Q&A with Eric Gilbert of Finn Riggins
Eric Gilbert, Lisa Simpson and Cam Bouiss formed Finn Riggins in the small town of Hailey, Idaho, in August of 2006. Since that time, the band has put out five releases. Three of those albums were released on the Portland, Oregon-based Tender Loving Empire label including the act's latest, Vs. Wilderness. To call the band indie rock would be accurate in many ways, but a quick listen to any part of the Riggins repertoire reveals there's plenty of classical structure built into the rhythms and a deep experimental streak that has set the act apart from many of its peers. We had a chance to talk to Eric Gilbert at length about the history of Finn Riggins, the Idaho scene and its heroic touring schedule in years past.
Westword (Tom Murphy): You probably get asked this all the time, but what was the origin of the name Finn Riggins, and how did you settle on that name for your band, and how did you all meet and decide to play music together?
Eric Gilbert: We all met going to school at University of Idaho in Moscow. We were music students there. Cam [Bouiss] had been playing in bands together since 2000. We were all collaborating in the music scene. The three of us were all on the same wavelength and willing to drop everything and pursue this. We moved to Hailey, Idaho in August of 2006.
The name of the band came from wanting to have a character name like one out of a book or something. The concept behind that was that we could write a story behind it. There are a couple of small towns in Idaho that inspired the name itself. There's a town called Riggins and a town called Fenn. Those helped to get that version of the name into our consciousness.
WW: What prompted the move to a small town like Hailey?
EG: It's kind of backwards. Our drummer grew up there, the Sun Valley area, and his grandparents had a house they weren't living in anymore--a cottage in downtown Hailey. We had the opportunity to live there cheaply. So we moved there to isolate ourselves to write and to record and to proceed touring as soon as we were able. Cam wanted to move to the Valley for a while. While our friends were moving to Portland, we moved to the mountains but I think it served us well.
WW: Lloyd E. Winter IV did the artwork for your last two albums. Can you tell me about him and what about his work do you feel really resonates with your music?
EG: He's become an old friend by now. I met him in Moscow but he's originally from Boise as well. I played in an old band of his for a while called Old Man Winter. It was him on loops and me on guitar and keys--kind of an Album Leaf kind of thing. I've always loved his art and when we started this project I was doing a lot of graphic design but quickly became aware of my shortcomings. So we recruited him. He's a good friend and he understands us, though I don't think he really likes our music all that much, which is hilarious, but he really understands it. We just trust him and let him run. He currently lives in Portland.
WW: Idaho seems to have more than its fair share of great bands. Can you tell me what the scene is like there and some of the bands you'd recommend to anyone who hasn't really checked out what's going on in Idaho?
EG: It's an interesting scene. I feel like there's a lot of freedom because it's kind of small. We really like the scene and Moscow, Idaho was ideal for us during our gestation period because it was so free form. People just wanted to hear something different and unique. People come out to dance all the time. Everyone's really energized and even though a lot of people go through there, it has kind of a cool, edgy scene to it.
Boise is a lot different from that though there's an underbelly that's like that as well. I feel like the macro scene is not focused on the arty stuff we're into but that's probably the case with a lot of places. There're some great bands there right now. It's having a good period. This band called Le Fleur is a great and they just put out an album. We really like A Seasonal Disguise and The Universal. Everyone's really supportive of each other. It's necessary because I don't think there's a large following for it from the masses. It's not a huge music town. I feel like people are more focused on skiing and the outdoors. Which is kind of nice and I think that's one of the things Built To Spill likes about living there. It's really laid back and not music industry driven. They can do what they want and then they deal with the music industry outside of Boise. That's cool but it makes it challenging for local bands to find an outlet for their music. Which is why we've been touring as crazy as we have been for the last few years.
We work with a label in Portland and we're tapped into that music scene. We moved to Boise in January 2009 and we're just trying to help the scene to make sense of itself and help more bands get on the road. In the 90s we had Caustic Resin and a scene that was tied into the northwest grunge scene. The whole scene seems to be having a resurgence. It's just a matter of getting it out to everybody. There are no labels based there or really any booking agents whereas Denver has a ton of industry comparatively speaking.
WW: You recently went on a leg of a tour with a famous Boise band. How did you get hooked up with Built to Spill and how was that tour for you?
EG: Doug Martsch just started coming to shows in Boise and kind of befriended us. It was cool that he seemed to dig our music. He invited us to play a couple of shows with them in May 2009 in the Boise area. Those went well and that lead to him inviting us to play eight shows in the northwest. The tour was incredible. It was nice to play with a band that gets a bunch of people there all the time. It was a real honor. I grew up really liking them. I'd never call myself a huge fan but by the end of that week I was a much bigger fan. I loved the way they carried themselves. Very down to earth guys for what they've accomplished.
WW: Speaking of touring, I read something on your Myspace page that stated that your band tours 245 days out of the year. Is the band your full time job and if so what was the process like in getting it to be so?
EG: Last year we were on the road 245 days of the year. This year it was less because we were working on our album. The band is more than a full time job for me and I work more than forty hours a week on this project. But it doesn't pay like a regular full-time job yet. To be honest, we've done what we had to to make it happen.
Part of it was keeping our overhead low. That's one of the things about staying in Idaho instead of to a bigger music scene. It allows us to live on the road as much as we do. Honestly, we're not there yet making this a sustainable full-time job but it's getting closer. When we're home we're usually scrambling for some sort of part-time work to help fill the holes in our budget. We don't get hotel rooms. We've survived off the generosity of awesome people who have provided us with a place to stay and cooked us food. I'll let you know the minute it becomes a full-time job and we figure it out.
WW: You're playing quite a number of Colorado shows on the tour. Why so many shows in Colorado or do you play that many shows in any other state beyond obvious places like California and other large states?
EG: In general, we really enjoy being thorough in an area. In Idaho we play a lot of shows in towns other bands don't. I think part of that mentality comes from the old style traveling musicians going from town to town. Also, we've played a lot of those towns in Colorado before and we wanted to do a more extensive Colorado tour. Because of the way the Built to Spill dates fell, we weren't able to get all out east this fall, we'll do that in the spring, so we decided to be more thorough with the west.
Cam's a skier and he brought his skis so I booked some ski towns. Every time we come to Colorado we want to spend more time there. Sometimes we play in towns some people think we should bother with playing but we like doing it and it's fun. Everywhere is worth trying at least once. Small towns can be some of the best shows you have on a tour. One thing touring does is that it thickens your skin. It's nice to get out of your comfort zone and it's a humbling experience. I think it gives bands a healthy perspective.
WW: Your band has helped out so many other bands traveling through Idaho. What lead to this sort of ethic and have you likewise benefited when you've traveled to places you haven't been before?
EG: What lead to that ethic is that we've been traveling so much and we feel like we're way behind in paying it back. A lot of the contacts we've made and the shows we've gotten have been through other bands. I think we just try to acknowledge and be aware of that being aware that's how we've been able to accomplish what we've accomplished. We do our best to pay it forward. I think that's what keeps the scene going. We've slept on so many floors and been taken care of by so many people that I can't help but want to return that favor.