Interview: Tim Finn talks Split Enz, Forenzics
By Felix Rowe | May 16, 2022
The co-founder of Split Enz, one half of Finn Brothers, and co-writer of Crowded House’s most successful studio album, Tim Finn discusses 50 years in the business and his new project with Forenzics… By Felix Rowe
Tim Finn rose to fame in the 70s with the fabulously eccentric Split Enz. Later reuniting with younger brother, Neil, in Crowded House, together they conquered pop with the landmark album, Woodface, co-writing totems Weather With You and Four Seasons In One Day. Surely a first, the brothers both picked up an OBE in 1993 for services to music on the same day.
Impressively prolific, Tim’s steadily released a string of albums since, whether with Finn Brothers, his umpteen solo records, collaborations and musical theatre projects. Now half a century since Split Enz formed, he’s teamed up with former bandmate Eddie Rayner, using “shades and echoes” of Enz tracks as the impetus to create something entirely fresh. As Forenzics, they are looking back to look forward.
Shades And Echoes is a cracking album. You must be rather pleased with it?
Yeah, we’re both delighted with how it all turned out. It was an exciting way to work.
It’s an interesting approach, taking snippets from classic Split Enz tracks and using them as the basis for creating something new…
People have obviously created songs from samples, but I’m not sure anybody’s written a new song over an old bit of their own, you know? It wasn’t something that I thought about a lot over the years, then suddenly it just seemed the time was right. I was intrigued by this idea of that section of Walking Down A Road which Brian Eno had commented on at the time, when Phil Manzanera was producing us. [Eno implied they should just retain that one part, scrapping the rest]. I thought it was interesting to just zero in on one section, because we were definitely kind of maximalists, and he was heading towards his minimalist propensity.
It was a meeting of two kinds of worlds in a funny way. It drifted back into my mind, around 2018. I said to Eddie, “Why don’t we write a new song over just that one section?” We did a bunch of others like that, then we branched out into new ideas that he’d been jamming with his band [Double Life]. I wrote lyrics and tunes over beds of music, which lots of people are doing these days, but for me it was something I’d never tried before.
So how did that process work with Eddie’s band?
Eddie would spend quite a while editing them into shape, so they arrived feeling like songs that just needed tunes and words. There were a couple of cases where I tried singing this tune from a completely different song over these music beds, and it actually really worked, without requiring any edits whatsoever. The Rules, Unlikely Friend and Strange Stars – three songs that pre-existed in a sense, but they were completely reinvented. It was just the sheer bliss of creativity.
There are several character pieces – Premiere Fois channels your inner Serge Gainsbourg with a suave, throaty French…
Absolutely! I’ve been doing a bit of work creating music theatre in Australia and even got involved with an opera not so long ago. It’s just a whole new world other than your own, which was a huge liberation for me. So it fed back into these tracks. It’s very easy for me to slip into character, which is still part of myself, but it’s an extension. I did an album with Phil Manzanera around the same time [Caught By The Heart], and wrote a few songs in Spanish – because Phil grew up in Cuba – and it just somehow connected with the first wave of COVID through Europe.
It was a very global moment, basic human preservation instincts coming through. So I was connecting with Spain and France. The joys of translation are many, because it really bends the language into different shapes. You find because of the syllables and the way they scan, the lines become a bit misshapen, and that’s quite fun to play with. If you try to squeeze them into shape, then you have to change the entire meaning of the line, and say it in a more abstract way. So, it actually works on you, the writer.
Incredibly, it’s 50 years since the formation of Split Enz. Was it a good opportunity to rifle through the band’s back catalogue?
There’s a mandolin part in Matinee Idyll, on the Second Thoughts album. It just had this really evocative mandolin-strumming intro, and I just knew that there was a song there to be had. By returning to those motifs, you can never go back to who you were at 22 or 23, but it evokes a huge wave of pathos and, not nostalgia, it’s definitely richer than that… it’s just a feeling. Our son was 21 or 22 when I was doing this, our daughter was 16 or 17.
Being around them a lot, it brought that age back to me. I was always someone who never looks back. Like a lot of people in the Western world, it’s always, “What’s next, what’s next, what’s next?”, this relentless looking forward. But as you age, you do look back more. So there’s an element of yearning that can never be satisfied, but also an elegiac component as well. It’s a beautiful feeling to get into. The songs were definitely responding to the music from 47 years ago, but they felt brand new to us.
Music seems to run in the family. Are your kids also musical?
Yeah, they sang on one of the tracks. They are musical, they can both sing. Our son Harper, he’s got a deal now with Warners. He’s writing well and he’s really into it, so it does seem to flow on through. I’ve seen that with Neil’s kids, too.
So when can we expect the next Finn Brothers record? I’d say we’re overdue a comeback…
We don’t talk about it. These things tend to creep up on us every 10 years or so. I mean, it’s always on, but it’s just a bit unpredictable exactly when or what. But we are actually singing… [laughs] Funnily enough, we’ve been roped into singing a few songs at a wedding on Saturday for one of our nephews! So that will be the first time that we’ve actually sung together for a while.
Neil’s kids are now playing in Crowded House. Maybe you could extend the idea with a Finns supergroup, featuring all the family?
I wouldn’t mind that. It would be fun to do that one day. Like, who were the famous American family? The Carter Family!
Going back to Forenzics, are there plans to carry it forward?
I think there’ll be a Forenzics II at some point, now we’ve opened the door. Eddie and I first wrote together in 1977 when Split Enz began touring America, and the other co-founder, Phil Judd, left the band after that tour. He and I had a sort of falling out, and it was really a terrible time. But Eddie and I went off and wrote a bunch of songs. Weirdly, we never wrote together again. Literally 40 years went by, and now we’ve rediscovered something between us, it’s good.
You worked with some other old Split Enz cohorts, too…
Yeah, Noel Crombie, he was our percussion player and drummer for many years, pretty much a founding member. He also created our clothes and our haircuts – basically the whole Split Enz look, because he was a sculpture student at art school. I always felt we were an organic sculpture to him! So he played on a couple of things and that was just wonderful. And Phil Manzanera played guitar on quite a few of the tracks.
Was there ever any talk of Shades And Echoes being a Split Enz album?
No. There is an essence that is very of Split Enz, but it’s not Split Enz. We did a few reunion shows probably 10 years ago now that were great. It’s great to play those songs again, but it’s always great to play new stuff, as well. We never really got to the point of making new music. When I think back sometimes, we didn’t ever actually have to break up… But it’s funny the different attitudes, back then you had to make a big statement: “We’ve broken up!” like The Beatles did.
Do you have plans to tour this record?
I’m sort of 50/50. I’d like to, if we could do it justice, perhaps give it a theatrical context, maybe using some old imagery and projections of the Enz. Create an atmosphere that shows how it all began; link people in the audience back to that, and bring them forward into the new songs.
Do you miss the road more generally, and that direct interaction with audiences?
Yes and no. I often think that’s why Bob Dylan stays on the road. He writes so well, and I do think you lose something when you don’t tour anymore. But there’s things I don’t miss about the road… I guess I just did it a lot! Whenever I do play a gig it’s great, but I do much less of it now. I was lucky to be around for my kids when they were growing up, and I’m very thankful for that.
Shades And Echoes is out now via Warner Music New Zealand