Liam Finn fighting mediocrity

JULE SCHERER
Last updated 05:00 05/04/2014
Iain McGregor

Liam Finn talks about his new album.

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Liam Finn is not interested in making easy-to-handle records.

"There's lots of great music out there but there's a lot that just feels like people's modern take on something that is already out there," he says.

The musician, who has just released his third solo album, The Nihilist, says he doesn't want to contribute to the mediocrity of the world's music.

"I want to make something that at least when I am listening to it I get excited and hopefully that translates to other people.

"I have lost all objectivity," he admits. "But it's the hardest I ever worked on."

It's 12 years since Neil Finn's son released his first album with his band, Betchadupa, and seven since his solo debut, the highly acclaimed I'll Be Lightning.

The Nihilist showcases his strengths, creating blissfully catchy hooks, and then adds some spaced-out, at times psychedelic, arrangements on top of that.

Finn says that after deciding on the title of the record he realised quite quickly what a huge can of worms he had opened.

"I am not necessarily claiming that I am a nihilist and I think it gets a lot of negative connotations because people have grown up with the idea of nihilism being believing in nothing and being completely immoral," he says.

But he was more interested in the idea of "political nihilism and extreme scepticism".

"Everything we've brought up to believe, be it in politics or society or religion is potentially not real and it's kind of hard these days to know what reality is applicable to your life."

People were living big parts of their lives online and had online personalities they were living.

"You know, you can be anyone you want on the internet and it's not real," the 30-year-old, who has toured with the likes of Wilco, Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam and The Black Keys, says.

"I am sort of fascinated with this debate that it opens up that is, what is the reality these days? I am not sure."
While his first two albums were mainly solo efforts, the multi-instrumentalist (he plays 67 instruments on the new record) set out to record The Nihilist with a band.

"I finished touring my last record, FOMO, about two years ago. My whole band, which is my brother, Elroy, EJ Barnes who has been singing with me for years and songwriter Mulholland we all got an apartment together and lived and worked and played hard together and they were a huge part of the conception of the record.

"I wanted it to be a real band effort because the last two records I made I played pretty much everything myself and did it all in a very insular way.

"You got to keep things changing to keep it interesting for yourself and I really love what happens when you have really unpredictable people in the room.

"So I started the process with this idea and sent demos of half-baked songs to them to see how they would develop them and see what input they would have, to make it sound new to me and make it something that I wouldn't do on my own."

The product was an almost-finished sounding record but Finn missed the energy and atmosphere he was imagining in his head when he first created the demos in his room in Brooklyn, overlooking the East River towards Manhattan.

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And that's where a "painstakingly obsessive process" that took more than seven months started.

He spent hours "meticulously making things and then destroying things and then realising that the things I had originally done were fine and I should have just left them".

"I was trying not to lose the human performance of it but trying to make the atmosphere and the vocal performances inhabit the characters I had created through these songs."

The result is less poppy, maybe less accessible but channels its countless characters' inner workings through Finn's own musical prism to reveal his finest, most sophisticated work yet.

The first single, Snug as F..., was released a couple of weeks ago but a title like this may scare off some commercial radio stations from playing it.

He admits he may not have thought that one through.

"It was one of the first songs I recorded for the record and it was a working title, it was just something I was singing in the song and it felt like the most provocative part so I went with it as it title.

"Now I almost forgot that it has a swear word in it but it became apparent when I had to give my nana my record.

"And luckily she just glazes over it and doesn't take it in.

"But then I thought, 'I am making records for my nana, but I am not making records for everybody else's nana so my nana will love me no matter what'."

* The Nihilist is out now

- Stuff

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