18 Aug 2018

Neil and Liam Finn on their new album Lightsleeper

From Saturday Morning, 12:00 pm on 18 August 2018

Neil Finn and son Liam have joined forces to create their first album together - Lightsleeper. It was mainly recorded in Neil's Auckland studio and features a host of guest artists including Mick Fleetwood, Connan Mockasin, and sundry other Finns. The album is out on 24 August.

Neil and Liam joined Kim Hill in the RNZ studio just before Neil headed to the US to join Fleetwood Mac as their new guitarist.

They discuss the correct way to pronounce "Caitlin", Greek pagan weddings, Mick Fleetwood, thick ankles and play a couple of tunes from the new album: 'Anger Plays a Part' and 'Back to Life'.

Kim starts by asking Liam about his wedding in Greece, which British journalist and author Caitlin Moran writes about in the liner notes of Lightsleeper.

Kim: Liam, I'm trying to work out your marital situation because I thought you got married in Piha?

Liam Finn: I did, that was the legal version of the thing, this was the pagan version.

Kim: Sounds like a lot of fun, although according to Caitlin you were unconscious for a large portion of the time.

Liam: Actually that unconscious part was a relatively short amount of time - at least in my memory of it.

Kim: Well, that's right!

Liam: But that was not self-inflicted unconscious, I'd like everyone to know that. It could have been, it was a riotous night, I had a friend - who I won't name, because he's still shamed by it - but he went to pick me up on his shoulders, but went the wrong way round where he put his head through the front of my thighs.

Neil: He came in through the front, yeah.

Liam: And lifted me up and I immediately toppled over and landed on my head and hand and dislocated my thumb.

Kim: So, essentially he tackled you? So that you fell forward?

Liam: Yeah, an illegal tackle, at that.

Kim: Possibly a spear tackle.

Liam: I was dancing on a table, or on a chair or something.

Neil: It put you at the right height for him… he got the mechanics wrong.

Kim: So you were dancing - sorry to interrupt, but just getting the facts straight here - if you were dancing on a table or a chair, I don't think you are in a state to complain about the way you were tackled.

Liam: You didn't see how well I was dancing.

Neil: (laughs)

Kim: That's true.

Neil: He was showing off really quite spectacularly, and I was at the bar with this gentleman - who shall remain nameless - and the owner of the bar had decided to give us a sip of his very rare, special occasion liqueur from the back of the bar which I think probably would be illegal in any other country in the world - but we had a quick shot of that and my friend went running wildly with his arms waving and the first thing he did was try and pick Liam up the wrong way round.

Liam: So it was actually Spiros' fault?

Neil: Kind of my fault in a way.

Liam: Okay, there's a lot of people to blame, this is only coming out now.

Kim: I feel like this is the first time you're really talking about this. This is what I aim for. I aim to bring families together in this way.

Neil: Thanks, a good therapy session… there's lots more, if you want to go that way, we can do lots more of that.

Kim: That's good - you're all involved in this album right? The whole damn family, there's Sharon and there's Elroy...

Liam: There's even a brief feature by the Devo Finns on one track, there's Tim and Harper and Elliott on one track, singing - so we're all accountable.

Kim: Why do you call them the Devos?

Liam: They call themselves 'the Devos' - the Devonport Finns, because they live in Devonport - but I always read it as Devo Finns because I am a Devo fan, which I think we've even talked about once upon a time.  They came in we had a few songs that needed a bit more of a group choir effort - not choir, more of a group sing-along thing - actually 'Back To Life' which has just come out, originally had them on there but we took them off!

Kim: I read a reviewer talking about you guys, it was a Singapore newspapers which said 'a New Zealand brood feted for their conviviality', that's quite nice isn't it?

Neil: I'm delighted by that, that's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about us. We do pride ourselves on being able to have a really fun time together and we have transformed a few parties and weddings which were a little bit slow to take off. In fact, Liam I would give great credit for doing that exact thing - whether it's jumping into the pool at the right time or making the dance floor turn into a ... there's that time in Palm Springs where you hit the dance floor at a very staid old models party in your underpants and kicked tables over … it's a good time guaranteed for all when the Finns turn up.

Liam: Well, yeah you've got to make something happen if there's nothing happening. We're just trying to make memories you know?

Kim: I just want to talk about the first wee track on this album, 'Island of Peace' is really sweet, and you composed this for the occasion of the pagan wedding of your son?

Neil: I did ... we debuted it for the wedding and everybody had to do interpretive dancing to it. In theory I've got a whole video clip of all of our friends dressed in white, doing quite flamboyant moves - but deeply dorkish as well as being beautiful and sentimental.

Kim: It sounds like the kind of occasion one might lock oneself in the toilet for a certain amount of time until it was all over.

Neil: No we all went for a swim together in our white outfits too after that, that was pretty great, and these people turned up around the corner on a boat with trumpets playing the 'Bridal Waltz'. This was completely unscripted. There was a gypsy - is that word OK nowadays? - there was a circus in town ... carny folk and they came round the corner on a boat playing trumpets - very badly - the 'Bridal Waltz' but at dusk it was one of those amazing nights actually I've got to say ... they knew there was a wedding on and thought they'd come round and surprise us. Of course they got invited into the wedding and drank more margaritas than anybody.

Kim: What happened to retsina and ouzo? What's margarita - that's a bit outre isn't it?

Neil: We imported a few pompous little drinks and we had a lot of them, but we had a lot of retsina and ouzo going as well I must say.

Kim: 'Anger Plays a Part', which on the album Mick Fleetwood joins you on, I'm instructed you don't wish to talk about the Fleetwood Mac thing, so consequently I'm obliged to ask you ... when are you on tour with them?

Neil: Later in the year, from August we're rehearsing. The reason Mick's ended up on the record … I was reconnecting with Mick after meeting him many years ago … I met him again at the NZ Music Awards and just facetiously, but wishfully, said we're making a record in a few weeks, Liam my son and I and do you want to play drums on it? And he went - 'yeah, okay' and he turned up. He said that that sounded like a nice romantic thought, he loves New Zealand.

Kim: What was he doing at the NZ music awards?

Neil: They were touring, he was about to play a show. It's a measure of the man, that he's so gracious and has got time for people he actually sat through the whole NZ Music Awards, where others may have flagged and done what they needed to do, he sat right to the end. 

Kim: What? Are you suggesting the NZ Music Awards are boring?

Neil: Long, I would have said. 

Kim: Neil Finn says 'NZ Music Awards too long' - stop press.

Neil: Yeah I don't mind, I can take that one on.

Kim: He does seem like a very genial sort of chap.

Neil: We said come on tour. In January, because we [Neil and Liam] just went out on tour and did all these little country halls and we made a film and we thought Mick might enjoy it - and he would've - but he couldn't find us as it turned out.

Kim: Where were you?

Neil and Liam Finn

Neil and Liam Finn Photo: Screen capture

Neil: I couldn't even tell you where we were.

Liam: We were in Ōwaka when he called, and then we were in Paekākāriki when he called the second time saying he couldn't find us in Ōwaka.

Kim: (laughs) He went down to the Caitlins looking for you and couldn't find you?

Neil: That same pronunciation I notice - the Catlins as in Caitlin Moran.

Kim: Yes you always said the Caitlins I suppose? Did you?

Neil: No actually, I had that one right.

Liam: Ask him about how he says cucumber.

Kim: Oh! How do you say cucumber?

Neil: Coocumber of course.

Kim: Now, I'm not saying - perish the thought, that all your music sounds alike but there's a Finn imprint. And that's, I suppose it's inevitable did you feel that with Betchadupa Liam?

Liam: It might have been less noticeable with Betachadupa.

Kim: Springing away from the family bosom was it?

Liam: Maybe not consciously, but to be honest in Betchadupa there was always two sides of what we did. There was the kind of more punk side that we were probably excited about because we were young, had a lot of energy and played live and liked to rock. But I always wrote pretty, songy songs at the same time. On our records it was always half and half and some of it sounded a bit inspired by Elliot Smith and Neil Young and things that were probably in the same realm as what Dad does - and, obviously I've listened to Dad's music since I was in the womb.

Kim: It's in your bones...

Liam: I still hear things a certain way that I can tell comes from some sort of … I think it's a nature and nurture thing it's combined.

Neil: He's got a tender side, that boy.

Liam: He's been slappin' me around so long I've gotten real tender.

Kim: You make him sound like he's meat. 

Neil: I love his voice in that tender mode.

Liam: It probably is more natural than when I'm trying scream songs … that's always very enjoyable.

Kim: You'll ruin your voice.

Liam: I remember Dad coming down when I was first playing with friends downstairs in the studio screaming Nirvana songs …… Dad came down and went 'you're going to ruin your voice before you've even got one'.

Kim: What did you say Liam?

Liam: I don't think I can say it on air … 'Get lost pop, stop being such a dork, don't try and control me'.

Kim: Do you think your careers have in some ways matched each other Neil you went off with Split Enz to London when you were 18 and Liam you went off to Betchadupa when you were not much older than 18.

Neil: Younger actually

Liam: We were about 14 when we started, 16 when we first released something. I guess there's correlation in age but we've had very different experiences of it I think. It's a different era as well so apart from being young, dad joined his older brother's band and I started a band with my mates at school in New Zealand. Dad went straight over to the UK, which we ended up doing when we were about 20.

Kim: You went from Australia to UK?

Liam: We didn't last long in Australia. Why are we putting in all this effort when it's three hours away from home?

Neil: It's just as far away from the rest of the world, that's why we came back to live in NZ ... Why are we living in another city that's as isolated as NZ when may as well be home.

Kim: But now people come to see you?

Neil: Yeah they do, a bunch of people came over from Melbourne for the little community hall tour of New Zealand.

Kim: Did you enjoy that tour?

Neil: It was a golden month, it really was. We went to some of the most interesting little places in New Zealand and drove some incredible roads we'd never been on, met some real salt-of-the-earth, funny people.

Kim: I feel like you must know everybody in New Zealand by now between the two of you.

Neil: Everyone looks familiar to me.

Kim: Yes, you get that when you get old.

Neil: Can't you also spot the New Zealander on the streets of London? I always can.

Kim: You so can! What is that?

Neil: I don't know how it can evolve that quickly. I suppose I'm talking about European New Zealanders have a different look than Europeans.

Liam: I think it's thick ankles.

Kim: Excuse me! Thick ankles? New Zealanders have thick ankles?

Liam: That's better than saying the thighs.

Kim: This is news gold. Liam Finn says New Zealand women have thick ankles.

Liam: I didn't say women, you said women.

Kim: You're talking about men?

No caption

Photo: Supplied

Liam: I'm talking about all ethnicity, all races, all genders.

Kim: How would that possibly be true?

Liam: It's a dairy thing, it comes from our dairy intake and our cows down here are very particular. And I believe it has an effect on our bodies.

Kim: Is he making this up Neil?

Neil: I'd go with it because lately I've been discrediting him and he's proved to be right. Let's ring Fonterra.

Kim: Would he lie to us?

Neil: He would.

Kim: Liam Finn destroys dairy industry in 30 seconds.

Neil: 'Milk: You'll end up with thick ankles C'mon kids - don't you want thick ankles?'

Kim: You've got a baby now. Liam,

Liam: I do, Buddy yeah.

Kim: BuddyDo you watch Modern Family? It's very funny and Jay in Modern Family calls everybody buddy because he can't remember their names.

Liam: He actually thinks everyone knows his name, because he hears people saying 'hey buddy'. When my wife was in labour she was saying 'c'mon buddy, cmon little buddy' and she'd never used the word buddy in her life, that I'd heard. So me and her mum looked at each other and thought - 'Oh, Buddy'.

Neil: The other thing that has to be noted too is that Buddy doesn't have thick ankles.

Liam: No, and he's lactose intolerant.

Kim: Fleetwood Mac, I'm going to return to the question of long are you going to spend with them, is it just one tour?

Neil: It's an unknown, we all start this chapter thinking anything is possible and it feels like I'm joining a real band and they want me to be in the band because they know apart from being able to sing some of the songs … our voices sound good together. We found that out very quickly and that was hugely reassuring.

Kim: They didn't audition you?

Neil: Well we did in a sense audition but they didn't want to call it that, but you have to play together to know whether it's going to work it seemed good on paper but we played and it just immediately felt like we had a really good sound going and their interest is being in a real band and making some new music. I hope I can contribute on that front together with Mike Campbell who's an amazing guitar player. It's an exciting line-up and they feel that way too, so I'm glad to be part of a buoyant mood that's overtaken the band.

Neil and Liam Finn

Neil and Liam Finn Photo: Supplied

Kim: Rumours was a defining moment in my life. Are you familiar with Rumours, Liam?

Liam: I think I'm more familiar with Rumours than Dad is. I'm a big Fleetwood Mac fan through my wife. She introduced me to them I grew up not really knowing much about them apart from all the drama I knew the hits obviously.

Kim: Even if you don't know about all the personal drama, Rumours is still a fabulous album.

Liam: Definitely, but I think that's a huge part of what's made those records is the drama.

Neil: They have truth in them all the songs whether they're in the pop side of Christine [McVie]'s songs or the darker side of Lyndsey [Buckingham]'s contributions. Every song seemed to have some truth.

Kim: Where abouts in Greece are you now?

Neil: We don't really want to say specifically …

Liam: We don't want to blow our cover. In this specific tavern the owner of the bar plays the accordion and the mayor of the little village is a great bazouki player many nights you'll go in there and they'll just be playing around they'll always hand over the guitars to us and we'll try to keep up and they'll ask us to play a song and we'll feel very lame playing Beatles covers and stuff like that when their stuff's so intricate and soulful.

Neil: Most Greek music is built upon the concept of people having gone away. They are an ... emigrant race really, much like the Irish and had to leave for hard times and people are always missing. The Greek blues is about missing their relatives, missing people who have passed on, that act of getting together and singing and raising glasses as a way of evoking the Gods - that's the concept we're exploring in this song.

Kim: What are you looking forward to?

Liam: Hanging out with Buddy in LA and maybe catching a Fleetwood Mac show.

Neil: I'm looking forward to joining my third band and making some good music and having an adventure for sure. I'm also really looking forward to hanging out in Los Angeles with these guys and Buddy… were going to have plenty of time to have fun, to swim and to go on hikes and Liam and I will also get a chance to play a few shows and do a bit of stuff for our record which is really exciting too.

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