Mess+Noise interview: Liam Finn: ‘I Could’ve Made A Hip-Hop Record’, June 2011

My first article for Australian music website, Mess+Noise — an interview with Liam Finn. Excerpt below.

It’s hard to believe an artist like Liam Finn could ever struggle to write and record music. There’s the pedigree, of course – he’s the son of Neil, the nephew of Tim – but there’s also an intimidating recording career of his own, which winds its way through his early years with Betchadupa, an exceptional debut solo record (2008’s I’ll Be Lightning), the Champagne in Seashells collaboration with Eliza-Jane Barnes in 2009, and then his work with Kiwi “supergroup” BARB just last year.

Still, Finn hemmed and hawed on his new record, FOMO. He was in the studio on his own, trying new things using old tricks, and by the middle of last year had driven himself into a sonic corner. Enter Burke Reid, formerly of Gerling, to help produce the record. In just four years, Reid has established himself as one of Australia’s most prominent producers, working behind the boards with The Mess Hall, Jack Ladder and Gareth Liddiard and The Drones. Together, Finn andReid put their heads down and hammered out FOMO over the summer.

Talking to Finn, you can understand how he got himself into a bit of a pickle with FOMO. The guy is a thinker and he talks at a furious pace, tangents coming mid-sentence without warning.

Where are you talking to me from?
I’m in London. I’m just in my slippers and my nice big cardigan, leaning on my bed head and, yeah, with crust in my eyes. It’s 9.20 in the morning. It’s not even that early. [Laughs] It feels early; I’m in a late cycle.

You idle musicians.
Yeah! It’s like that.

Whereabouts is home for you at the moment?
Well, I guess actually London at the moment, but I’m not really living anywhere. I actually finished the record the day before I left New Zealand. I packed up my house and moved, supposedly to New York but we’ve just been touring, and now we’re in London – we’ve been here for a couple of weeks and I’m actually staying in my old house that I used to live in a few years ago, so it kind of feels like home.

So you’ve sold the place at Piha [Beach, west of Auckland]?
Yeah, yeah. I moved my stuff out and, yeah, it was sad to say goodbye, but I sort of forgot, actually, what a huge part of me got so used to touring and not really living anywhere. Once I left again there was this sense of freedom and I relaxed and it was like, “Oh right. Maybe this is my natural state.” Being a nomad: it’s kind of nice to be away again.

I think it’s a natural state for a lot of New Zealanders. They’re a pretty nomadic sort of people.
Definitely, yeah. I think it’s a rite of passage in growing up in such a small, isolated country: you need to figure out who you are outside of the country and it makes you appreciate it all the more when you go back.

FOMO: It’s a really different record to I’ll Be Lightning. You spoke to M+N a couple years ago of always wanting to make “first” records – records without any preconceptions. Is that the approach you tried to take with FOMO?
Definitely, yeah. I think every project you do, you’ve got to find some element or some point of difference. I think it’s a bad trap to get into – especially for artists who become successful – they kind of feel that they’ve got to recreate what made them so successful. But what made them so successful, and the thing that made them make an inspired record, was probably the lack of expectation and not having any sort of expectations … So yeah, I definitely wanted to go into it with that same freedom I had on I’ll Be Lightning.

Was the final product something close to what you envisioned at the start of the recording process, or did it turned out quite differently?
I think it turned out really differently, to be honest. I don’t know what I expected it to be, but I know what I was doing mid-year, last year: I was trying to still do it on my own and I was taking, in a way, a relatively similar approach as I did for I’ll Be Lightning. That was what freaked me out and I was left a bit disillusioned really, kind of going, “What the hell? I’m just using my same old tricks.” I was kind of falling into that trap that we were just talking about, so finding a producer [Reid] and finding someone who was going to come at it from a completely different angle aesthetically that was a huge part of making this record … All of a sudden, it was really a collaborative thing and you didn’t really know where it was going to end up because there was someone else’s mind steering the ship every once in a while.

For the full interview, visit Mess+Noise.

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