Originally published on Hijacked (November 17, 2015)
Liam Finn grew up with music in his head. Of course, it helped that there were always instruments lying around the house – and nowadays he can play at least 67 of them.
Yes, he’s that Finn.
Son of Neil – of Crowded House and Split Enz fame – and former frontman of Betchadupa, Melbourne-born, New Zealand-raised Liam Finn has been writing songs since he was a kid.
“I think the most formative and romantic memories I have are learning how to record on a TASCAM 1/4” 8-track,” he tells Hijacked. “It was so exciting to hear things back, mess with varispeed, and try and write music that felt like creating new worlds of wonder.”
Now 32, music holds as much wonder for Finn as ever. Since Betchadupa went their separate ways in 2006, he’s left a trail of successful solo albums in his wake, including last year’s highly acclaimed The Nihilist.
“When it was time to make a solo record rather than keep Betchadupa going, it was mostly because the songs I had been writing felt like they wanted to be recorded and performed in a more intimate and solitary way,” he says now. “Since then, I have felt compelled to change the way I approach things every time I start something new.”
This time, what’s “new” is a one-off show at Melbourne Music Week – a blend of cinema and song written by Finn and directed by New York’s Anthony and Alex. Titled “Success”, it deals with subject matter perhaps familiar to the Finn family.
“I wrote a bunch of music earlier in the year – pieces of atmosphere and a few scattered songs – that felt cinematic,” Finn says. “Anthony and Alex had grand visions for using the pieces, along with performance artists and actors in NYC. We wanted to tackle the very personal subjectivity of success – its interpretation and plight.”
So what does success look like to a man who spent last year opening for Pearl Jam (“The mere fact you get to watch a great band play after you’ve finished your own set, high on endorphins and adrenalin with a beer in your hand”) and has toured all around the world for his music?
“It looks like your dream lover,” Finn says. “Almost attainable through determination and perseverance, but always hindering on a bit of luck and an irreverent swagger. Never complacent, never satisfied.”
Hardly inspiring words for would-be musos. But, for Finn, the “uphill battle” is the “best part”.
“You have to know that no one knows what’s best for you,” he says. “Trust your gut and take advice with a grain of salt. The industry is in disarray, so make up your own path to your own version of success.”
And there’s that word again. Held at the Australian Centre for Moving Image, Friday night’s performance of “Success” promises to have Finn back in one-man band form, “maniacally jumping between instruments” – and from “stillness to wild chaos”.
“Danger is always good in art,” he says. “From what I can tell, the most exciting things these days seem to sit outside of the mainstream and reject the old ways of doing things.”
And Finn recently put himself in real danger – or at least within arm-pinching distance of it – to film the music video for ‘Wrestling with My Dad’, which features three very literal, very funny minutes of Finn wrestling with his dad, Neil.
“I met my maker in incredibly close circumstances,” Finn says of the video. “I love putting pictures to sound – it can bring out hidden features you never noticed in each medium. The film world is still something I find very mysterious.”
Less so the music industry he was born into.
“I’m a product of my surroundings,” Finn says. “I like how much I can hear the place I am writing come out in the songs and recordings. It puts it in a time and place, forever embalmed in the amber of memory.”
While Finn admits he does miss writing for a band (“hopefully I’ll get a chance to tackle that again sometime soon”), right now he’s got other things on his mind.
“I’m about to go and look up why the word ‘ejaculated’ is used so much in Sherlock Holmes novels.”
The interview done, Liam Finn leaves us on the much same note as his music: honest, inquisitive and just a touch weird.
By Sherryn Groch
Liam is holding shows in Melbourne and Sydney this month.