“I made an album of covers on GarageBand when I was about seven”, Finn Doherty recalls, sat across from me in the Playhouse garden on a quiet Thursday afternoon. “It was a present for my dad for his birthday! That’s kind of how it all started.”
If you’ve taken even the slightest interest in local music over the past 18-or-so months, Finn Doherty is a name you’ll be more than familiar with. The teen songwriter has graced stages across the region, and is a staple player in the crop of young musicians emerging from Norwich of late. 2017 saw the release of ‘Heritage & Parenting’, a five track EP that painted him as a pensive individual with a knack for catchy guitar melodies. This month he’s following it up with a mixtape consisting of eight brand new songs. Entitled ‘The Choice That You Made’, its half-hour duration sees Finn lay out tales from his life in stark honesty as he strides away from the ‘indie songwriter’ label, and into more hip-hop inspired territory.
Music has played a big part in Finn’s life since he was a child. “The first music I got into was actually traditional Irish, folky stuff, because both my parents play [it]. When I was about seven I started taking an interest in guitar. I’d already been into writing poetry and short stories, so songwriting came quite naturally. I’ve been developing it since then.”
Enrolling on the music production course at Access to Music gave Finn a chance to explore the more technical side to song creation, granting him the skills to mix and master tracks from his home computer. It was an integral step in the making of the new record, allowing him to draw from a whole new genre he’d not approached before. “Over the last year I’ve explored the hip-hop side of my taste a lot more, so that naturally came into the production of it”, he explains. “The thing for me was finding balance. I’ve always been fascinated by seeing how two different genres can work together.”
It was this newly embraced inspo, coupled with a DIY bedroom attitude, that helped him manifest the new record as a mixtape. “The actual recording of it was about 95% from my bedroom on my laptop. There was the whole thing of ‘do I call it an album or do I call it a mixtape?’ For me, I want an album to show who I am as an artist as much as possible. This was very much experimental in that sense. And the idea of a mixtape within hip-hop is that it’s a homemade record.”
From the guitar-band side, Finn cites Arctic Monkeys and Glass Animals as influences, and hints of both are easily detected on ‘The Choice That You Made’. See ‘Free Time’: “What do you do with your free time, why don’t you spend it on my mind?” he croons, Turner-esque, between stoner quips and despondent synths straight off of ‘How To Be A Human Being’.
Finn’s lyrics come from experiences close to his heart, from moving to Norwich from London when he was 14, to romance, friendships, and the general rollercoasting nature of any teenager’s life. I wonder if it’s difficult to write about real people when he knows they’re going to hear it.
“I don’t find it too hard. I try to not be rude when it comes to talking about people I know, definitely. I don’t think I could write a straight up diss track! I have a close handful of friends and I think we’re tight enough that if I write a song – as long as it’s written in the right way – they’re going to be accepting of it. The people who the songs are about on this record, a lot of the time have heard it already and have clocked that the songs are about them. It all seems fine! Hopefully there’s no tension.”
A highlight from the record is ‘Feel So Good’, an easygoing pop track with a twisted subtext; “You taste so sweet but leave me so bitter”, goes the chorus, seemingly a sincere address to an unknown individual, in fact a smoking metaphor as revealed in the final verse. “It started as a straight-up love song about a person, but when it came to that last verse I just left it because I thought it was a cool way of flipping the song on its head at the end”, Finn muses.
Something ‘The Choice That You Made’ is notably lacking in is edge. Finn’s got writing from the heart and making it catchy (à la Sheeran) nailed, but a mixtape should have more angst, more vitriol. Hip-hop is characteristic for its use as a vehicle for social and political commentary. As an 18-year-old songwriter who likes Kendrick Lamar, I suggest this would be a perfect new venture for Finn. “I’m not opposed to it. The closest I’ve got was the song ‘Choose’ on the previous record which was me questioning what I believe in spiritually and religiously. I’ve got my political opinions, I just haven’t really spoken about them in my music yet. I’m sure it’s something I’ll explore at some point. Society’s a bit fucked, so… there’s plenty to talk about.”
On the whole, ‘The Choice That You Made’ is a curious step forward for Finn as he continues to scout out a sound and a style to call his own. In his words, “it’s still at the stage of being a big experiment”. As for what comes next, there’s no a solid answer, but more gigging, writing, and enjoying life as a young creator looks like a solid outset. Before we split, I ask if he’d ever try making music that’s totally different from anything he’s done before. “Possibly! I like throwing myself completely out of my comfort zone and seeing what happens. Maybe a jazz record would be really interesting.” I agree.
The Choice That You Made is out now.