Neil Finn interviewed: “I took acid and slept in John and Yoko’s bed.”

Neil Finn on joining Split Enz as a teenager, forming Crowded House and tripping at the Lennon family home.

Neil Finn

by John Aizlewood  |
Published on

Portrait: Abe Mora

NEIL FINN WAS ONLY 19 when he joined older brother Tim’s band, acclaimed New Zealand new wavers Split Enz. Taking on the role of co-frontman alongside his brother, Neil would write many of the band’s hits including I Got You and One Step Ahead. When Split Enz disbanded in 1984, Finn formed Crowded House alongside Split Enz drummer Paul Hester.

Finn’s deep and richly melodic songwriting led to the group firstly conquering America with their 1986 self-titled debutand later Europe with 1991’s still lauded Woodface, which saw him bring Tim into the group. Here, Finn recalls leaving home to join Split Enz, acid-fuelled recording sessions at John Lennon’s home, the decision to invite Tim to join Crowded House and ultimately why it was right for him to leave…

Did being summoned to join Split Enz in London in 1977 turn a teenager’s head?

I called my parents and, bless them, they let me go. I had my passport in three days, flew over and went straight into rehearsals in Chalk Farm. It was a shot in the dark for them too. I could sing and probably write, but I couldn’t play electric guitar. I jumped around on-stage to compensate, but I was pretty hopeless for the first six months.

    You were in the centre of things now…

    Yes. A fortnight later we were in AIR Studios, Oxford Street. Kate Bush was recording Wuthering Heights. Paul McCartney and Jimmy McCulloch were mixing live Wings tracks. Later, we recorded I See Red at Startling Studios at Tittenhurst Park which Ringo bought from John Lennon. I took acid as I walked around because it was the appropriate thing to do and I slept in John and Yoko’s bed.

    What did you take from Split Enz into Crowded House?

    Following my nose and stumbling on. I’d no idea what I wanted Crowded House to be, but I was ambitious to take it to the world and I wanted to be the leader of a band. The songs that came out decided how we should sound. Myself and Paul Hester, the last Split Enz drummer, gave demos to 34 auditioning bassists to play on. Nick Seymour got the job because he threw out a different style of playing. He put a dance groove underneath That’s What I Call Love and he danced while he played. That was enough for me.

    Was inviting Tim to join for [third LP] Woodface a no-brainer?

    I had seven good songs including Fall At Your Feet and Four Seasons In One Day for a Crowded House record, but we didn’t have a full album. At the same time, I’d started making songs with Tim. It had been a wonderful development, but I couldn’t rationalise that dichotomy. Tim said, “Why don’t I join and put our songs on the album.” It made such sense. Funnily enough, Woodface turned heads in Europe, where the first album had been seen as American MOR. It’s a 14-song album. You only need 12 and a couple of songs are shit.

    Like what?

    Tall Trees is a real low point.

    Live, it felt more Crowded House Featuring Tim Finn, less Crowded House…

    I know, I know, but it was an easy way to finish the record and get great songs on board. We had good moments on-stage as well, but it was never an easy chemistry because Tim wasn’t part of what we’d built. Finn Brothers concerts weren’t like that, so Tim and I are capable of that kind of chemistry. He’s a frontman, who wasn’t a frontman enough in Crowded House, because there was another one.

    Did his departure show your ruthless side?

    ‘Ruthless’ is a bit strong. It felt totally necessary, but Tim had co-written Weather With You. When it became the flag-bearer for Woodface, it was a weird feeling he wasn’t there to enjoy it. He recognised it wasn’t feeling right too.

    After Tim left, were Crowded House better than ever? Or never the same again?

    We evolved in a really good way. It was the right thing and I’m glad I did it.

    Read the interview in full only in the latest issue of MOJO. More info and to order copy HERE!

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