Crowded House: Farewell to The WorldNick Seymour


WHILE THE OTHER MEMBERS OF CROWDED HOUSE HAVE often been torn between the road that goes on forever and the tug of hearth and home, bass player Nick Seymour is the unreconstructed rock'n'roll animal. Newly blond-haired, he's a team player through and through, a man who believes in bands in general, and this one in particular. Paradoxically, his skills as a painter and illustrator suggest that he's the member of the group who could most easily walk away and devote himself to something entirely different. He is, by his own admission, the man who took the break-up hardest.

How would you describe your state of mind going into this?

Incredibly relaxed. I think there's a lot of stubborn institutionalised thought between the four of us that has just been washed away by a combination of knowing there is no schedule past this gig being held over us by management or record company. I really wish that we could have had the state of mind we've got now five years ago, be as relaxed about being in a band as we are now, and not take it as seriously as we have done in the past.

ln what way?

Always being so aware of how we are publicly perceived. A certain anal retentiveness that we've had in the studio. Instead of keeping a guide vocal or guide guitar track where the thing has really rocked, we've gone back later and overdubbed to make it absolutely correct. We've over-scrutinised things. I've always thought the band was so much more relaxed and intuitive when we're playing live than on record.

You think that underneath these records there are hairier records trying to get out?

Absolutely. Like on Together Alone. There were some really loose moments on that record that we tended to polish up too much.

So you think the band could have gone more in that direction?

Yes. The new studio album that we were going to make, I had thoughts of this new record being the essence of Crowded House. We recorded about 14 songs in the winter of two years ago in Auckland with Peter Jones playing drums. There were some really good moments.

Did those get shelved because of the Finn brothers' record?

I wasn't entirely sure. I was quite in the dark about the Finn brothers' thing. I wasn't sure how that was to be orchestrated. At the time, I wanted to be sure that the projects were really quite separate. I thought that, often as not, Crowded House have been confusing for a lot of people for many years, and the more side projects by different members of the band the more the confusion.

Even within the ranks of Parlophone, which has had a lot of success for Crowded House in the UK, I still don't think they were as focussed as they could have been. I still think that if they had focussed more on the essence of it, Crowded House would still be together and making another studio album. I've always insisted that they could even be shooting themselves in the foot by not being as direct in addressing the Crowded House issues and focussing on other projects that are surrounding Crowded House. And I've definitely thought that of our management.

Out of all the members of the band, I think I'm the one who wanted it to be a lot more successful than we possibly have been. I wanted into be the biggest band in the world.

At what point did you start to smile at yourselves for entertaining that notion?

There was a point when we won the Brit and beat Pearl Jam, Nirvana, R.E.M. and U2, and I realised we connected with an identity in the UK and I thought, We're on track. Now if I can just convince the other members of the band that, possibly, without compromising too much our sense of ourselves outside of the band, we could be the biggest band in the world and it wouldn't create that much of a struggle in our lives.

So do you think the others didn't want that?

They actually told me they didn't want that. We had a meeting in 1991 and I actually said, 'Do you want to be in the biggest rock band in the world?' and both Paul and Neil said, "No." I thought we could do that without becoming sociopaths or megalomaniacs. I thought you could be a nice bloke who's all right to live next door to but be in the biggest band in the world.

What are your memories of Paul's departure?

I understood that he wanted to leave the band because I really thought that we had begun musically expanding at a rate that he was no longer with us. He wasn't in the collective consciousness at soundchecks or rehearsals. So when he started saying he was leaving, I started seeing the writing on the wall and could tell he was crying wolf and one day he would just make a snap decision and go. So I started pressing him for a date. And that really annoyed him, but it would allow us to see we would be able to tour up to this date and then sort things out. I was quite prepared to move into the more musical side of Crowded House without him and thought that we had successfully done that with Peter Jones. I love playing with Peter. He's much easier to play with.

But when Paul was gone something went out of the group that was more than just a drummer.

But I thought that was a falsehood. I thought it was an aspect of the boy scout humour and the ganging-on that I didn't think was relevant to the music anyway.

But wasn't it very relevant to what people loved about Crowded House?

I always thought that what people loved about us was the timelessness of our music, and that what Paul did in a way brought a sense of time to our music, because of his in-the-moment humour. And I was looking to go on and make more timeless music that was about music and expanding that horizon with a drummer like Peter Jones. It's only in the last week that it's struck me that I probably had an incredibly different view of the band from Neil's or Paul's.

What sort of things do you remember from all those nights on-stage?

We were in Georgia and this girl was very loud and wanted us to notice her, and when we got her up on-stage she had nothing to say. So because she was wearing this red gingham shirt we decided to lie her on the drum riser and eat a picnic off her shirt. The crew raced straight to the band room and brought all the food out of the rider and just placed it on her, and we sat around and just ate food and talked to each other.

What's your favourite Crowded House song?

Into Temptation, because it's one of those spine-chilling moments where we were all in the some frame of mind on the same day in the studio and I can hear it in the track. It's one of those things with an ascending bass line and a descending melody that works like an Irish traditional song that will make you cry just by the nature of the melody alone. The other would be Fall At Your Feet. Those are the only two I can think where we were in absolutely the same surrendered frame of mind in the studio.

What are you doing next?

Playing in a band called Deadstar with Peter Jones on drums, Barry Palmer from Hunters & Collectors on guitar and Caroline Kennedy from a Melbourne band called The Plums as the singer. We've got a single that's charting here called Don't It Get You Down. It's a powerpop band. And they are the least earnest bunch you con imagine.

You',ve had too much earnestness then?

I've had a gutful in the last 10 years. I wanna be in a sexy band.

Has the self-effacing nature of Neil and Paul fought against that in Crowded House?

Yes. People have had a difficulty liking us because we've denied it so much.

If Neil turned up with another group in a year's time would you feel resentful?

(Long pause) I'd be competitive but I don't think I'd be resentful. I'd be happy for him that maybe he felt he needed to prove to us that we weren't right, we weren't the right musicians for him, but I don't think he's really saying that. He recognizes that we have an incredible intuitive magic. That he's had to throw the baby out with the bathwater to rid himself of the responsibility of being relied upon by the other members of this creative team.

How did he tell you he was finishing?

I could tell he was really enjoying it. He was just enjoying making the phone call. 'Nick?" "Yeah?" "I've left the band." 'Oh, right." He enjoyed ringing me, catching me in whatever mood I was in. I might have been sitting there with my mum and dad for all he knew. He didn't know who I was there with.

He'd never ever said he was leaving the band before, but he's come very close to it. I could tell he was really captivated by the very words, he was enjoying breathing them into life. I was quite happy for him. What can you say? "OK, you're leaving the band. Well, I guess I'll talk to you some time in the next few days,' and put the phone down. You can't say, "Are you sure Neil?" Of course he's bloody sure.

My mood did change rather drastically. We were having a good evening with the people that I share with. There were a couple of bottles of wine and dinner and the phone rings, and I went into shock and had to tell them, and the mood of the whole evening changed and I got in the car and went round to see my brother.

But then you come to England.

And that was the weirdest part of it. We hadn't discussed it. Neil had decided that we should still go and promote the greatest hits and play live. There was an understanding that while we were there we would discuss why Neil has decided to leave, when a week earlier he'd been so into the idea of making a new studio album. We had a meeting in our manager's hotel room in London and there were some pretty awful things said; I probably won't find out for years whether Neil really believes a couple of the things he said. He said them directly to me. Mark was quiet for most of the time. Here I am in a room with our manager, our tour manager, Mark Hart, Neil and I, and Neil's telling me this stuff about myself which was slightly affecting my confidence about myself as an artist.

Remarks about your playing?

No. Remarks about my own assessment of what makes me tick as an artist. Things that would affect my self-esteem, things that were unnecessary and were to do with making it easier for him to leave the band.

Do you think he's making a mistake?

No, I think he's right. He's timed it beautifully because there's still dignity. If it got to the point where it was like a marriage where things were starting to fester, you end up hating each other.

What should be the last song?

I just assume it would be Better Be Home Soon. Two nights ago we played Don't Dream It's Over and in the choruses I just started crying, and it was the same sort of uncontrollable mind set that if you acknowledge a melody it doesn't matter what way you think about it, you'll start to to cry. I find myself thinking about all the things I try to think about when I'm trying not to come. It's the benchmark song of Crowded House and I've never acknowledged it as anything other than a great arrangement. And it's the best last song written in the history of popular music.

Next Page - Neil Finn Interview

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