Interview: Crowded House on Dreamers Are Waiting, the new band format and restlessness

Crowded House

Crowded House are gearing up for their seventh studio album’s release, only this is the first with the band’s current formation. Consisting of original members Neil Finn and Nick Seymour, alongside newly added Mitchell Froom, Liam Finn and Elroy Finn; the band is family skewed which lends for complete openness and transparency as we discuss with Liam Finn. 

Liam, who was just two years old when his father Neil began Crowded House after coming from Split Endz, has had a strong music influence throughout his life and making a solo career for himself. However, after being a touring member of the band since 2007, he and his brother Elroy have been enlisted into the band for good, adding their own flair to the Crowded House legacy and even having an original song each on the upcoming album Dreamers Are Waiting (out June 4). 

We caught up to discuss the changing formula of Crowded House, how the band environment has informed his own practice and life growing up around such a celebrated band. 

How are you, Liam? 

A little dusty, we had a birthday party for dad last night here at the studio, played a little show, and it was really fun.

Wow, how many people were there?

Just about 30 or 40. We’re in Auckland at the moment. 

That checks out. Well, it must be a nerve-wracking time in your world. You’re one week out from Dreamers Are Waiting being released. What’s the next week look like for you and the band in the lead-up? 

Um, it’s not too crazy. It’s been quite busy since we did this New Zealand tour because we had a bunch of stuff that we shot during the tour and afterwards like TV performances and stuff like that. I’ve been doing all the mixing of the music myself, which I really enjoy doing. I’ve just finished mixing… We filmed the Auckland show on the tour and we’re releasing that in a couple of weeks, it’s a global streamed event that people can buy tickets to and that was a real mammoth thing. Like a two and a bit hour song it felt like really, but I’m very satisfied that, I’m quite happy to have it done now. I have the songs going from my head when I sleep and I need a break.

Have you always been into mixing and that side of it?

Yeah. I mean, I’ve always enjoyed since I was a kid, you know, like learning how to make demos and using dad’s those little cassette four tracks, and then learned how to use the sort of Tascam quarter-inch tape machine when I was pretty small, I helped operate it for dad. I realised how much I enjoy it, you know, that element to it.

So it’s something that’s constantly evolving and I feel like I’m getting better at it but in a way, throwing yourself into something like mixing live shows, you just learn so much by having to do it, you know, and having a bit of pressure that it has to be good. 

That’s fair, pressure does help. So this is your first release as an official member of Crowded House, but you’ve also been doing your solo project. Was there a difference between finalising the album for the band and what you’ve done on your own? 

There are certainly big differences between doing a solo thing, to working with a band. I mean, the solo thing can be a pretty lonely process full of self-doubt and brick walls being thrown up by your brain. It’s a real trial sometimes, and I think that’s what makes all the records special in their own way. They’re a labor of love and it’s somebody’s purist angst. With a band, you’ve got this momentum of the energy of the other people and the belief of the other people in the band. So you usually make decisions a lot quicker and you move roadblocks a lot faster because you just have somebody else that’s got the energy to sort of go, “No, that’s great.”

Or, if you think you’ve got a bad lyric or the guitar’s not right, there’s somebody who goes, “No it’s good.” It’s just a faster process and in some ways makes you more fearless. 

I really missed being in a band, like I’ve had a few minor experiences in the last ten years, but not really, since I was in my first band have I had a really democratic collaborative since band thing. And it feels, even though I’m in a band with my dad and my dad’s old friends, it kind of feels like a little true band of mates, we’re all on an iMessage thread together. They’re not sending stupid memes or just stuff, but there’s certainly stupid humour and I guess it feels like a normal high school band. 

Nice, it’s good to have that trust with them. Obviously it’s birthed out of family, but having creative freedom and not worrying about having stupid ideas is important. 

Yeah! Everyone’s very comfortable with each other. And I think that that’s what’s really working for this lineup and what’s really exciting is we sort of stepped into it. It’s something that feels new and fresh, but it doesn’t have any of that self-consciousness of a new relationship. 

Are you going to continue your solo project through this Crowded House iteration?

Yeah, well, I’m just about to launch into a very convoluted and exciting one-man-band project just to occupy me during the winter here while we wait to be able to tour the rest of the world again. We will have Crowded House stuff to do, but since coming back to New Zealand in October last year and since deciding to stay here for the whole year with my little family, my wife and I were like, why don’t we just set ourselves projects? Our lives are kind of on pause, we moved from LA and rented our house out and rented a place down here. And it sort of feels like a little sojourn from what we thought was our trajectory. 

It’s kind of nice to have that separation though, that churn and burn that I imagine would be so consuming in LA and then to come and have a little break in New Zealand. Do you feel like it’s helped you in mental health or given you time to reflect? 

I’m really enjoying it. Like it’s obviously home. Probably to be honest, I don’t think I’ve really lived here since I was 20, so a while ago. I definitely spent a lot of time here and I had three months here at a time, so it doesn’t feel like I’ve ever really left, but to be here for a whole year, mentally I’m really enjoying it. I’m even really enjoying the change of season and going into the cold. And, you know, ask me again at the end of July/August, and it might be different. 

You strike me as someone who likes to stay busy – do feel restless? Are you like, “All right, I want to get back and hit the ground running overseas. Let’s go again,” or are you happy where it’s at right now? 

I’m happy with this rolling with the punches kind of thing. I mean, we’ve suffered very little. Even in LA, we were locked down for eight months or so with my two little kids. It was tough, but we were very fortunate to really love our house and we can have anything we needed delivered to our doorsteps as is the LA way.

We can’t complain, I mean getting to come back to New Zealand – which in some ways I’m surprised it took so long for us to decide to come back down – it was such a feeling of elation to sort of do the two-week quarantine here and then step out and almost into a different dimension it felt like, because people were living normally. That was such a headf**k to be honest. It was great, and sadly, it didn’t take long to almost forget the past year.

I almost remind myself, you get up every day and all of our friends are still living in isolation in LA and you sort of have to speak to them to realise that people are still going through it. So I guess I don’t want to waste any time while I’m here if we’ve got the luxury and privilege to be able to work and play music and stuff like that, I’m going to fully make use of this. 

You were two years old when your dad Neil started Crowded House. Do you remember the first time realising that that project was a big deal?

I don’t think I remember computing that it was different. I grew up with, even obviously with Split Enz so from the moment I was born, I was backstage and seeing crowds of people light up from the music that my dad and his mates were creating. So it just always seems like a really fun and positive thing. I guess I’ve witnessed this sometimes the angst that comes along with trying to be creative and stuff like that, but the live performance thing for me always seemed to outweigh it because it just seems so joyous. When I look back now, I think I’m realising more and more than the older I get what a unique way it was to grow up. 

Tell me about how the music for this upcoming album was created – was it through jams or did Neil approach the band with penned songs?

There’s a combination of stuff. There are about two or three songs on the record that came from the five of us jamming in the pre-production time meeting up to it, and dad took away long hours and hours of jamming. We would move through a few different kinds of moods over the course of an hour or two then he went through and sorted through it and found parts and wrote songs from it. So that was very much still driven by his vision for it.

As a songwriter, you thrive off being dealt up something different that isn’t from your own fallback starting blocks. Jams are the great things to spark those ideas. There are maybe four songs that came from another thing that dad had been working on – a musical project, like a theatre musical project. It kind of fell apart and a few of the songs that ended up on the record spawned from those writing sessions with these kind of quite different almost narratives-like lyrics. A style I’ve never seen dad write like. I was really energised by that and all really encouraged me. I think “To The Island” is one of them, “Deeper Down” is another.

So, yeah, it was, I feel like the album was kind of made out of every which way you can make a song, which is really great. There’s no two the same.

Is that one song from the upcoming album that hasn’t been released yet, but you’re most excited for people to hear?

You know, my favourite song changes so often. Quite often you work on a record so much that by the time you release it, you almost go through little ebbs and flows of even being able to enjoy it because you lose perspective on it and objectivity, but we finished it in a really good spot where we didn’t feel like we’d ever worked it. It felt pleasurable for us all to still listen to it.

I haven’t listened to it for a little bit, but I’m definitely excited that I have a song of my own on the record. When dad put it out there to all of us, like, “If anyone’s got a song, let’s do it.” There’s room for one or two others, it doesn’t have to all be his. So I’ve got a song and my brother Elroy’s got a song on the record, and I’m really excited that they seem to really fit into the Crowded House thing without sounding out of place 

Are there any plans for live performances after the release?

I’m not sure… We want to come to Australia, I mean, obviously that’s the place where Crowded House are most loved on the entire planet. So that’ll be huge.

I mean a huge deal for us, you’ll be one of the first technically international acts to come over. Liam has been so lovely to speak to you. 

To celebrate the release of Dreamers Are Waiting, an album release event,  Crowded House Live From The Island, Aotearoa, New Zealand – Filmed in March 2021, will be streamed on eMusic Live on Saturday 12th June at 6.00 pm and 8.00 pm AEST- tickets on sale now HERE

Dreamers Are Waiting is out now

Stay up to date with Crowded House through their LinkTree.

Tait McGregor

@taitmcgregor

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