Finn Miles is a band name, not a man's name.
And it is a band.
A one-man band.
The one man in Finn Miles is not named Finn, or Miles, for that matter. His name is Paul Gratton, and thanks to the modern technology that allows musicians not only to layer sounds atop one another in the studio, but also live on stage, his band sounds like three, or four, or five people, working at once toward a common sound.
That's another way of saying that Finn Miles' new album “Winteresque" sounds far more lush and expansive than any one man should sound. Centered around Gratton's melodic folk tunes, the songs on “Winteresque" burst and bloom into vivid — if somewhat bleak — works of ambitious, orchestral pop-rock.
Strings swell and swoop across these songs. Keyboard tones pulse and decay. Horns enter the fray, bleating, just when you think you've heard it all. Some songs — “The Firing Line," for example — mosey along in a perfectly conventional manner before descending into a noisy, ambient coda. Others, like “The Good Life," bounce along at the pace of neo-soul music.
“We kind of threw everything we could at it," Gratton, 34, said in a telephone interview. “It's just a lot of fun to put in all these different parts."
The “we" in that statement refers to both Gratton and his brother Scott, also a musician, recording engineer and producer. The two recorded and played nearly all of “Winteresque" themselves in Paul's garage, completing the bulk of the work in mid-2011, when they were both living in Des Moines, Iowa.
Both Grattons are home-studio rats, and it shows in the anything-goes sound of the album, which Gratton will celebrate with a show tonight at Bend's Silver Moon Brewing & Taproom (see “If you go").
“Yeah, we like layers and parts," Paul Gratton said, as if he had just been caught with his hand in the bleeps-and-bloops jar. “I keep telling myself that I'm going to do a bare-bones, singer-songwriter thing, but it inevitably ends up where you listen and say, 'Oh, this could use some bells and some tambourine and some harmonica.' And before you know it, you've got this orchestral pop thing."
Gratton has lived in Prineville for a year and a couple months, arriving after his wife got a job there. But he has been playing under the name Finn Miles for about five years. In Iowa, the band included “five or six" people, he said, and released three EPs. (“Winteresque" is Gratton's first full-length album.)
His parents raised him on classic oldies: Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and so on. In high school, he turned to the blues, and in college, he learned to play guitar, which led to a “very Pink Floyd stage," Gratton said.
Other influences include Nick Drake, Tom Petty, Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin and Wilco. Gratton's parents play in a Bob Dylan tribute band that performs in the Midwest.
Basically, Gratton gravitates toward artists who do things the old-school way. They write songs, fit them together in a way that makes sense, and present that cohesive work to the portion of the public with the patience for a full listening experience.
“I love concept albums. I love when you put in an album and listen to it straight through," he said. “I know there's kind of a shrinking subset of people who feel that way, but I think they'll always be out there, the people that want to hear a comprehensive piece of work that's more than three minutes long."
It's probably a stretch to call “Winteresque" a concept album, but there is a concept: “It has a sort of autumnal, winter feeling, and a lot of the ideas stem around the question of 'Will we bloom again?' and trying to find the hope of light in winter," Gratton said, “of finding hope in despair, or pushing through depression."
Sounds like the perfect soundtrack for early December in Central Oregon. Toward that end, Gratton hopes you'll join him tonight to watch him make “Winteresque" come alive.
“For me it really is about the creation process and trying to both push yourself ... and explore new areas of your musicianship and artistry," he said. “And to be able to share that in ways that you can let other people into. Otherwise, it's just a private affair."