Neil Finn: “I could easily become too tasteful in my old age”

The pop music mastermind on Crowded House and Split Enz, growing old without losing an edge, and a dazzling new LP

Topics: Music, Neil Finn, Tim Finn, Split Enz, Crowded House, I Got You, Don't dream it's over, Editor's Picks,

Neil Finn: "I could easily become too tasteful in my old age"Neil Finn (Credit: Jen Carey)

Neil Finn’s one of the great underappreciated treasures — a songwriter with a four-decade catalog so deep and evocative it stands up against most anyone in the rock era.

That catalog begins in the late 1970s when Finn, just on the cusp of 20, joined Split Enz, then led by his older brother Tim. That New Zealand pop-art project is responsible for some of the weirdest, brightest and most careening tunes of the ’70s, but when Neil arrived — bringing a melodic knack honed from studying the Beatles, the Kinks, David Bowie and Neil Young — international stardom beckoned with finely crafted slices of new wave perfection like “I Got You,” “One Step Ahead” and “History Never Repeats.”

Not long after Tim left for a solo career, Split Enz went its separate ways and Neil started Crowded House. “Don’t Dream Its Over,” “Something So Strong,” “Better Be Home Soon,” “Mean To Me” and more became radio staples in the late ’80s, but it wasn’t until Neil and Tim reunited on Crowded House’s “Woodface” that he made his swooning, sublime and harmonically blissed-out masterpiece.

And that only brings the story to the early ’90s. Since then, there’s been a pile of solo albums, Crowded House discs, Finn Brothers collaborations with Tim, and the Seven Worlds Collide project, which joins members of Radiohead, Wilco, the Smiths, Pearl Jam and more.

Tuesday brings Finn’s most daring solo project yet — “Dizzy Heights,” an album which relies more on groove and soul than melody, on jams and soundscapes and off-kilter textures more than hooks and harmonies. (Though there’s plenty of those, as well, on “Recluse,” “Flying in the Face of Love” and “Better Than TV.”) It’s an innovative, energizing and beautiful album — all the more so for its determination to elude any neat cubbyholes.

We met over lunch at the Mondrian SoHo hotel late last year to talk about “Dizzy Heights” and to walk back through Finn’s entire career. The interview has been briefly condensed and edited.

So how do you decide what kind of a project is coming up next? This is technically the first Neil Finn solo album in almost a dozen years. In between there’s a Finn brothers album, two Crowded House records, Seven Worlds Collide. How do you know which songs are going where?

It’s not an easy question to answer because I’m not really aware that I’m making a call. When things start to evolve along a certain line, you follow that as far as it goes. With a Finn brothers record, when we haven’t worked together for a certain amount of time, we write a few songs and then that demands the next stage. Sometimes I have two or three things circling at once and something has to force itself into the lead. At the moment I’m again writing songs with Tim for a musical idea that we’re pursuing. When that’ll emerge, whether it’ll be the next thing or the thing after, I’m not sure.

Does the name of a project matter to you, or to the way you write?

In some ways it’s important what things are called, but really I consider things on a bit of a continuum. I have done some things purely on my own and I may do that again at some point, but I prefer when there is somebody in the room who I admire and want to impress and who has strong opinions. That gives me something to balance my own views against and get stubborn about things — or to have people suggest things that I would never have thought of. And usually the best music comes from that kind of interpretation, when people take your best ideas and do what they’d like to do. Sometimes it’s a delight.

“Dizzy Heights” is a family affair in many ways.  Your wife Sharon plays bass. Your sons Liam and Elroy join on guitar and drums. How does the family dynamic affect the recording process? You can’t get stubborn about things in quite the same way, I’d imagine, than you can with Tim, or have the same give and take you might with Johnny Marr or bandmates in Crowded House with whom you’ve been playing for a long time.

It’s a different kind of impress. You want them to be engaged. Sharon is a recent musician. She only started playing in the last few years. She has a very simple approach to playing bass; for her it’s a rhythm instrument, it’s all about groove. She’s always been a good dancer. I’m enjoying her approach, which is just to anchor something. Liam is a really incredibly talented guy, and he comes to the party with ideas that I love, so in some ways it’s not different. But there’s moments in the process when I have to remember that I’m talking to my wife. I’m saying “No, that doesn’t work,” or “I don’t like that” — we got pretty good at switching gears in our brains and not taking offense, but there were a few interesting moments, people tuning out. If this was a normal situation I’d be saying, “Concentrate, please!” but I had to find the right way to say it!

Dave Fridmann produced this record, and he’s best known for those amazing psychedelic soundscapes with the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, and more recently Tame Impala. It’s almost a barbed, pastoral experimental pillow he creates. Did you select him because you knew you had a different sound in mind for this project?

I met Dave quite a few years ago, and there was talk of initially about doing a collaborative thing with the Mercury Rev guys, because we toured with them in Australia. He was going to come down to New Zealand, which is unusual because he never leaves upstate New York. That didn’t happen, but we kept in touch and he came to a gig on a Crowded House tour. We thought it would be nice to do something together, and a window opened up for him.

I was going to do a solo record and I thought this would create a sense of occasion. I’m attracted to the idea of change. I love pop music, but I like it when people are bold and have a skewed perspective on it. I could easily become too tasteful in my old age — and I’m a bit cautious about that. I just enjoy someone who has a spirit of adventure sonically, and he does; he’s very liberal with his sounds. There’s a freak inside of him. In a way, he’s disrespectful, which I like — he’s able to say ‘No, that’s not right,’ and he’s also prone to an inappropriate turn of the console dial, which I’m quite into.

A lot of people think of you as a concise, hook-laden melodicist, which is probably because of songs or videos from three decades ago. “Dizzy Heights” feels like a soul album, or a soul album filtered through your gifts, and it has a very improvisational spirit to it in places. A song like “White Lies and Alibis” has that long, twisty introduction, some distorted vocals, that really wild percussion — and then the Finn hook slips in. “Lights of New York” might have been a gentle piano ballad on a Crowded House album; here it’s a really radicalized version of a ballad.

The nice thing about “White Lies and Alibis” is that it was entirely a jam. There’s things added, and strings added, but most of the instrumentation was a jam that went on for about 15 minutes and we just cut it up into a structure, so it has a really nice first time played feeling about it — which will inevitably mean that it will be incredibly hard to learn at rehearsal. A lot of what I do, I come across in jams now — writing on a piano or on an acoustic guitar sometimes feels limiting. Jams can help me imagine the bigger picture a lot faster.

You talked earlier about having to kick against being too tasteful. That’s an interesting thing to have in mind. You’ve been doing this for 35 years, and sometimes that means going to war with the idea of what you’re expected to do next — or with the kind of album a musician’s expected to make at that point in their career. Is that the influence of Split Enz in some way — a restless creativity?

I think that’s right. It is a challenge to reinvent yourself from album to album. There’s no rights or wrongs. Some people will conduct a career where they will mine more or less the same vein. There’s peaks and valleys for everyone. But I grew up in a pop band that had a very strong mentality that every album had to be something different brought to the party. That’s pervaded everything I’ve done.

It’s also probably confused people. I’ve had so many entities in my career. I think it was David Byrne who said “if you want to be famous, where the same clothes every day.” There’s something to be said for that; having the same name, you’re a brand. I’ve had five or six brands, if not more. I think there’s some confusion, probably, and some people tune in and out.

And you’ve been around long enough to have people argue about favorite eras!

Yes, people attach themselves to a version of you that they think is the best. Some people will swear everything I do under the name Crowded House is the best work I do. Other people…

It’s time and place. It’s nostalgia, it’s the memories attached. But once you get into the process of making an album, the process feels the same. Generally I’ll allow time to work and destroy it and then work again — and then disassemble and throw it up in the air. It arrives in the right place. It is a similar process no matter whether it’s a band or a solo record. Sometimes something under my name actually is more of a band. I get confused sometimes about why people place quite so much on the name you’re going to appear under. What’s in a name? Sometimes more than there should be, I think.

Lyrically, it feels like you’re kicking against aging — or against the way you see people behave as they get older, as they detach. I think of “Recluse” and “Better Than TV.”

There is a connection in those two songs. As my songs usually are, I have the odd moment where I have a very clear narrative — but that’s very odd. Most of the times it’s a series of impressions. That particular song had a few things sparking it. These days you don’t really have to be a recluse to cut yourself off from the world. There’s the Internet. I think there are a lot of people who don’t have a lot of contact with people other than through the Internet. I don’t think it’s an entirely healthy situation. But it’s fun to think someone like Howard Hughes might have been able to live online, as sanitized as he wants to be from the world, and still be able to communicate. That is a modern alternative.

What’s happening in “Pony Ride”?

When I was young — and I think a lot of people have this feeling — it was like you’re just riding along on something. You kind of have some control over life, but it’s also sweeping you along. And when you get older, darker things start to emerge but I still feel like I’m riding that strange beast. It’s the idea of being on this ride like you are when you’re a kid, and trying to maintain your nature in the face of the world going crazy.

I also enjoyed riding horses when I was a kid. I suppose there’s some literalness there too. If you’re fortunate enough to grow up in a situation where there’s lots of possibility in your life, as we were, you do feel like you’re on this ride. You can control a little bit, but there’s something going on you can’t control. Perhaps it’s fate. I used to think, when I was a kid, that it had religious overtone, but then I abandoned that. I still believe in the mystery of a bit of fate — and making your own luck and riding your own luck. Those themes are all circling this album.

As you grew up in New Zealand, was the house simply filled with music? Your mom was very musical, but your dad less so, right?

My mom had a good ear but she wasn’t that interested. They loved to a sing a song at a party. Every party they ever had there was a big sing at some point. We grew up in that atmosphere. My dad is not a musician. I think he, potentially, had a really good voice, but he had a very severe German piano teacher when he was young, who used to beat him over the knuckles, and that turned him off.  Took away any desire whatsoever. But he has got a beautiful tone — we used to joke that he couldn’t sing in tune, but his tone was beautiful so everything just sounded honeyed.  Between them, they dished up some good genes.

He’s a massive fan of music.  So he would come from his work and listen to jazz records. He was really passionate about Count Basie and Duke Ellington, that era of jazz.  There was a great love of music in the house.

Tim and I contributed to a record that Donal Lunny in Ireland did called “Common Ground,” I think, and we wrote a song called “Mary at the South Seas,” about her and her journey from Ireland to New Zealand when she was a young girl. And we were pretty happy to have done it, and really excited to be playing it for mum. We though for sure she’s going to be in tears. She’ll love this. We went home for Christmas and put it on; we said, “Mom, you have got to listen to this song.”  She’s standing there with kind of a quizzical look on her face and then probably around the third verse she was like, “It’s a bit long, isn’t it?” [laughs].  She had things to do in the kitchen. You know, there was family there.  Maybe she had dinner in the oven.  It was a classic moment.

So if it’s mostly jazz albums being played in the house, I’m curious how you and Tim discovered arty ’60s and ’70s rock and pop in small-town New Zealand.

Well, we had pop music explode.  It exploded, as it did for everybody.  We had a few singles, a few 45s — I just remember the first ones that we had, and I was not the one that bought them because they were there in my earliest memories. “Get off My Cloud” by the Rolling Stones, “Love Me Do” and a few Beatles singles.  We had “Beatles for Sale,” the first album that I remember. I remember when Tim was in high school, they would gather around when the new Beatles record would come out. I remember them gathering around “The White Album” and listening like it was some kind of religious ritual.  Eventually, when I started getting them when I was about 12 or 13, it was David Bowie, Cat Stevens, Neil Young –

It’s not long after that — you were still a teenager — when Split Enz is recording with Phil Manzanera. That has to be mind-blowing: You’re buying Bowie albums, and your brother’s band is recording with the guy from Roxy Music.

I was 14 when Tim formed Split Enz in 1972. It was exciting enough for me as a 10- or 11-year-old when he was playing in high school bands, but this was huge. Especially at the time – but even now, looking back – they were a highly unusual and very original band. It was incredibly exciting and a huge inspiration. I mean, Roxy Music! That was an amazing time.  Because I was only 14.  From living in a country where you felt so removed from anything that was going on–

– to sort of being at the height of ’70s art-rock cool…

Even just a glimpse through their eyes and then touring, opening up for Roxy Music in Australia — that was big.  That was quite a profound moment.  It all seemed like a bit of a dream, and I wasn’t even in the band then.  So I was just watching on quite enviously.  Yeah, it seemed remarkable.  And Split Enz was a remarkable band back then. For any time or place — but particularly in the conservative New Zealand of the ’70s — they were nothing like what anyone had ever seen.

The wild outfits, the ornate arrangements, the incredibly inventive sounds….

It’s funny, this morning I saw a photo of Arcade Fire in costume, which looked just like a Split Enz costume to me. Maybe it was just the angle.  It’ll be interesting to see.  But they had these black-and-white, multi-colored, geometric shapes and I thought, “It’s finally back!”

I’d love to see Arcade Fire do “Bold as Brass” or “Late Last Night.”

Right?  You know the old stuff too!  That was an amazing, inspiring thing for a young man like me.  I was obsessed with music and wanted to be a musician. I was given the belief that it could be done by what Tim was doing.  Otherwise there would be nobody, really, that made a splash anywhere.  We had one guy called John Rowles who had a hit in England. I don’t know if you know the song, I don’t know if it was in America much.  It was called “If I Only Had Time.”  Do you know?

I don’t think so.

He was like a Tom Jones kind of guy. He ended up in Hawaii doing the resorts.  Nobody in New Zealand had ever risen through to any level — maybe in Australia a little bit.  So what they did in was kind of trailblazing and it was really good that they did it.  You know, it’s not like Split Enz every got big, really, but we were known and we made a splash here and there — and to do it with something original, and unusual, was a nice thing.  It would have been a shame if the first thing from New Zealand sounded like everything else out there.  That’s actually I’ve got to say, quite nice, to find that the newest and massive export, Lorde, is a really good songwriter too.  She’s got a lot of talent.

And has made a big splash here.

A huge splash!  Massive. Number one eight weeks, I think. It’s amazing.

Your first splash here was probably “I Got You.” You were a little older than Lorde, but not by all that much. And it’s endured for decades and still leaps out of speakers today. What do you remember about writing that song?

I wrote “I Got You” in Sydney.  Tim and I were swapping titles.  He gave me the title.  It’s not like it’s a particularly original title, Sonny and Cher and all that.  We were working in two different rooms — I don’t know if I gave him a successful title actually.   But we were writing for the album “True Colours” and I had written a couple of things earlier.  But, you know, I hadn’t written a lot for the band at that point, but I got that one and I think “What’s the Matter With You?” almost in the same day.

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That’s an impressive day’s work.

Well, you know, I remember thinking about “I Got You” that I really liked the verse, but always thought the chorus was a bit too corny, initially.  It was really hokey. I guess in the concept of Split Enz, too, there was a legacy of wanting to be different — and it probably sounded too much like a classic pop chorus so I was a little bit unsure.

But as soon as we played it with the band, it was obvious it was really a winning song.  We played it live a little bit before we recorded it — it just kind of had something.  We didn’t know it was a hit even when we recorded it.  We knew it turned out good.  The guy from the record company didn’t think it was a hit. The only time I realized was the first time I heard it on the radio, because it really, really popped.

It’s got a good sound about it.  And it came at the right time.  It gave Split Enz another life.

You took a more prominent role as a songwriter within the band after that — it led to a run of “Message To My Girl,” “One Step Ahead,” “History Never Repeats.” The opening of “History Never Repeats” sounds for a moment like you’re nodding back to “I Got You.”

(laughs) Well, I guess “History Never Repeats” was me trying to follow up “I Got You.”  Because we were in Perth.  It’s funny — I do remember, and I don’t know if it’s the same for all songwriters, but I think I can remember the moment, the room, when I wrote almost ever song I’ve written. All the good ones anyways!  Not because they were profound moments or anything.  I just have a clear memory of the songs dropping into the here and now.

I was in a hotel in Perth for “History Never Repeats,” trying to follow up “I Got You.” Thinking that I’m sure that was easy at the time, but I don’t remember how to do it anymore.  It turned out pretty good.  Then I went to Melbourne and wrote “One Step Ahead” in another hotel room there.  ”Message to My Girl,” I got up one morning and wrote in our house in Melbourne.  I had a good run getting up first thing in the morning and writing songs.  That one came quite quickly. But yeah — name a song!  And I’ll tell you when I wrote it.

I’ll take you up on that in a moment!

I have actually got a distinct memory of every one of them.

So many of those songs are about love and relationships. You’ve written some of the great love songs of the last 35 years, whether ebullient ones like “Something So Strong” and “Message to My Girl,” or painful ones like “Better Be Home Soon” and “Into Temptation.” And yet we know very little about you in some ways — you’ve chronicled the heart while remaining very private.

Ah, well — I live in New Zealand.  It’s a long way away.  It’s not in the normal gossip trail.  I’ve been married to the same woman for 32 years now. And I value my privacy. I think the songs anyways, there’s a contradiction or a dichotomy at the heart of a good song, I think.  Which is in order for people to connect with it, it has to feel real and like it it has been lived

And yet general enough to connect.

Yeah, it’s not a diary.  It’s a compliment when people think it is, because it’s all worked.  It’s a little bit confounding too, because songs that you write people read a lot into — and it can be uncomfortable for the people around them.  And yet they all are a mixture of some real life, some stuff that has actually happened to me, some stuff that’s applied to that.  Some skullduggery, a bit of bluffs, some whimsical notions.

To me, whenever I write a song, I’m always aware there are some lines that have come from something that has just happened, but they might — initially even — be completely subverted and turned into something else. And then it goes to “why, I have to figure out this character is singing this song now.” I like to picture him in a room in a time and a place.  I think if this is happening in this time and place — and this person is feeling something and it’s a series of thoughts or impressions that they have — then it makes me feel something.  Hopefully, then it’s going to connect with other people.

There are people out there who famously really write about things that happen to them.  Taylor Swift is the well-documented person, apparently. I don’t listen to what is said specifically about her.  And, you know, it’s a bold, brave way to write.  It’s not my desire to do that, particularly.

Also, I grew up listening to songs and part of what I loved about music was the mystery of knowing something but not knowing everything about a song and the songwriter.  And certain lines pop out initially and draw you in — and then they spark your own thoughts, open doors for you. I was never really that interested in knowing what songs were about in the mind of the songwriter.  I took it as a kind of a given that they just fell out somehow when it was our job to kind of dream about them and then dream on them.

Sometimes on a bad day I think, “Oh I’m a fake, because I can’t legitimize every line I write as being particularly relevant or poignant” but they all have to occupy the same room.  They have to exist in the same place as the others.  There’s always a few bones — pragmatism, you need to rhyme, you need to get out of the chorus into the verse, like so.  When you’re feeling a little insecure, those lines that go away can weigh heavily on you.  And I think there are lyricists out there who hit home runs on a regular basis who I admire greatly.

Two of the hard periods for you, when the songs weren’t coming, were after the first Crowded House album, and again after the second.

It was a difficult period there. The second album came out relatively soon after the first one.

But feels much darker.

Yes. And I think “Woodface” took about three years, which doesn’t seem like a long time now particularly.  But it probably did at the time –

And after you helped give Split Enz a second life with “I Got You,” Tim helped save the day on “Woodface” and repaid the favor — only to leave the band in the middle of an American tour.

Well, we made “Woodface” in stages and we kind of had an album we were kind of happy with — but only eight songs were great. Then we added a whole bunch of stuff I had written with Tim, which was just set off to the side in this tantalizing place. It seemed like the obvious solution to having songs that we wanted to do.  I didn’t want to push them off and leave them to later.  So it did seem like an obvious solution.  It set into motion a few difficult things…

Like what else?

When you get famous, when a record takes off like the first one did, a lot gets thrown up — and some people are good at dealing with that and what it brings, and other people struggle.  And other people, probably like me, are good at some parts of it and found it quite confusing in other ways.  So I did actually get a bit anxious after that record succeeded.  On our first thing! We were a band, so that made it easier. We had a very good sense of humor running through the band, so we were able to laugh through lots of it.

That strange Joan Rivers show with Dame Edna still makes the rounds online.  

That was very strange.

“Temple of Low Men” gets a lot darker. Did it surprise people who wanted more ear candy like “Something So Strong” or “Mean To Me” or “World Where You Live”?

Yeah, I guess it did.  There were some themes running through that album that were quite melancholy. It think it stands up as a really good record, but at the time, I think people were confused — they had been given these breezy, fun-loving guys with the first album and this was probably harder for people to relate to.

“I Feel Possessed” and “Into Temptation” are definitely not breezy.

At the time you think, “Well, this is a good bunch of songs.” Maybe there are a few darker twists in there — but we all thought “Better Be Home Soon” would be a big smash like “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” It didn’t go the whole way.  In hindsight, these things all level out anyway, the songs that people remember.  Obviously “Don’t Dream It’s Over” has had a huge life and it would be my most well-known song, no question. But amongst the people that come see me play live, there’s songs that weren’t even singles that are equally as popular.  I’m really happy about that.  I’m pretty grateful for what has been given me. I’ve had my moments of grand success, but there’s a body of work now that seems to be hanging about quite well.

I’ve always thought that to have a long run and many albums and people who follow the whole thing is eminently more valuable than a couple of brief massive mainstream successes.  Because what happens — when you have your big hit, your venues are full but 80 percent of the audience are waiting for the hit. They don’t really want to hear the obscure stuff, they talk quite a lot.  They want to be there because it is an occasion.  And it is a different feeling.  It can be very exciting and some of those shows were very memorable, but there’s something now about turning up into a room and everybody there has a depth of understanding and knowledge. I can go somewhere quite obscure and they lean forward instead of going to the bathroom, somewhat, but they lean forward because they know this is unusual, that I wouldn’t normally sing that. I feel very lucky for that.

They’re going straight to Facebook to say “Oh my god you won’t believe what Neil’s playing now!”

Yeah, although it can be slightly irksome when people, when you ask for a request, people yell out the most obscure thing they can think of because A.) You don’t remember how to play it.  You don’t know how to start it sometimes.  And B.) You sometimes feel like it’s kind of showing everybody how much they know.

Play that B-side from 1982! Which is a good segue for me to ask about more specific songs. “Bullet Brain and Cactus Head”! (laughs) No, how about “Weather With You.”

Tim and I wrote that when we got together just prior to him joining Crowded House to write a bunch of songs. We’d talked about a Finn Brothers record, but we never had written together truly and that was the very first one that came out on the very first day. He had the tune and we wrote it next door to our house in Melbourne, on Merchant Street.  He had the line “Walking round the room singing stormy weather” and he had the line “everywhere you go, you take the weather with you.”

Both very important lines — but that’s kind of all he had. So I started playing that guitar and we started making up the lines as we went, and finished out the chorus a bit. We were off to a grand start and then we had a very productive two weeks.  I think Elroy, our youngest, who is now 25 was about to be born.  We were waiting for him to arrive. Actually, when Sharon was pregnant with Liam was when I wrote a lot of the first Crowded House album.  That was later in Split Enz, but some of the songs that went on to be on that first album were when he was really little.  When you’ve got kids, time becomes super precious.  And when you’re pregnant there this great sense of expectation — I think it’s quite a good help. I’m not suggesting that writers have babies all the time, but it’s not a bad thing for creativity!  People would think the opposite because you wouldn’t have time, but time becomes more precious and you utilize it better.

“Angel’s Heap,” another one you and Tim did together, a few years later.

That song actually developed in stages. Tim had the title.  Tim’s good with titles. He had a painting called Angel Heap. We got together in a hotel room, which we never did any other time in Auckland, and then made a very small start on that and then finished it that later in my basement in Auckland. I’m remembering them all. (laughs)

“Pineapple Head.”

“Pineapple Head” I wrote on the piano in Melbourne at our house in Melbourne, and it curiously came from our son. Liam had a fever, he had quite a bad flu and he was feverish and asleep and dreaming quite loudly — and he came up with a few of the lines in there in his sleep. I think it was uhm, “the get away car” and “the detective is flat” and so rather than tending him, I ran downstairs and wrote those lines down and wrote the verse of that song.  Which I got a bit of stick from my wife about. Liam’s still hitting me up for some publishing on that one. Come on, kids are expensive!  I paid for a lot! Paid for his education. He should just shut up. (laughs)

You talked earlier about the mystery of lyrics, but the mystery of a melody must be even more tantalizing and surreal as getting those notes and that line in your head.

It is a mystery.  The melodies are more reliable.  I’ll often come up with a melody that doesn’t have words attached.  It’s great when they do and I’m usually on the lookout for those melodies that come with some words attached to them out of nowhere.  Melodies are just going around all the time. I was told recently by somebody that I hum a lot and I do. It was Tim, I think — we were on tour once and he said, “You know, do you realize that you hum like a lot?” I didn’t realize until he said it to me.  I don’t necessarily think I’m humming brilliant melodies all the time, by any means, but it’s internal conversation. It’s the kind of thing that is just going on.  And if I sit down and I’m in a receptive frame of mind, with a few good chords to spark it, it’s a fascinating thing.  I’m way more fascinated by it now than I ever was.  It’s a remarkable thing.

There’s a bit of trickery in getting them out. The blank page has to be prevailed upon.  You have to make a mark and then something good happens.  I don’t think you can sit around. I’m not the person who said it first, but inspiration is what happens when you start working.  It’s always like that.  The first ideas can seem extremely mundane and then you change one word and you change one bit of phrasing and it turns into something remarkable. That turn of phrase is very addictive — the moment when something turns from being plain to inspired is a very, very addictive moment.  It’s like the engineering suddenly clicks into place.  The architecture kicks into place. And then it is like it has always existed.

Will there be another Crowded House album?

I would expect there is.  In fact, there’s already about five or six songs that we’ve made a start on that are actually really good, so yeah, I expect there will be something. I don’t know why that got sidetracked slightly.  I don’t know what the crisis was.

You can only do so many things at once.

I know! I made some starts on some Crowded House songs and then it didn’t seem like it was the time, so I worked on a few different things and they seemed to need a different set of rules.

And how long has it been since the last Split Enz shows?

We did a few in New Zealand like six years ago, I think.

Would you ever do that here? It has probably been 30 years since a Split Enz show in North America.

Well, there have been ideas floated around here and there.  In one sense, I’d love to.  It’s amazing when you are in a band, which we were in our 20s, how long it resonates for — and how many relationships have to be taken into account and politics.  It’s not simple to resurrect it.  I’d be quite into doing it.  Fitting it in is tricky. I think in the right context it would be well received here.  It’s hard to know what level we would be able to go out on, I don’t know. I mean at some point I’d love to do a tour to unite them all.  I’d love to do a tour with the whole kit and caboodle.  I don’t know if that’s possible.  It wouldn’t be impossible to put on, because people would like to see it. It could be a long show.  In one of the really nice theaters, I think we could do it.  But that would be a lot of fun. We’ve just got to get a few people talking to other people properly.

David Daley is the editor-in-chief of Salon

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