“Imagine there is an old stone wall at the bottom of your garden, beyond which is a beach and further out a volcanic island. You are sitting on the wall drinking coffee. It’s a radiant winter morning and you feel passing through each moment the exquisite rhythms of friendship and disappointment, encouragement and love.” Tim Finn on the mood of, The View Is Worth The Climb, Auckland 2011
Tim Finn stands barefoot at the studio microphone. There’s a music stand within arm’s reach and a holy picture sits next to a lyric sheet. The studio is littered with old analogue gear and reels of fresh tape. Producer Jacquire King looks at Finn from behind a high-tech console as the band adjust their volume. The singer takes a deep breath, looks back at the producer and smiles. Then the magic begins.
For Finn, the magic has been happening over a long period: across generations, beyond horizons and around the world. One of the new century’s great classicists, Finn has a formidable reputation as a singer and songwriter. His lineage goes back to the group he co-founded in New Zealand in the early 1970′s, Split Enz. Alongside that is his acclaimed solo work, as well as tenure with Crowded House. Now he’s returned with a new solo album, The View Is Worth The Climb.
Jacquire King’s credentials are almost as equally impressive. King’s CV includes crafting hit records for the likes of Norah Jones [The Fall], Modest Mouse and Kings Of Leon.
“I was idly sitting around one day,” begins Finn, “and I got one of those generic mail outs from GPS, which is a global production service, all these producers and mixers are represented on it. I noticed Jacquire King’s name there and I noticed what he’d done. I saw he was on [Tom Wait’s] Mule Variations, and then I saw he had also done the Kings Of Leon, which I was currently listening to [Only By The Night]. He seemed so eclectic in his choices, and so I reached out.
“I sent him an email and said, ‘Do you want to come to New Zealand and make a record?’ Pretty well straight away I got a reply, so it was nice to not go through all the usual gatekeepers. I thought, ‘Shit I better write some songs now.’ [laughs] I never thought I’d get a response.”
With the release of The View Is Worth The Climb, the Finn canon of great songs has been expanded. Alongside such perennials as I Hope I Never, Persuasion, Charlie, Weather With You and Stuff And Nonsense now comes, The Everyday, Wild Sweet Children, Keep Talking and the title track, which is a co-write with Megan Washington, The View Is Worth The Climb.
Have you ever tried to hold back the tide? Well, that’s the thing about Tim Finn and songs. After the release of the recent Anthology, North South East West, Finn thought, for a moment, that his career making albums might have hit a full stop. But, as they always have, new songs arrived.
“The Anthology felt like a natural stop,” he admits. “I’d done eight solo albums. I’ve always liked the number eight. We live at number eight, and so I thought that might be it; I’ll do other things but I don’t think I’ll do any more solo albums, but it came along I guess.”
“After Jacquire and I made contact, [the idea of an album] was out there in the distance, but almost a year went by before we finally got together, so I had a lot of time to write and also somebody to bounce off. I would send demos out and it became quite a nice organic process, which I’ve never really had. I think nearly every other time there’d only be a period of a couple of months or so where you’d send songs out and then all of a sudden it would be all on. Jacquire became part of the writing process in a way and it was really fun.”
As late night emails were exchanged with King a plan was hatched to record in Auckland. Studio time at Roundhead was booked, musicians were brought into the fold and an impressive studio band that features Joey Waronker (Beck/REM/Thom Yorke), Zac Rae (Beck/Thom Yorke/Cold War Kids), Brett Adams (The Mockers/The Bads), Tony Buchen (Andy Bull) and Mara TK (Electric Wire Hustle) was assembled.
Still, it always comes back to the songs. As a writer, Finn’s genius has been his gift of melody pitted against his novelist’s eye for detail. He sees the world at close range with a keen interest in the human condition. There’s something ethereal in the way he discusses his process, which stems from his widescreen universality.
With an inbuilt sense of sonic navigation, Finn seeks out material in his surroundings. Pressed on the matter, he produces a scrap of yellowed newspaper that he possibly trimmed from a New York newspaper two decades ago. The forgotten author writes in two sentences what could very well be applied to Finn’s process today.
“Redemption in art is not what happens after the story is over and the subject ends up strong or successful or sober or, in every simple and complicated sense of the word, happy. Redemption is the work itself (the book, the movie, the pop song, the painting, the poem, the Grecian urn) that finds beauty in its subject, no matter how terrible or how homely, and transmits that beauty, as well as truth… one and the same thing as the poet says.”
Like many of the great poets: Finn’s autobiography is in his set list. His current vantage point includes a young family and a life well lived. Still, there’s angst and yearning pitted against the bliss.
“I think it’s very much about what I love,” he says of the new work, “what inspires me, what brings me joy. There’s a lot of that in the record. [There’s also] difficulties in friendships, still, that go on over the years, [there’s] people I love, people I’ve loved and tried to get close to… and either it’s working great and I’m getting a lot of stimulation, inspiration, and joy from it or it’s not working out and I’m still kind of wrestling with that. [I’m also inspired] by the place I live in which is a beautiful part of Auckland, near the water, so there’s some of that neighbourhood feel in there too, the simplicity of that, the day-to-dayness of that. Being a family guy, being a parent now, just all of the above.
Finn and King opted to record the new work quickly. The album was cut in twelve days, with further time put aside for mixing in the USA.
“I was getting so much [good] energy,” continues Finn. “I worked on the songs for a long time, so I’d kind of dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s and I knew that they were ready to sing. The lyrics? I’d honed them so that I felt completely confident. Then it was a matter of the pure excitement of playing them with great musicians and only having two weeks and capturing all that: it’s all very live and some of the vocals are live vocals with very little overdubbing. I think that’s partly why it sounds so fresh.”
Half a lifetime ago he sang ‘acknowledge no frontier’. Thankfully, that’s what he’s done. Finn keeps moving forward, creating new jewels from his enclave at the ‘bottom of the world’. With The View Is Worth The Climb, Tim Finn has created a modern classic. Now, put on your headphones and listen to it.
Sean Sennett 2011