Slow-brewed synthwave takes flight
Sangria, swords, and synthesizers — sounds like a lethal combination or, at the very least, the potential for some feel-good music to be made at the expense of a severed limb or two. But for three East Nashville musicians, the combination was the catalyst for forming ambient trio Financier.
“He had some sweet swords at his house when I first met him, and he totally let me cut a branch out of a tree with one of them,” Financier’s Tom Senter says, recalling the band’s first meeting with its newest member, Tye Bellar.
Senter and Financier front man Seth West have known each other for 20 years and recorded music together as Financier for the better part of the last decade. But it wasn’t until they met fellow synthesizer player Bellar two years ago that the band starting taking their sound out of
“It was just a studio thing with me and Tom,” West says. “We didn’t know how to take it and make it a band. But that’s where Tye comes
It was also where the swords and sangria came into play.
“We showed up to his house with a pitcher of sangria and it was just that and swords and just immediate bonding,” West says.
There’s one pretty significant difference separating Financier’s atmospheric, synthwave sound from the music of many EDM acts: Their sound is created by actual musicians, not DJs with their MacBook Pros.
“It’s not an EDM band,” Bellar says. “There’s a difference. We’re an actual electronic band where people play electronic music live and in real time instead of just hitting a button, so there’s a lot of trial and error in that kind of thing and actually making it all work.”
At times euphoric, and at times a bit trippy, Financier’s sound sprinkles in an array of elements, which collectively give the band an airy, yet melodic sound while keeping a pop sensibility beneath its surface. That sound caught the ear of WXNA’s Austin Alexander, who gave the band its first radio airplay on his Sound, Mind, & Proxy show in July. The guys got hooked up with the show through fellow electronic artists Sugar Sk*-*lls after recording a split 7-inch together, West says.
As Financier goes through a rebirth phase with the addition of Bellar on keys and synth, the radio play on WXNA confirmed the trio is heading in the right direction with its sound. “Austin Alexander is an amazing taste maker,” West says. “He plays music from all over the world. To be on that show was really kind of validation in a way. It’s inspiring and lets us know we’re on the right track.”
After West and Senter teamed up with Bellar two years ago, Financier spent six months focusing on recording the split 7-inch Incantations, with Sugar Sk*-*lls for Michael Davis’ Transmission Control label.
“We mixed that 7-inch I don’t know how many times,” West says. “We ended up at each other’s throats at 3 Crow one time drawing waveforms on napkins just going, ‘What is the fucking problem here? Why can’t we get this thing right?’ ”
The record led to the airplay on WXNA and a show at music venue and art collective Queen Ave. Bellar says the process from writing to radio was reminiscent of Motown days.
“Back in the ’60s people would print their music on 45s and immediately take them to the radio station and play them and then basically do an entire tour of playing those songs,” he says. “So WXNA was very reminiscent of that. We made an album, played it on the radio, and then played a show.”
Financier’s evolution has all happened in East Nashville. Not only do all three members live on the East Side, they’re practically neighbors, living within a mile and a half of each other off Rosebank Avenue near the Cornelia Fork Airpark. Financier say they’re fortunate to live in a community like East Nashville that embraces relationships centered on creativity, collaboration, and connectedness.
“We’ve all lived here for so long now that we’re starting to develop all these great relationships,” Bellar says.
Senter stumbled into East Nashville more than a decade ago after moving from Louisiana. The neighborhood’s cheap rent (at the time) kept him here. “If it hadn’t of been for a real crappy house in East Nashville, I could’ve never moved here,” he says. “There were like eight of us in there and rent was $125 per person. It was on Porter and Carter. It was huge, but it was terrible.”
“There was a tree growing inside one of the rooms,” West adds.
Given the changes in the neighborhood, all three musicians say the days of cheap living on the East Side seem like a lifetime ago.
“I mean they valet at Rosepepper now,” West says. “That’s the biggest example I can think of, of how much it’s changed.”
“East Nashville sucked in the ’90s, though,” Bellar adds. “I mean you had Edgefield and Dino’s and that’s it — and Joe’s Diner, which is what Rosepepper is now.”
“I do miss Dee’s Q, though, that place was so good,” Senter says. He pauses for a few seconds, then adds, “I just realized I could’ve made that up and used that to do a ‘Deez Nuts’ joke and I missed it. Next time, I’ll squeeze one in somehow. I do miss Dee’s a lot, though.”
Despite the wave of new tall skinnies and mixed-use developments during the last few years, West remains optimistic about the East Side, its future, and its future residents. “Changes are inevitable,” he says. “There are a lot of things in East Nashville that people don’t want to see, but at the same time, it would be very hypocritical of me to say that these ‘new Nashville’ people are ruining everything. I came here 11 years ago with a positive attitude and wanting to contribute something, so hopefully there will be people thinking that same way now.”
All three members of Financier have had different journeys to East Nashville. Both Senter and West started calling the East Side home about 11 years ago after hopping around from band to band together throughout the years. East Nashville not only brought them back together, but it also gave birth to what Financier is today.
“I went to college in Georgia, and after I graduated I moved to Nashville and joined (Senter’s) band here,” West says. “We did that for a while, but it kind of imploded. And he and I had the most common interests and similar place in life where we could continue playing music.”
A rare native Nashvillian, Bellar has had the most experience out of the group when it comes to the city’s music scene. After recording school, he worked on Music Row and was a studio engineer intern at Woodland Studios.
“I’ve worked on just about everything including Jeff Foxworthy records and just terrible country stuff; day in and day out,” Bellar says. “Everybody would leave at the end of the day, and I’d just sit and replace drums and tune vocals for the rest of the night in true Nashville country style.”
In the prelude to their fateful sangria, swords, and synthesizers encounter, Senter, West, and Bellar ended up crossing paths at a studio Bellar was running at the time in Marathon Village.
“We mostly did Hip-Hop and rap and almost all the Dirty South stuff that came out in the early 2000s in that studio, and that’s how I first met these guys,” Bellars says. “We remixed one of their songs, and they wanted to hear it, and we realized that they only lived less than half a mile down the road in East Nashville.”
After two years of playing and recording together, and now in their late 30s and early 40s, the seasoned musicians still continue to refine their sound. “We’ve really gotten to know each other during these two years and learn each other’s styles,” West says. “It’s almost like when you’re a teenager and you’re discovering all this music at the same time that really resonates with you. We’ve almost had a rebirth in that way.”
That rebirth has included West ditching the synthesizer, leaving that up to Bellar and Senter. Now he focuses on laying down guitar, vocals, and beats.
To West, it means the band’s sound, as well as their outlook, have matured. “I got so burnt out making music that I didn’t like for other people, but I had to get through all of that because now, musically, I’m in a place I want to be in,” he says.
Despite their full-time jobs, all three are well aware that it can be a slow process to get everything sounding the way they want it to sound, especially with the intricacies behind producing electronic music.
“There’s no timetable on this, which is kind of liberating in a way,” West says. “Some people like to go home and watch TV after work, but I would rather do something more productive. That’s how we all feel. I’d rather create something than enjoy something that someone else has created. I mean, I can hardly get through a movie without thinking, ‘Shit, I should be doing something on my own right now.’ It’s a restless need to make something.”
That restlessness is showing signs of momentum. It’s not the “drop everything and play” type of momentum, though — it’s slow-brewed. The trio is focusing on making the best music they can make — no matter how long that may take.
“To be honest, we just had our first legit show together when we played Queen Ave,” West says. “It took us a long time to figure out what kind of band we wanted to be and we didn’t want to rush it and put out something that was half-baked and not representational of what we wanted to do. So this is really the beginning. We’re just really getting going.”