which is something we try to live by.” “Amen,” Jane says.

Priorities, the three-track extravaganza of different sounds and moods that belies its short runtime, is out everywhere to buy and stream now. And, in keeping with the spirit of this visually-leaning pop duo, be sure to check out the three wonderful music videos that accompany each song. And if you’re stuck for something in a longer format to watch tonight, the Islanders documentary is available to watch in full, with a few websites offering it for free. The Spencers refer to their fans as ‘The Finkel Fam’, and perhaps it’s time for you to count yourself among them.