By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Photo by Karin Catt
NEIL FINN FIRST GOT REALLY FAMOUS AS THE front man of Crowded House, whose gorgeous, quietly anthemic 1987 single "Don't Dream It's Over" still plays in supermarkets everywhere. In the six years since that band made its farewell appearance on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, before a crowd numbering upward of 100,000, Neil has, among the other usual things that people do, co-scored a movie (Rain), co-authored a book (Once Removed, about his last tour), and released two solo albums -- three if you count the live 7 Worlds Collide, which documents, as does the DVD of the same name, a week of concerts staged last year in Auckland with an improbable pickup band that included Radiohead's Phil Selway and Ed O'Brien; ex-Smith Johnny Marr; Lisa Germano, who accompanies Finn on his current tour; big brother Tim Finn, co-founder of Split Enz, Neil's first band; and son Liam's own hot combo, Betchadupa, supporting Eddie Vedder on a couple of radically thrashed Enz chestnuts. "Certainly that was a peak moment for me," says Neil, "to see a song that I wrote before he was born, suddenly being really beautifully interpreted by him and one of his, you know, teenage idols."
Finn's latest record is One All(Nettwerk), already released outside the U.S. (in a slightly different form) as One Nil. It may just be that I've listened to it about a hundred times in the last two days, but I'd say this is as good an album as any he's made, with the wide sonic palette that also distinguished Crowded House and melodies more immediately memorable than those on Try Whistling This, his first solo album. Despite his old mainstream cred and deft way with a hook, Finn is a maverick by taste and conviction; he makes a music of contradictions, at once populist and private, ambiguous and direct, melancholy and uplifting, death-dark and love-bright, serious and funny. He sings pretty, but with a slightly serrated edge.
I phone him in New Zealand, where winter is arriving. To start, I remind him that we first met 15 years ago, during spring break in Daytona Beach, Florida, where Crowded House had come to play for MTV as "Don't Dream It's Over" was climbing into the Top 10.
NEIL FINN:I saw a bit of footage from that just the other day, and it looked very strange, we were all so . . . young and kind of . . . I don't know, MTV Spring Break was a strange experience at any age.
L.A. WEEKLY:It almost seems to belong to a different career -- there was a moment then when you were swept up in a kind of pop mania.
We were kind of riding a bit of a wave, with all its attendant mix of excitement and . . . anxiety. Some people get through that anxious period and love it and embrace it and want it more and more; I was one of those sort of people who slightly recoiled from it, and created my own -- you never entirely create your own fate or your own life, but there are choices you make at certain times that dictate what level of success you're comfortable with and feel is positive.
Where are you comfortable?
I'm really happy about where I am right now, actually, in the sense that I'm not a slave to the fairly narrow parameters of the pop industry and the charts -- although if I suddenly had a song rocketing up the charts, it would still probably feel pretty good. I'm drawn now to think about music far more for its own sake, without the expectation that everything's going to jump straight on the radio; it's a much freer feeling, and I've been able to expand in recent times into things like soundtracks and more collaborations, and that feels like a good, natural place to be at my age.
And how does your age feel?
My age feels good. I feel just a modicum, just a small amount of wisdom has crept in through the back door. It took me a long time, but I don't feel as anxious about stupid things anymore -- or perhaps they've just been replaced by more complicatedstupid things.
What would be an example of a complicated stupid thing?
Well, it's more existential now. In the old days it used to be, like, did my hair look right on that TV show? I'm probably being a little bit glib -- it was slightly deeper back then as well.
You always had at least a façade of maturity.
But Nick [Seymour] and Paul [Hester, of Crowded House] used to think that it was more of a schoolmasterly air, that I would be slightly disapproving of them. Things like punctuality -- when you're in a band, and you have to sit around in hotel lobbies waiting for an hour for somebody to turn up, it really used to bug me. [Laughs.] And then they'll turn up and somehow make me feel like I'm hung up.
Was Crowded House a democracy, or were you the leader?
I suppose I was the leader in the sense that I did the most communicating with managers, and I was writing the songs. But on the road, inevitably it's a democracy -- there is the odd person in a band that hasn't got much ego, but most have got a fair amount, in order to survive. We used to say that he who threw the biggest tantrum won the day.