Caz Tran remembers Crowded House's 1986 self-titled album.
Stories of Neil Finn’s idyllic childhood in the Waikato King Country aren't like the tales of hardship and heartbreak that are the common back story for many bands.
At Brisbane's BIGSOUND music conference in 2014, he told tales of cycling to Mount Pirongia with his mates, going to the local Catholic school and joyful gatherings at the family home.
There was always music around. His mother Mary played the piano and, as he told us when he was Double J's Artist IN Residence last year, his parents’ records by Harry Belafonte, Pat Boone and The Beatles still resonate with him today.
A lot of songs are quite dark. Some of our best moments are more melancholy.Neil Finn
But there were struggles, friction and strong ambitions that were significant markers in his creative life.
At 19 he was asked to join his big brother Tim’s successful band Split Enz. This gave him a taste of the excitement of playing shows and writing hit songs with them.
He recounted in an interview with triple j’s Lawrie Zion that their break up in 1984 was painful.
"Because there was such a close bond, there was a lot of emotion. I remember the last gig in Melbourne, weeping backstage between the show and the encore."
They’d considered staying together in the wake of Tim’s decision to leave, but a vision of a band of his own was brewing in Neil’s mind.
Crowded House formed in 1985. Finn said the band had a split personality.
"A lot of songs are quite dark. Some of our best moments, I think, are more melancholy. But we also - particularly Paul and Nick both of whom are quite extroverted - feed off each other on stage. We just found there was a certain anarchic streak."
This energy would place them in good stead. The travelled thousands of miles for overseas tours and did countless interviews and television appearances. They were quickly in high demand on the back of their excellent breakthrough album.
In producer Mitchell Froom the young Australasian band found a strong and vocal collaborative influence that opened them up to a new way of making their music.
Zion asked Neil about why album track ‘That’s What I Call Love’ had changed so much from the demo to the version which ended up on the record. His answer points to the directness of their producer’s input.
"Mitchell Froom didn’t like it," he said. "He thought it sounded like we were trying to be black and he has this thing about white guys trying to play black music. I think in this part of the world we certainly felt quite free as far as dipping into this style or that style. Because it’s not part of our cultural legacy."
Finn’s respect for and love of his country’s cultural legacy is one that has played a role in his unique songcraft. He is still a big champion of New Zealand music today. He refers to the unspoken elements that feed into the ‘fertile environment’ of where he grew up. The area has given rise to many artists and sportspeople.
Neil attended a folk club in Te Awamutu allowing him to write songs and develop his singing style. He’s also explored and adapted a Maori guitar strumming technique on several of his best known songs throughout his career.
In Froom’s guiding hands, this album broke the band in America with the huge single ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’. It was only ten years later that they would play this much-loved anthem to 200,000 people on the steps of the Sydney Opera House for their farewell show.
"Music is like an alchemy in a room," Finn said at BIGSOUND as he reflected on the power and pull of music. "It loosens people up, allows good conversation to happen, good laughter to happen. People walk away having good ideas, inspired. As time goes on it remains in my mind the single most important way of bringing people together."