After the table’s been cleared and the dishes have been washed at a Finn family get-together, don’t expect a badminton net cutting through the backyard lawn. Instead, the acoustic guitars are pulled out, given a fresh change of strings, and tuned accordingly for the post-meal entertainment, whether Tim and Neil like it or not.
“We usually end up playing guitars and it’s like, ‘Well, here we go again.’ We drag out the same 20 or 30 songs,” Tim Finn said from his home in New Zealand. “We maybe do one or two of our own, but we’ll mostly do The Beatles or songs like ‘Wild Thing.’ We do a Van Morrison song called ‘The Irish Heart Beat,’ which we sang at our mother’s funeral. That’s getting to be a popular request. Our father—he’s 82 and still going strong—might ask for one of ours.”
There are plenty of choice songs from a legendary career that’s lasted 33 years and spanned three successful bands—more than a modest point of note for a couple guys from that broken island floating between the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific. It’s a place known more for its quiet seclusion—almost a thousand miles off the east coast of Australia—and its sheep-sheering, not for producing some of the original templates of new wave and art rock. Crowded House and Split Enz—the esteemed ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s bands that the Finns steered—were influential in making it possible for Franz Ferdinand, The Walkmen, The Arcade Fire, and The Killers to get into our pockets just as Bloc Party and The Bravery will do this year.
Split Enz, whose song “Six Months in a Leaky Boat” was recently recorded by Ted Leo, formed in 1972 and slowly began making early new wave before drifting into a poppier fashioning of rock ’n’ roll that took on the U.K. at a time when it was spinning through its punk explosion. They held onto a strong cult following before ending in 1985. At the time, Tim had already ventured off into the solo world and Neil didn’t see the point in forging on without the band’s chief member. He instead created Crowded House and saw great happenings almost from the onset. The band’s self-titled debut crept out of the shadows seven months later when it stormed American Top 40 charts. They effectively disbanded in 1994, but reunited in Sydney, Australia, in November 1996 to play a farewell show to some 100,000 fans at the Sydney Opera House.
Tim and Neil have both moved back to New Zealand, where they are raising their families 10 minutes away from each other in Auckland. Tim tries to swim every day and enjoys taking walks along the beaches, near the rocky shores, and tormenting crabs with his son. Since 1995’s Finn, those beaches are also the spots where he and his brother (six years his junior) go to write and paste together their collaborations.
“It’s nice living in New Zealand because we do seem to be one step removed from everything,” Tim said. “And when we go down to the beach, everything sort of drops away.”
Their most recent record, Everyone Is Here, was released last year and it is filled with complex melodies disguised as simple effusions and the kind of sensitive romanticisms that buckle and quake the knees of fillies. These are love songs hallmarked with the general principle of the big “L” prevailing at all costs. They show that with effort comes longevity, and with longevity comes an agreeable warmth. And these tunes, they are still coming out of the Finns without any forced persuasion.
“For me, I find that they’re actually coming better now. We scrapped a lot of things along the way, but I think this record had a really nice organic growth to it,” Tim said. “Sometimes those pressures to write songs are good and sometimes you find yourself just squeezing some out. I don’t even intend to write sometimes, but I always do. I sit down at the piano and play for two hours every day, just to play around with things.”
Tim doesn’t look back often and revel in their shared catalog, but admits it’s been a good life and one where a lot of things have worked. “But it’s almost embarrassing, in a way, to take praise for good works because it’s always about inspiration,” he said. “It’s not just something your ego created. And at the same time, it does come from within.
“I get inspired by beauty, but I think beauty is such a big term—who knows what it means? You know when you see it and you know when you feel it. I don’t particularly find roses beautiful, but some people do.”
Touring is one of the catalysts for some of the inspiration that has led to many post-road downpours of songs. “Playing live can get corrupted. It’s really hard sometimes when you can hardly be dragged out of bed in the morning,” he said. “But when you’re tired and you’re in a strange place, you can mishear things and it might spark something in you. I remember a little boy came up to me and talked to me at a show once and he said, ‘It’s really good being small because it’s easier to pick things up.’ And I really liked that. I wrote ‘Small World’ [on Split Enz’s Time & Tide] about that.”
The live show is one of the parts of the cycle that comes along with making an album, but the live show has taken on a different understanding for Finn over the three decades of gigging across the world. He feels there’s a faulty notion some artists have in which they believe that the record is the piece of art that will be immortalized and the one true way of judging a band.
“A lot of people think that the live show is ephemeral. You show up and play somewhere and then you burn out and you’re just ashes,” Tim said. “But I’ve talked to people who remember that one show in a certain city from 1975 and they tell me about it with fire in their eyes. I realized that live shows last.”