Neil Finn is a wreck. The legendary New Zealand muso and ex-Crowded House frontman has just completed a four week studio stint unlike any other, having rehearsed and recorded new album Out of Silence live on the internet. To recuperate, he’s run away to Greece for a strict diet of sleeping, swimming and eating.
“It’s been very restorative,” Neil tells me, down a somewhat wonky Greek phone line. “I was an absolute shell of a being. As much as it was an absolute blast, I didn’t sleep for about a month. There were too many songs flying round my head.”
Out of Silence
- out now through EMI
While live-streaming a recording to thousands of viewers might sound cutting edge, Neil says it actually enabled a more old-fashioned approach to music making. In the days of bedroom studios where a laptop takes the place of a mixing desk, there was something revolutionarily retro about getting a bunch of people together in a room to perform.
“It keeps things real when you’re performing for someone. If you’re by yourself, you can get a little red-light nervous. We had no choice, we had to do it, there were people tuned in. Having made a lot of records in a more private, insular way, sitting in front of a screen, that was really welcome.”
Thank you to ALL who tuned into the live streams and followed Neil on this incredible musical journey. The album “OUT OF SILENCE” is OUT NOW & available from your favourite digital retailers here https://neilfinn.lnk.to/OutOfSilenceFP The CD will be available on Sept 15th (Aus/NZ), Sept 23rd (UK/EU) and Sept 29th (US/CA) & vinyl in October.
The record is far from the stripped-back affair you might expect from a live recording. In fact, it might be Neil’s most ambitious solo release yet, complete with lush orchestral arrangements that, for once, weren’t dubbed on after the event. Neil says he’s used to wrangling musos through the recording process, but the sessions weren’t without their challenges.
“We had classical musicians in the house and they’re very responsible. They don’t drink before the end. The choir started having a few beers halfway through and I was concerned the orchestra would turn on them, but there wasn’t too much bad feeling,” he jokes. “There was one moment towards the end where I thought we wouldn’t have the energy to get great performances, but we handed out a bit of chocolate to keep everyone’s blood sugar up. At least it wasn’t cocaine.”
Certainly, a block of Cadbury doesn’t make for the most rock ’n roll rider, as stimulants go. But Neil seems resigned to the fact that he’s never going to be seen as a hardcore rocker (although he reveals Megadeth singer Dave Mustaine is a big fan). For one thing, Neil is too nice. Sure this is a serious shortcoming as a rock star?
“If you cultivate a reputation for being an arsehole, it can be good because you’re never going to disappoint people. If you start off with a reputation for being nice and you have an off day, people go ‘Oh, god, what’s up his arse?’ If you’re in the Wiggles, you can’t afford to ever have an off day or tell an annoying little kid to piss off. I figure I can probably have an off day and get away with it.”
Rather than impressing an audience with outrageous antics, he says he prefers to make them laugh. His great fear as a performer is being mistaken for someone joyless and earnest.
“I think earnestness is a really boring thing. It can be a parallel virtue with niceness. I think people who are talented at being arseholes and being colourful in an entertaining way can be really fun. But you have to start as you mean to go on. You can’t suddenly become an arsehole.”
This is particularly true in Neil’s case, given his preference for working with family. He and brother Tim began their musical careers playing at family gatherings, long before Tim asked Neil to join his band, Split Enz. For onlookers, there has always been a tantalising whiff of fraternal rivalry around their intersecting careers. Neil has spoken about growing up in awe of his brother, but he was the one who wrote Split Enz’s only international hit.
Years later, when Crowded House were riding high, Tim asked to join his younger brother’s band for their (probably best) album Woodface. Tim abruptly left again in the middle of the world tour that followed, but he and Neil have worked and recorded many times since.
“People are far more interested in the conflict than the harmony,” Neil says. “We work together really well, but we work together well when we’re coming from long layoffs. I think if we were working together all the time, it might be more difficult. We’re currently working on some new songs and it’s been great, but any family has a complex dynamic.”
This dynamic is one that now spans a couple of generations. Both Neil’s sons, Liam and Elroy, are successful musicians in their own right and both played on Out of Silence. His wife Sharon Johnson is a founding member of one of Neil’s other bands, Pajama Club.
“I love hanging out with my family, that’s always been a big part of making music. There are certain sensitivities that are a bit different to working with other musicians. I’ve got to watch myself. The looks you get from family members are quite unique, but you can navigate all that.”
Looking ahead, Neil reveals he’s been writing music again with Tim, but there are no current plans to revive Crowded House following last year’s sell out week of concerts at Sydney Opera House. The band first split in 1996, came back to together in the wake of drummer Paul Hester’s death 10 years later, and have played together on and off since.
“It’s still there as a living entity, but it’s not a thing I need to do all the time. I’ve become musically restless, so I flit from one thing to another. When you get a bit older you sense that time is running out to do all the good work you want to do. There’s a sense of urgency.”
Although he’s pleased with the positive response to his latest solo effort, he seems resigned to the fact that his work with Crowded House will always occupy pride of place in people’s hearts. He’s accustomed to hearing the band’s songs follow him around, whether piped in supermarket aisles or horribly mangled by a busker. But there is one place he wants to see his work banned.
“The only place I don’t like to hear my music is when I’m on hold. They keep you waiting for 45 minutes and you end up listening to your own songs. It’s torture.”
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