INTERVIEW: 5 Minutes With Liam Finn

I had the opportunity to speak with Liam Finn after the May 18 show at The Earl in Atlanta. Here’s what he had to say…

Me: During your first two trips to Atlanta as a solo artist, you had a complete drum kit. Tonight, it’s only two drums. Why?

LF: It won’t fit in the car!

Me: How did you like touring with Eddie Vedder on the west coast last month?

LF: It was great.

Me: Did you meet him when your band (Betchadupa) played with him on your dad’s (Neil Finn) “7 Worlds Collide” shows? (A DVD was culled from five shows at the St. James Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand in April 2001.)

LF: No, I’ve known him since I was a kid.

Me: I saw your dad’s solo show here in Atlanta in 1998 and you were with him on guitar…how old were you then?

LF: Fourteen.

Me: Any plans for a new album? EJ told me earlier that it was an “interesting experiment.” Is it interesting because you’ll be collaborating with her, or does that describe how you’re recording it?

LF: That describes how we’re recording it.

Me: I’ll just leave it at that. Any plans to return to Atlanta?

LF: We’ll be back in September.

Me: Where do you want to be in five years?

LF: Hopefully alive!

85. LIAM FINN, 3/17/08

Location: The Five Spot, Atlanta, GA
Supporting: The Most Serene Republic and Miracle Fortress
In The Company of: myself

A Spirited Set

The cozy Five Spot in Atlanta’s Little Five Points was host to the Next Big Thing: Mr. Liam Finn. You may recognize the name because he is the firstborn of Neil Finn (Crowded House, Split Enz). Liam possesses the same excellent knack for songwriting and performing as his father, yet has mastered it at 24 years of age. He is also quite a frenetic performer on stage, a trait obviously passed down from uncle Tim Finn. Rolling Stone Magazine called him one of the ten new artists to watch in 2008. The Finn Dynasty seems to be alive and well.

Finn is on tour supporting his first solo release, “I’ll Be Lightning,” after splitting with his rock band Betchadupa. He played a six-song set at the Five Spot as the opener for The Most Serene Republic and Miracle Fortress. But tonight, it’s all about Liam.

Roughly 100 tickets were sold in advance, and several more fans arrived at show time. Finn began his 35-minute set with “Better To Be,” a bouncy track that seemed to awaken the crowd. He is as accomplished on the drums as he is on the guitar. And a fierce and exact player he is on both. Accompanied by the golden-voiced E-J Barnes (daughter of Australian rock legend Jimmy Barnes), Finn would play several chords of a song, record it to loop, then record a second and sometimes third loop. As these guitar solos were meshed together, he jumped on the drum kit and tore it up. Drumming at the speed of light – and sounding good – is a rare thing. He did the work of three or four musicians and had the sweat to prove it.

Next up was “Energy Spent,” which begins with a lovely acoustic guitar and jumpy drums. Then, after Finn and Barnes downed whiskey shots, he broke in to the “Jameson Jam.” This was apparently an ode to the just-swallowed shot. Finn is adept at this type of spontaneity and it occurred throughout his performance creating quite an excellent mood in the room.

Finn’s musical influences range from the Beatles to Elliott Smith. On the title track to “I’ll Be Lightning,” the case is made for the Beatles influence, with a combination of layered harmonies and building tempos strangely reminiscent of “A Day In The Life.”

Before the next song, a fan yelled out “Wise Man!” And Finn instantly began playing that very song…possibly the finest song on the album (“He’s a coloring book that’s been all colored in / what once was fun will later on be boring…”). Next up was the first single from “I’ll Be Lightning” which Finn also performed on Late Night with David Letterman last month, “Second Chance.” This is another selection that uses the guitar loops to set up a very rocking song once Finn jumps on the drums. Many in the crowd knew this song and were singing along.

After thanking Atlanta and more pleas for a whiskey, Finn ended the show with “Lead Balloon,” an all-out jam that was played full-tilt. The crowd got a taste of a creative songsmith who can play from the hip and do it extremely well. Finn must be somewhat familiar with the Little Five Points area. He played drums and guitar while on his father’s solo tour just down the street at the Variety Playhouse back in 1998 when he was only 14. He has definitely become his own person and quite an outstanding musician in his own right.

MUSIC REVIEW: Liam Finn, "I’ll Be Lightning"

2008, Roundhead Music

Some things are just meant to be. For example, Liam Finn was meant to create a musical career for himself. Forget about his place in the Finn Dynasty. He can confidently stand on his own merits and talents. This is an extraordinary debut release and Finn has been called one of ten new artists to watch in 2008 by Rolling Stone magazine. And from the hundreds of new artists this year, that’s a high honor.

Now for a bit of background for the uninformed: Liam’s dad, Neil Finn, is considered one of his generation’s most talented singer/songwriters, creating music reminiscent of the Lennon/McCartney era. And the Beatles influence has always been prominent in the elder Finn’s music, focusing on exquisite, harmonizing vocals, witty and intelligent songwriting, and a wicked guitar sense, which is often overlooked and overshadowed by the music as a whole in his songs. Neil joined his big brother Tim Finn as singer with the Split Enz in the late seventies and brought a pop sensibility to the group, bringing them a broader audience with such songs as “One Step Ahead” and “I Got You.” After the Enz disbanded in the early eighties, Neil got together with late drummer Paul Hester and bassist Nick Seymour to form Crowded House. They went on to great success, releasing four gems throughout the eighties and early nineties.

Enough about the old man. The stage is now set for the next generation… Liam Finn’s I’ll Be Lightning is a folksy, melodic prize for listeners who demand top-notch songwriting, singing, and music. Besides a buddy from former group Betchadupa playing drums on a handful of songs and Dad playing bass on one, Liam plays every instrument. Maybe not such an amazing accomplishment since this son has been surrounded by great music his entire life. In concert, Liam is a one-man show, using a looping recorder to lay down guitar tracks, then frantically jumping on the drums. If you didn’t see it with your own two eyes, you would think it was a three- or four-piece rock band, sounding quite awesome. Liam opened for the reunited Crowded House world tour in 2007. After his amazing – but painfully short – opening set, he showed up for most of the CH show, playing guitar and singing back-up vocals. He was a perfect fit.

After an impressive opening song in “Better To Be,” Lightning’s first single, “Second Chance” is a softly building pop masterpiece (“Remember me…honestly I don’t remember who you are”). At about 1:45 into the song, the drums kick in high gear and the song begins to rock. Just the right touch of harmonies and hooks make this a keeper.

“Gather To The Chapel” takes you to that special place. It’s comfort food for the ears with heaping helpings of superbly crafted harmonies (all voices belonging to Liam). “Lead Balloon” hits the ground running with a great backbeat and guitars not shy on the distortion and feedback. Again, Liam pours on the vocal harmonies making this another rich selection (“It’s a sad day when it comes to this, but a free man is a happy man/Walk home and reminisce, you were the highlight of the party…”). He proves he’s got the mettle to seamlessly go from soft, beautiful melodies to downright rock and roll. On “Lullaby,” Liam sings, “try to slow your heart, try to clear your head, night is just the day giving in.” Lucky listeners can enjoy music that is on par with the intelligent lyrics. On some songs, that Beatles influence is heard again. I’ll Be Lightning is a sincere, sometimes folksy album possessing great beauty.

Track for track, this record never fails to satisfy and is an incredible debut. With a slot on Letterman and quickly gaining worldwide exposure, the new Mr. Finn is likely to grace our presence for many years to come. One can only hope.