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New Zealand's Neil Finn: 'I'm a lifer'

By Ayesha Lawrence
CNN

Neil Finn
Neil Finn

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(CNN) -- The musical dynasty of the Finns represents rock royalty in New Zealand.

Split Enz founder Tim Finn and brother Neil Finn of Crowded House fame are the country's best-known musical exports. Neil's son Liam continues the musical tradition by playing in his own band, Betchadupa.

Eight years since the last Finn brothers' collaboration ("Finn"), the musical siblings are combining their creative muse once again. And Neil Finn said he finds the latest project more developed.

"Last time it was in between projects, and it was a bit of a side thing ... a sort of glorified home-demo session in many ways, which was fantastic," Finn said during an interview at his home studio in Auckland.

"But this time we're just trying to get ... the songs really fully realized and give them space and time to breathe."

The album, Finn told The Music Room, is predominantly acoustic and vocals-centered, with a "few exotic instruments." When completed, the international release is likely to be supported with tours of North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Industry evolving in New Zealand

Finn, a long time advocate of New Zealand's homegrown talent, said recent government sponsorship of emerging musicians indicates a big change in public attitudes.

"It does mean that generally the society in New Zealand is valuing its music more," he said.

Despite government assistance, getting a big break in the music industry, both at home and internationally, remains difficult for New Zealanders, with many heading overseas to achieve fame.

"It pains me to see New Zealand bands sometimes trying to tart themselves up like the manufactured music of America in order to succeed," Finn said. "Because I would think that the best chance we've got is of using our isolation and our difference to evolve in a slightly unusual manner.

"It's not about being a New Zealand band. It's about being as good as any band anywhere, and after a while it ceases to matter where you've started from, and it's much more important where you are [now]."

With government development grants for musicians, radio programming's recognition of homegrown talent and the gradual acceptance of New Zealand accents in popular rap, Finn said he thinks things are "on a good upswing."

"Why wouldn't you want to live in New Zealand? ... There may be a lot of obstacles to sustaining a successful music career, but it's one of the best places I can imagine living anywhere," he said.

"So I guess that's the lure of the mother country, and it's in us all: the light, the land. We all want to come back."

Other musicians an inspiration, including son

In recent years, collaboration has been a rich source of inspiration for Finn -- from spectacular recordings with Maori choirs in the final years of Crowded House to the "7 Worlds Collide" project in 2001. That recording was rehearsed and performed live in New Zealand with musicians such as former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, Radiohead's Phil Selway and Ed O'Brien, and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.

Finn said he also has found the excitement of performing with undiscovered local musicians equally fulfilling.

"I did a tour ... in New Zealand where I invited strangers every night to be in my band and a series of shows. And so every night the band was different, and those people knew my songs through playing them at parties or in cover bands or whatever," he said.

"And then all of a sudden they were there with a bunch of other strangers playing them onstage with me and 2,000 people going nuts, and there's nothing really compares with that feeling. ...

"So I think rather than being attracted so much now to working with my heroes, I'm sort of more attracted to working with completely unlikely strangers because it's more exciting really."

At 45, Finn sees no reason to stop drawing inspiration from fellow musicians any time soon, least of all from his musician son, Liam, 20, whose band Betchadupa is winning the hearts of a new generation of music fans in New Zealand.

"He's a much better guitar player than I am and a much better songwriter at his age. ... He's a lifer -- I mean he'll be there doing it for life -- one way or another.

"I don't really know how to do anything else very well, but I'm just starting to learn a few things about music," Finn said.

"I think that it's a endlessly fascinating mystery, the whole thing, so I'll keep on it as long as I'm physically able, I think."

He said some musicians reach the age of 30 and decide their best years are behind them but that others are in it for the long haul.

"I'm a lifer, yeah. ... I can honestly say I'm a lifer," he said.

CNN's Amanda Palmer contributed to this report.


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