Liam Finn's struggles worth while

02:08, Jul 20 2011
liam finn
BEACH BOY: Liam Finn says his new album was a struggle to make, but the journey was worth it.

Spending a summer making music by the sea sounds like some sort of dream existence.

But when Liam Finn found himself locked in a studio overlooking West Auckland's Piha beach last summer, he started to wonder if he had made a mistake.

He couldn't help but think he was missing out on something while he laboured over his second solo album.

"A big part of what started the writing was being out at the beach, feeling isolated. I'd spent so long touring, trying to be part of the international music world - and feeling a part of it," he says on the phone from London.

"And then to go back to the beach and being all on my lonesome, I felt like maybe I was missing out on something, maybe I shouldn't have made that decision, maybe I should have stayed overseas."

And from this uncertainty, Fomo - it stands for fear of missing out - was born. And kept growing.


"I guess that paranoia triggered the first few songs and then it kept living up to its name all through the summer. It was quite hard to work, when the studio had great big windows and I could see the beautiful summer outside."

Despite feeling like he was missing out on something, Finn, who is now based in New York, knew Piha was the place to stop, take a breath and focus on the album. 

"I think after all the travelling and the nomadic lifestyle, I was really craving the chance to go home to New Zealand. And Piha was somewhere that I'd spent a lot of time as a child, it's the place I felt the most connected to and a logical place to set up camp and tick that off my bucket list."

It's been four years since Finn released his debut album I'll Be Lightning and even longer since his two albums with his teenage band Betchadupa. 

And while at 27 he may seem young to be talking about a "bucket list", Finn has been chalking up ticks in the life experience column by the dozen.

And it shows. Fomo is an album that keeps you guessing and, compared to his previous work, it's an album that sounds both mature and raw in equal measures. 

That's something Finn puts down to the inevitable new chapters of life that comes with getting older.

"I'm in a very different place. I mean I had a great time away, but then I came home and got to spend a year starting a really beautiful relationship. And that was kind of a new thing and I guess that's what you want, you want to be taking on new areas of your mind and your heart that you haven't really experienced before and you want to make sure you're experiencing it.

"And I didn't want to make an album about being homesick on the road - I wanted to start from scratch thematically and emotionally and I think that is why it was such a mountain to climb."

And some of the new ideas that popped up surprised even Finn.

First single, Cold Feet, is a classic "I'm in love and I don't care who knows it" pop song, a fair step away from the melancholic, low-fi material fans are used to.

"When I wrote it I didn't know what even I thought about it ... there is something about it, some atmosphere that stuck with me so I knew I had to finish it.

"And for a while there, I probably would have been the type of person that would have tried to make it a bit messed up in some way, stepping away from a kind of nostalgic vibe but that song needed to be like that. But you shouldn't be embarrassed about writing a pop song," he says.

So does he worry a new musical path might eat into the reputation and expectation built off I'll Be Lightning's success?

"Every once in a while that anxiety creeps up into you and you worry that you're going to ruin what you created, but the only thing I can really do is write stuff that excites me.

"I don't want to just make the same record over and over again, even though there would be some people who would like that. But I think the people that like me and come to my shows and see me live, I think they like how much stuff changes and however I'm feeling in that moment."

It's this live performance that often shocks and surprises fans. It's also what keeps them coming back for more.

Finn is known for his wild-man, on-stage antics, throwing himself between guitar and drums in a somewhat manic ball of excitement. And ahead of a nationwide tour, he says it's here that he feels more at home than almost anywhere else.

"When I'm in the studio, especially when I'm by myself, I'm a lot mellower in a far more trippy, atmospheric kind of way. But when I'm on stage I think the adrenaline kicks in and I kind of loose my mind a bit and I feel the most like myself that I ever do."

Liam Finn and the Drab Doo-Riffs
August 3: Kings Arms, Auckland
August 4: Kings Arms, Auckland
August 6: San Francisco Bathhouse, Wellington
August 9: Theatre Royal, Nelson
August 11: ReFuel, Dunedin
August 12: Arts Festival, Christchurch
August 13: Arts Festival, Christchurch

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