Whether apart or together, Neil and Liam Finn are a constant source of intriguing music. Though the Finn’s have both been making music across various projects for decades, this year they finally became a family band with Lightsleeper. This is no gimmick record however, as it mixes their talents at pop and quirky music for an album great for fans of either Finn. We caught up with the Finn father and son team ahead of their August 24th album release to discuss their studio chemistry and the sizable differences between Connan Mockasin and Mick Fleetwood.
Northern Transmissions: What inspired you two to finally work together on an album and what did the creative dynamic end up being between both of you?
Neil Finn: We sensed that it was a good time to work together, Liam picked up drumsticks when he was two and was laying out a pretty fine groove then. Good things take time, and we didn’t want to do anything gimmicky. Liam had a large body of work and a tangible aesthetic, and there was enough familial shifts going on that we wanted to mark this time.
NT: Did you find you had to adjust your styles or mindsets significantly to keep everything together?
Liam Finn: We didn’t have to adjust so much just because we went in with such an open mind. We didn’t want to put any restrictions on it, and we wanted to see what came naturally instead. A lot of it came out of this ambient and cinematic textures we had worked on. We were enjoying creating this atmospheres and then songs emerged on top of them. Sometimes one of us would go away and finish a song, but it was very collaborative.
NT: I heard you approached this album trying to bring a cinematic quality to your music rather than writing outright hits, so what did that mean from a writing and production side?
LF: We were very excited by this cinematic quality that we were revealing. So then writing songs on top of it, we realized we were great at producing each other especially in the harmonic and melodic sense. Dad was great at coaching great vocals out of me and vice versa. We can both throw too many ideas at a piece so we were good at keeping tabs on each other with that.
NF: I think there are more straightforward songs on the record because we’re never going to abandon the idea of three-minute songs. You only have to look at the charts to look at how little room there is for the kind of songs we write, and it gives us an invitation to be more experimental. We saw this album as a way to make something listenable from front to end.
LF: Whenever you start a band, you care a little less about what people think about because you’re much more focused on what you think of it as a band, and if you enjoy it.
NT: You two bring such a range of sounds, even Greek instruments at one point to this record, so what was your centering theme that helped tie everything together for you two?
NF: What we discovered was that we were making relaxing music that was a kind of escape from the stressful way of the world right now. Music is such a positive force, and we feel grateful to be part of that. People can all relate and connect to music over long distances, so we found it carried this genuine feeling from our family spending time together. The Greek influence has become a part of our family as we’ve travelled to Greece a lot and formed friendships there too.
NT: People would probably consider you both guitarists, so I was interested to hear what lead both of you to use piano and bass so much more on this record?
NF: I’d been writing a lot of my material through piano lately, and my last record was mostly based around it. We’d gotten new keyboards recently and Liam is a great bass player as well, so there was something getting on instruments you don’t usually write on that opens you up.
LF: Being a novice on something gives you this freshness, and it makes notes sound completely different. Through this experience we’ve started shifting back and forth more and we’re slowly getting back into playing guitar more through this sort of rebelling.
NT: How did Connan Mockasin and Mick Fleetwood get involved with the record and what do you feel they brought to their songs?
LF: Well Mick’s definitely a LOT taller than Connan. (Laughs) But for sure they’re both quite musically different.
NF: We’ve made a lot of musical connections through the years and Liam’s known Connan know for about 12 years! We’ve gotten to know his family along with him, so there’s this great connection there. We talked to him in Auckland and just asked him to come listen to the record. You can’t instruct him on what to do really, in that way he’s quite similar to Mick Fleetwood actually. (Chuckles) Those two just do what they do.
LF: We could have made this record on our own, but it was great to have my mum and my brother play on it. From that point the picture and frame expanded, Connan has such a unique character of guitar. As we weren’t playing as much guitar this time, there was wide-open space on the record for it, but we still wanted it to have purpose. Looking at Mick, the song’s he featured on benefited from his reflexive style of drumming. He doesn’t necessarily learn where the chorus is, he puts fills where he feels it should be. It made the album more sprawling and dynamic with his drumming. He was open with us from the get-go that he was going to do what he felt and we could throw it out if we didn’t like it.
NF: He said he didn’t know what he was doing. Which is hilarious given his extraordinary career as one of the best drummers of all time.
NT: It’s no secret that you’re both busy musicians and family-men outside of this collaboration so where do you see the future of this project?
NF: We’re playing it to support the album as much as we can. We’re creating additional work and videos in-between everything, since I’ll be touring until the end of the year. Liam’s got film projects among other things going on. We’re determined to support this album and we will eventually tour it. We want to return to this project since we’ve started something great here.
LF: Since we’re family we always end up around each other throughout the year so we end up making plans around that.
Words by Owen Maxwell