Neil Finn Is Not Like Everyone Else

Throughout Split Enz, Crowded House, his solo work, and his collaborations with brother Tim on 1995’s Finn Brothers and the recent Everyone Is Here [Nettwerk], Neil Finn has proven himself a master of the strangely haunting and surprising melody. It’s all quite subversive, actually.
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Finn dispatches all the “normal” melodic and harmonic elements you’d expect from conventional singer/songwriters—who, let’s face it, while they jealously extol their individuality, most of them actually sound quite similar—but then he’ll toss in a delightfully wicked twist: an unexpected soaring note, an off-kilter vocal harmony, some bizarre audio production, and whatever else his wacky brain can manifest.

“Everybody gets it wrong in their own particular way, and I think it’s how you get it wrong that gives you character,” says Finn. “Some of the best musicians on the planet have no distinctiveness at all. You see examples of this with things such as American Idol, where you get technically amazing singers, but you wouldn’t be able to identify one from the other because they sound very generic. Now, my songs are traditional in many ways—and some of them aren’t even that complex—but I’m always looking to go somewhere you weren’t expecting. I guess that comes from growing up around Split Enz, who were obsessed with originality. They really did have an unusual sound at the time, and striving for uniqueness is something I still value today.”

To some writers, collaborating with a family member often stirs up a cauldron of shared experiences and creative telepathy. But with the Finn brothers, it’s more like opposites attracting.

“Tim likes to have an idea of what the song is about right from the beginning, whereas I’m happy to leave things in a vague state,” says Finn. “I like to keep making discoveries—abandon one thing, find something else—right up to the mix. But there’s scant space for my introspection when another powerful personality is in the room, and we have to find some middle ground between spelling things out and keeping things fuzzy. Happily, we often manage to find the sweet spot between the two approaches, and, as a result, the songs become more extroverted.”