11 Feb 2024

Neil Finn: 'Music will save the world'

From Culture 101, 12:05 pm on 11 February 2024
Neil Finn

Neil Finn Photo: supplied

Listening to a group of talented Māori musicians trying to discover together "an authentic Aotearoa New Zealand sound" is a joy Neil Finn gets to experience owning a music studio.

The Crowded House frontman, who "definitely employed" the Māori strum on the band's 1986 hit 'Don't Dream It's Over', sees himself on the same quest.

"We're all trying to kind of find some sound that links us together," Neil tells Culture 101. "There's something that's lurking that we're all in the process of trying to discover and it's exciting. Like, music will save the world."

Listen to Neil Finn’s full interview with Mark Amery and Perlina Lau this Sunday afternoon on Culture 101.

Neil says he's very grateful for the enduring appeal of 'Don't Dream It's Over', which was recently covered by U2 at their new Las Vegas residency.

"I just see it as a great privilege for it to communicate so much to so many people."

He felt "super grateful" that Bono remembered that his mother Mary was born in the Irish town of Killmallock and dedicated the song to the Finn family.

An incredible memory may be part of why the Irish rocker is so successful, Neil says.

"I had told him years and years ago, maybe 40 years ago, that my mother was born in Kilmallock when we met in a hotel somewhere.

"He makes people feel that things are important that he's talking to you about, you know, it's a lovely trait.

"He's a man who cares about the world a lot so it's nice that he saw there was some resonance there."

When it comes to 'Don't Dream It's Over', Neil feels thankful that he doesn't get sick of talking about the song and still really enjoys singing it.

"I remember the day I wrote the song on a piano at my brother's place. And I remember doing a live demo of it, playing a matchbox as a snare drum with my finger.

"I kind of knew there was something good going on there. I had no idea it was going to be a big hit. But I knew that there was something intrinsically good with it… there's no better feeling on earth, really."

Playing music, hanging with my family and swimming at the beach are what Neil describes as the "triangle of joys" in his life.

"I don't go out much I'd never go to nightclubs or pubs or anything but I have a constant stream of interesting people coming through the studio, so I interact with them. That keeps me informed and entertained … we've had some grand grand evenings, studio, long, long jams."

Crowded House 2024

Crowded House 2024 Photo: supplied

Quite often, he also heads overseas for short stings recording with the "moveable feast" that is the current Crowded House lineup - Nick Seymour lives in Ireland,  Elroy Finn (Neil's younger son) lives in London and both Liam Finn (his older son) and Mitchell Froom live in LA.

"I've got quite used to it and I like it that way. It's maybe a little bit slower than if you're in the studio all together for six weeks. But yeah, I'm really, really happy with the record and we feel like we're becoming a better band all the time.

"We've done a lot of shows now, we've learned how to jam together, there's a lot of trust.

"[Liam and Elroy] just happen to be two of the musicians in the world that most would like to play with and they've amassed a huge amount of experience as writers and singers between them now. Everyone's deep into the music and the legacy and wanting to do the right thing by it so yeah, it feels like a real band."

Crowded House has just released the new single 'Oh Hi' from an upcoming album due out in May.

After that, Neil says they'll play shows in the UK and US and be "nicely warmed up" for a good run around Aotearoa at the end of 2024.

When the time comes that he gets tired of travelling overseas, he may just stick to performing at small places around the country, as he and Liam did recently on the 2018 'Where's My Room' tour.

"Just so I don't have to get on planes and stuff anymore and can be useful, you know, because music is quite useful for brightening up people's days."

Shoppers at the Coatesville market north of Auckland got a taste of this recently when Neil and former Spilt Enz bandmate Eddie Rayner performed some "bangers".

"It was a beautiful day, a very lovely audience. My guitar was coming and going a little bit with a dead lead so it was really in the realm of how it all began, playing at the local fair."

As one of his favourite New Zealand pieces of music, Neil Finn names the award-winning 'Requiem' by New Zealand composer Victoria Kelly.

"I know Victoria really well. She's worked on a lot of music with me and she's an incredible artist in her own right and an amazing arranger and a wonderful person and funny as hell.

"This 'Requiem' has been brewing in her for a long time. She, unfortunately, lost her parents when they were relatively young and she was young, and I think it was a very important piece of work for her, a long time in the making and incredibly resonant because of that.

"The first time my wife and I listened to this piece in the studio after she'd recorded it, we wept openly and I don't think I've listened to it once since then and not had tears in my eyes.

"It's not easy to have that level of emotion and with Sam Hunt's beautiful poem 'The Lighthouse Keeper' on top, it's just a winner on all fronts."

The incredible vocal performance of New Zealand opera singer Simon O'Neill is a big part of the joy of listening to 'Requiem', Neil says.

"[Victoria] deliberately pitched it as high as a tenor could get. And so it was quite a difficult song to sing but he just seems like … it's got no gender. It's just truly angelic of some, you know, coming from some other place. So yeah, I love it."

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