The acclaimed singer-songwriter, Crowded House frontman and Kiwi national treasure makes his Dubai debut this week. Rob Garratt spoke to him.
Hi Neil. You recently told a UK audience that, over your work with Split Endz, Crowded House, the Finn Brothers, Pajama Club, and more, you have 230 songs to choose from. How on earth do you go about writing a setlist?
It’s not easy. In Dubai I’ll be very conscious that I’ll be playing to a very mixed and broad audience. I always like to play the songs people want to hear and love.
With so many songs over a four decade career, are there any you’re less than proud of?
I don’t have any songs which became successful which I can’t bear. If it’s a long tour sometimes you get tired of playing them every night, but that’s just natural.
Your new solo album was recorded with your wife and two sons. How was that?
Most of the time it was a really enjoyable bonding process. There’s certain sensitivities which exists within in a family which are different to playing with a bunch of musicians, but musicians are odd anyway, there’s always some testy moments. But we got through it. We’re very close.
You’re considered a great songwriter. Is it art or craft?
There’s both involved – in order to get inspiration it’s often necessary to put concentrated, disciplined hours into it. There’s craft in the finishing of a song, the rounding off, the bolting together of pieces. I think it’s just a wilfulness you have to have more than anything else. It’s always tempting to think ‘this isn’t happening, it’s no good, I’ve written all the songs I’ve got’. You’ve got to fight against that every time you sit down.
A Kiwi friend claims that Crowded House are a New Zealand band, but the Australians claim you are their own. Where do you sit?
It’s an unwinnable argument because there’s no definitive answer. I’m a New Zealander, but the band was formed in Melbourne and was in Australia in the first instance. I’m not settling any disputes here. I’d say both are true. Or neither. Whatever you want.
You formed the 7 Worlds Collide supergroup with members of Radiohead, Wilco. Pearl Jam and more – who did you learn most from?
I don’t know if I could pull out one person, everyone came to the party with such a good energy and intent. Johnny Marr is a revelation – it’s almost like he walks around at breakfast with a guitar on. He’s so ready to play all the time. There are quite a lot of lazy musicians who are very talented – Johnny’s certainty not lazy.
Is it another Crowded House record next?
Not likely actually. It’s more likely I’ll do another solo record. But I haven’t decided, there’s various things brewing.
How often do you write a song?
Not as often as I should. In theory it might be possible to write one a day, but I certainly don’t get that many done. When you look at it I feel a bit hopeless. I’ve written probably 270 songs over 30 years. That’s barely [sic] ten a year.
So we can expect a few more coming soon?
I’ll write at least 200 songs in the next ten years.
Neil Finn is live at Dubai Tennis Stadium on Thursday May 15.