Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Jun 15th 2010 7:15AM by Stephen Dowling
Neil Finn didn't expect to reunite Crowded House. Since the band had called it a day in 1996 with a massive free concert on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the New Zealand singer-songwriter had carved out a solo career, and hooked up with the likes of Radiohead's Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway and ex-Smith Johnny Marr for his 7 Worlds Collide project.
But the death of the band's drummer Paul Hester in 2005, after a battle with depression, made Finn reach out to his Crowded House compatriot Nick Seymour and record a bunch of songs as a Crowded House's fifth studio album, 2007's 'Time on Earth.' The band -- now counting Beck's drummer Matt Sherrod as well as guitarist Mark Hart. The tour took them as far afield as Poland and Russia, giving Finn a clutch of fresh ideas to shape into songs for the band's new album, 'Intriguer,' which is out this week. Spinner caught up with a newly-moustachioed Finn to talk about band's second wind.
It's album number two since the band reformed. Did you expect people to react so well to your return?
It's hard to gauge when you're on the other side of the world. I don't think I'm pessimistic by nature, but I always assume the whole thing's going to fall over. Always. Not in a troubling or dark way. I just don't assume anything. It's a big old weird tough old industry. I'm just delighted to come over here and find so much goodwill, put it that way. We'll go to a radio station or a TV thing, and the crew are coming up and getting their albums singed, and it blows me away. I find it really reassuring.
Were you scared it was just a case of people coming to shows to hear the old hits?
It's hard to know last time, there was a bit of a grey area, you know some of it was an element of nostalgia for some people, 'Crowded House are back and we can see all these old songs again.' And you don't know where that finished and genuine interest in what we're doing begins. I don't think people will come along this time purely for nostalgia – I'm sure they'd like to hear some of the old stuff as well – but I think we've gone through that initial phase. And from our point of view I think we're a much better band for all that touring. We start way ahead of the game this time. We just notice intuitively, and feel wise and everything we've really made some games. Matt in particular is just embedded in the whole thing now. It's exciting. That's what happens when you do a lot of work.
You did a lot of touring for 'Time on Earth.'
We did a couple of rounds, which wasn't always the case, but I think it was the making of us really. There is something that happens when you just do gig after gig after gig. You just get better ... you could sit in a rehearsal room for the rest of your life and never get as good as you would after a month of touring.
One of the songs on the record, 'Falling Dove,' relates to your visit to Russia in 2008. You took the train from Moscow to St Petersburg.
The midnight train was a big inspiration to one of the songs on the record. In terms of the lyrics anyway. I woke up from a dream on the train, having soaked myself in vodka. It was a fantastic train journey, we hit the vodka car and had an amazing time. And then I went to sleep and had quite hallucinogenic dreams. We had a very severe Russian train conductor -- we were told later we should probably have given her some money when we got on and she would have looked after us -- but she was really dark on us. We opened windows and she'd close them. And as we were pulling into St Petersburg, I was asleep, and I heard this huge crash, I work up with a real start right out of a dream, and I saw this woman in uniform, and I had a flash 'Oh no, I'm done for.'
Another seems to take place on a weird day in Amsterdam.
That was one of the strangest days of my life. That wasn't on the same trip, but there is a slight European thread to the record, unusual events in foreign locations. But Amsterdam is a very mixed bag as a city I think. In many ways it's fantastic, but at five in the morning after a very long night it feels a little bit like it's not peace-loving freedom for all any more. It was a big city for us, early on in Split Enz, we spent a lot of time there because we did quite well. Amsterdam was the most exciting city on Earth. We'd go straight to Paradiso and have our "selection." The idea you could buy pot in any amount from anywhere in the world, it felt very exciting. It had an exuberance then, a true hippy mentality. Which now seems a little faded. There are still good things about it. But this in particular was one harrowing day ... still, we got a good song out of it.
How hard is it to incorporate stuff like that into songs with falling into the cliche of bands writing badly about their travels?
It is difficult to write on the road but it's good to have experiences and just record them, and then later on they come back. I never find it easy to write on the road, you're scattered and a little bit betwixt and between. It's good to seek experience and not stay in your shell, and you process it, and then you get home. And those things come back and you get some rewards for them. But it's very easy to drift through it and get to the end of it. But it's a great asset early in your life to keep a journal or have a tape recorder handy. All those things are valuable as a writer, it's surprising how difficult it is to maintain.
I think on the fringes of travelling there are great stories to be found, but if you're just writing about your experiences of being in airports and missing planes or being out all night drinking and whoring, that's not very interesting.
Your wife Sharon sings a lot more on this album after duetting with you on last year's 7 Worlds Collide album.
She's done some aaaahs and oohs and various things in the past and I've always known she had a lovely tone in her voice, but it was Jim Scott's idea that the song Isolation might take a woman's voice in the second verse, that juxtaposition. And we tried it with her, and I thought it sounded beautiful.
Crowded House's 'Intriguer' is out now.