Lifelong passion: Neil Finn is working on a new record, set for release this year but before that will perform in Devonport at Skyfields at the Bluff on March 11. Neil Finn isemphatic.
“Oh hell yeah”,the legendary Crowded House front man said.
That’s hisresponse to beingasked if music was still “it” for him.
“I don’t really know how to do anything else; and I’m stillas fascinated and as compelled to do itnowas I ever was. I won’t be stopping any time soon,” he said.
But he doesn’t play it safe, he explores and he gives more and wants to do this better.
Finn reveals Nick Seymour, of Crowded House, willjoinhimwhen he headlines the second Skyfields outdoor concert –this one’s at the picturesque Bluff headland in Devonport, on March 11. Promoter Dave Sykes isexpected to announce another high profile gig at theBluff in October, if the first one does well – which itshould with Finn and support act, songstress MegMac to sell tickets.
“We’ll be able to do the Crowded House stuff justice at the Bluff along with everything else…,” Finn said.
Often when you meet the person behind thelegend itcan be less than hoped for– but withFinn the fascination onlygrows.
Speaking from home in Auckland after amorning walk, he’scheerful and chatty, although hemust have been asked all thesesame questions so many times hedoesn’t show it.
How would hedefine hissound?
He’s “still exploring it as alifelong process” and intends to up until his last breath. Finn isreputed to have beennamed by Paul McCartney as the best living songwriter in the world and George Harrisonallegedly said Crowded House playedthe music the Beatles would beplaying if still together.
Finn doesn’t know if the McCartney claim is correct but he’s met McCartney and knows he isa fanof Crowded House’s music. Asked how his own sound comparesto Crowded House,hesays: “they’re all wrapped up with each other.”
Star act: Finn plays “better be home soon” while on his knees at the end of his Falls Festival set on December 31 2013. Picture: Scott Gelston.
“The sound of Crowded House is obviously affected by the way Nick Seymour plays bass…particularly back in the day with Paul Hester playing drumswe had a real band sound that was evident.”
He says hissongs all come about in the same way.
“It’s just another angle, you know, with my songs dressed up in different clothing. I guess withsoloalbums I can do more diverse arrangements, given I can work with anybody I wantand sometimes I can play the bass lines and even drum myself sometimes,although I’m pretty poor at that.
“It just means the songs have slightly different colours and textures – but I see them as part of a continuum really.”
In house: Neil Finn and Nick Seymour, of Crowded House, will play together at Skyfields at the Bluff, along with Finn’s son Elroy, also in his father’s band. Picture: Scott Gelston.
Finn writes exquisite songs.
To mix things upfor his third solo albumDizzy Heightshe went with wife Sharon (bass) and sons Liam (guitar) and Elroy (drums)to upstate New York to record songs he’d composed in his Auckland studio, Roundhead,withproducer Dave Fridmann. Known for his “quite mad production aesthetic”, says Finn.
“He gets a great sound in a traditional way but he really loves upsetting the equilibrium…I think that’s a good thing, to keep challenging myself, opening a few new doorways,” Finnsays.
“I didn’t want to make it a solo record in a stripped back singer-songwriter sort of way.”
Finn said Fridmann isgood at “subverting things, and making things sound a bit messed up and not as obvious, rather than being too tasteful, which is always a temptation”.
The precociously talented brothers Finn -NeilandTim(six-years-older), from Te Awamutu, New Zealand, providedmusical entertainment at their parentspartieswith their mother Mary leading the fray on piano. Tim gained the famefirst when he formed Kiwiprog rock outfit Split Enz with a university mate.
Looking on it was very inspiring,” Neil said and at14 he saw Timas ahero up there withthe Beatles. He felt lucky to be part of it later.
At the time, Neilwas at home listening toDavid Bowie andRoxy Music.
“Prior, itwas Neil Young, James Taylor,Carol King whoseTapestryrecord was very influential – apart from the Beatles, Stones and the usual suspects…”
When Neil joined Split Enz, at 19,it altered the dynamics.Hepenned their first worldwide hitI Got You, followed by more great songs from both Finnsbut the bandnever became super huge.Tim left andNeil stayed until it ended. Heformed Crowded House with the two Aussies,Seymour, and PaulHester who also played with Split Enz,tomassive international success. Later Tim joined Crowded House but leftwhen it did not work as well live. He performed at the recent Sydney Opera House concerts.
On theproposition, New Zealand seems to havea lot of uniquely creative people on the world stage, Finnsays it might be the isolation and being far enough away to see things in a slightly more fanciful way.“And there’s a lot of eccentric people in New Zealand – sometimes you think they’re allowed to be because of our isolation from the hard-edged nature of most people in modern cities overseas.”
He doesn’t think that muchabout why Crowded House iscalled an Australian band. “You’re lucky enough to find a bunch of people who enjoy playing -in the early days it was two Australians and one New Zealander and we formed in Melbourne. I find it quite flattering and endearing…it’s like being invited into another family; and I lived in Australia for 14 yearsso to be considered one of them, I just find it really kind of lovely. People in New Zealand sometimes get a little bugged…and perhaps it’s of passing annoyance to a couple of people in Australia – but mostly people accept it like we do.”
Finn said it wastough to recruit a drummer when Crowded House reformed feeling apull to hang out with each other after the suicideof the infectiously “amazing, amusing and engaging”, Paul Hester, at 46.
”I can never accept itin a way,” Finn says of hisdeath.
“I can accept it from a point of view of getting on with your lifebut italways leaves a strange and troubling thought in your head – he was my best friend…
“You’re always asking yourself questions of how it might have been different – in the end it can’t be, so you accept it, but it’s a difficult thing. You don’t ever really shake the idea it shouldn’t have had to happen.”
Finn said he hadn’t seen Hesteras much after he left the band and lived in Melbourne. He said Hester“had some troubles” and was increasingly agoraphobic.
Talk switches topreparing for the Opera House forecourt concerts with Matt Sherrod on drums.
“I had a feeling we’d rise to it but I was quite blown away by how good it felt,” Finn admits.
“The audiences were so pumped up…and the band is playing better than ever– it’s funny because you can let a few years go by and come back andstrangely you just seem to be even better than you were.”
Crowded House hadeven more nuance and feeling in the music, somehow. Finnsaid he would never takefor granted how loved the bandwas in Australia.
“It’s a huge blessing. You can’t build that relationship except for over a long period of time, so it means something significant – it’s not a flash in the pan.
“And I’m lucky enough to play in a variety of different ways, with my brother, and others, and completely solo on occasions with just a guitar,and the songs speak to people anyway.
“What’s nice about the show in Tassie, is I’m going to be able to work through the Crowded House songbook,play songs from Split Enz andmy solo work…”
Finn says Tassie seems like the most New Zealand part of Australia.
“There’s something very similar about the landscape and even the mentality of it.”
He looks forward to comingtomake music that makes people have experiences,beinspired maybe or take some comfort.
When you’re thisgood at music and words it’sa valuable thing for the world.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.