Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month, Gary Steel presents something local from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. Today’s surprise item?
First published in the Evening Post, June 26, 1987
Crowded House Retracks Roots
NEIL FINN’S CROWDED mouth is dealing with a quick lunch and a transpacific chat before it bares its tonsils to an altogether different audience, the prying eyes of a downtown dentist.
While the world has been going gaga over his band, Crowded House, Finn has been resting in Melbourne.
“I’ve been more tired since I’ve been at home resting than when I was on the road… we had a full-on travelling schedule everyday, and your body clock gets used to accommodating any schedule at all. But when you get home it all catches up.”
An exhausting American tour culminated in their third single, ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, becoming the first-ever song by a New Zealand-led band to top the American pop charts. Their album went gold there, and here and in Australia it’s double platinum. Their new single ‘Something So Strong’ is number 15 (with a ‘bullet’) in the American Billboard Magazine charts.
Crowded House are big news, in other words, and to show Finn hasn’t forgotten his roots the band will tour here in July.
So what’s it like to be big in America, Neil?
“There’s an incredible amount of hoopla… people scratching you on the back. Have you seen the film Spinal Tap? The record company guy in that film sums up the kind of guy you have to deal with. The industry in general is not geared to very sincere, genuine people.”
Finn says that they’ve had a good run with the American public. Their first American concerts “were 80 percent Split Enz fans asking for Split Enz songs… a real drag.” Says he. But it helped to create an enthusiastic following which soon built to fever pitch.
Now that the band are big time, what sort of pitfalls are you watching out for? Will the music suffer at the hands of the industry?
“The worst thing is that the industry continually over-promotes everything. You’ve got to say no at some point, otherwise it turns into madness, it’s bad for the music, you get fried.”
Finn admits that he’s worried about the band’s longevity, with the short-term success of bands such as The Swingers and Men At Work still in recent memory.
“It’s a bit scary, because there’s only so far you can go up. I feel that promotion gets taken further than it should. It constantly worries me… if I was a fan I would be totally sick of the songs by now because they get played too much.”
Is there a lot of financial commitment from the record company, and therefore pressure to do what they want?
“We’re in the black, although the US tour did cost a lot of money. Financial security does offer some degree of autonomy. There is the attitude that, ‘We did this for you. Now you do this for us’.”
But, somewhat idealistically, Finn hopes that within “the next couple of records the songs will sell the record,” not the hype.
“The machinery is so streamlined, so big… a huge whale if it’s not working for you.”
Finn says that these days, touring doesn’t make a record top the charts, but nevertheless he’s proud of the live Crowded House, even if he would prefer to be holed up in a studio 12 months of the year.
“We are capable of putting on a very good show. So much is fabricated these days.”
Americans like their pop a little bit rock and roll, and Finn reckons that’s why the keyboard-dominated pop of the Split Enz True Colours album didn’t catch on in the way it was hoped.
Why have you chosen America, and brother Tim England?
“I think the only reason Tim lives there is his girlfriend… I think he’s really sick of England. It’s a depressing place for everyone, except English people.”
Tim’s last album, The Big Canoe, had a very “produced” sound compared with the Crowded House debut…
“I would argue that our album was more produced than Tim’s. We worked very hard on arrangements. A lot of our production went on before we went into the studio.”
On the other hand, he says, Tim’s album represented lots of studio meddling and fiddling.
Neil – being something of a studio fan – is frustrated that Crowded House are not back in the studio doing their follow-up album. It has been over a year since the first one, and “we were hoping to be in the studio by now… but we’d be crazy not to tour.”
Instead, their recording plans have been put back until December/January but for now, fans can hear several unrecorded songs in their live show.
As with the American dates, another former Enz player, keyboardist Eddie Raynor joins the band for the New Zealand tour. He will not, however, be joining the band as a permanent fixture. What Neil would really like is a permanent guitar whizz: “But I don’t want to unless I’m in awe of their ability. This person can’t be carried by the group. I want somebody who can really contribute to the band.” So, for the time being, he’s prepared to wait. GARY STEEL
* Crowded House play the Wellington Town Hall next Thursday.
Note from the author: Finn and his Roundhouse studio has become such a fixture of Auckland music life that it’s hard to imagine a time when he still lived in Melbourne, and when Crowded House were new. I’ve interviewed Neil a number of times, and have always found him thought provoking, funny and, at times, quite prickly. In other words, a good Kiwi joker. Would a star in 2013 be so candid about what they think of record company people?
* Don’t forget to check out www.audioculture.co.nz after May 31, where you’ll find a vast repository of NZ music history.