The Finn Brothers
There’s a double rainbow in the sky over Los Angeles. It’s a good omen. Tim and Neil Finn have flown in from New Zealand to record a new album, Everyone Is Here.
The pair has enjoyed global success alone and together. Between their solo careers, Crowded House, Split Enz, and a stash of classic songs, the Finn brothers have contributed more than their fair share of the tunes we hum in our quieter moments.
There are too many songs to list, but try a handful like this for size; “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” “Weather With You,” Six Months In A Leaky Boat,” “I Got You,” “Persuasion,” “She Will Have Her Way”… the list goes on and on. Still, we’re hungry for more, and ever hopeful of what the next chapter may bring.
Before work properly commenced on Everyone Is Here, Tim mused on each brother bringing a “certain knowledge, experience and confidence into the situation. Starting fresh, but bringing what you’ve learned from your own work into the project… anything could happen”.
Where did it all begin? Probably 40 years ago as the pair shared a bedroom in Te Awamutu, New Zealand. Tim is six years Neil’s senior. Neil still talks of the pair lying awake at night in the dark while Tim would regale the junior brother with tales of teenage adventure. You’ll hear it in the song “Disembodied Voices” “talking to my brother/when the lights went out/down the hall way forty years ago.”
The mind plays tricks and offers up little moments of Finn mythology. A brother’s trust and an adventure shared, the Finn’s have seen it all. Neil recalls Tim being harassed by a school thug and the five-year-old younger brother comes to the rescue brandishing a tennis racquet. Later there’s Tim with a lifeline. Neil’s a hospital orderly and a call comes from London asking him to join Split Enz. Before he’d played a note, George Martin walks into the studio…
“My earliest memories of Tim,” explains Neil, “were when we used to sing harmonies. We’d rehearse in the hallway and perform for our parents’ friends, which was always nerve wracking, particularly for Tim. But, it cured us of stage fright at a very early age. That was the beginning of our musical relationship. We sang things like ‘Jamaican Farewell’. Our parents had parties where there was always singing and carousing would go on ’til the early hours. We grew up with this notion of music being an intimate thing between people in a room. All the barriers came down in those days. There was a great loosening of burden. We’re still addicted to that.”
Fast-forward to 2004 and Everyone Is Here offers one of the finest collections of Finn Brothers songs ever to be assembled. They barely wrote together in Split Enz. Crowded House was Neil’s vehicle, until the first real Finn Brothers album morphed into the global hit, Woodface.
“When we were in Split Enz,” continues Neil, “we didn’t really write together. We didn’t write together properly until around Woodface, before we’d even decided to join forces with Crowded House. We were planning a Finn Brothers record. We had a spectacular two or three weeks where we wrote all the songs that ended up on Woodface. It was just so easy; it seemed strange that we hadn’t done it before.”
By 1994, they’d hunkered down on the West Coast of New Zealand to record a new collaboration simply titled Finn. Again, they relied on gorgeous tunes and oddly fashioned instruments. Finn had an almost ‘home-made, do-it-yourself-ethic’. A side project sandwiched between Crowded House and solo commitments. The album was cut on the fly. Still, it yielded a fist full of slightly off-kilter songs with a rare evocative beauty.
With Everyone Is Here, you can sense the desire of the Brothers to fully develop their ideas; to create an expansive vision and deliver ‘fully rounded’ songs. But how to start?
By 2002, they’re by the beach on the West coast once more.
"To begin with we went out to that beach at Piha,” Tim explains, “and we wanted to find a common ground. People talk about the rivalry and competition between brothers, and everybody knows it can get a little testy with family. People imagine we walk into a room and open our mouths and beautiful harmonies pour out. It isn’t like that. There’s awkwardness. It takes a while for us to get going.
”We had to find a focus, took a few left turns ands we stretched it out over some time,” adds Neil. “There were… strange days where nothing happened and a couple of tense moments where we didn’t think we were in the same place. So, yes there was an element of struggle to begin with, but out of that we got some really great songs emerging. Sometimes they came out of thin air, at other times it was something of his that demanded to be done.”
“It was quite uncanny,” says Tim, “how often one of us would have a lyric or an idea that would fit something the other was working on. There were no rules or parameters about what might make it. We wanted it to be emotional and we wanted it to be direct.”
There’s something fresh and alive in the new songs. There’s a rush of blood as you hear “Won’t Give In,” “Homesick” or “Nothing Wrong With You” for the first time. There’s sentimentality, and we want that from men that have lived and know how to yearn. More songs flow. There’s a quiet river of melody in “Gentle Hum,” “Disembodied Voices,” “Luckiest Man Alive” and “Edible Flowers.”
As an image of what they had in common, Tim keeps thinking back to the Waikato River, which runs alongside the main road between their place of birth, Te Awamutu, and Auckland… “It’s a road Neil and I have traveled hundreds of times,” Tim says.
You’ll see it on the cover shot, taken by photographer Marti Friedlander. The Finn’s traveled together along that road to boarding school, to gigs, to say goodbye to their mother.
Tim and Neil deal in the common language of human feeling. Jerry Lee Lewis once said, “All great singers sound like they’re telling the truth.” Tim and Neil are telling the truth. The songs are snapshots of the writers’ own live, moving forward into the future with an eye on their heritage. The tunes keep coming.
What was that about rivalry between brothers? It’s a million years old. The two writers worked together, they’d rankle each other, they’d push the songs, and the music wins in the end.
“When you admire the person you’re with, you want to impress them and even outdo them,” Neil laughs. “So yeah… it’s the basis of most good songwriting collaborations really. When it worked well, both of us were tuned into each other and responding. You just get a more outgoing feeling from a song when it’s coming like that. When you’re on your own, you tend to write introspectively in a quiet reflective voice. With two of us we tend to bellow and push it out.”
Friends and allies were called in to help as the album grew from Piha Beach to London and Los Angeles. In the engine room there’s Matt Chamberlain (David Bowie/Macy Gray) on drums and Sebastian Steinberg (Soul Coughing) on bass; Jon Brion (Grant Lee Phillips/Fiona Apple/Badly Drawn Boy) appears on guitars, keyboards and face scratching.
Adam Kasper (Queens Of The Stone Age/Pearl Jam) recorded the brothers. Tony Visconti (Bowie/T-Rex/McCartney) arranged some string parts – you’ll hear him on “Disembodied Voices” playing mandolin, double bass and throat singing; Geoff Maddock (Goldenhorse) from New Zealand arranged strings for “Edible Flowers.” BJ Cole offers pedal steel on ‘Homesick’, Don McGlashan (The Muttonbirds) played euphonium on “All The Colours.”
Mitchell Froom (Crowded House/Phantom Planet) lent his production skills. Bob Clearmountain was called in to mix, and it was the first time the Finns, Froom and Clearmountain had been in a room together since Woodface. At the heart of the project are these 12 new songs, as fine as anything the brothers have written.
“Mitchell Froom was someone we’d spoken about in terms of keyboards; maybe getting him to play on a couple of things,” Tim says. “We saw him soon after we came to LA. We played him material and I’ll never forget it. In the space of a few hours he gave very precise opinions on every song. He became a producer on the project, but it was more like a friend helping out two other friends, with great authority and intuition. He knows us both so well. He’s worked with both of us individually and together. He’s creates this great level space.”
Everyone Is Here offers an intense emotional journey. There’s blood and oxygen pumping around the heart of these tunes. The songs are fresh and operate at a more consistent emotional depth than anything the brothers have previously done. Put your finger on it: there’s classicism in their combined approach.
“It involves a recurrence of ideas,” Tim explains of the magic. “It’s about embracing the simple classic elements that you’ve always loved.”