Music’s a family affair for Crowded House’s Neil Finn



By Steve Newton

When Crowded House singer and main songwriter Neil Finn picks up the phone at his home in Auckland, New Zealand, he’s “catching up on a few things” between legs of a North American tour supporting his band’s latest CD, Intriguer. The 52-year-old tunesmith is also enjoying some family time with his wife and eldest son, both of whom appear on the new album. Sharon Finn—who’s “always up for a good sing”—provides breathy vocals on the psychedelic “Isolation”, while Liam Finn plays guitar on that song and one other. Papa Finn learned quickly that his offspring had musical intentions.

“He was, as my mother would have said, ‘doomed from an early age’, ” quips Finn. “Liam fell into it from the age of about three or four, and he’s a really entertaining and quite a risk-taking musician, so I’m very proud of him.”Since forming in Melbourne in 1985, Crowded House has seen both triumph (smash hits like the timeless “Don’t Dream It’s Over”) and tragedy (founding drummer Paul Hester’s 2005 suicide). Hester’s position is currently filled by former Beck timekeeper Matt Sherrod, who joined the group during recording of its 2007 CD Time on Earth, which followed a decade-long hiatus.“We didn’t want to look for another Paul Hester,” says Finn, “it was impossible. But we wanted somebody who’s a positive presence, with a strong sense of himself, and Matt definitely has that.”

With founding bassist Nick Seymour and ex-Supertramp keyboardist-guitarist Mark Hart rounding out the lineup, Intriguer finds Crowded House delivering its typically charming array of infectious pop ditties and soul-searching ballads. It opens on a surprisingly rocking note with “Saturday Sun”, propelled by a throbbing bass line reminiscent of Wings-era Paul McCartney.

“We like to rock,” contends Finn, “but we also like to get real intimate and quiet. We’ll even embrace a few slightly kitsch, crossover things like a samba beat every now and again. They seem to work for us.”

Crowded House’s alternately upbeat and moody music has always gone over well in Vancouver; in 2007 the group played Malkin Bowl in the pouring rain—with Liam Finn sitting in—but its spirits weren’t dampened in the least. Rain or shine, Finn feels very much at home here.

“The city itself has got something reminiscent of New Zealand,” he says, “having the harbour there and the hills. There’s a good mentality out and about, and there’s just lovely parks to ride a bike around.”

As anyone who’s seen The Lord of the Rings can attest, New Zealand is an absolutely gorgeous country, but its inhabitants still seem to suffer from an inferiority complex when it comes to pop music. Kiwis at home and abroad are notoriously antsy whenever Crowded House is labelled an Australian band.

“And vice versa,” notes Finn. “When we get called a New Zealand band Australians act up because we were based in Melbourne for so long. To be honest, I have no problem with either description. If in doubt, call us an Australasian band.”

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