BIOGRAPHY: Neil Finn

On November 24, 1996, the decade-long career of the group Crowded House was celebrated with a final concert before an estimated 150,000 fans on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in Australia. Although the group’s greatest hits package had just hit number one in Australia and Britain and the band remained popular in the United States, Canada, and Europe, Crowded House founder Neil Finn felt the time was right to move on. “I crave a new context to draw something special out of me as a songwriter,” Finn had commented in Billboard when the band’s demise was announced during a British concert tour in June. After the dramatic final appearance with the stunning view of Sydney Harbor as a backdrop, Finn retreated to his native New Zealand and took up painting, a pastime that removed him from the hype of the music world. Within two years, however, Finn had returned to the recording studio and over the years has nourished his creativity by collaborating with his brother, his sons, his wife, and a wide assortment of well-known musicians. He also recorded solo albums and, in 2007, reunited Crowded House to record two more albums and take the band on tour.

Early Life

Neil Mullane Finn was born on May 27, 1958, in Te Awamutu, New Zealand. Known as the “Rose Town of New Zealand,” Te Awamutu was a small community on the country’s North Island, about 90 miles (140 kilometers) south of the major city of Auckland. Finn’s parents ran an orchard together with their four children: Neil, Tim, Carolyn, and Judy. The Finns enjoyed performing music at informal family gatherings. Neil was also a devoted pop music fan, citing Donovan and the Beatles as profound influences on his development as a musician and songwriter.

Tim, six years Neil’s senior, was the first Finn sibling to pursue a musical career. Performing with bands during his stint at Auckland University, Tim formed Split Enz in 1972 with some college friends. The band enjoyed limited success from its new base in Melbourne, Australia, but verged on breaking up. When one of the band’s founding members left the group in 1977, Tim asked Neil to join the band. The younger Finn’s first notable contribution to Split Enz, the international hit single “I Got You,” brought the group to a new level of success. Several more hits followed, including “Message to My Girl,” but by 1984, Split Enz had broken up.

Formed Crowded House

Neil Finn paused momentarily before assembling a new set of musicians under the name Crowded House in 1984. For the next ten years, he enjoyed even greater success with hit singles such as “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong.” Tim Finn joined Crowded House for its 1991 album Woodface, but later decided to pursue a solo career. The brothers remained close, however, and collaborated again on the 1996 song “Mary of the South Seas,” a tribute to their mother, who had emigrated as a child to New Zealand from Ireland. The brothers also released the collaborative work Finn in 1996, an album that Q magazine summarized as “Some lovely songs …, a few rather ordinary ones and a lot of fun, particularly for the Finns. Fortunately, the fun and the spirit of the whole affair is mostly infectious.”

Tried Solo Career

As the brothers’ collaborative efforts took precedence over Crowded House, Neil Finn realized a greater need to work as a solo artist. Announcing the end of Crowded House in June of 1996 during a British tour to support the group’s greatest hits collection, Recurring Dream, Finn and his bandmates capped the band’s success with the farewell concert at the Sydney Opera House in November of 1996. Crowded House had sold more than six million albums during its career, and although some critics bemoaned the fact that Finn was quitting a band that had yet to peak in terms of its artistic accomplishment, the disappointment was matched by anticipation over what his solo career would produce.

“There’s nothing that gets you more than a skillfully crafted melody and beautifully supporting chords,” Finn told CNN.com upon the release of his first solo album in 1998, Try Whistling This. “So I’ll be addicted to that for the rest of my days.” Indeed, the album enhanced Finn’s reputation as a wordsmith and melodic craftsman, albeit with more sparse, more somber arrangements than featured on Crowded House and Split Enz songs. Time South Pacific welcomed Try Whistling This as evidence of “an evolving New Zealand sound–one that combines darkly gothic lyrics with Polynesian sway.” Finn–by now living with his wife and two sons in Auckland–agreed, telling the magazine that “it’s in the end to do with something which seeps in from the land and the light and the indigenous cultures here.”

Although Try Whistling This sold well enough in New Zealand, Australia, and England to secure the release of a follow-up album, it was decidedly less successful than his past efforts. Yet Finn refused to be compromised by his past triumphs. As he commented in a press release on his own Web site, “I haven’t discovered fully what the Neil Finn sound is, but I’m enjoying the exploration.” This exploration included writing the score for the New Zealand film Rain, released in 2001, and collaborating with the Australian Chamber Orchestra on musical pieces inspired by the poems of cartoonist Michael Leunig. The songwriter also prepared to publish a book focusing on his song’s lyrics. Most of all, Finn retained his sense of fun on the concert stage. A tour of New Zealand in early 2001 featured amateur musicians who auditioned by sending tapes of their performances to Finn. He also enjoyed having his son, Liam, join the tour as a drummer and bassist. In all, Finn wears his reputation as a pop star lightly. As he told the Australian in February of 2001, “I like being in the music industry, but I don’t like being immersed in it all the time.”

Finn’s second solo album, One Nil, went to the top of New Zealand’s charts immediately after its March of 2001 release, although it received a critically cooler reception than his past efforts. A British Skipmusic.com reviewer was disappointed with Finn’s increasingly introspective direction, claiming that One Nil “has seen him plumb the depths of mediocrity and climbed [sic] the stunted peaks of averageness” with the album’s muted passions. Yet Finn was pleased with his second solo album, telling the Australian before its release, “I think it’s a romantic record. It’s more consistent than the first solo record. It’s got a more consistent groove running through it.”

Finn then conducted a well-received series of concerts in New Zealand in support of charity organizations. Assembling a stellar cast of musicians that included Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder; former Smiths and Electronic guitarist Johnny Marr; Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway of Radiohead; celebrated violinist and keyboardist Lisa Germano; and Finn’s son, Liam, Finn and company held a five-day, sold-out concert series in Auckland that became a celebration of his career. Vedder had been a fan since Finn’s Split Enz days, and the other musicians were longtime friends of the performer; Germano had also been a guest musician on One Nil. Onstage, the chemistry among the musicians and their love of performing together showed. The Guardian called one concert “three-and-a-half hours of the stuff that makes you fall in love with your record collection all over again.” The resulting album was called 7 Worlds Collide: Live at the St. James.

Seven years later, a similar group, without Vedder but including singer KT Tunstall and Glenn Kotche, Pat Sansone, John Stirratt, and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, recorded a studio album under the name 7 Worlds Collide. The 2009 album was titled The Sun Came Out. In addition to that project, in 2004 Finn recorded a second album with his brother, called Everyone Is Here. The Guardian called it “a collection of perfectly polished songs, beneath whose placid surfaces lurk all manner of questions, doubts and insights.”

Crowded House Reunited

Finn went on to plan his next solo album, for which he began working with former Crowded House bandmate Nick Seymour. He later invited another band member, Mark Hart, to join them. Realizing that Crowded House had reunited, Finn redirected the music for a new album by the band. Drummer Paul Hester had committed suicide in 2005, so the band would never be complete, and some of the songs reflect a somber look at life that reveals both the band’ loss and the perspective that comes with age and experience. Matt Sherrod joined the group on drums and guitarist Johnny Marr sat in on two songs. The Dixie Chicks co-wrote the song “Silent House.” Finn announced that Crowded House had reunited for the album, Time on Earth, and followed up with a tour. The band produced a second album, Intriguer, in 2010, also supported by an international tour.

With their sons grown and pursuing music careers of their own, Finn and his wife, Sharon, began to play music together for the fun of it–in their home studio, in their pajamas. Finn took up the drums, which he had never played, while Sharon learned the bass. “I was working back-to-front, writing melodies for Sharon’s basslines,” Finn told the Guardian. It was all new to me, it felt like starting over….Discovering new methods, new angles on songwriting, was very exciting…We just decided to make a record.” The resulting album, Pajama Club, was released in 2011 and the group toured briefly to establish that Pajama Club was a real band and not just a hobby.

After releasing the live recording Goin’ Your Way with Paul Kelly, Finn finally turned to the creation of a third solo album. On Dizzy Heights he worked with producer Dave Fridmann to get the sound he desired. “I didn’t want to make it a solo record in a stripped back singer-songwriter sort of way,” he said. “I had a feeling Dave would be good at adding some odd shapes to the music.” An Allmusic review compared the sound to an “aural lava lamp” and said the album is “a seamless blend of Finn’s longstanding popcraft and latter-day adventure, and it satisfies on both counts.” Finn’s wife and sons contributed to the compositions and as musicians on the recording, as well. The album was released in 2014.

Fleetwood Mac

In February 2018, Mick Fleetwood invited Finn to join Fleetwood Mac (along with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ guitarist Michael Campbell), replacing guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. In September 2018, the reconfigured band began to tour.

PERSONAL INFORMATION:
Born: May 27, 1958 in Te Awamutu, New Zealand
Other Names: Finn, Neil Mullane
Nationality: New Zealander
Occupation: Singer

CAREER:
Joined Split Enz, 1977; formed Crowded House, 1984; released Crowded House, 1986, Temple of Low Men, 1988, Woodface, 1991, and Together Alone, 1993; dissolved band, 1996; released debut solo album, Try Whistling This, 1998; released One Nil, 2001; released 7 Worlds Collide, a collaboration for charity, 2002; re-formed Crowded House, released Time on Earth, 2007; released The Sun Came Out, second collaboration for charity, 2009; released Crowded House album Intriguer, 2010; released Goin’ Your Way, live with Paul Kelly, 2013; released Dizzy Heights, solo album, 2014.

WORKS:
Selected discography

Solo

(Contributor) Common Ground: Voices of Modern Irish Music, EMI Premier, 1996.
Try Whistling This, Sony, 1998.
One Nil, EMI Parlophone, 2001.
Goin’ Your Way, live with Paul Kelly EMI Australia, 1913.
Dizzy Heights, Lester, 2014.
With Crowded House
Crowded House, Capitol, 1986.
Temple of Low Men, Capitol, 1988.
Woodface, Capitol, 1991.
Together Alone, Capitol, 1994.
Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House, Capitol, 1996.
Afterglow, Capitol, 2000.
Time on Earth, Ato, 2007.
Intriguer, Fantasy, 2010.
With Split Enz
True Colors, Mushroom, 1979.
Time & Tide,Mushroom, 1982.
History Never Repeats Itself: The Best of Split Enz, Universal/A&M, 1987.
With Finn Brothers
Finn, EMI/Discovery, 1996.
Everyone Is Here, Nettwerk, 2008.
With 7 Worlds Collide
7 Worlds Collide: Live At The St. James, Nettwerk America, 2002.
7 Worlds Collide: The Sun Came Out, EMI, 2009.
With Pajama Club
Pajama Club, Lester, 2011.

FURTHER READINGS:
Sources

Periodicals

Australian, February 23, 2001; May 26, 2001.
Billboard, June 15, 1996, p. 6; December 14, 1996, p. 37; April 28, 2001, p. 62.
Observer, April 15, 2001.
Q, November 1995.
Time South Pacific, June 15, 1998, p. 76.
Times, April 7, 2001.

Online

“Dizzy Heights: Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine,” Allmusic, http://www.allmusic.com/album/dizzy-heights-mw0002594460 (May 8, 2014).
“The Finn Brothers, Everyone is Here,” Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/music/2004/aug/06/popandrock4 (May 8, 2014).
“Marr, Dixie Chicks Enrich Crowded House Album,” Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/1052565/marr-dixie-chicks-enrich-crowded-house-album (May 8, 2014).
“Neil Finn Biography,” Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Neil-Finn/e/B000APC35K/ref=ac_dtp_sa_bio (May 8, 2014).
“Neil Finn Biography,” IMDb, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0278154/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm (May 8, 2014).
“Neil Finn,” New Zealand Music, http://www.nzmusic.com (June 18, 2001).
“Neil Finn goes solo for a melodic ‘Try Whistling This,'” CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Music/9808/19/neil.finn/ (June 20, 2001).
Neil Finn Official Web site, http://www.nilfun.net (June 20, 2001).
“Neil Finn-One Nil,” Skip Music, http://www.cyberbritain.co/uk/mp3/reveiws/98729357.html (June 20, 2001).
“No More Crowded House: Neil Finn’s New Band, Pajama Club,” Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/aug/25/neil-finn-pajama-club-crowded-house (May 8, 2014).

Source Citation
“Neil Finn.” Contemporary Musicians, vol. 34, Gale, 2002. Biography In Context