'It came with a high level of stress' Neil Finn breaks down his quickfire new album
Neil Finn has a new album called Out Of Silence out today [Friday 1 September]. He recorded it seven days ago at his home studio in Auckland, in front of the eyes of the world via an online livestream. And he is very happy about it.
“It's just amazingly good,” he tells Double J’s Caz Tran of how he feels now that the process is finished.
“We've made quite a sophisticated, epic sounding record. We recorded it in four hours, mixed it in three days, and it's out. It just feels great.
I've aged a few years, but I did a quick album.Neil Finn — Double J
“I had an image and a dream and we've completely achieved it. I don't know what took me so long to get around to it.
“We have 11 songs here that are sounding really good, like we've spent months on them, and they didn't really exist on tape four days ago.”
Finn pulled a huge cast of singers and musicians into the studio to make the record, which meant there was plenty of wrangling and rehearsing to be done before the record itself started.
“The fastest record I've made prior to this was four weeks, the Finn record [the 1995 collaboration with brother Tim], which I thought was really quick.
“Obviously there's a huge element of preparation we still had to go through in order to perform the hell out of those songs. But it's so nice to have spirited performances and no chance to double guess and dick around with stupid little nuances that don't mean anything to anybody. We got down to it.”
Some of that preparation was also livestreamed, with three Friday evening sessions of rehearsal, jamming and revisiting tracks from his past as well as showing off some of the new ones also going out to fans on Facebook.
“We got used to the environment,” Finn says of the warm up sessions. “We got the sound developed. It really enabled us to relax on Friday [the day of recording].
“By the time we got round to the recording session, we were so used to having cameras there that I felt incredibly relaxed. And I think all of the singers did too. We just trained ourselves not to react. Not to care.”
While the album was recorded quickly, Finn admits that this did little to diminish anxiety as to whether it was all going to work.
“It came with a high level of stress,” he says. “There were moments leading up to it where the preparation was overwhelming and I had my moments.
“I was so filled with the songs going around in my head that I haven't really slept properly in about five or six weeks. I've aged a few years, but I did a quick album.”
In the end, Finn couldn’t be happier with how the session itself ended up both feeling and sounding.
“I felt great,” he says. “All of the performances were really enjoyable. They seemed to have a really lovely, natural arc to them.
“It was a very relaxed environment. It was very much like a normal recording session, a bit of joking around and some irreverence. The singers were wearing capes and they were rustling quite loudly. That was the biggest problem we faced, really. We had to tell them to stay still while they were singing.”
Those singers were assembled specifically for this project. Finn’s direction for the kind of singer he required was very specific, and perhaps a little surprising.
“I've known some of those people for a long time. Some of them I've met just through doing this. But they're all very talented, they all have personality and character in the way they sing.
You'd never do anything if you didn't think, at some point, that it's an incredibly important thing to do. But you also have to be conscious of the fact that we are specks.Neil Finn — Double J
“None of them are in choirs normally, but that's the sound I wanted. I never really want a trained sound, or a gospel sound. I want friends sitting around a campfire and having a really good sing-song.”
Those singers, plus a considerably large string section, meant Finn’s Roundhouse Studio was pushed to its limit. Which is precisely what he wanted.
“It's a beautiful environment to play music, the room at the studios, and I love seeing it used to its maximum potential, which it really was,” he says.
“It was 30 musicians in the room, every channel on the desk was being used, every microphone. That makes me very happy. Because, when you build a studio, there's a small element of massive folly about it. 'What am I thinking, is this just a huge indulgence?' So I love being able to utilise it to its maximum.”
Finn’s son Liam took on the producer role, which the singer says was a natural fit. He also hints that we can expect more new music from the two of them soon.
“We've got a great rapport,” Finn says. “We've been doing some other recording - there's another album imminent as well - so we've developed a good communication. We understand each other, he knows what I like. He was a very valuable presence.”
This ambitious method of making a record suggests that Finn is still as engaged in finding creative ways to make music over 40 years into his career.
“I'm more hungry for it,” he says. “It seems like there's more to do and more urgency than there ever has been. I find it the most fascinating thing.”
And Finn believes it’s important to not overstate, nor understate, the importance of music in the grand scheme of what is happening in the world right now.
“Like everybody else, I'm looking at the world and what's going on with great alarm and concern,” he says. “Music seems more and more to me like one of the most substantial forces for good in the world. It may not change things directly, but it lays the bed for people to have good, positive action.
“I'm so happy and proud to be involved in it. I wanna honour that, and the talent I've been given and make sure I give it back to as many people as possible.”
Finn also gives some incisive advice into how to make meaningful music, while retaining a realistic idea of what it means in terms of the world at large.
“Any good work comes from straddling two different threads in your brain,” he says. “One is that what you're doing is completely, cosmically insignificant, and that what you're doing is the greatest thing that anyone has ever done. They're the two poles you have to run between in order to do good work.
“You'd never do anything if you didn't think, at some point, that it's an incredibly important thing to do. But you also have to be conscious of the fact that we are specks. And so your music is. It's healthy to be in both states of mind.”
Out Of Silence is out now digitally. It will be available on CD from Friday 22 September and vinyl in October.