Neil Finn's party trick is something to behold. It's the type of stunt you would only try at home. The New Zealand singer, songwriter and Crowed House frontman has been known to invite audiences to put lyrics to paper, and send them his way.
Crude planes, and balls of the stuff, would fall at his feet. Finn would then piece it all together on stage and create a new work, in real time, for one time only.
The degree of difficulty is off the charts.
'Dreamers Are Waiting' Cover
This Friday (June 4), Crowded House drop the new album Dreamers Are Waiting, their first since 2010's Intriguer, which led Australia's albums chart following its release. None of Dreamers' songs were crafted in this unorthodox manner.
Writing the stuff that travels the world, and mends hearts, well that's a different matter.
If songs "magically appeared in my writing room here on paper planes, I'd be delighted", Finn says with a laugh. "It should be easier than it is after all these years, because there should be some kind of manual or some process". But there isn't.
Many fans think Finn wrote the manual. The New Zealander has built a peerless catalog with Crowded House, whose sound weaves elements of folk with rock and a hit of roots. Since its formation in 1985 from the embers of Split Enz, the band has sold more than 10 million albums, and in 2016 its members were rewarded with induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame (the Enz was inducted in 2005).
Crowded House fans extend well beyond the antipodes. Career retrospective Recurring Dream - The Very Best Of, which gathered the classics "Something So Strong", "Weather With You", "Mean To Me", "World Where You Live", "Fall at Your Feet" and more, logged two weeks at No. 1 on the Official U.K. Albums Chart in 1996. The compilation also carried the group's biggest hit "Don't Dream It's Over", which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1987. It's since been covered by artists from all walks, from Faith No More to Susan Boyle.
Crowded House's music is always built around songwriting, and always finds a home.
The trick to lyric writing, notes Finn via a morning Zoom call, "is to make them sound like they always were there and there was no effort required. That's a great lyric. But that can take a great deal of struggle".
Recorded between Los Angeles and Auckland, and featuring the previously-released cuts "Whatever You Want", "To The Island" and "Playing With Fire", Dreamers Are Waiting is the band's seventh studio album, and the first to be created and completed during a pandemic. The struggle was real.
Finn and his four bandmates, founding bass player Nick Seymour (the group's only Australian member), along with Mitchell Froom (producer and keyboards), and Finn's sons Liam (guitar and vocals) and Elroy (drums), had made a start, with a goal to wrap-up recording and mastering by mid-2020.
When the health crisis shut down life as we knew it, the bandmates returned home and to their private studios. That experience "enabled us in a way to re-imagine some of the songs and we wanted to turn it into some good fortune really", he explains.
Rather than release the album without the support system that is touring, Crowded House decided to hold on, and wait. Until now. The band road-tested new material with a 12-date tour up and down New Zealand in March, one of the first national jaunts undertaken by any act post-pandemic. Nothing has come easy during this health crisis, and the Live From The Island tour was no exception.
Several of the band members returned to NZ from their bases abroad, triggering a two-week mandatory quarantine period. And closer to showtime, a level-three COVID scare forced late changes to the itinerary. Touring plans for the U.K. and Europe are pushed back to 2022.
Good things, they say, come to those who wait.
"There was some risk attached" to mounting a tour, Finn recounts, and a fear "the whole thing could fall over". With the troubles behind them, performing on stage was "genuine joy", an experience that felt "over and above".
Fans can tap into that joy with a June 12 livestream concert, filmed in March and presented by eMusic Live.
Another joyride along the route to Dreamers Are Waiting was a pair of remix projects, featuring Ruban Nielson's Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Kevin Parker, who reworked "To The Island".
Finn and Parker go back a ways, when the Tame Impala maestro was drummer with Pond, a psychedelic rock outfit from his native Western Australia.
"He's a master of making records, song writing", Finn says of Parker, who deconstructed and rebuild the track into a dreamwork. "It's quintessential 'Kevin sounding', but the song's still intact", enthuses Finn. The invitation was there to "do what you will you know, have your way with it. And he did but in a really charming way, and had some humor with it, by putting funny sounds to my voice. He said it reminded him of the fantasy movie, TheNeverEnding Story. He had that in his head".
Finn's very own fairytale has included a stint as guitarist with Fleetwood Mac's touring party (a "great musical adventure for two years", is how he describes it). The latest chapter on Crowded House has invigorated Finn. There's even talk of a followup to Dreamers Are Waiting.
Despite the lockdown and the ongoing disruptions to life and work, it's a "fairly outgoing record, compared to some of the melancholy stuff I've put out in recent years", remarks Finn. "So I'm happy about that".