In February this year, Crowded House released ‘To The Island’, the second song lifted from the band’s upcoming seventh album, Dreamers Are Waiting. The previous single, ‘Whatever You Want’, was the Neil Finn-led group’s first new music since their 2010 LP, Intriguer.
Though, Crowded House circa 2021 looks a lot different to what it did a decade ago. Finn’s trusty sidekick, original bass player Nick Seymour, remains as irremovable as ever, but gone is Mark Hart, the keyboardist and guitarist who became a touring member in 1989 and made significant contributions to the band’s three most recent LPs. Drummer Matt Sherrod, who’d been with the band since their 2007 comeback album, Time On Earth (which was made in the wake of founding drummer Paul Hester’s death), is also absent. In their place are Finn’s adult sons, Elroy on drums and Liam on guitar, while long-time producer Mitchell Froom is behind the keys.
The talents of all five are on display in ‘To The Island’, which boasts a hypnotic, harmony-stacked chorus. “Come to the island,” sings Finn, with support from his two 30-something sons. “Where we can save our souls / It’s just the right size.”
It’s easy to interpret Finn’s lyrics as a comment on isolationism, which would make ‘To The Island’ one of a number of politically charged moments on Dreamers Are Waiting. But these lines can also be read as a meditation on the unique fulfilment that comes from playing in a band. See, Finn joined Fleetwood Mac in 2018 and has since performed more than 100 shows with the iconic pop-rock outfit. He credits this experience with reviving his enthusiasm for playing with Crowded House.
But if that’s the case, then why the new lineup? Well, the recruitment of Froom has been many years in the making, with the Californian musician producing Crowded House’s first three albums, the seminal Crowded House (1986), Temple of Low Men (1988) and Woodface (1991).
As for the junior Finns, their inauguration is hardly out of the blue. Along with being experienced writers and performers in their own right, Liam and Elroy have regularly featured on Neil’s solo records, most notably 2017’s Out of Silence, which Liam co- produced. Liam, the elder sibling, also added harmony vocals to Time On Earth and toured with Crowded House in 2007. Plus, in 2018 Neil and Liam released the collaborative LP, Lightsleeper.
And so, buoyed by his experiences with Fleetwood Mac, Neil Finn essentially set out to assemble his ideal, happy place lineup. And what better outlet for it than Crowded House, the band that he, Seymour and Hester formed in 1985 and which has sold in excess of 10 million albums worldwide?
But Dreamers Are Waiting is no mid-life vanity project. As both ‘To The Island’ and subsequent single, the angular, eco-collapse premonition, ‘Playing With Fire’, attest, Crowded House have returned sounding as vital and melodically persuasive as ever.
Music Feeds spoke to Liam Finn about being asked to join his dad’s band, his deep respect for the band’s legacy and the recording of Dreamers Are Waiting.
Music Feeds: What were the discussions like when your dad pitched the idea of you and Elroy becoming official Crowded House members?
Liam Finn: In a way, I think dad was quite nervous, probably because even with all the history, he’s probably sensitive towards not wanting to feel like we’re always involved. Obviously, I’ve spent my whole career being asked about my father, but I’ve also spent my whole career continuing to collaborate with him, so it’s not really something I’ve shied away from.
I guess I can understand why he was sort of nervous, but when he brought it up it seemed just really exciting to me because I care so much about that band and I want to protect the legacy of that band.
MF: During the writing and production of Dreamers Are Waiting, were you at all apprehensive to impose your ideas or suggestions, given your respect for the Crowded House legacy?
LF: I was excited at the idea of helping shape what that next journey might look like. If he was going to do Crowded House again, I care so much about that band that I would have a strong opinion anyway, whether I was in it or not, about what they were doing or what dad’s plans for it were.
So having the opportunity to be part of that – something I feel like I have been around and know it as well [as] if not better than anyone in the whole world – the sense of responsibility was welcomed.
MF: You’re also playing with Nick Seymour, who’s been there since the start, and Mitchell Froom, who’s been in the picture since the very early days. What are the dynamics like within the band?
LF: Dad really wanted it to feel like a band again; a group of people that all bring something unique to the table and also have a strong will. I think that’s a really important thing in a band. All five of us have got a pretty strong opinion and a very true sense of what we’re into, so it kind of works in a way that a high school band might when you join it with your mates and everyone’s passionate about music. That’s what’s exciting about it.
When we did all get together and started playing, I think Mitchell was the first one to point it out – it just sounded like we knew how the music went.
MF: You self-produced your latest solo album, The Nihilist, and co-produced Out Of Silence and Lightsleeper with your dad. How hands-on were you with the production of Dreamers Are Waiting?
LF: I think we all got pretty stuck in. It was a real, true, produced by the band kind of thing. Elroy’s produced his own record, Nick’s done a lot of film work, so everyone’s kind of got a style that they brought to the table. But a big part of what we wanted to do, which was really lucky we were able to do, is just before COVID hit the States we all recorded the record as a band in a studio. And a big part of what we wanted to capture was what happened with five people playing at the same time.
MF: So, most of Dreamers Are Waiting was recorded in the States?
LF: Yeah, we went into a place called Valentine Studios [in Los Angeles], which is a really amazing timepiece. It was a studio that the doors shut in the ’70s because the owner just moved on, and somebody didn’t fully open it up again until maybe ten years ago and nothing had been touched. So it just looks like something out of the early-’70s, but not in a kitschy way.
We went into that place to start working out these songs that dad had and a few that we’d jammed up together and a lot of the record ended up being those first times we played through things. We were kind of fooling ourselves into thinking we were doing pre-production, but making sure we had the 2-inch tape track recording the whole time.
MF: The album was finished during lockdown. How was that handled?
LF: Luckily me and Elroy and dad were in the same bubble, so they would come over to my little studio and we’d get stuff done together, but then dad and Elroy would also work at their place. We were all working out of Dropbox so in some ways, it was a miracle that someone didn’t accidentally delete the entire thing. But we got through it.
MF: Do you observe anything different in your dad in terms of the standard or paradigm he tries to meet when working on Crowded House songs?
LF: I feel like he gets asked a lot, “What happens when you go into the studio to make a Crowded House record versus a solo record?” And he always says, “Nothing’s different,” but I feel like that’s not completely true.
He puts everything he’s got into every project he does, but I think a huge part of what makes it a Crowded House project is bringing in someone like Nick. Dad will have a song that’s half-written and as soon as Nick starts playing on it, it just to me immediately sounds like Crowded House. And that really informs the rest of the evolution of that song.
Also, [on Dreamers Are Waiting], he really wanted to make something that was upbeat and fun to play live. As soon as we started doing things like ‘Sweet Tooth’ and ‘Whatever You Want’, I think that was the first time we got that glint in the eye of what this could be.
‘Dreamers Are Waiting’ is out on Friday, June 4. A celebratory album release event will be streamed on eMusic Live on Saturday, June 12 at 6.00pm and 8.00pm AEST. Tickets on sale now at emusiclive.com. See here for more.