Since the early '70s, Tim Finn has been both rocking and mellowing English-speaking countries in the Earth's southern hemisphere. He was frontman for the colorfully original new wave-ish band Split Enz, had a stint in his younger brother's group, Crowded House, also saw success with the Finn Brothers and has had a lengthy solo career. With fans that follow him with a cultish fervor, those that love his music are more than elated that the Auckland-based troubadour presses on after more than 30 years.
I was lamentably tired when the time came for me to speak with Mr. Finn during a transpacific phone call two weeks ago and so forgot to ask about his unique song arrangements and interesting use of percussion. Alas—perhaps I'll get my chance again at his rare appearance in Albuquerque this Saturday.
What's the atmosphere in New Zealand right now, musically?
It's pretty fertile. There are a lot of new bands all the time. There's quite a bit of government support—they have these music funds. They give out money to people to make singles and albums. It's not just arbitrary—there are limits they put on it, but they're not that hard to achieve so people can, without getting a hit song, get a song that gets airplay, and next be given a $5,000 grant to make another single. Videos as well—there are two or three music video channels here. So unlike a lot of the rest of the world, where the whole music video thing has died off quite a lot—music labels are even reluctant to pay for them anymore—here in New Zealand there's a whole industry for making cheap, $5,000 music videos. It's amazing how inventive and creative young filmmakers can get, and they get played a lot. So consequently there are a lot of young people who see it as attainable to be in a band or to be a promoter or get noticed.
It's not all rosy. It's still pretty hard to make a living. It would be very rare that anybody in a band here would have enough money to be able to buy a house. It has a bohemian underbelly to it, and I think that's good. I think that keeps people honest and keeps them real; they don't expect to become superstars.
What do you think of Liam Finn's success?
First of all, I love him. He's my nephew and we've always had a good bond because he's the older brother, so we kind of have this older brother thing. You could see with Liam right from when he was 5 that he was going to be doing music. At a very early age he was able to hold down a backbeat and strum a chord, so it's just been a matter of him finding his feet. We're all very proud of him. Great guy, too.
In your latest album's liner notes, I read that you've been involved in saving old theaters.
I helped save [the Victoria Theatre] in our local area really just by putting my hand up and doing a couple of interviews. It suddenly became this news story that went really far and wide and got to Australia. So they backed off, the council protected it and put a heritage listing on it. So I'm glad and I guess I'll stick up for the theaters whenever I can. I always enjoy playing them on tour.
“I think that keeps people honest and keeps them real; they don't expect to become superstars.”
The one that you're playing here is pretty nice, the Lobo Theater.
Yeah, I've heard. There's quite a few on the tour that are really nice. I'm looking forward to coming to Albuquerque. As far as I know, I've only been there once with Crowded House back in the ’90s. New Mexico is a very appealing prospect.
I see that you're just touring the Western U.S.—why only that part?
It's a long way to come, and we've got two little kids now, so you've got to get a crowbar to get me out of the house sometimes. [On] that Western side of the States, there's so many places to go. When you get across to Chicago, that's when it gets mean and ugly. Somehow every tour takes a dive when you get across to the Midwest. I'm taking the easy way out this time—I'm taking a fun route.
Do you think that shift happens in the Midwest because of the emotional atmosphere or the physical atmosphere?
It's something of both for me. I can only see it through my eyes. The Pacific Ocean has a huge connecting force between the states and our part of the world. Even though you guys are in the desert, you're still on that side. There's more life and space.
What kind of stuff do you play at shows these days?
On any give night I do one or two songs from Split Enz, then go through to solo stuff. We do stuff off of Woodface—Crowded House stuff that I was a part of. So it's about 35 years of songs to pick from.