Crowded House: Farewell to The WorldNeil Finn


NEIL FINN STANDS ON THE FAMOUS STEPS OF THE FAMOUS Opera House the day his concert was supposed to have taken place, posing for MOJO's photographer and signing autographs.

Many of those proffering programmes have flown significant distances across Australia in order to attend. Some cannot change their travel plans to stay the extra day. He offers, fairly seriously, to have Grant Thomas pen a letter for anybody who wants one to their boss or teacher explaining the postponement and pleading clemency. He tells everyone who's interested to come down to that evening's soundcheck. (A few thousand do and get an hour's worth of performance.)

Despite his diffidence and reserve, he is very much the man for the public occasion. If a few words are needed to fill an awkward silence he will supply them. If you're in his company you will be introduced to anyone in the extended family - spouses, kids, road crew, archivists who happen along.

He is also capable of telling people things they may not wish to hear. Since the age of 17 he has been in bands, making his living projecting himself and his songs. It would be surprising if it hadn't made him tough.

Is there less pressure now that you know you're not carrying on? Is there a freedom in that?

There's an extra commitment because rehearsals were the best we've ever had. In the past we were struggling to get any work done. Now there's a tendency to stand there and go, "We must be mad, this is a great band.' But then you have to remind yourself that if we weren't breaking up it would be another tedious rehearsal. Particularly with Paul. The last few months before he left were quite tense and uneasy. But seeing him performing now, he's 100 per cent into it. Somebody used the analogy of the last bonk. You have a relationship and you have your last bonk and it's often amazing. The danger is wanting to have another one. I haven't been in that position, but some people say thst you're filled with affectionate memories of what went before because there's an end to it. But you're not besieged by doubts and insecurities anymore. So it's wonderful, a quite joyous thing.

What's a favourite memory of Crowded House on-stage?

We remember nights by the events that happened and the way we interacted with the audience. It was at the Hammersmith Odeon, and for some strange reason this Scottish guy chose Four Seasons In One Day, which is the most un-stripper kind of song we do, to come up on stage. He had the full set of clothes on, he was drunk and he very slowly began to take off everything. He got down to his undies and his girlfriend came up and whipped them down. I thought she'd be incredibly embarrassed about it but she apparently wanted to humiliate him even more. Then he put them back on meticulously, piece by piece. And he was whisked off-stage and no-one knew where he was, and then he reappeared right at the end with a bottle of champagne.

There was the guy in Philadelphia who was trying to act like Noel Crombie from Split Enz with the full Split Enz set of clothes on. But he come up and made a real dick of himself so [guitar technician] Aria and I just picked him up and threw him into the audience, expecting the crowd to catch him, and they just parted and he unfortunately fell on the floor. I'm sure it must have really hurt but anyway he jumped straight up as if nothing had happened.

There was Paul trying to throw a beer up to somebody in the balcony in Birmingham, and it didn't make it and smashed all over the monitor desk and put the whole show down for about 10 minutes. A moment of extreme stupidity. A full bottle with the top off. And the amazing thing is, that after incurring the scorn of the whole crew for this moment of lunacy he tried to do it again later on.

What are you doing next?

Making a record which I've already started. I've got a studio in my basement at home and I'm attempting to record there, which will be a novel thing. That will be with a cast of characters yet to be decided but I'm doing some homework about it. I'm trying to embark on a record that doesn't rely on guitar, bass and drums for its textures. I said to somebody in England flippantly that I was trying to do something Psychedelic Gothic-Pacific and I found myself listening to things I'd done and thinking, that sounds a bit Psychedelic-Gothic-Pacific. Now if I could only find a way of shortening the words it might become a useful adjective.

I did some stuff with Jim Moginie from Midnight Oil who's a lovely guy and a great guitar player and I've always talked about having some fun with him one time. About a year ago we got together and wrote a bunch of songs out at Kare Kare and played non-stop and had a ball for five days. We just finished the stuff recently and there's about five or six songs come out of that which I'm really pleased with. I'm sure that the best of those will become part of this record.

Can you imagine yourself being naturally drawn back into a group again?

Yes, I can see that as a possibility.

And more than a possibility?

There's a certain amount you can do on your own with a nice introspective kind of groove going but it also seems a bit serious, and what happens when you get a few good people in the room is that you make a few leaps in your perceptions of what the music should be. You find yourself saying, "We could make this song more up." You end up just getting into a vibe because there's people present and you make discoveries about your songs. I'm really not at all interested in getting into a state where it's Neil and a bunch of session guys playing what Neil wants them to play. That would seem like a very horrible fate. If by March next year it's all feeling a bit too claustrophobic and personal I'll probably be drawn into the idea of a group, albeit a different kind of beast.

But you were talking about doing this with Crowded House.

That was the option, I suppose. We could have continued, but a part of me had a purist view of what a band could be and I felt we weren't hanging around in the same town. Paul's left because he doesn't want to tour anymore, and in a sense it's over and we should recognise the fact instead of trying to be a band. You cant be a band unless you're hanging about the some town, getting pissed together. I just don't think there's any bands around that work otherwise. I suppose R.E.M. live in different cities now, but am I imagining it or is the shine going off that experience as well? Even though they're still a great band and I've nothing but respect for them. I looked around at all the bands in Australia who actually did it, who said we're not breaking up but we're not doing anything either and it just seemed a bit weak.

People want the independence of being on their own but they also wont the security of the known.

And also there's a value in the trademark. People are impressed by that and certainly the record company [Parlophone, to whom he is now signed as a solo artist] were trying to convince me that I should continue the name even if I didn't work with any of the people, and I thought then we were never a band if it was only a name. It denies that we were a band really. I can understand it from their point of view that they've worked hard to get the value of this trade name and they've got to start from halfway down again next time round.

It seemed to me that something fundamentally changed when Paul left, that it stopped being a group.

In a way, when we were touring after Paul left, it actually felt better because we had a problem we could identify and overcome. We couldn't fight against Paul's moods but we could find a new drummer and do a good show just to show the bastard.

There was a certain amount of incentive for us to be a group and perform well, and we actually came through. I'm sure there we people out there who missed Paul's presence although we didn't get a lot of complaints. It felt different to me because I'd formed he band with Paul. Nick joined shortly afterwards so it went back, and valued Paul's perspective on things, despite his darkness. He's a good counter to my too serious view of the whole thing, and I missed him.

That seemed to be the axis that the group operated on, you and Paul.

Certainly on-stage that was the line of communication and Paul is funny bastard, and, in the mood, when given a good line he's always going to come back with something better. I think it was liberating fo Nick that instead of being the butt of Paul's jokes he could contribute the dialogue. Pete was great, and he's a really great guy, but a band is a band is a band, and I just thought either we could go through a metamorphosis and become something different and we could have made a record and it could have been great. Maybe in a few years' Tim nobody would have missed the old line-up, but I have just too much respect and affection for the genuine chemistry we had.

So in that sense' people are indispensable in groups like this one? If you take one element away the fingerprint's not the same.

I think so. I can't think of ba nd s who've made these transitions. There's The Cure but The Cure is Robert Srnith. R. E. M. have had a consistant line-up, U2 have. Those are the big bands, but normally if groups don get big they don't survive anyway. But we could have continued an certainly Nick was quite severely disappointed that we didn't. He was the one who was most resistant. He was the one who said, "I kno you want to leave but why don't we just not say anything, not make anything of it. Leave it there and we can pick it up later if you feel like you've had your affair and you want to come back.' And I suppose some extent we could have. I don't like that half-in half-out feeling.

Were things tense when you were in London after you'd decided to break up the band?

Not really. The first couple of days were tense because we hadn't been face to face for ages. We had a couple of meetings and a bit of person stuff come out. We shouted and yelled and said a few things. But on we got into being a band we just clicked back in and wanted to enjoy

Tim said he didn't envy you the responsibility of having to maintain a band and the extended family that goes with it.

It's a double-edged sword because part of my motivation for breaking up the band was feeling that the responsibility was a burden. On the other hand, you've got this great support network as well. Being a solo act as I may yet discover is probably a very lonely thing.

Paul reckons that the Kare Kare experience was the beginning of the end for Crowded House.

Yes, I felt in a sense it was. We lost our innocence in that experience, much as it's my favourite record. Which is strange because in one sense Youth is quite an innocent character but in another he's a bit of an inner city Londoner. I'm saying this for the first time but I don't think we got the full moneysworth, and I kind of gave up on it near the end of it. It didn't end all that well with Youth. I felt a bit let down by then and he probably thought I was a bit of a fascist. Either way we made a great record together but I wouldn't want to do it again.

I think it was the beginning of the end. I listened to the songs again at the end of it and I thought, Shit, a lot of songs here are about leaving and endings - I wonder if this is our last album, and it's called Together Alone. Five relationships in and around the band broke up during the course of it.

I got pissed off with everybody because nobody bought any food. I'd be in the studio from 10 ‘till midnight and I'd come back and there'd be no food, and everybody would be swanning around sunning themselves and not bothered to go and get any food. I remember going off at everybody and for a couple of days nobody talked to me.

Like Rik Mayall in The Young Ones?

That's a scary analogy but possibly true.

How would you describe your state of mind going into this lost show in front of 150,000 people?

I wasn't really thinking about this until I got here because I was in New Zealand and the hooplah didn't really reach across the Tasmon. I think if I'd been sitting here watching the build-up I might have got quite nervous and said, 'What are we doing here, we're mad?'

The idea of putting everything into a last show in front of however many people - it's big pressure. If you don't have a good night you don't get another chance at it. But we've risen to those challenges quite well in the past. Although we're ideally suited to a lounge room we can manage to make the transition to the bigger gig.

Everybody feels slightly different but as the week goes on we're probably all feeling slightly more united in the way we're feeling about it and desirous to take out a positive memory of the experience of actuailydoing it. Rather than being an acknowledgementof the past it's another week of Crowded House experience.

There may have been different views of whether the band should have broken up, of whether this was the right thing to do, but now that we're on course there's this commitment to the task. I'd like to think we can finish in a dignified manner and will be remembered for finishing well, knowing when to quit and when there was a good vibe and real affection for the band. Even the people who hate us can like us now because we're breaking up.

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