Essential New Music: Finn’s Motel’s “Fireworks Or Lightning”

We’ve championed Finn’s Motel for years, and they’ve rewarded us—and you—with the outstanding new Fireworks Or Lightning (Victory Over Gravity). From from the catchy opening salvo of “In A Cosmic Waiting Room” and the propulsive “More Heat Than Light” (more cowbell!) through the chiming, Church-esque “Drive On Tomorrow” and the closing melancholy of “Sunset Over Your Neighbor’s House,” the quartet—singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Thebeau, bassist Steve Scariano, guitarist Scott Roever and drummer Jack Petracek—delivers another fine LP full of melodic, literate power pop.

Fireworks Or Lightning arrives after two 2017 efforts and a 2018 EP; given that those outings were released more than a decade after the band’s outstanding Escape Velocity debut in 2006, having to wait three years for new product was nothing. Thebeau had some old songs lying around, and the band collaborated on others to fill out the record. Most of the basic tracking was completed pre-COVID lockdown.

“Some of it was recorded at my basement, some in Jack’s legit studio,” says Thebeau. “We did a handful of overdubs remotely, including most of my vocals. Scott did some stuff remotely from his basement setup. Then we’d dump it all on Jack, and he’d do mixes. When the emails and texts got too convoluted, we’d have Zoom sessions or backyard, masked-up chats to discuss.”

Thebeau always has a lot on his mind, and Fireworks Or Lightning‘s “chopped up” narrative follows suit. Set in rural Illinois, across the river from St. Louis, the story is about “disaffected youth, vandalism, a suicide, questions about reincarnation that reference The Tibetan Book Of The Dead and UFO sightings and abductions.” (The vinyl comes with an insert of a mock newspaper front page with articles adding details.) As with some of the LP’s tunes, the tale dates back more than 20 years.

“It was going to be more autobiographical, with the working title I Was A Teenage Alien,” says Thebeau. “That got scrapped, so the songs ‘One Gone,’ ‘More Heat Than Light,’ ‘Fireworks Or Lightning’ and ‘Drive On Tomorrow’ all hit the shelf. In 2019, when we decided to start working on new songs, I pulled those songs back off the shelf, partially as a way of giving us something to work on that was already mostly done and with the idea of giving them another try. The new versions sounded great to us, and we were also starting to work up our own new music. As I wrote lyrics to the new stuff, I blended the old imagery into a new fictional world that just sort of emerged.”

With a fair amount of optimism surrounding the pandemic these days, Finn’s Motel may be able to play shows this summer—and, fortunately, another record could take shape even more quickly than Fireworks Or Lightning.

“We probably won’t venture much past our region, but we hope to get out and do some support for this record,” says Thebeau. “When COVID hit, we had already tracked the band doing not only this album but at least enough songs for another. I’ll be working on finishing up the lyrics and vocals to that with an eye for a 2022 release.”

Matt Hickey