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Interview
Liam Finn

Liam Finn

date
Tuesday 7th June, 2011 9:12AM

Liam Finn returned to his roots, Piha more specifically, to pen FOMO the follow up to 2007’s I’ll Be Lightning. UTR caught up with Finn to chat about his change in approach to songwriting, his relocation to New York, and his five favourite tracks from the album.

What are you up to at the moment?

The album’s not out yet, so I wanted to do a tour through the States to get the new band up with the play, because I haven’t played in a while and it’s a new band. I had my old band for about seven or eight years and then all of a sudden you put together a band over a few weeks and you have to go out and tour an album. The one thing about doing shows is it gets you up to a good standard. One show is worth about ten rehearsals.

Have you been enjoying playing the new album live?

It’s been awesome, it’s great to have new songs. That’s the one thing about touring for a long time on a record; it’s fantastic that people are still interested but to be honest I’ll be Lightening took such a long time to come out around the world that I had to keep touring that record but I was aware that the freshness was lost, so I wanted to take a little time to be creative again. I love performing - it’s probably where I’m most comfortable but it’s quite a different process from the creating and using the other side of your brain, I suppose.

Tell me a little bit about recording FOMO:

I came back to New Zealand at the end of 2009 and rented a house at Piha, which is somewhere I’d pretty much grown up as a kid and the place I probably missed the most while I was away. So I wanted to spend a lot of time out there and see what effect that had on writing songs and making a new record. I went out there and it was pretty lonely at first because I was isolated and I was used to being around so many people on the road - constantly travelling and stuff - it was quite confrontational to be faced with the pen and paper and wondering what the next record would be like.

It took about half a year to figure out I needed to find a producer, and I got in touch with Burke (Reid), and he started throwing ideas around a bit. He wasn’t an obvious choice, he came from writing and recording from a completely different place than I would, but that’s what I craved I think – someone to bounce off.

Were there any motifs while you were writing?

Not as such, I wanted it to be something that was created from scratch while I was back in New Zealand. I had all the songs I’d written while I was touring and travelling and some of them got used in an EP a couple of years ago and some of them got used on the Barb record and inspired some of the Barb record and that was really good, but I felt like I needed to enter a new experience in different surroundings to make new songs.

I think in a way it was more atmosphere; songs are something that have a life and travel over a few listens. That idea of creating an atmosphere by the way that you record the song and the way you colour in the song; capturing that something that is almost like a scent. You are either attracted to it or repelled by it and I was interested in that idea of songwriting where you create an atmosphere.

You wanted these songs to be immediately accessible but also slow burners?

I guess it follows on from what I was just saying in the sense that the immediacy of atmospheres you create gets the foot tapping because it has that kind of indescribable substance that makes you connect with something. I just wanted to write good songs, that was all. At the end of the day ‘Reckless’ takes you back to Summer 2004 not because you know the words to the song but because the atmosphere takes you back and that’s the immediacy I was talking about.

How do you see it as a progression from the last album?

I guess that it was completely different for me as an experience, writing and recording it were almost polar opposites. I wrote the last one living away, living overseas and it was a breakup record. This time I was back home, after a few years touring and feeling quite exhausted and being in love again. I’ve always been a big advocate for being able to give a complete performance and not change it with digitalization and computers but for this record I changed that and I tried to use everything I learnt and make it new and fresh again.

You’ve moved to NY permanently now, yes?

As much as there’s this romantic thing living in New York, it’s also a practical thing, flying from New Zealand to the Northern Hemisphere isn’t that practical. Have you noticed a difference approach to the music industry differently over there? I guess it’s completely different because it’s so much bigger. In New Zealand there’s a great industry and there’s so many creative people and so many bands, but we are restrained by how many people are in the country and there’s only a certain amount of people who like certain types of music. So in some ways it makes it more competitive and more restrictive, whereas overseas there are so many bands and so much going on and there’s so much amazing stuff happening that you really have to fight to get noticed, and I think that’s a really good incentive and inspiration in a way to do your best job and to do the best work you can. It’s not easy and you get knocked down a lot. You also have to be really sure that that’s what you want to do and you have to be passionate and get enough pleasure out of it that the hard aspect isn’t too much for you.

Have you slotted into a musical community over there?

Not yet, the only way you can do that is by living somewhere for a while. After four years of living in London I still didn’t really feel part of any particular music community except for Connan Mockasin and Lawerence Arabia and the New Zealand bands that were over here, that was the community I had. In itself it was really inspiring because I loved the stuff they were doing so that was a good incentive to work hard; they were doing such awesome stuff themselves that you kind of wanted to work hard and feel part of it and feel like you had earned your stripes.

We’re going to do a preview stream of the tracks off your album, can you tell us a little bit about your five favourite tracks?

‘Neurotic World’
That was the first song I wrote that I felt captured that atmosphere I keep talking about, and it was the first song that felt like a different direction and yet still really honest. I guess it immediately became the first track on the record from the get go and was something I kept referring back to as far as an atmosphere I wanted to create. Not that I wanted to create that atmosphere but that’s what I played to Burke Reid saying ‘this is the tone let’s take it from here’.

‘Roll of the Eye’
I wrote that on a trip out of New Zealand last year pretty early on in the writing process. It was the middle of Winter and I came over to Toronto and then Montreal and played with this Montreal band and tried to get out of my comfort zone a little and see if that would be more conducive to writing. I hung out in Montreal for a week and it was the end of their Summer and I was riding bikes around and it was just really awesome to play with different musicians and realize how much there was to gain out of collaborating and that’s where I made the decision that it was time to find a producer or find someone I could share the enjoyment of making a record with.

‘Cold Feet’
This is the one that I wrote and then immediately thought it was too poppy or too obvious, but it just kept getting stuck in my head and sentiment-wise it was just painting quite a beautiful picture of the sunset in the summer at a beach town and feeling nervous and yearning for someone – all those kind of things you do when you’re a teenager. It had a personal aspect to it and a fictional aspect and had a setting that was different from where I was, because I was imaging a white sandy beach and an American setting.

‘The Struggle’
I did this as kind of a rough demo - just tried to make everything as crunchy and industrial and tom waits-y as possible - and like ‘Cold Feet’ I didn’t take it seriously. It wasn’t over thought and the lyrics were about a really weird dream I’d had the night before where I had to have sex with Julian Assange, and that was the price to pay for selling my soul.

‘Jump Your Bones’
It is my favourite song on the record because it was made in different stages. Glenn Kotche the drummer of Wilco is one of my favourite drummers in the world, if not of all time. He does really experimental things that still sound percussive and drum-like and it sounds quite weird, and that inspired the beginning of the song. It had the atmosphere too plus it was really fun to work on so when we finished the record I still had that song to finish and I left it till last because I knew it would be fun and we finished it the day before we had to head on tour. It was a really nice full stop on the record and it’s nice to turn up extremely loud and blast and feel like you’ve finished the record.

Courtney Sanders

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