From an Iowa farm girl to the Berklee College of Music, and finally beyond as "Lady B", bass queen of the Florida Keys, Claire Finley has amassed a wealth of experience in her time as a professional musician. Now, she has started a new chapter as lead bassist for the Playing For Change Band, touring in Bahrain, Brazil, and recently arriving in Australia for the upcoming Byron Bay Bluesfest this weekend.
To formally introduce our newest member of the PFC Band, we asked Claire to share her story.
Although a bassist at heart, Lady B's first connection to music was through the piano, which she started "plunking out melodies" on by the age of four. From then on, Claire made the plunge into performance, practicing-traveling-and-competing her way in classical piano, knocking down 11 consecutive superior ratings by her senior year of high school. Beyond piano, Claire tried her hand at nearly every other instrument and opportunity she could, "playing violin in orchestra, electric bass in jazz band, bass drum in drumline/marching band, French Horn and percussion in concert band and electric guitar". As a driven musician from a young age, she notes that she has her parents to thank for supporting her ambition and busy schedule.
Picking up the bass in fifth grade, Claire had discovered an entirely new medium for expression through the instrument and began playing in the church band and the middle school jazz band immediately.
"The Bass seemed to give me an outlet that the classical piano didn’t offer. My place in the classical world was about perfection....carefully emulating famous works by renowned composers and being judged on my interpretation of what was notated on the page. Although I had appreciated the meticulous and detail-oriented nature of the style, I knew there was another musical world out there where self-expression was welcomed and encouraged."
It was only once Claire discovered her love for the bass that she came to the realization that music was going to be her life. She says, "I had finally found an instrument that resonated with my idea that music should be joyful, creative, and fun". Since then, she has lived a musical life that is just that. She has always gone with where the music takes her, and as of most recently, it has brought her to new countries, new audiences and new experiences in her role with the Playing For Change Band.
When did you first hear about Playing For Change?
I first heard about Playing For Change several years ago, having seen a couple of the viral videos being shared by friends online. However, I didn’t realize these very moving videos were also part of a non-profit to raise money to support the creation and sustainment of music schools around the world. I remember being brought to tears, seeing so many different people from all over the world with different beliefs and cultures coming together to play the same song. A genius idea to promote world peace through music.
How did you eventually get involved with the PFC Band?
I was invited to attend and perform at the wedding celebration of my friend and PFC advocate, Savannah Buffet and her fiancée, Joshua. The special weekend finally came and there were lots of late-night jams with all the musicians in attendance during the celebrations. That’s when I ended up meeting Mark Johnson and Raan Williams and jamming with Robin Moxey, one of the producers and guitarists in the PFC band. We all hit it off immediately and musical magic was in the air!
Five months later, this incredible weekend morphed into the PFC crew coming to Key West, Florida to film and record ME for my very first appearance in a song around the world. I will never forget the feeling I had when we were setting up at my favorite beach with the recording gear and film crew. I felt like this was it...I finally found what I was supposed to be doing with my music. The idea that music is the only international language had always resonated with me...but this was a project that could actually prove visually and sonically that this theory was true.
Is this the largest band you've ever been a part of?
The Playing For Change Band is definitely one of the largest musical collaborations I’ve been a part of. While at Berklee, I participated in many performances with large groups but they were always one-off shows for special occasions. The difference from these experiences is that the Playing For Change Band is a family. It’s about creating a foundation of support to continue spreading the word of the movement throughout the world. Being a solid band unit allows us to build on this foundation and learn from each other constantly. Everyone hears and performs music differently. The opportunity to be surrounded by so many talented international musicians, all with different stories to tell, is truly a dream come true.
As an artist who routinely performs with many different groups, is there anything unique/special about the PFC Band that you haven't experienced anywhere else?
Absolutely. Playing music for such a good cause, using my musical powers for the greater good of humanity, is an amazing feeling. The memories we are able to create while on the road are memories I will cherish forever. Even outside of the music our friendships are strong and we are there for each other. Having the opportunity to hone in on the African, Latin, Reggae, Blues, and other styles of music we play are very exciting. We are all learning together and teach each other. I’m pretty sure Mermans Mosengo knows everyone’s parts! If I ever forget or have a hard time with a bass line or rhythm, he is right there showing me the way. I’ve already learned so much in the short time I’ve been in the band!
What's been the highlight of performing with the band so far, and is there anything that you're most looking forward to in the coming months/year?
Since I joined PFC in October, I’ve already had the opportunity to travel to two places that I always wanted to go, Brazil and the Middle East. Now, Australia! Travel has always been a huge passion for me so being able to combine this with music and great people fills me with joy. I am thrilled and looking forward to continuing this adventure, traveling to even more places I’ve never been, and musically connecting with as many people as I can across the globe.
We heard that you recorded one of your songs with Mark Johnson and the PFC Band. Can you tell us more about "Run", and what it was like to perform/record your song with the whole group?
‘Run’ was a song that I wrote with my friend Jason Lamson in my living room in Key West Florida. Feeling inspired to write more after a successful songwriting visit from Robin Moxey, I called up Jason and asked if he wanted to get together to brainstorm and try to write a song. He swung by with his notebook and showed me a lyrical melody idea he had, "I’m gonna run, as fast as I can". That line inspired me. How cool would it be to write a song that focuses on running towards the good instead of away from the bad?
Robin helped me come to the realization during his visit that I had a story to tell and needed to tell it, so I did and it turned into ‘Run’. The lyrics of this song resonate with the feelings of fear and longing that I’ve experienced living the life of a musician and always striving to get to that next level. In order to pursue this dream, I needed to give up the comforts and financial security of the wedding band business, which scared me. But, there was something else out there. It was finally time to run towards all those positive opportunities and take a chance for something even better, which ended up coming to complete fruition when I became a part of the Playing For Change Movement.
First hearing the song performed live by the band was an overwhelming and emotional experience. To have created something that has the chance of inspiring others to "dream big and take chances" fills me with such joy. Another big moment for me was when we were at 2 Seas in Bahrain working on the official studio version. Titi Tsira and the rest of the band put their magic touch on the track and just blew me away. Even down to Merman’s perfectly timed vibra-slaps. Hahaha... it was a moment I will never forget.
What does Playing For Change mean to you?
The entire Playing For Change Movement resonates in a huge way for me. Our musical voices are so much stronger together than alone. United, we have a much better chance of actually being heard by the rest of the world. The opportunity to SEE the change, and BE the change with such an incredible group of people is an honor that I will never take for granted.
Are you working on anything else right now that you'd like to share with us?
Currently, in between PFC adventures, I try to fill my life with experiences that will help facilitate creativity and inspiration to write more songs! The life of a musician is never boring! ; )
Thank you Claire for sharing a glimpse into your life, and thank you for everything you bring to the Playing For Change Band!