Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I got into Sean Lennon way before John. Similarly, I was proper obsessed with Liam before by true appreciation for all things Neil kicked in. Not a diss at either John or Neil, but I feel their sons were too oft-maligned over the years. They’re incredibly worthwhile artists in their own right; and I still count I’ll Be Lightning as one of the best albums of the 2000s. I remember this being an interesting interview to do, as I literally had to do it on the train while it was pissing down raining. The fact that I was able to catch anything that Liam was saying is nothing short of a miracle. I put it down to my phenomenal note-taking that this article exists.
– DJY, October 2014
Like father, like son. Everywhere that Liam Finn goes, he always seems to take the weather with him. “It’s not seriously raining over there, is it?” he asks of Australian skies with more than a hint of disappointment. “It’s been miserable over here in London, and I was hoping for a bit of sun when I got in.” It’s an obvious gag to start us off, sure, but let the comparisons between Neil and Liam Finn end there. From his cleanshaven, youthful days in Betchadupa to his scraggly bearded solo glory that saw him touring with Pearl Jam and playing on David Letterman, Liam has come a significantly long way as an artist in his own right. After a wildly successful debut album in 2006’s I’ll Be Lightning and a follow-up EP in 2009, Champagne in Seashells (a collaboration with fellow rock offspring Eliza-Jane Barnes), Finn has spent the past twelve months or so focusing on his new album, FOMO.
“I just shackled down in a little beach house where I grew up, in Piha,” recalls Finn, “and just tried to make sense of what’s been happening in the past few years. It was a massive change of pace, after spending so long on the road. I almost completely forgot what living at home was actually like.” Interestingly, it was in this time away from extensive touring that Finn began developing the idea of FOMO – an acronym for “fear of missing out.” It’s a universal and transcendent feeling, a state of mind that can be hard to shake when friends and relatives are overseas. It’s one that particularly resonates for Finn – not only are both his parents touring the world as one half of Pajama Club, many of his closest friends are also travelling musicians that are constantly their fair share of travelling.
“When it all becomes electronic, just talking and sharing things over Facebook and Twitter and that, you kind of feel like everyone is out achieving something great with their lives, out exploring the world,” says Finn. “It’s funny, because that’s probably how some of my friends felt when I spent so much time away on tour, but as soon as I’m locked away and recording this album it starts happening to me. I guess it worked in inspiring me to continue writing, and it also made me appreciate my surroundings. I tried not to focus too much on the negative aspects, as I think we should never truly wish to be anywhere else apart from where we are.”
Finn points to two tracks on FOMO which perhaps best summarise his feelings – Neurotic World and Roll of the Eye. Of the former, he recalls it lyrically attempting to deal with “coming back down to earth,” as Finn puts it, after spending so long abroad and finally returning home. The latter is a bit more of an international affair, as Finn penned the track about his homeland while he was in New York. It documents a love/hate relationship with New Zealand, where Finn sings of how “your dreams die slow in the arms of your comfort zone,” but also how his infatuation with the country leads him to think that “in my head/I’ll be buried there.” “That’s one that came really quickly,” says Liam of the songwriting process. “I guess it was just everything that I felt about New Zealand, which made it easy to write. I think it was also having that outside perspective on it, being away from it when I was writing it. Finishing the song in the studio in Auckland felt really natural and organic, in a way.”
As with I’ll Be Lightning, Finn plays everything on the album himself aside from a few minor parts. He is quick to emphasise, however, that this was not originally his intention. “I’d been jamming with a bunch of guys that I was hoping to have on the album,” says Finn. “It just ended up being one of those things where I knew that the only way I was going to get out the exact sound that I had worked out for the songs in my head, then I would have to do the arrangements and instruments myself. Tell you what, though, it was more than a little uncomfortable to have to try and tell the other guys that!”
Thankfully, the end result of FOMO was certainly worth any awkward shooing that Liam may have had to do. It’s a layered, mysterious and engaging pop album that presents a variety of sides and styles that Finn is capable of. There’s jangly chiming guitar pop like single Cold Feet and Don’t Even Know Your Name, the swampy, breathless oddity of The Struggle, all the way up to the throwback psychedelia that encapsulates closer Jump Your Bones. Even with such a myriad of styles on display, Finn himself notes that there has been a mixed reaction to the direction taken on this album.
“It’s interesting, actually, that some people have said that this album is more downbeat than I’ll Be Lightning,” says Finn. “When I was writing this album, I couldn’t help but feel like this was much more of an upbeat album. It’s not always a positive one, sure, but there’s a great energy in these recordings that I feel hasn’t really made an appearance in my material before. I guess the only tracks I’d done before that really had that kind of energy were tracks like Second Chance or Lead Balloon – but in the grand scheme of things, those tracks were kind of anomalies.”
Finn will tour Australia this August for the first time since November of 2009, where he and Barnes opened for Pearl Jam’s stadium tour. Barnes will join the tour as a part of Liam’s new backing band, tentatively titled “the Come Agains.” “EJ was such a big part of making this new sound and helping develop my sound in-between I’ll Be Lightning and now, so I’m really excited that she is going to be involved again,” enthuses Finn. “I’m really looking forward to these shows, definitely.”