Monday, August 2, 2010 , Updated 12:00 a.m., August 5, 2010
Q-and-A: Aussie band Crowded House talks about mustaches, reunions, and the new album
Crowded House performs at House of Blues in Dallas on August 5.
The band Crowded House is like soccer: It’s huge all over the world and in many places is an institution, but it’s largely overlooked in the United States. But, like soccer, Crowded House has enjoyed a heightened profile from time to time, like in 1987 when they released the monster hits “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong.”
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House
In spite of releasing four more albums and becoming international superstars, Crowded House was simply dismissed in the U.S. as one-hit-wonders. The band broke up in 1996 following a historic farewell concert on the steps of the Sydney Opera House as lead singer and main songwriter Neil Finn pursued a solo career.
The band regrouped in 2006 following the suicide of original drummer Paul Hester. Finn and co-founder Nick Seymour began speaking again, and worked on what was to be Finn’s next solo record. The pair called on former Crowded House member Mark Hart to help with recording, stole Matt Sherrod from Beck’s band, and finished the record. That record, 2007’s Time on Earth, became the first full-fledged Crowded House album in 10 years.
Today, proving the reunion wasn’t a mere money-grab or an exercise in nostalgia, the band has returned with a new album, Intriguer, and a new world tour, which stops at the House of Blues in Dallas on August 5. Seymour took a few minutes to chat about the new album, the reunion, and his singer’s controversial new facial hair.
You’re touring in support of Intriguer, the second “reunion” album. How does this album differ from the (2007’s) Time on Earth?
Um, well, it’s different in the sense that most of the songs were “toured in” before we recorded them. We worked things out collectively in sound checks and in introducing them from the stage. We’re always best when we’re working things out in front of an audience, I think, and Intriguer benefits from that. I think it has much more of a collaborative band energy to it that Time on Earth didn’t have. Only the last four songs were recorded while the whole band was assembled.
So, really, Time on Earth is an album that we realized half way through that we needed to get the band back together! (laughs) It’s really a hybrid, in that effect.
At this stage of the band’s life, is the songwriting process as collaborative as the new album feels, or is Neil (Finn, singer/songwriter) in control of that process?
As I think back to the end of, let’s say, our first period with Paul Hester playing drums, by the time we recorded (1994’s) Together Alone, we’d become much more collaborative in our arrangements. We relied on the band to collaborate over Neil’s songwriting. I think that’s where we find ourselves now.
On the first three albums we made, a lot of the arrangements and production styles were dictated by the producers, especially Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Mitchell was a very hands-on, keyboard-playing producer, and constantly thinking of parts to be introduced to the arrangements. And, we tracked the songs together, but he and Neil would sit in the studio for hours working on overdubs, whether they be parts or vocals. I think now, the way we record, the parts and arrangements are from the actual band members themselves.
But the main verse-chorus-verse song structures that Neil pens in his ... um, what’s the word … his more reclusive times. He’ll go off and write a bunch of songs and bring them to the band and we’ll structure them into arrangements where we put the stamp of the band over them.
Is Intriguer the best Crowded House album?
(long pause) Oh, God, that’s really hard to say. I think it probably is. I think it’s up there with Together Alone, which for the longest time I thought was the best Crowded House album, because it was the first record that really showcased the band and the band’s chemistry. I would say Intriguer has a lot in common with Together Alone as a recording of the band, how the chemistry and the dynamic of the band works. And it does sound as live as Together Alone.
When the idea of the reunion came about, was there ever any hesitation?
Oh, yeah, there was hesitation on my part! I hadn’t toured in about 10 years. I developed a rather sedentary life in Dublin, Ireland, and I was afraid it would all come to an end if Crowded House got back together. I did have serious reservations, thinking I had become my own person and had my own life choices enacted in front of me, where I was living, who my friends were, all of those would probably be affected by the amount of time I’d be away from home. I’d be suddenly thrown back into that microcosm, the small cult, that small life support system that is life on the road.
With that in mind, I recognized that if I maintained a few personal standards about the choices I make, or criteria I hold dear while on the road, while we’re touring and making decisions for the sake of the band …
Often, back in the day, the things that made us most unhappy was when we didn’t feel we had control over our careers and our lifestyles. Whether that was the food we ate or promotions, or the way we were being marketed by the label and the lack of understanding by those who were involved with our business. Once I was able to look at those cleanly, I had a much more mature recognition of how simple things should be and how instinctive, or, if you make decisions based on your gut reaction to something rather than allowing people to make decisions for you and it’ll be plainer sailing.
I think this has happened this time. We’re touring at a pretty good level, a very comfortable level, and we’re not running ourselves into the ground. When we get suspicious of that, we talk to our management. We have to be very judicious about our promotion and ... well, we’re not as young as used to be (laughs). There’s a limit to our enthusiasm and our abilities. (laughs)
Going back to the reunion and the shaping of Time on Earth, I recently saw where Neil said you two “reconnected” after Paul’s (Hester, original drummer) death, which implies some type of estrangement. Was there any ill-will or animosity between you two after Crowded House broke-up?
I was really disappointed and surprised when Neil decided to leave the band. I never understood it. With that in mind, I guess ... we agreed to disagree on that decision. There was a lack of resolution with something that was as monumental as that and that affected our relationship over the 10 years that we weren’t together.
I got used the idea of Crowded House no longer being around, and I moved on really, but it took a long time. It was sort of like feeling you were being denied some sort of goal that you worked really hard at obtaining. But, when do you know you’ve tasted some kind of success? When does it come to you as an adult? Is it something that you say, “By a certain date I will achieve something, and now I understand success?” Or, is it just something you set your work ethic by?
That’s more how we work together now. We get together and try to make work. We try to put together a collection of works. Whether they be recorded things, or a book, or a short film, there’s always lovely little projects to sink your teeth into. We’re the types of people who don’t sit around, we’re always working on little projects. And we give thanks that we can live a life like that.
What do you really think of Neil’s new mustache?
Ha! It’s one of those things where … since Neil grew one, I’ve been looking at pictures of people with mustaches throughout history, and people who are authority figures are the ones who grow mustaches. I can’t think of an example of anyone who has a mustache who isn’t trying to impose their authority or will upon others. In Australia, mustached people are people who are in the army or air force. No one’s articulated it, they just say they don’t like it. I think that’s the problem people have with it, mustached people are the conservative, authoritarian types, and that’s not how they want Neil to be.
It could quite possibly be aging, as well. I think back to when George Harrison or John Lennon had mustaches, I thought it added 15 years on them. They’re in their 20’s, then they grow their mustaches, and all the sudden they look like they’re in their 30’s. (laughs)
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