Finom Give Their 10-Year Chemistry a New Name |

Finom Give Their 10-Year Chemistry a New Name

A decade ago, Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart embarked on a journey together to explore what they could create in a world outside of their classically trained past. The Chicagoans knew how to mold their voices together in a powerhouse vocal combination—not as a duet but a pair of individual voices complimenting each other in a boisterous melody. All they needed was the freedom to make some noise, so they looked to the electric guitar—an instrument neither musician was trained on—to push the limits of their sound and create space for artistry rather than going into auto-pilot on instruments that they know all the intricacies of by heart.

Throughout their 10 years together, Cunningham and Stewart have performed as Homme and Ohmme, and now, due to an unwinnable legal battle and an effort to find a name that is uniquely theirs, they are Finom. “Every weird band name combination that you can think of already exists somewhere in the internet universe,” Cunningham says about choosing their new identity. “So, it took a while, but we wanted it to be an evolution of our name. As Finom, we have reached our biggest selves—our peak powers.” She and Stewart joke about how their most recent bio states that they pledged allegiance to each other at the bottom of a volcano. Yet, that hyperbolic image of danger and trust is the perfect metaphor to describe the powerhouse group, and it plays out meteorically on their latest album, Not God.

Finom’s new name may signify a new chapter, in a sense, but the musicians maintain what drew them to each other in the first place: a mutual respect for each other’s art. “We started this band because we loved each other’s songwriting, and we were both open to exploring what we could do with electric guitar and our voices,” Stewart recalls. The pair wanted to stay true to their past work, yet their new moniker offered an opportunity to reinvent themselves if they wanted that change. Since the duo’s album Fantasize Your Ghost was released in 2020, so much has shifted for the indie rockers since then. “We’ve grown to know each other more and learned to trust each other more. So the music we’re making is more tightly interwoven,” Stewart beams.

A critical part of Finom’s work together is improvisation. Since Cunningham and Stewart grew up with such rigid musical backgrounds, their collaborative project was galvanized through experimenting with sounds in ways they never could before. “Improvisation is, at its heart, communication—communicating without words. When we’re improvising with each other, we’re following a flow and listening to the other person,” Stewart explains. “When you’re coming up with things, you can always choose how you respond to them and integrate them into your playing. Something significant to us is to have this aspect of improvisation to keep imagination alive in our music.”

That imagination and desire to play is prevalent in “As You Are,” where the dual guitar parts mimic the striking layered quality of the pair’s individual vocals. Through their experimentation, Cunningham and Stewart evoke a free, childlike wonder when working together. “It’s like dancing, right? Because you want to be in tandem but then break away and leave space to do your own performance,” Cunningham describes. “In our music video for ‘As You Are,’ I was trying to connect with the spirit of when children play in parallel. Maybe they imitate each other, but sometimes they’re really synced up. Then they drift apart from each other, and they learn to do new things. And it’s this beautiful dance that they’re doing together.”

Throughout all of this improvisation—and Cunningham and Stewart’s solo work away and tenures in other groups—Finom has fine-tuned the process needed to discover what is just a fleeting thought and what might have the meddle to become a fully-formed track. “When we first start our songwriting for a record, it’s always like, ‘Can this be sung by the character that is Finom? A two-headed creature with two voices singing as one. If we can find that singular voice between the two of us, then it becomes a Finom song,” Cunningham explains. “We’ve gotten much closer and come to understand each other in all these different multitudinous layers in our lives. Because of that, the songwriting has become even more intimate and vulnerable. Now, the Finom character gets to be a little more open with deeper feelings.”

If the dual voices of Cunningham and Stewart are the head of the beast, then their electric guitars are the fire the creature spits. “Playing an instrument as if it’s not the instrument it is feels important to me, like how can you approach something from a totally different angle. On this record, we had a couple of fun extra add-ons for the guitar. The Gizmotron was like a motorized rubber wheel that bowed each string. It was exciting because it created a different texture. I felt like I had to change my brain to understand how to flow with it, but as a violin player, I felt connected in this interesting way.” Stewart gushes. “We also used mallets on the guitar for this record—playing it more like hammered dulcimer style, getting more percussive textures.”

In this new chapter, Cunningham and Stewart reached for an old friend to help hone their new sound. Everything Finom does is colored by performing in perfect sync with one another, so having their longtime collaborator, the legendary Wilco bandleader Jeff Tweedy, lend his wisdom in the studio was vital for curating what would become the new Finom. Cunningham has toured with Tweedy, and Stewart has recorded with him in the past, but Not God is their first complete collaborative project together. “We’re lucky that we have grown up in such proximity to him, because Wilco is such a foundationally important band for most folks making any flavor of rock ‘n’ roll today,” Cunningham says. “They blew open our understanding of how you can make meaningful songs at the core in an experimental universe. Jeff was so supportive. He said he believes in our ability. He loves the energy we have when we play live and wanted to help us capture that spirit on this record.”

In the spirit of Tweedy’s influence, the sonics on Not God drive the record—yet the lyrics offer a very intimate expression of ego and how it profoundly affects us. Cunningham and Stewart’s debut as Finom is five years in the making, as they wrote feverishly about their journey through a global pandemic, personal growth and a legally necessary name change—trying to make sense of these massive shifts in the world and their lives. “We want our work to reflect the way we interact with the world and the world interacts with us. There’s always a balance of all these things. We contain all of these things,” Stewart expresses. “A song like ‘As You Are’ is as much a part of our sound as ‘Cyclops’ or ‘Haircut.’ Those feelings and musical tangents are deeply ingrained in who Sima and I are and who we are together. Having all those different attitudes and feelings on a record feels important because it just mimics the flow of life and processing of our emotions.”

Capturing the tumultuous climate they began writing Not God in back in the throes of the the pandemic’s first interval, the title-track is a callout about the rise of cult-like figures in the cultural zeitgeist—political figures, internet celebrities, massive pop stars. “Cult figures used to be strange folks you would hear about on podcasts. Like, ‘Oh, did you know someone ran this cult and aggregated thousands of followers,” Cunningham says. “Then we started thinking about cult figures and pop fiction and how now we’re in an era where cult figures are some of the biggest leaders of our world.”

“I think [“Not God”] was written in response to people who are looking for someone to fill the void and tell them what to do,” Cunningham continues. “That behavior of not wanting to make your own decisions, lead your own life or be responsible for how you act or what you believe but looking for charismatic, often problematic people to lead the way for you. That’s really toxic behavior, and we wanted to call it out. That was one of the earlier songs we started playing together for this record. As the record went on, we just kept feeling like we were either singing about wrestling with our own egos or songs about other characters with oversized or undersized egos. It was about finding confidence and your own power and wielding it. So ‘Not God’ felt like a statement to tell people: You are not God, and God is not out there to tell you what to do. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a God who is full of love and guides you, but it’s urging people to have a conversation with themselves. Find yourself and listen to yourself.”

As the two-headed beast morphs into its final form as Finom, the artistic duo continue to center their heart in their work and lead with their childlike curiosity. On Not God, Cunningham and Stewart tap into what drew them together in the first place: a love for each other’s words and a passion for experimenting with unique textures, tones and ambitions. And though the pair quip in “Cyclops” that “Nobody cares about [their] band,” if they keep pushing the boundaries of what guitar music and duets can be, everyone’s eyes will be locked onto whatever it is they do next.

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