27 Aug 2017

Neil Finn: 'I wanted a kick-ass campfire sing-along vibe'

From Sunday Morning, 10:25 am on 27 August 2017

Homegrown hero Neil Finn is still ahead of the musical game, recording his new album Out of Silence in front of a live internet audience last Friday.

The recording was the culmination of a month of Friday night shows that have been live-streamed to tens of thousands of people.

He talks to Wallace Chapman about his love of live-streaming and what makes him proud.

Finn is a fan of live streaming and has been at it quite regularly since 2001, he says.

“I love the whole uncurated, undirected nature of it, in the sense that there’s no gatekeepers, it’s not a TV show it’s not radio. It’s got its own character and you can communicate directly with the audience.”

A live-streamed event has a sense of occasion and is also a way of getting finished with the "bloody song" and knowing what it is, he says.

“Once that’s set, once you’ve bolted it together, it’s a delight just to be able to perform it with confidence, knowing it’s working.”

These days, there’s a real danger of "over-polishing" a song with music software like ProTools.

“Now I know how to operate it, it’s a blessing and a curse. I’ll sit there and I’ll get into real small minutiae of phrasings and harmony notes.

“I’m really enjoying not looking at computer screens… sitting on a piano in a room with a bunch of singers and a bunch of string players and doing it with my ears and by talking to people – it’s a lovely change.”

Neil Finn's backing choir on Out of Silence includes Don McGlashan, Sean Donnelly (aka SJD), Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins, EJ Barnes (Jimmy’s daughter) and Harper Finn, son of Tim.

“I wanted a kick-ass campfire sing-along vibe, and it just so happens I know quite a lot of these singers personally.”

Finn requested plain singing and definitely no “Mariah Carey-isms”.

“I’m always telling them ‘No vibrato on this one, no vibrato!’”

Looking back, Don’t Dream It’s Over is the song Finn is most proud of so far.

“It’s not because I think it’s a superior song to some of the other songs I’ve written, but because it seems to have done so much in so many situations to bring a bit of comfort and joy to people.”

Earlier this year, Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus did a good job covering the song at Grande's benefit concert for victims of the Manchester bombing, he says.

“I guess I was proud because it was three minutes of warmth that was introduced to that event that I had some kind of… I’d sent this thing out years ago and it turned up being useful and maybe even emotionally appropriate for some event which I had no idea of when I wrote it.”

Don’t Dream It’s Over is in E flat – Finn's favourite key.

He says he originally wrote it in E, but his friend, music producer Mitchell Froom, suggested it would be richer in E flat.

“He was right, it sounded way better.”

So how does Neil Finn like to spend a day off?

“A perfect day for me is when I get to play music and my family is around me and I get to have a swim in the ocean – that’s about it, really.”

You can watch Neil Finn’s live videos here.

Out of Silence is out 1 September.