San Francisco pop quintet Finish Ticket feels the pressure that comes from recording on a major label contract. But they never searched for label pick-up, nor did they want one—the indie road was what they envisioned for themselves.
Searching for touring possibilities, their manager called Atlantic Records. The band’s self-released debut was shared and worked its way up until it reached someone with the say-so to offer a deal. The five members: brothers Michael (bass) and Brendan (vocals) Hoye; guitarist Alex DiDonato; and brothers Gabe (drums) and Nick (keys) Stein, accepted the relationship on Valentine’s Day, 2013.
And now the band, largely unknown outside NorCal but with a rabid Bay Area fanbase, feels the screws of expectation tighten around them.
“(The pressure) makes it easier to forget why you started doing it in the beginning,” Brendan Hoye says, as his bandmates nod their heads in agreement at their massive new practice and rehearsal space in Oakland’s sprawling Soundwave Studios complex, an upgrade over the garages and attics the early 20-somethings had grown used to. “At this point, it’s a lot easier to start second-guessing everything I do.”
The new space, roughly the size of a small airplane hangar, isn’t the only sign that Finish Ticket is now in a bigger league. Their new tour van, about two-thirds the length of a bus, is parked in the hangar with its enclosed sleeper bunks stacked three per side. They swear it handles better than a minivan, and Nick Stein has become quite the expert parallel parker. Just one of the perks of being on a major label.
And then there’s this: Finish Ticket just played their largest headlining show to-date—the vaunted Fillmore in San Francisco.
“It’s not bad that it’s happening to us,” DiDonato says. “A good problem to have. We know there are expectations. Recognizing that makes it be not as big of an issue.”
The Hoyes and DiDonato grew up in Alameda, the island city sandwiched between Oakland and the San Francisco Bay. They were raised not on San Francisco’s heritage acts like Janis or the Dead, or even the likes of Green Day and Metallica. Rather, they were impacted most by other small club acts like Audrey Sessions, the Matches and Dizzy Balloon. Every weekend, they’d make their way into the city to see their role models work a stage with every bit of energy they held within.
“They never reached the height of fame as those guys, but at the time we didn’t know the difference,” Brendan Hoye says.
Finish Ticket took those live performances to heart and used them as a diving board. It’s not difficult to see why they’ve hit it big since appearing in a battle of the bands as high schoolers in 2008. Hoye’s soulful vocals, reminiscent of Young The Giant’s Sameer Gadhia, DiDonato’s major-chord hooks (the Killers are a big inspiration), and the band’s ability to make people dance left-to-right and up and down attracted the attention of influential alternative radio station Live 105.
“We like melody and power,” Brendan Hoye says simply.
The station put them on the air and invited them to play the its big, year-end holiday show, sharing the stage with My Chemical Romance, The Smashing Pumpkins, Phoenix, The Black Keys and Broken Bells.
The Stein brothers had yet to join the band back then. The Hoyes and DiDonato had scattered to colleges across the country and tried to make the band work with frequent flights back and forth. Eventually, the previous drummer and keyboardist couldn’t take the commitment and bowed out after the radio show. The other three dropped out of school shortly after to focus on the band.
Debut album Tears You Apart (first released in 2010) grapples with that big decision and insecurity over making the right choices. The penultimate track, “Bring The Rain,” was written about Brendan Hoye not feeling like he fit into a traditional college environment.
“We didn’t want to waste any more time doing something else,” he said.
The Steins missed most of the recording sessions for the original version of the album, but much of it was later re-recorded for the Atlantic re-release last year. The band has supported Tears You Apart for roughly four years, giving them time to grow together as a newer lineup and learn more about each other.
Case in point: DiDonato is a Magic: The Gathering card aficionado. Nick Stein dabbles with concert prop and gadget construction for shows. His brother is missing half a thumb thanks to a childhood accident involving his brother and a stationary bike (but he can now pull off a killer detachable thumb trick). Michael Hoye is the reader of the group, but because he’s constantly working on 15 books at a time, he rarely finishes any of them. And the vocalist, due to an unfortunate middle school soccer team decision—too many Brandons/Brandens/Brendens on the team—is still, to this day, sometimes called Brad. Much of the time on the road involves heated Super Smash Bros. competitions.
Says Brendan Hoye: “It starts as a friendly competition, but then you start losing a lot, and you start getting upset about it.”
“YOU start losing a lot,” the others interject, in unison.
“There’s a lot of trash talk, and it gets out of hand,” Hoye concludes.
That’s how Finish Ticket carries on a group conversation. If one of the members says something that resonates, it deserves a group approval. Otherwise, everyone is eager to elucidate.
The five became whole as soon as they became comfortable with each other on stage, but 2014 was the year they hit their stride, the Hoyes and DiDonato say. They spent nine months on the road, including headlining their first show outside of California—Webster Hall in New York—and playing for a large homecoming crowd at Outside Lands in San Francisco.
Now they’re ready to move on, and are looking forward to recording that sophomore album in January and February.
“It is fun to be working on this stuff again,” Michael Hoye says.
The band still feels the same doubt now that they did when the Hoyes and DiDonato decided to leave school, but they’re looking at their future as a challenge. They’re focusing their energy on recording an album that translates well in a live setting, and doesn’t disappoint fans who see the live show first.
“There’s still uncertainty that we’re going to succeed, but now we have made the decision and have to roll with all the things that have to happen before you can succeed,” DiDonato says.