If you haven’t heard of Finish Ticket, it’s time to look them up. The California indie rock band, which was featured on Conan in September, makes truly interesting music, combining powerful melodies with insightful lyrics. Last year, they toured with Twenty One Pilots and Echosmith. Now, they’re on the road as a headlining act, with Run River North and Irontom as openers.
We caught up with four of the band members—Alex DiDonato, Brendan Hoye, Michael Hoye, and Gabe Stein—before their recent show at U Street Music Hall. Read on to learn about their songwriting process, the inspirations behind their lyrics, and their favorite burrito places.
TYF: Welcome back to Washington D.C.! Last year, you came here with Twenty One Pilots and Echosmith. Can you tell us what that tour experience was like?
Alex: It was incredible.
Brendan: It was an insane tour for us. We got to play so many of our favorite venues across the country. We learned a ton. You know, we had done a lot of touring before that, but nothing like that. We really got to experience how to play to the bigger crowds, and I think in general, on that whole tour, we got a lot better at commanding the stage. I know, as a frontman, I did… I feel, because of that tour, a lot more well-rounded onstage, being able to work with any type of crowd. [Whether] it’s a big one or a small one, like a club like this, I feel a lot more comfortable now. And I think we learned a lot from Twenty One Pilots. They’re great dudes, and… they were just so kind to us. And Echosmith, and just the whole crew [were]. And you could tell the band, kind of like us, they’d been doing it for a while, too, and they remember where they came from. And something we always want to do is treat our openers with respect and make sure they have everything they need and stuff like that. So, yeah, it was great.
TYF: Speaking of which, what is it like going from being an opener to being a headliner?
Brendan: Big difference.
Alex: Yeah. It’s weird not having to win over a crowd every night. That’s kind of a fun challenge. When we get back to opening, it’s always kind of a shock, but it’s kind of fun to have that challenge of putting on a… Not that we don’t [always] have that challenge. You can just be a little more relaxed as a headliner, you know, because they’re your own fans. When you’re an opener you really have to try and win over the crowd, which is a fun challenge for us, and kind of what we’re used to doing more often than headlining. Headlining is kind of strange for us sometimes, to have people already know our songs.
Brendan: When you’re opening, you have to think about what songs are most impressive. What, if you don’t know us at all, what’s going to leave you impressed, you know? What’s going to make you want to go listen to it? But in a headlining situation, you really need to think about, What do people want to hear? What’s going to make them feel like they got their money’s worth when they see you? It’s a big difference. That’s the hard part about headlining for us—finding the perfect set list. We’ve still been messing around this whole tour; every time is different.
TYF: Out of all the cities you guys have visited, which one do you like the best?
Gabe: We just went to Cleveland, and it was honestly pretty awesome.
TYF: What’s it like? I’ve never been to Cleveland.
Michael: There’s a lot of really cool, old architecture. Art, some random new art.
Alex: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is there, too, which is cool.
Brendan: The downtown felt like it was still in, like, the 1920s. It was very cool.
Alex: I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, just cuz the Cavs are from there and we’re huge Warriors fans, so we’ve got beef.
Brendan: Yeah, I’ve got beef. We’ll see how it is next season.
Alex: We love a lot of different cities. It’s kind of hard to choose one, you know? It’s something different everywhere, and it’s kind of cool to experience all the differences.
TYF: Recently, you performed your song “Wrong” from your EP When Night Becomes Day on Conan. Can you tell us what that experience was like?
(The band laughs)
Alex: Basically, we loaded into Conan at 8 AM that day and were done with everything, sound checked and everything, by 10:30 AM. And then we didn’t play till 5:30 PM, so we had to stand around in our dressing room and pace around nervously for hours.
Brendan: We felt great, though… It takes a little bit of getting used to the cameras, you know—anytime. Even if we’re doing a music video. Every time. The first time through, you’re like, awkward. And then you figure it out. And then it’s great. And [for Conan] we got to watch the playback, we got have an extensive sound check… [so] it was great. We were ready to go. But then there’s that sitting afterwards… You’re so ready to go, and you sit there literally for hours and hours and hours… and you think about everything that could go wrong on TV. And that was our first time on TV ever.
Alex: But I think it went okay.
Brendan: Oh, yeah, yeah. We were happy.
Alex: After it was over, we were all happy about it.
TYF: What was the inspiration behind the song “Wrong”?
Brendan: That one is about… When you’re younger, you have all these aspirations, and different dreams and stuff, and when you get older and you start accomplishing some of those things, you realize it still doesn’t mean that you’re who you’d hoped you’d be or where you thought you’d be. And that’s not exactly where that satisfaction comes from. Like, that was a realization, I think, in hitting your early twenties and kind of feeling, you know… It was cool to see [that] things that I always wanted to do were happening, but I still did not feel very fulfilled yet. And there’s a lot of highs and lows in music, especially. So that song is kind of like that, but it’s hopefully relatable to everyone who listens to the song. Everyone in our age group, and everyone older than us. And people younger than us are going to experience that same thing. I think everyone’s going to have to deal with that if they haven’t… And it was a pretty bad day, I think, when I first started writing that one… Looking back, when I was a kid, I just like, rushed through it to get to the age I am now. And now I realize how stupid that was. Because I look back and I’m like, There were really some great things that I wish I could’ve enjoyed longer as a child. So that’s kind of what it all is about.
TYF: I read that a lot of your songwriting happens in a cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. How did you guys start doing that, and how do you think that setting inspires you?
Alex: First of all, the cabin situation is because Gabe’s family owns a cabin—
Gabe: Thanks, Grandma.
Alex: —in Mammoth Lakes, which is like, in the Sierra Nevadas. And we had the opportunity to go over there and just hang out, which we turned into a little writing session. A lot of the songs that were on When Night Becomes Day, we formed versions of there—did demos and stuff. And it’s a cool place. It’s up in the mountains, away from everything, so it’s nice to kind of be isolated with each other, just to kind of get creative.
Brendan: Actually, “Wrong” was one of the ones [we wrote] there, too. Yeah, “Wrong” was cool cuz… Some [of our songs] are just like, small ideas, and we’ll just demo them out and hear them back, and see where we’re at and just try a bunch of things. “Wrong,” we completely finished in like…
Alex: 24 hours.
Brendan: Literally… It’s really a cool setting, because there’s a nice little fireplace in there… We always set up the studio area right next to this open window, and when it snows it’s, like, beautiful, and when you’re tracking stuff you can kinda see it there. So yeah, it was cool, we had a fire going and I showed them an acoustic version of “Wrong,” and then literally, that night, until it was probably too late to not bug everyone around, we just worked on that right there. And it’s cool—what we do there is, we try to… You know, when we’re home and stuff we’re all separate. And you have to go to the place and you have to get in the same room and just hope that within those hours, you’re creative. The cabin thing is cool cuz we can just set up, and if we’re not feeling it, we just go around and we do some other stuff. We go outside and go hiking, because if we’re feeling inspired by that situation… [For “Wrong,”] I was just like “eh, I’ll show you guys this song” and they were like “yeah,” and everyone came up with these awesome ideas and put it together in a few hours, and then we were tracking a demo. So that’s kind of why we do it and we love it.
TYF: One of my favorite songs by your band is “Bring the Rain.” In that song, you say, “Bring the rain to my front door.” What does that lyric mean to you?
Brendan: The whole idea for that chorus is… Before we started doing [music] full time, we were all in school for, like, a year. And [then] we left school. But at this time, this was when we started writing that chorus… I think we all were not very sure if we really wanted to be in school, because we knew we really wanted to keep doing music. But it’s like, Yeah, everyone goes to school, and you’re like, Oh, I should do that. And you know, back then there wasn’t any reason to believe that…
Alex: It was serious.
Brendan: Yeah. So that song kind of… That one was like, I felt like I was seeing my old life. Our band, and everything back home, was just kind of disappearing in this whole new life. It was happening in college, and I wasn’t really ready for it. I didn’t want to be there. So that song, it’s kind of like a metaphor… I felt like there was a wall coming down, and that chorus talks about a fire burning down this wall, so it was like, Bring the rain to my front door. Bring a thundering sky. Like, come stop the walls from coming down. Back then it was an interesting metaphor. It was a metaphor for that.
TYF: In the music video for your song “Take It Out,” you hold up handmade signs with the song lyrics. How did you come up with that idea, and did you paint the signs yourself?
Gabe: We did paint the signs ourselves, at my old house in San Francisco.
Alex: We thought it was… We wanted to make a lyric video, but we thought that, like, most lyric videos are kind of dumb, you know.
(The band laughs)
Gabe: They’re all the same.
Alex: Yeah. They all kind of are the same thing. So we wanted to do a lyric video that was a little bit more unique, and [that] we could actually make into somewhat of a music video. So we just wrote out all the lyrics, and…
Gabe: It took us a long time.
Alex: It took a long time. But it was super fun filming it—romping around San Francisco and holding up signs… We had a fun time doing it.
TYF: You started playing as a band while you were still in high school. Do you have any advice for teenagers who are interested in making it in the music industry?
Brendan: The biggest thing I’d say is, just get out there. And don’t be too picky about playing shows early on. You just want to get experience. You want to learn how to play in front of anybody. Actually, you really want to learn how to play in front of nobody. That’s a huge thing that you do for many years. You know, not for everyone, but most bands probably will. Even if you do have success, it still happens every once in a while… Just get out and put yourself out there and get in front of people, or not people, and you’ll learn a lot from doing that. And then if you start to see people coming back to shows and repeating, then there is a shift where you have to realize, How do you create demand for yourself? And if you start to see people being interested in you, then don’t play as often. That’s an early mistake. We’ve seen a lot of bands do that and then fail at that. Like, if you’re going out and you have people that want to come see your show, if you’re playing four times that month, they’re all going to come to different shows and [it’ll] just kind of be kind of a lame show every time. But if you have this fan base building up, play one time that month, and they’ll all come out to one show. It’s gonna be one big party. It’s gonna be awesome. We’ve seen a lot of bands do that and make that mistake, and I think early on, if you are starting to see that success—even if it’s little, just local success—that’s the way to do it, I’d say.
TYF: Brendan, you mentioned on Twitter that you played Pokémon Go. Do you guys all play Pokémon Go, or…
(The band laughs)
Michael: Gabe does not play Pokémon Go.
Alex: We kind of used to. The last tour, over the summer, we played, and we just kind of got over it.
TYF: I was interviewing another band the other day and they said the same thing.
Brendan: Yeah. I think it was really exciting at first. It’s just hard to maintain.
Alex: They screwed it up, you know?
Alex: You can’t find when [the Pokémon] are nearby anymore. It’s pretty lame.
Brendan: What was so exciting, too, is the idea of traveling and going everywhere and having the opportunity to see everything… but, like, it was kinda lame because we’d be in the middle of nowhere, we’d be at places where it’s kind of hard to get to, and you’d think you’d be rewarded for going to these places, you know. And we thought it would be awesome, but we didn’t really get that experience that we were hoping for, being a touring band and getting to do it… We got home and all my friends had better Pokémon in San Francisco. They only reward the major cities.
Alex: But it was fun for, like, a couple weeks.
Brendan: We had a blast, yeah.
TYF: Which teams were you guys on?
Brendan: We were all…
Alex: All Instinct, yeah.
Brendan: Band and crew.
(The band laughs)
TYF: According to your Twitter bio, you love burritos. What’s your favorite place to grab burritos?
Gabe: I think we all have different places.
Alex: Yeah. My favorite place is in Alameda, where we all grew up. Called Ramiro and Sons Taqueria. That’s the best burrito.
Gabe: Well, I usually like this place in the Mission District of San Francisco called the Taqueria, but I just recently went to this new place next to my house. It’s also in San Francisco, but it’s like… they have, like, crazy fruit paired with crazy meat.
Gabe: In burritos. And it’s nuts! It’s like, next level! So that’s my new favorite place.
Brendan: What’s it called?
Alex: What is it called?
Gabe: I have no idea.
TYF: Crazy fruit and crazy meat.
Gabe: But it’s like, the meat is cooked super well and they throw little bits of pineapple and mango in there. It’s like, Oh my God! There’s like, this crazy flavor. So that’s my favorite.
Brendan: I’m going to go with Ramiro and Sons as well. Cuz I don’t eat meat, and they make a really good veggie burrito. Like, the best.
Alex: They make a really good veggie burrito.
Brendan: The guy who actually makes the burritos—literally, I’ve asked him before and he was like, “This is my favorite one.” Out of everything they had, he was like, “That is it.” And he works there every day. He makes, like, the most bomb veggie burrito ever.
Michael: I would say Ramiro and Sons as well.
Brendan: Yeah, it’s great.
Alex: That would be the classic.
TYF: So everyone likes Ramiro and Sons except for Gabe?
Gabe: Yeah. But I’m not from Alameda.
Brendan: There’s a lot of great ones in the city as well. In the Mission District.
TYF: Anything you guys would like to say before the interview is over?
Gabe: We’re working on new music.
Brendan: Yeah, we’re working on new music. After this tour, our plan is to get back in the studio and put out a new record in 2017.
To learn more about Finish Ticket and find out if they’ll be visiting your city, check out their official website: http://www.finishticket.com/falltour