Reality Check with KT: Kristen Key & Kevin Finkelmeier

Susan Keller Photography

I’m taking on a new creative challenge, writing some articles here and there for  I love to do things that push me creatively and keep me thinking, so when I was approached to be a contributing writer, I immediately loved the idea.  If you know me, it’s likely as a singer/songwriter or for the shows that I have organized, like One More Girl On a Stage.   I’m hoping the pieces I write for will delve into the stuff musicians want to know.  I’m not a journalist, have no training in this, so I’m basically feeling my way through the process.  I can already see that what I think a story is going to be about and what it actually is about will surprise me.  A lot like writing songs.  I kinda dig that.  So, here’s my first swing at this, and full disclosure, I chose to interview some folks I know because I was already familiar with their music, personalities and some of their backstory.  I highly recommend interviewing your friends.  I learned A LOT I didn’t really know about them.  Cheers!


Kristen Key & Kevin Finkelmeier, Finding The Fourtune in Failing

After five years of working, writing, playing out constantly, moving to L.A. and signing with Warner Brothers, poof!  A sweep of firings at the label wiped out the deal that they worked so hard to get.  So…what happens after something like that?  I caught up with Kristen Key, by way of the interwebs (she’s no longer living locally) and I chatted with Kevin Finkelmeier, one pretty afternoon at Neon’s, to find out that very thing.

“So you wanna be a rock and roll star?”  Yep, I think somewhere deep down, most musicians do.  We’re strange creatures.  We write songs and say, “I really write just for myself”, but inside we’re like, “please love my song!”  Many performers hate crowds or are really introverts, but there they are on stage; look at me, listen to me, come to my show, why aren’t more people here???  And, so on.  I can’t imagine signing the record deal with a major label, one of the most coveted things a songwriter aspires to achieve, and having it taken away almost as soon as the ink dries.  Ugh.  Heartbreaking! 

How it started
Kristen moved to Cincinnati to attend Cincinnati Christian University.  She said, “All my siblings were there, so I followed the pack.”  Kristen had always been a singer, mostly performing at the church where her father was pastor.  While in school, she randomly came into The Blue Note and signed up for a band showcase.  Kevin, quite a Westside fixture (Hello- Elder H.S. grad) was bartending.  He had just come off a tour playing drums for Blessid Union of Souls.  Matt Senatore, Producer and Writer for Blessid, had just given him, what he credits to be, the best advice of his music career.  Matt told him that there were many ways to make music into an actual, paying career.  He helped Kevin to see the importance of not putting, “all your eggs in one basket.”  With Matt’s advice in the back of his mind, Kevin could immediately see Kristen’s potential and asked her if she wanted to do some writing and see how it went.  The first tune they penned together was “Without You”.  According to Kristen, it was 3 am and a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bag of White Castle’s were involved.  Regardless, that tune was well-written, catchy and a sign of what was to come.   That was 2004. To make a long (full of hard work) story short, the deal came and went in 2010.  The pair walked away from the project, pretty burnt out and understandably frustrated.

So now what?
Kristen has relocated and is living on the North side of Chicago, finishing up school for clinical massage.   She’s not currently playing out regularly, but still writes and is enjoying writing in a more organic way.  When the pair was writing for the label there were deadlines and songs have to be created out of thin air, not show up on their own time.  Kristen is enjoying doing it more sporadically and when it is inspired by a particular event or place or the people in her life.   She’s also noticed a trend in her more recent writing, she’s moved away from lighthearted, relationship songs and is writing about topics that are a bit heavier and she’s enjoying that.  She said, “I feel like as you grow and evolve it becomes more important to write for a purpose and therefore the topics tend to sway that way as well.” 

Kevin is on the exact opposite end of the spectrum and is now a published writer for Universal Records.  He was happy that his track record with them enabled him to work out a deal that included him being based in Cincinnati.  He also works with A&M and Interscope and has his own production company that does everything from jingles, background music for television shows, mixes for sports events and he has an impressive client list.  The boy’s got hustle.  While his peers were getting a college degree for their selected careers, Kevin has basically been working non-stop since he was fourteen, figuring out how to make his money from music.  I asked him to send me a time line and it made me tired just looking at it.  It begins with being in high school and playing 2 or 3 nights a week (finishing homework between sets), to a overseas tour in Japan and The South Pacific with Denial, tours all over the United States playing drums with Blessid Union sharing the stage with the likes of Natasha Bedingfield, The Script and many others.  He came off the road in October of 2012 and has been focused on writing and production since then.  Although it’s still a demanding schedule and requires frequent travel for meetings, Kevin said he needed balance.  I do know Kevin, and knowing what a private person he is, I asked him how he handled that while on the road.  He said he mostly spent time with the folks he toured with and that the people you work with become sort of a surrogate family.  He said it made dealing with any issues that might be going on back home, really difficult  because you can’t be there with your family or friends.  It can be very  lonely at times.    He said during his teen years being a “rockstar” was all he wanted; the record deal, touring and that whole lifestyle.  But, “it’s different when you live it, than what you think it will be.”  “It’s impossible to have balance or a personal life, unless your family comes with you.”  Being back in town has enabled him to have that and to play for pure enjoyment again.  He currently plays with Pete Dressman and Queen City Radio, a new project with Dan Mecher, his long-time friend and Denial band mate. He mentioned a few times how grateful he was for that advice from Matt Senatore.  He basically helped him see all the options in music rather than only the obvious one.  “Priorities have shifted, but I’m so thankful for everything I’ve been able to do.  I’d seen more at 25 than most people will in a lifetime.  I’ll always play drums and now I know that if I’m playing to 60,000 people or 5, if I’m into what I’m doing the feeling is the same.”

The band hasn’t played in a few years but will be doing a show on June 22 at Mainstay Rock Bar in downtown, Cincinnati.  The entire band; Kristen, Kevin, Evan Brass (guitar), Tony Buschle (bass) and Brian Finkelmeier (guitar) will perform and everyone is excited to play music together again. 

I asked Kristen what she missed about Cincinnati.  “More than anything, I miss the people in Cincinnati . I love the size of the city and I feel like everyone kinda knows everyone and it just makes you feel like you can really go anywhere and bump into a friend. Of course there's always Skyline and Larosa’s, but humans take precedence on this one, which is why all I really plan to do while I’m in town the weekend of the 22nd is hang with friends and family. That's what's up. People and relationships are my number one priority.” 

Hmm...  I found it pretty cool that the theme now, for both Kristen and Kevin, is people and relationships.  And, I must say, I agree.

Kristen Key  w/ Special Guest Dueling Drums and Mia Carruthers
Mainstay Rock Bar
$5 Cover