[21 February 2008]
As a little kid, Liam Finn got sick all the time. It was nothing serious, but to this day he suffers from a severe lack of royalty payments.
“I didn’t have a very good immune system, so I got a lot of fevers and stuff,” recalls Finn, a 24-year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter. “I would get delirious and spout out sentences, and my dad would use them.”
Thus did a nonsensical Liam lyric such as “detective is flat” wind up in “Pineapple Head,” a 1994 song by his dad’s Australian pop band, Crowded House. (He was also responsible for “Here comes Mrs. Hairy Legs,” in “Chocolate Cake.”) “It’s as simple as when you’re 5 years old and you’ve got a piano in the house, you make up melodies and words that are funny and silly,” he says, by phone from Los Angeles.
To this day, Neil Finn gives Liam credit for the line, but in lieu of a formal publishing arrangement, the father contributes to the son’s promising rock `n’ roll career in other ways.
One night, after Liam and his friend Connan Hosford spent the day writing a song, Neil took them to dinner. They drank several glasses of wine. They stumbled to the studio. Neil picked up the bass. Together, they created “I’ll Be Lightning,” the most striking track on the bearded New Zealander’s recent solo debut album of the same name.
The single is a dreamy pop song that drifts from one surprise to another - giggles, a strummed harpsichord, harmonies that recall the Beatles at their most psychedelic and a fuzzy little electric guitar solo at the end.
Aside from this collaboration, Finn wrote and created almost all of the album by himself. Finn’s style is generally lowkey and meditative, leaning on gentle acoustic guitars for tracks such as “Lullabye,” but he cuts loose occasionally, as on “This Place Is Killing Me,” with its booming drums and bass.
“Really, I hadn’t planned to do everything on my own,” says Finn, who spent eight years trying to make it in a New Zealand band called Betchadupa. “I thought I needed something new and fresh to get a little more out of myself. Sometimes, you create something really magical instead of when you’re in the studio and you’re paying for your time and trying to get something done. I wanted to get lost in my own imagination.”
“I’ll Be Lightning” is far removed from Finn’s raucous live shows, which often involve the singer making up songs on the spot. For his next album, Finn hopes to tap into that spontaneous vein a bit more.
“The way I do my live show is quite different and unique - I do guitar loops, get on the drums. It’s really kind of gnarly and wild,” says Finn, who performs onstage with a collaborator, singer E.J. Barnes. “I really want to explore recording with that sort of get-up. I kind of like that. It’s honest and punk, in a way.”