Local band Fingerpaint Diary starts painting itself out of a corner

Aug 18, 1999 at 4:00 am
With their intriguing name, you might think Fingerpaint Diary is smudged with references. "The name was just kind of thrown out," says bassist Wil Pelly, "and we created a meaning around the name." He explains: "Basically, when kids are real young and they can't, you know, write you a story, they draw you a picture instead. It's kind of like a kid's life story; that would be a fingerpaint diary. You don't have to have words to get feelings across. It's more of an artistic thing."

Fingerpaint Diary has designs on the big time. The local band has been slowly painting itself out of an obscure corner. "We've been together since May "98," says Pelly. He adds, with a self-deprecating smile: "That's when we threw the ball down the cliff." A snowball gathering size is more like it. The band — which also includes lead guitarist Matt Murphy, second guitarist Paul Sellers and drummer Nick Barrale — is on a roll. Barrale can just feel the band getting bigger. "It's cool," he says, "when people are calling you and saying, "Hey, I have this band — can you guys come open for them or play with them?' instead of us having to call and beg and plead."

Pelly emphasizes the band's variety of influences: "Every single person likes different kinds of music. I'm really big into Zappa, but you couldn't ever tell that. The one thing we do share in common is good, solid, palatable songs that you can tolerate." Barrale's songwriting standards came courtesy of an uncle — one who reeked less of cigars than of incense. "My uncle was really into the Beatles," he recalls. "I was into Mötley Crüe, and he was always giving me trouble for it. But he turned me on to the Beatles. Those guys just wrote songs that were beyond their time." Reflects Barrale: "You know — it's funny: I was really into, as I said, Mötley Crüe and Ozzy. All of their songs were catchy; all of their songs had a big hook. Then you turn around and look at Wil. He likes Frank Zappa. Personally, I couldn't listen to three songs in a row by Frank Zappa. But when we write together, you don't hear those influences coming out, because we all have a common goal in our songwriting."

Barrale says a tune can either come out of thin air or leave the band in the thick of it: "We had a song that was written five or six years ago that Wil had," he remembers. " He brought it to me, and the two of us jammed on it. Paul came into the band and he jammed on it; then Matt came in — we put it all together and we still haven't decided if it's the way we want it to be." He says, "We have this idea of what we want the song to be, and there's something missing from it, so we won't put it on a CD, we won't play it live until it's done. And then there's a song we wrote a couple of weeks ago, and it came together in one night — words and everything." And, he, emphasizes, "It's a good song. Basically, what we're doing is just kind of writing stuff that makes us feel good — stuff that we all like." Chimes in Pelly: "That's our main thing — our main thing is the songwriting."

Musically speaking, at times Fingerpaint Diary is a hard band to read. But it's a mystery that pulls, not pushes. Like the Austin Powers cam, careful blocking hides their truly private parts. But at other times Fingerpaint Diary are an open book, wearing their hearts on their rolled-back sleeves. "I was never hard into sports," says Pelly. " I was always the one who found the guys sitting in the garage playing. I was like, "Hey, can you teach me that?'"

Fingerpaint Diary learned their lessons well. On their self-titled debut, they sometimes evoke another Diary — Guadalcanal Diary, the late North Carolina pop band that darkened early R.E.M.'s catchy side with an ominous shadow of mystery. There are also bits of Lennon, classic rock and boyish noise. And, uh, rap. Pelly says that at the previous night's gig, "We had a bunch of people from the audience get up and rap. Some friends of ours came onstage and started rapping. Then they started passing the mike around — people just got up and started rapping." A beautiful rock & roll moment. But the best thing about the gig was that Pelly respected it in the morning. "We thought Laffite's would be terrible," he admits. But he says the place went nuts. "The bartenders were up on top of the bars, dumping shots in people's mouths. We did this half-hour improv jam."

Other sets are more normal — but never totally normal. "We have a cover gig we do," says Pelly. "We just don't change the name. The setlist is really odd: We have Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin ... Fuel." The money itself was fuel. "We paid the CD off," Pelly says, "and it was a way to put some extra money in our pocket." Barrale adds: "Sometimes when we do these cover shows, we'll throw in a couple of songs here and there. We put one in last night — and we didn't want to say it was our song; we just played it — and we had a great response. That's one way to find out, because if you play 20 songs that everybody knows and you throw one in that nobody knows and you still get a good response, then you know you're doing something right."