Bluegrass outfit FY5 performs at Crash Music in Aztec
FARMINGTON — Like a lot of other people who play bluegrass, Mike Finders found his way to the genre only after experimenting with many other types of music.
During his college years in Iowa City, Iowa, for example, he played a lot of solo singer-songwriter gigs in pubs. But after a while, Finders said he noticed fewer of his friends — who were initially enthusiastic about his music — were attending his shows.
“I realized that the music I was playing was entertaining, but it was not art, and I wanted to do art,” Finders said by phone last week from the Longmont, Colo., area he calls home. “I realized I did not want to be the guy who plays Jimmy Buffett songs in sports bars. That’s when I started attracting (serious) musicians.”
Finders had a lot of mainstream pop music influences — the Beatles and John Denver among them — but he realized his heart was in the bluegrass genre. And he wanted to surround himself with the best players he could find.
“If I’m John Lennon, I wanted somebody to be my George Harrison,” he said, describing the level of talent he was looking for. “If I’m Tom Petty, I want somebody to be my Mike Campbell. It was easy to see that my Mike Campbell was probably going to be a bluegrass player because bluegrass players are the best.”
Finders — whose group FY5 performs this weekend in Aztec — had a vision for the kind of band he wanted to put together and that involved assembling a crack group of players who could tear through any bluegrass standard out there. The problem was, Finders was far more interested in playing original material than covers.
After all, he’d had enough of that in college.
“Even if we didn’t play Flatt and Scruggs songs all night, it was that instrumentation I liked,” he said, describing what he had in mind.
Eight years ago, that vision came together in the form of Finnders & Youngberg, the five-piece band Finders assembled when he relocated to Colorado, which long has been a magnet for young bluegrass players. The band operated under that name until last year, when Finders — recognizing the dynamics of the group had evolved — changed the name to simply FY5.
“We really are a five-piece band, with all five members having a democratic say in what we do,” he said. “We’ve had the same lineup all these years.”
Given the notoriously transient nature of the music business, that fact alone makes FY5 unusual. Finders said the group’s stability is largely a function of its high standards.
“The first thing is, all of us came together because we were musicians who met on a certain level, and then we became friends,” he said. “There’s probably a high level of respect of each other’s ability.”
Finders said he realized there was no reason for the band to operate with one person calling most of the shots when everyone in the group was capable of operating at the same high level and making good decisions. That made it unlike, for instance, a conga player in a nine-piece jam band who probably doesn’t have the same degree of creative ownership as a lead guitar player, he said.
In FY5, Finders said, the creative process unfolds entirely by committee. Everyone in the band has input not just on the arrangements, but on which songs the band records and performs. The only thing Finders does by himself is write the songs.
“It’s hard work when we’re all comparing and sharing ideas,” he said. “And it’s a tricky spot to be in as a songwriter. Those kinds of ideas are challenging. But they always end up making the song better.”
Finders describes FY5 as more than a band.
“It’s an art project,” he said. “It’s democratic at the core, and that filters out to the decisions we make.”
His willingness to cede so much control over a group he originated didn’t come easily, Finders acknowledged.
“I couldn’t tell you that I’ve learned to do that,” he said. “You have to do it in little bits, and, yes, it’s hard. There are times I’ve learned to stick to my guns. Maybe the third time we go through a song with someone else’s ideas, and it isn’t working, I’ll say I want to go back to my version. They have to be willing to hear me sometimes.
“It’s a balance between being protective and being defensive,” he continued. “But they’re all phenomenal and creative and accomplished and experienced musicians, and I would be a fool not to listen to their new ideas.”
The group is working on a new album now, and though it hasn’t ventured into the studio yet to record anything, Finders said the creative process for this project already is following the band’s template.
The members of FY5 rented a house outside Winter Park, Colo., a month ago, packed in a bunch of groceries, and met for three days to hash over the 20 songs Finders already had written and distributed demos of to each of them. By the end of that weekend, they had emerged with rough arrangements of a dozen songs that everyone agreed they wanted to record.
That kind of cohesion is a good example of what separates FY5 from the bluegrass crowd in Colorado, Finders said.
“If I was to be bold and venture a guess (as to why the band has succeeded), I would guess that it’s because our songs stick,” he said. “When people hear our songs once, a lot of times they want to hear that song again. I also think we have a great time on stage. We like each other.”
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: FY5 in concert with the Six Dollar String Band opening
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15
Where: Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. in Aztec
Tickets: $15 at crashmusicaztec.com or 505-427-6748
For more information: Visit fy5band.com.