A third solo album for Neil Finn turns out to be very much a family affair for the Kiwi singer-songwriter says Andy Welch
There are musicians all over the world struggling to find a band to play with. Once upon a time, there would be scores of adverts in local newspapers, newsagents’ windows or music weeklies. Now, it’s more likely a website like Gumtree where you’ll find the Lennon to your McCartney, and you won’t even have to leave the house to do so. For Neil Finn, finding a band to play on his latest album was easier still. He just asked his sons, Liam and Elroy.
“I’ve always wanted to do it,” says Finn who’s no stranger to keeping things in the family. As a teenager, before Crowded House was a twinkle in his eye, he joined his brother Tim’s band Split Enz. At the time, they were one of New Zealand’s biggest ever bands.
“I’d love to do work with them again, too, maybe more of a writing collaboration next time. My whole family is talented. I’m very admiring of the songs Liam has written and the way he plays, and our son Elroy is developing as a good writer, plus he’s a great drummer. It wasn’t a hard sell for me.”
As he says, his family is talented. Liam, 30, has released two solo albums with a third on the way, while Elroy, who’s six years younger, has played drums for his brother and is in various bands.
“We’re not competitive,” Finn asserts. “Well, not badly so. There’s a little bit of winding each other up, but if someone in the family has written a song, it inspires me to go off and write one myself.
“It’s hard to differentiate between being inspired, being competitive, and thinking you know best. And there is a tendency among parents to do that,” he says, in a manner that suggests he’s been guilty of thinking he knows best more than a few times.
“Eventually, you learn that you don’t know everything, and it worked out on the record. We’re all still friends, all still enjoying each other’s company. It can’t have been that bad for them, can it?”
Listening to the resulting Dizzy Heights suggests that he’s right. It’s an album that sounds very relaxed, although the man who wrote it isn’t sure whether to agree with that or not.
“I am loath to predict how people will perceive my music,” he says. “There are moments of tension when making a record. If something sounds like the most natural thing in the world, then that’s a success, but what goes into giving that impression is often far from it.
“Sometimes you don’t feel like you have a creative bone in your body, but the next day it comes back home to you.”
Finn reckons his skill as a songwriter is in his perseverance, in willing his talent to come back when it’s seemingly deserted him. “It would be easy for me to say, ‘No, I’ve written enough songs now’, but actually, I still find it mysterious and amazing, and I’ll endure a lot of struggles to write more songs.”
Dizzy Heights is Finn’s third solo album, the follow-up to 2002’s One Nil, although don’t think he’s been standing still since then – there have been two Crowded House albums and a handful of other assorted releases in the meantime. Dizzy Heights is, however, one of the most unusual-sounding albums of his career.
As the founder of Crowded House, Finn became synonymous with perfectly honed, classic-sounding pop. His biggest hits include Fall At Your Feet, Weather With You, Don’t Dream It’s Over and It’s Only Natural, songs which took Crowded House around the world many times and helped them sell 20 million albums.
While the melodies were well known, they were never ubiquitous and the band were never forced down fans’ throats. So gentle was their approach, the advertising campaign for their 1996 Best Of compilation Recurring Dream featured the tagline “You know more Crowded House songs than you think you do”.
Dizzy Heights might not be classed as a change in direction for Finn, but it’s most definitely a detour. He puts much of that down to the producer he chose to work with, Dave Fridmann. As well as being a non-touring member of Mercury Rev since 1993, Fridmann has worked with countless artists including The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Weezer, Tame Impala and The Cribs.
As well as working alone in his Auckland studio, Finn, his wife Sharon and their sons went to Fridmann’s studio in New York for two three-week stints.
“There aren’t many producers that do a very specific ‘thing’,” says Finn. “But Dave is one of them. I love the idea of being surprised and amazed in the studio at this stage of my career, and Dave can do that. He can transform things. He could’ve made this a very traditional singer-songwriter record and treated me in a conventional manner.
“These songs would work like that, and they might even be more commercial, but I liked his idea of pushing and prodding them.” • Neil Finn’s third solo album Dizzy Heights is out now. He plays Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on 23 April