Neil Finn – circa 1993
“So I talked to you for an hour / In the bar of a small town hotel / And you asked me what I was thinking / I was thinking of a padded cell / With a black-and-white T.V. / To stop us from getting lonely” – ‘Mean To Me’ (Neil Finn)
Ethnic restaurants sometimes have a small acoustic combo playing to enhance the atmosphere. There is nothing strange about that. But when that combo is an aspiring band signed to Capitol Records, and their members hail from Australia and New Zealand, it becomes a bit more unusual. Frustrated by ‘insufficient promotion’ from their record company, Crowded House takes this unorthodox measure to drum up interest. They also play similar acoustic sets for ‘industry insiders’ and at ‘record stores.’ It’s a bit zany…but so are the members of Crowded House.
Neil Mullane Finn is born on 27 May 1956 in Te Awamutu, New Zealand. The nation of New Zealand is made up of two islands. Te Awamutu is a small town on the north island. Neil is the son of Richard ‘Dick’ Finn and his wife, Mary Finn (nee Mullane). Dick Finn is the son of a farmer from the New Zealand town of Waikato. During World War Two, Dick Finn serves in the army and does a tour of duty in Italy. It is during this time that he learns accountancy. After the war, Dick Finn becomes an accountant for local New Zealand farmers, doing their books. Mary Finn moves from Ireland to New Zealand with her parents when she is 2 years old. Mary is a devout Catholic and her children are brought up in that faith. Neil Finn comments on his Catholic heritage, “It’s a great fertile ground for pulling lyrics out. [There’s] lots of good stuff going on in there, good rituals and imagery and lots of guilt. It’s a very potent combination. I think you’re blessed, really, to be brought up with some kind of weird dogma like that.”
Neil Finn is the youngest of four children born to Dick and Mary Finn. His elder siblings are: Carolyn (born in 1950), Tim (born on 25 June 1952) and Judy (born in 1954). Neil’s brother is born Brian Timothy Finn in Te Awamutu, but he becomes better known later as Tim Finn. Tim will also be a member of Crowded House for a while. The Finn family settles at 78 Teasdale Street in Te Awamutu in the early 1950s.
The Finn household is a mix of music and Catholicism. There are ‘parties in the family home, complete with wine and song and a Catholic priest in attendance.’ Mary Finn plays piano and sings but her husband Dick Finn – despite being a music enthusiast – is tone deaf. Sing-alongs around the family piano are commonplace. Tim Finn has vague ambitions to become a priest. Tim is taught to play piano by a Catholic nun, Sister Mary Raymond. Soon both Tim and Neil are taking piano lessons. Tim also takes up the guitar. Both boys attend a Catholic boarding school, Sacred Heart College in Auckland, the New Zealand capital (which, like Te Awamutu, is on the nation’s north island). Since he is older, Tim goes to Sacred Heart College first. His 8 year old younger brother Neil begins playing the guitar that Tim leaves behind. His family nickname Neil ‘the ant’, ‘due to his determined and ambitious nature.’ Reportedly, Tim is more public about his musical ambitions, but by the time he is 12, Neil has decided he will be a professional musician when he grows up.
In 1971 Tim Finn goes on to Auckland University. He studies philosophy and politics for a Bachelor of Arts degree. Tim also becomes part of a circle of aspiring artists and musicians. His friends include Mike Chunn and Phil Judd. In mid-1972, Tim Finn drops out of Auckland University. Almost at the same time, he forms a band called Split Ends (as it is originally spelled). The founding line-up is: Tim Finn (vocals, piano), Phil Judd (guitar, vocals), Miles Golding (violin), Mike Howard (flute and wind instruments) and Mike Chunn (bass). In 1973 the group expands to include Div Vercoe (drums). After a short tour, Split Ends goes through a membership reshuffle. The revised 1973 line-up is: Tim Finn (vocals), Paul ‘Wally’ Wilkinson (guitar), Mike Chunn (bass) and Mike’s younger brother, Geoff Chunn (drums). Phil Judd (guitar) temporarily drops out of the touring line-up, but soon resumes his place. Rob Gillies (saxophone) is a more long-term part-time member of the band (1973-1974, 1976-1978).
“The whole thing started with Split Enz,” says Neil Finn. “In 1972 I watched it unfold in real life as a glassy-eyed teenage brother.” Split Ends (as it is still spelled at the time) appear on ‘New Faces’, a New Zealand talent quest television program, in 1973. They finish second last. Watching at home, 14 year old Neil Finn is amazed at the poor result. Neil is “in total awe” of his elder brother, Tim.
In 1974 Split Ends modify the name of their band to Split Enz. In part, this is done to emphasise their pride in their homeland – ‘NZ’ is an abbreviation for New Zealand. In part, the unusual spelling is adopted to match the band’s increasingly eccentric image since they sport bizarre haircuts and rather theatrical stage costumes. Two additional members join Split Enz in 1974: Eddie Rayner (keyboards) and Noel Crombie (percussion, costume designs). Geoff Chunn leaves Split Enz in June 1974 and is replaced in July by Emlyn Crowther (drums).
In March 1975 Split Enz seek to expand their horizons and relocate to Australia where they now base themselves. In a strange bonding ritual, most of the band decides to use their middle names as their professional aliases from this point. This is how Brian Timothy Finn becomes Tim Finn. (The names of the other members at birth were Paul Wilkinson, Anthony Edward Rayner, Geoffrey Noel Crombie and Paul Emlyn Crowther. Phil Judd and Mike Chunn exempt themselves from this silliness.)
Split Enz releases their debut album, ‘Mental Notes’ (1975) (AUS no. 35), in July. In November, they dismiss guitarist Wally Wilkinson. In April 1976, Split Enz moves to England. ‘Second Thoughts’ (1976) (AUS no. 25) is released in August. This disc includes some reworkings of earlier material as well as their first (modest) hit, ‘Late Last Night’ (AUS no. 93). Written by guitarist Phil Judd and sung by Tim Finn, ‘Late Last Night’ was actually recorded in Australia before their departure. In November 1976 drummer Emlyn Crowther leaves Split Enz. His replacement is British-born drummer Malcolm Green. Split Enz hazards a tour of the United States early in 1977. Unfortunately, this serves only to exacerbate existing tensions within the band. Up to this point, Split Enz creative direction was largely set by Tim Finn and Phil Judd, but Tim and Phil are now drifting apart. After the U.S. tour, Phil Judd quits the group. Bassist Mike Chunn also leaves Split Enz. This leaves two vacancies in the line-up.
Back in New Zealand, Neil Finn’s life has been going through some changes. After finishing at Sacred Heart College, Neil goes on to Te Awamutu College. Neil’s school days come to an end in 1975. Neil works as a hospital orderly. In 1976, Neil Finn puts together a band of his own called After Hours. He works in this group with Mark Hough (percussion), Alan Brown (bass) and former Split Enz member Geoff Chunn (drums). Neil Finn meets Sharon Dawn Johnson in 1977 and they become romantically involved. Sharon creates chandeliers in her Auckland workshop. ‘Not long after the…debut performance’ of After Hours, Neil Finn receives an invitation from his brother Tim to join Split Enz.
Neil Finn joins Split Enz on 7 April 1977. He replaces Phil Judd in the group’s line-up. At the same time, British-born bassist Nigel Griggs takes the place of the departed Mike Chunn. Neil journeys to England to join Split Enz. As time passes, Neil becomes more influential in Split Enz. It is still nominally Tim Finn’s group, but Neil Finn comes to contribute a number of songs (which he sings) as well as being the band’s guitarist.
In 1977 Tim Finn begins dating English dancer Liz Malam.
The albums recorded by Split Enz while both Tim Finn and Neil Finn are in the group are: ‘Dizrhythmia’ (1977) (AUS no. 18), ‘Frenzy’ (1979) (AUS no. 24), ‘True Colours’ (1980) (AUS no. 1, US no. 40, UK no. 41), ‘Waiata’ (1981) [which is retitled ‘Corroboree’ for the Australian market only] (AUS no. 1, US no. 45), ‘Time And Tide’ (1982) (AUS no. 1, US no. 58, UK no. 71) and ‘Conflicting Emotions’ (1983) (AUS no. 13, US no. 137). A list of the hit singles from these albums follows with a notation after each song to show whether it is written and sung by Tim Finn or Neil Finn: (1) from ‘Dizrhythmia’ – ‘My Mistake’ (Tim – co-written with keyboardist Eddie Rayner) (AUS no. 15); (2) from ‘Frenzy’ – ‘I See Red’ (Tim) (AUS no. 15); (3) from ‘True Colours’ – ‘I Got You’ (Neil) (AUS no. 1, US no. 53, UK no. 12) and ‘I Hope I Never’ (Tim) (AUS no. 18); (4) from ‘Waiata’/’Corroboree’ – ‘One Step Ahead’ (Neil) (AUS no. 5, US no. 104), ‘History Never Repeats’ (Neil) (AUS no. 4, UK no. 63) and ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’ (Tim) (AUS no. 65); (5) from ‘Time And Tide’ – ‘Dirty Creature’ (Tim – co-written with Neil and bassist Nigel Griggs) (AUS no. 6), ‘Six Months In A Leaky Boat’ (Tim) (AUS no. 2, US no. 83, UK no. 104) and ‘Never Ceases To Amaze Me’ (Tim) (AUS no. 50); (6) the non-album 1982 single ‘Next Exit’ (Tim) (AUS no. 8, US no. 161); and (7) from ‘Conflicting Emotions’ – ‘Straight Old Line’ (Neil) (AUS no. 42) and ‘Message To My Girl’ (Neil) (AUS no. 6).
Split Enz returns from England to New Zealand in 1979. Subsequently, the band tends to be on tour in various parts of the world but spend most of their time in Australia and New Zealand.
Guitarist Phil Judd briefly rejoins Split Enz in 1979, but leaves again before ‘Frenzy’. Drummer Malcolm Green leaves Split Enz in January 1982. Percussionist Noel Crombie steps up to take on the role of drummer beginning with the ‘Time And Tide’ album.
Split Enz tones down their more garish visual aspects before ‘True Colours’. Similarly, their songwriting becomes less self-consciously arty and complex and the new more melodic and straightforward approach – in combination with their modified visual side – partly accounts for the upswing in their commercial fortunes around this time.
In January 1981 Tim Finn marries his girlfriend, Liz Malam. However, the marriage collapses in October 1981, nine months later, and Tim and Liz part ways.
On 13 February 1982 Neil Finn marries his girlfriend Sharon Johnson. Neil and Sharon go on to have two sons: Liam (born on 24 September 1983) and Elroy (born on 25 October 1989).
Before ‘Conflicting Emotions’, Tim Finn makes a solo album, ‘Escapade’ (1983) (AUS no. 8, US no. 161). This set spawns the singles ‘Fraction Too Much Friction’ (AUS no. 8), ‘Made My Day’ (AUS no. 22) and ‘Staring At The Embers’ (AUS no. 34).
From 1983 to 1989, Tim Finn is in a romantic relationship with actress Greta Scacchi.
In 1984 Noel Crombie decides to return to the role of percussionist. Split Enz is joined by a new drummer, Paul Hester.
Paul Newell Hester (8 January 1959-26 March 2005) is born in Melbourne, Australia. His father, ‘Mulga’ Mike Hester, is a bushman, a character at home in Australia’s rural ‘outback’ regions. Paul’s mother, Ann Hester, is a jazz drummer. She encourages Paul ‘at an early age’ to take up drums. Paul Hester has a younger sister named Carolyn. School is not a conducive environment for a boy who is ‘always a little strange.’ The teachers at Paul Hester’s high school sign a petition asking him to leave. Taking the hint, Hester ‘leaves school early.’ He ‘attempts various jobs,’ but winds up concentrating on music.
In the period 1976 to 1978 Paul Hester plays drums for two different bands. At first he joins a group called Thunder and then later moves on to a band known as Edges. More significant than either of these acts is the ‘power pop band’ called The Cheks (1979-1982). The founding line-up of The Cheks is: Ken Campbell (vocals, guitar), John Clifforth (guitar), Steve White (bass) and Paul Hester (drums). The ‘line-up changes quickly,’ and Steve White is replaced by Steve Carter (bass). In 1982, The Cheks relocate from Melbourne (the capital city of the State of Victoria) to Sydney (the capital city of the State of New South Wales, directly to the north of Victoria). This move results in another changing of bass players as Cathy McQuade takes the role previously occupied by Steve Carter.
In Sydney, The Cheks adopts a new name, Deckchairs Overboard, in 1982. The group takes on a more funk-based musical character. The line-up remains as follows: Ken Campbell (vocals, guitar), Cathy McQuade (vocals, bass), John Clifforth (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Paul Hester (drums). In 1982, the group releases an EP titled ‘Deckchairs Overboard’ from which comes the song ‘That’s The Way’ (with lead vocals by Ken Campbell). After a new single in 1983, the ‘silky-smooth semi-hit’ ‘Shout’ (with lead vocals by Cathy McQuade), Paul Hester leaves the group. (Deckchairs Overboard continues with a series of different drummers until 1985.)
In the early 1980s Paul Hester has a romantic relationship with Deborah Conway. She is the lead singer of Do-Re-Mi (1981-1988), another Australian band that moved from Melbourne to Sydney and got into funk. Paul and Deborah live together.
The addition of Paul Hester in 1984 is not the only change in the membership of Split Enz that year. Although they start work on a new album, it soon becomes apparent that vocalist Tim Finn is not really interested. Tim leaves Split Enz in June 1984. This leaves Neil Finn to become creative leader of the band. The group finishes the recording of the album but six weeks after Tim’s departure, Neil Finn also decides to quit. “The idea of being in Split Enz without Tim, I just couldn’t face it, really,” says Neil. “It just seemed too weird…It didn’t seem right.” The album ‘See Ya Round’ (1984) (AUS no. 29) is released in November. It features the single ‘I Walk Away’ (AUS no. 45), written and sung by Neil Finn.
Without either Tim Finn or Neil Finn, Split Enz is finished. However, both Finn brothers are talked into doing a final tour, ‘Enz with a Bang’, to give the group a proper send-off. During this tour, Neil Finn is approached backstage by Nick Seymour.
Nicolas More Seymour is born on 9 December 1958 in Benalla, Victoria, Australia. Benalla is a city in the northern part of Victoria. It retains a fairly rural character. Nick Seymour is the son of Frank Seymour and Paula Seymour. Both of Nick’s parents are school teachers. Nick is the youngest of four children in the Seymour family. Nick’s older brother is Mark Seymour (born on 26 July 1956). Nick and Mark have two older sisters, Hilary and Helen. Like the Finns, the Seymours are Catholic and deeply religious. Paula Seymour encourages all her children to share her love of singing. The kids tour country Victoria as The Seymour Family Singers. In later years, Nick’s elder sister Helen becomes a music teacher while his brother Mark becomes the frontman of Australian rock band Hunters And Collectors (1981-1998). This is something Nick Seymour has in common with Neil Finn; they are both the younger brothers of famous Australasian rock singers.
In 1972 the Seymour family moves to Melbourne. Nick Seymour attends Yarra Junction Primary School. Nick decides that he wants art school training. Accordingly, Nick goes on to the Caulfield Institute and then the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne (where he majors in printmaking).
Although Nick Seymour seems set on the visual arts, he doesn’t abandon music completely. Nick teaches himself to play bass. As his school days draw to a close, Nick moves into the music scene. He plays with The Glory Boys (1979), The Romantics (1980) and Scratch Record Scratch (1980). A more serious proposition is Plays With Marionettes. This group forms in 1980, but Nick Seymour doesn’t join them until 1981. At that time, the line-up is: Hugo Race (lead vocals, guitar), Edward Clayton-Jones (guitar, vocals), Nick Seymour (bass) and Robin Caswader (drums, keyboards). In 1982 they release ‘Witchen Kopf’, one side of a single whose content is shared with another act as well as Plays With Marionettes. After an ‘ill-fated’ trip to London in 1983, Plays With Marionettes breaks up in February 1984. A final track from Plays With Marionettes, ‘Hellbelly’, ends up on the various artists compilation album ‘This Is Hot’ (1984). The Horla (1984) is a ‘briefly existing group’ that features three-quarters of Plays With Marionettes (the exception is frontman Hugo Race) and adds Brian McMahon (keyboards). During these times, Nick Seymour also puts his art training to use as a set designer on the Australian television drama ‘Carson’s Law’ (1983-1984).
By the end of 1984, ‘a slightly tipsy’ Nick Seymour approaches Neil Finn backstage during the farewell tour for Split Enz. Nick tells Neil that he will ‘join any band he is thinking of forming.’ Neil had already been talking to Split Enz drummer Paul Hester about forming a new group, so this adds impetus to the concept. Craig Hooper, keyboards player with Australian synth-pop band The Reels (1978-1983), is also brought into the fold. (Note: Dwayne ‘Bones’ Hillman also auditioned as bass player, though the job went to Nick Seymour. Hillman had played with former Split Enz member Phil Judd’s band The Swingers (1979-1982) and goes on to join Australian rock band Midnight Oil in 1987.)
The new outfit debuts with a gig in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, on 11 June 1985. The line-up is: Neil Finn (vocals, guitar), Craig Hooper (guitar, keyboards), Nick Seymour (bass) and Paul Hester (drums). The band is named The Mullanes. Neil’s middle name is Mullane; it is also his mother’s maiden name.
The Mullanes move to Los Angeles, California, in the U.S.A. in June 1985 in search of an international recording contract. This move has two consequences. First, Craig Hooper elects not to make the journey and so The Mullanes is reduced to a trio. Secondly, drummer Paul Hester breaks up with his domestic partner, Deborah Conway.
Neil Finn, Nick Seymour and Paul Hester succeed in obtaining a recording contract from Capitol Records. However, Capitol wants the trio to change the name of the act to something other than The Mullanes. The musicians concede they need ‘a less confusing name.’ One of the alternate names Neil Finn and company submit is Largest Living Things, but Capitol rejects that idea. The name they all agree upon is Crowded House, a designation ‘inspired by the rental home they share while recording in Los Angeles.’ So Crowded House is founded in 1985 by Neil Finn (vocals, guitar), Nick Seymour (bass) and Paul Hester (drums). This is the group’s best known and definitive line-up.
The music of Crowded House is described as rock, pop rock, jangle pop, indie rock, alternative rock and – early on – new wave. Compared to the more arty, complex and theatrical Split Enz, Crowded House is a ‘stripped-down, back-to-basics combo.’ “We wanted to be a three piece band that could fit into one rental car,” explains vocalist and guitarist Neil Finn. The arrangements of their songs tend to be fairly fluid. What is put down in the recording studio is a snapshot of the song at that point in time, but in later performances the band is prone to developing a song in different directions, perhaps to avoid any boredom with the material. ‘The Crowdies’ dispense a pleasant, accessible brand of guitar pop.
The main songwriter for Crowded House is Neil Finn, the group’s leader and musical architect. Unless otherwise indicated, all Crowded House songs mentioned here are composed by Neil Finn. “It’s not like we’re being squeezed out,” contends drummer Paul Hester. “In a trio I think it’s easier to cope with one person writing the songs and [bassist] Nick [Seymour] and me chipping in to complement them.” However, Neil Finn experiences ‘extreme periods of anxiety’ about his songwriting. He finds writing the lyrics to be the most challenging part of the process. “There’s still a part of me that thinks I’m just getting by,” says Neil.
Though seldom noted, Neil Finn’s songs often explore male sensuality. Male desire is a very common topic in rock. There is no shortage of compositions boasting of prowess in the bedroom or expressing lust for a woman. However, unusually, Neil Finn manages to articulate a deeper sense of eroticism, a vulnerability rarely discussed publicly.
Another ingredient in the sound and image of Crowded House is a sense of madcap jolliness. This is partly carried over from Split Enz, an outfit that never shied away from being weird and way out. In Crowded House, a lot of the jocularity comes from extroverted drummer Paul Hester. He is known as ‘Hester the Jester.’ Paul Hester is ‘the clown prince of Crowded House. He is the one who gives the band its personality on stage.’ This is not to suggest that the other two members of the group – Neil Finn and Nick Seymour – are just straight men to Hester, but the drummer is the ringleader of their hijinks. It may be more illusion than reality, but Crowded House appear to be a pack of jovial minstrels.
The first single by Crowded House is ‘Mean To Me’ (AUS no. 26). It is released in June 1986. This is a tale of an overly zealous fan: “She came all the way from America / She had a blind date with destiny / The sound of Te Awamutu [the hometown of author Neil Finn] had a truly sacred ring / Now her parents are divorced / And her friends committed suicide.” Some brassy horns intrude into the arrangement just as rudely as the ‘mean’ fan intrudes into Neil’s life.
During the making of the promotional video for ‘Mean To Me’, Crowded House drummer Paul Hester meets tape operator (later photographer) Mardi Summerfield. Paul and Mardi soon become a couple. As his ‘long-time partner’, Mardi Summerfield has two daughters with Paul Hester: Sunday (born in 1994) and Olive (born on 25 May 2000).
The second Crowded House single is issued in July 1986. This single is ‘World Where You Live’ (AUS no. 43, US no. 65). It bumps along like a pinball between keyboards and bass flippers as it croons, “I don’t know where you go-oh-woh / Do you drift into spay-ay-ace / To the world where you live.”
The debut album ‘Crowded House’ (1986) (AUS no. 1, US no. 12, UK no. 99) is released on 1 August. Like virtually all Crowded House albums, this disc is issued on the Capitol label. ‘Crowded House’ is produced by Mitchell Froom. This American record producer offers musical input as well and is nearly a fourth member’ of the group. ‘Crowded House’ includes the first two singles, ‘Mean To Me’ and ‘World Where You Live’. Three more singles are lifted from this album. The first of these is ‘Now We’re Getting Somewhere’ (AUS no. 63), which starts off like a goofy sea shanty and turns into a twangy pop song about growing love and affection. (Note: When it is released as a single, the B side of ‘Now We’re Getting Somewhere’ is ‘Recurring Dream’, a non-album track. ‘Recurring Dream’ is later modified to be the title of a Crowded House album that collects their hits – though the song ‘Recurring Dream’ is not included on that album either.) The biggest hit from this debut album – and the ‘most commercially successful song’ of Crowded House’s history (at least in the U.S.) – is ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ (AUS no. 8, US no. 2, UK no. 27). Over ringing guitar, Neil Finn intones, “There is freedom within / There is freedom without / Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup.” The song builds to the harmony-wreathed chorus, “Hey now, hey now / Don’t dream it’s over” and the reassurance that, “You know that they won’t win.” After a churchy organ break and a guitar solo, there is the admonition, “In the paper today / Tales of war and a waste / But you turn right over to the T.V. page.” The lingering melancholy of ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ is banished by the upbeat ‘Something So Strong’ (AUS no. 18, US no. 7, UK no. 95). Reportedly, this is the first song Neil Finn wrote specifically for Crowded House to play. In the recording studio, Finn and producer Mitchell Froom rework the song to such an extent that Froom gets a co-credit as songwriter. A throaty keyboard ushers in the lyrics, “Love can make you weep / Make you run for cover,” but the chorus insists that, “Something so strong / Could carry us away / Something so strong / Could carry us today.” Hushing the song down, Neil Finn admits, “I’ve been feeling so much older / Frame me and hang me on the wall / I’ve been falling in the same trap / The same thing is happening to us all.” The cover painting for ‘Crowded House’ is by the band’s bassist Nick Seymour who puts his artistic skills to use as the artist for all their album covers. Nick also designs some of the costumes worn by the group and helps design their stage sets – along with the likes of Noel Crombie (Split Enz) and Reg Mombassa (Mental As Anything). ‘Crowded House’ is the best album in the group’s catalogue. It’s the purest expression of the sound of the band and the most resilient to repeated playing.
The selling of the first album by Crowded House proves to be something of an endurance race. ‘Capitol Records initially fails to see the band’s potential and gives them only low-key promotion, forcing the band to play at small venues to try and gain attention.’ This is how Crowded House comes to be playing sets at ethnic restaurants and trying to woo industry insiders with intimate performances. Besides virtually impromptu acoustic sets hither and yon, the trio turn on a charm offensive appearing on television talk shows in the United States and Canada. Eddie Rayner from Split Enz joins them for some dates to play the keyboard parts the songs require. He is asked to become a member of Crowded House but declines due to his family commitments. Eddie Rayner’s 1987-1988 stint with Crowded House is only the first use of a ‘touring musician’ to flesh out the group’s sound onstage. Only a few notable ‘touring musicians’ will be mentioned here in this account of Crowded House’s history. Although ‘Crowded House’ does well commercially, it takes time. Even in Australia, the album takes a lengthy eight months to reach its sales peak.
The second Crowded House album, ‘Temple Of Low Men’ (1988) (AUS no. 1, US no. 40, UK no. 138), is released in July. Like their debut, this album is produced by Mitchell Froom. Group leader Neil Finn feels under pressure in creating this album. His comrades, bassist Nick Seymour and drummer Paul Hester, joke the album should be titled ‘Mediocre Follow-Up’. It is actually Seymour and Hester who come up with the official album title. ‘Temple Of Low Men’ is a reference to female genitalia, the ‘temple’ worshipped by men. The boys found the term in a dictionary of slang. Initially, in an attempt to provide a more politically correct explanation for the title, a story is made up that the words were seen written on the side of a church. At the time, there are controversies and scandals about television evangelists such as Jimmy Swaggert, so the story has an aura of credibility even it is just fiction. In labouring over this album’s creation, the result is a set of ‘slightly darker material.’ It’s understandable that the band would strive to create a more serious work and seek to avoid being typecast as clowns, but the loss of humour is felt. The disc’s best known track is also its first single – and the band’s all-time biggest hit in Australia. Although not explicitly stated, ‘Better Be Home Soon’ (AUS no. 2, US no. 42) seems to be written from the perspective of Neil Finn’s wife, Sharon, tiring of his peregrinations playing the pop star. Over a weary guitar come the words, “And I know I’m right / For the first time in my life / That’s why I tell you / You better be home soon.” A supportive keyboard appears with the second verse. Judging by the sensual content of some of this album’s other songs, maybe Mrs Finn had genuine cause for concern. ‘When You Come’ (AUS no. 27) is an exuberant celebration of a loved one. The darker ‘Into Temptation’ (AUS no. 59) finds the author lured “Into temptation / Knowing full well the earth will rebel / Into temptation / Safe in the wide open arms of hell.” This is haunting imagery for a Catholic boy. ‘Into Temptation’ is made all the more effective by Paul Hester’s use of brushes. Too often rock drummers sacrifice subtlety for power. It’s a tribute to Hester’s talent that he finds a way to make restraint so effective – and this too plays into the lyrics thematic concern of restraint or yielding to enticement. The pleasingly off-kilter ‘Sister Madly’ (AUS no. 66) is based on the nocturnal mumblings of Neil Finn’s sister, Judy. It also features a guest guitar solo by British folk/cult idol Richard Thompson (one-time member of Fairport Convention). Returning to the album’s more sensual suite of songs, there is ‘I Feel Possessed’ (AUS no. 93). Over a disorienting keyboard – like the theme music for a hall of mirrors – the song states, “People are strange / God only knows / I feel possessed / When you come around.”
‘Temple Of Low Men’ ‘does not fare as well…in the U.S.’ as the debut album by Crowded House. Consequently, plans for a major U.S. tour are abandoned. Once again, keyboardist Eddie Rayner accompanies Crowded House on tour. They play gigs in Australia and Canada. However Rayner returns home in January 1989 so Mark Hart is brought in as a ‘touring musician’ with Crowded House. Hart will play a larger role later, so more will be said about him at that time. After the tour is completed, Neil Finn fires bassist Nick Seymour. The reasons for their falling out are not clear. One version of events has it that Finn blames Seymour for the writer’s block the group’s leader experiences. Another tale attributes the problem to the familiar euphemism of ‘artistic differences.’ It hardly matters. A month after his ‘firing’, Seymour contacts Finn and they both agree that he should return to the band. So Crowded House continues with their line-up intact.
In 1989 Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour marries an American woman named Brenda Bentleigh.
In 1990-1991 Crowded House drummer Paul Hester is involved in a side project called Rose Amongst The Thorns. This pub rock band reunites Hester with his ex-girlfriend (and former Do-Re-Mi vocalist) Deborah Conway. The line-up of Rose Amongst The Thorns is: Deborah Conway (vocals), Chris Wilson (guitar, harmonica, saxophone), Dror Erez (keyboards, accordion, bass), Peter Jones (drums) and Paul Hester (drums).
Since parting ways with Split Enz, Tim Finn, the elder brother of Neil Finn of Crowded House, has gone his own way. In 1985 he contributes ‘Home For My Heart’ (AUS no. 87) to the soundtrack of the movie ‘The Coca-Cola Kid’ (1985). The movie co-stars Tim’s girlfriend, Greta Scacchi. Tim Finn releases two albums: ‘Big Canoe’ (1986) (AUS no. 31) and ‘Tim Finn’ (1989) (AUS no. 44). ‘Big Canoe’ includes the single ‘No Thunder, No Fire, No Rain’ (AUS no. 46). ‘Tim Finn’ includes the singles ‘How’m I Gonna Sleep’ (AUS no. 24) and ‘Crescendo’ (AUS no. 97). Tim Finn and Greta Scacchi break-up in 1989.
Neil Finn and Tim Finn work together on a batch of songs for a projected Finn Brothers album. The project is interrupted by Neil’s obligations to Crowded House. Neil works up some new songs for Crowded House but the band’s record company rejects those compositions. Neil asks Tim if the songs they wrote together could be used by Crowded House instead. ‘Tim jokingly agrees on the proviso that he becomes a member, which Neil apparently takes seriously.’ This is how Tim Finn comes to join Crowded House in 1990, making the group a quartet. There is a parallel here to how Neil was brought into Tim’s band Split Enz, except this time it’s the other way around, with Tim being brought into Neil’s group, Crowded House. Neil Finn remains the lead vocalist and guitarist in Crowded House. Tim Finn contributes backing vocals and some guitar and keyboards work, but his main role seems to be as co-songwriter and propping up the faltering self-confidence of his younger brother. Years later, Tim candidly admits, “I was happy when it [Crowded House] wasn’t going well and depressed when they got a [no. 2] hit [in the U.S.A. with ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’]. He [Neil] had achieved what we [in Split Enz] had dreamed of for so long.” [The most successful Split Enz hit was 1980’s ‘I Got You’ – a Neil Finn composition – that reached no. 53 in the U.S.A. and no. 12 in the U.K. Tim Finn’s most successful international hit was the 1982 Split Enz song ‘Six Months In A Leaky Boat’, which reached no. 83 in the U.S. and no. 104 in the U.K.]
‘Woodface’ (1991) (AUS no. 2, US no. 83, UK no. 6), the third Crowded House album, is released on 2 July. This album is co-produced by Mitchell Froom and Crowded House’s leader, Neil Finn. Eight of the fourteen tracks on this album are co-written by Neil Finn and his elder brother, Tim Finn, the newest member of Crowded House. Most (perhaps all) of these are repurposed from the abandoned Finn Brothers album. It appears these songs were at various stages of completion before being reassigned to this album. Three tracks do not have Paul Hester on drums, so they seem to have been fully recorded for the Finn Brothers project. The first single from ‘Woodface’ is ‘Chocolate Cake’ (AUS no. 20, UK no. 69). This song is co-written by Tim Finn and Neil Finn. A rumbling piano underpins the melody of this sinister – yet overblown – piece. ‘Chocolate Cake’ is ‘a humorous comment on American excesses that is not well taken by some U.S. critics and sections of the American public.’ This may be part of the reason why ‘Woodface’ ‘has [only] limited success in the U.S.’ Conversely, ‘Woodface’ is markedly more successful in the U.K. than the previous two Crowded House albums. Some even consider ‘Woodface’ to contain ‘their finest recorded moments.’ ‘It’s Only Natural’ (AUS no. 15, UK no. 24), co-written by the Finn brothers, is the single best song in the Crowded House catalogue. It can be considered a response to the concerns of ‘Better Be Home Soon’ on the previous Crowded House album. Launching forth out of novelty horn honks and sound effects, the voices of Tim and Neil Finn harmonise perfectly as they sing, “Ice will melt / Water will boil / You and I, shake off this mortal coil / It’s bigger than us / You don’t have to worry about it.” The jaunty tune asserts that, “It’s only natural / That I should want to be there with you / It’s only natural / That you should feel the same way too.” Fired up to carnality, it continues, “I want you to know I feel completely at ease / Read me like a book that’s falling down between your knees / Please / Let me have my way with you.” ‘It’s Only Natural’ is classic Crowded House: a catchy pop melody and warm and loving lyrics. ‘Fall At Your Feet’ (AUS no. 31, US no. 75, UK no. 17) (one of four Neil Finn solo compositions on this album) pursues the theme of the intimacy of love: “I’m really close tonight / I feel like I’m moving inside her / Lying in the dark / I think that I’m beginning to know her.” With an aching mix of joy and agony, Neil sings, “Let your tears rain down on me / Whenever I touch your slow turning pain.” The beautiful melody is caressed by the musicians as gently as a skilled lover would treat their partner. ‘Weather With You’ (AUS no. 27, UK no. 7) (co-written by Neil Finn and Tim Finn) takes a familiar folk saying and turns it into an entrancing song: “Everywhere you go / You always take the weather with you.” The song also notes through its spiralling guitar chords that, “Julius Caesar / The Roman Empire / Couldn’t conquer the blue sky.” In the video for ‘Weather With You’, Neil Finn’s dog, Lester, can be briefly seen. ‘Weather With You’ also turns out to be Crowded House’s all-time biggest hit in the United Kingdom. A similar mix of a common expression and atmospheric conditions is present on ‘Four Seasons In One Day’ (AUS no. 47, UK no. 26). In this song, a sad guitar and piano chords underlie sentiments like, “Smiling as the sh*t comes down / You can tell a man from what he has to say” and “You can take me where you will / Up the creek and through the mill.” ‘Four Seasons In One Day’ is co-written by the Finn brothers. Drummer Paul Hester acknowledges that Tim Finn “helped us a great deal on the ‘Woodface’ album.” ‘Woodface’ is also home to ‘Italian Plastic’, a novel song written by Paul Hester that is the drummer’s most famous composition. (For the record, the remaining unaccounted for track on ‘Woodface’ – ‘How Will You Go’ – is co-written by Neil Finn, Nick Seymour and Paul Hester.)
In November 1991, during the U.K. tour to promote ‘Woodface’, Tim Finn decides to leave Crowded House. Tim’s departure happens quite abruptly. He goes for a walk in Glasgow, Scotland, and by the time he returns, Tim has decided he’s finished with the band. Commenting on Tim’s exit, Crowded House’s leader Neil Finn says, “It’s possibly less interesting than a full-scale punch-up, but the truth of the matter is that on stage, it just didn’t feel right for us or him.”
Tim Finn never rejoins Crowded House, though he makes guest appearances with them and collaborates on a Finn Brothers side project (more on that in due course). After leaving Crowded House, Tim Finn releases the following solo albums: ‘Before & After’ (1993) (AUS no. 34, UK no. 29), ‘Say It Is So’ (1999), ‘Feeding The Gods’ (2001), ‘Imaginary Kingdom’ (2006), ‘The Conversation’ (2008), ‘North, South, East, West…Anthology’ (2009) [containing Split Enz and solo compositions] and ‘The View Is Worth The Climb’ (2011). The only Tim Finn single of this era to reach the charts is 1993’s ‘Persuasion’ (AUS no. 62) – which comes from ‘Before & After’, the only one of these albums to reach the charts.
In his personal life, Tim Finn marries television presenter Marie Azcona in 1997. They have two children: a son named Harper (born on 24 February 1998) and a daughter named Elliott or ‘Ellie’ (born in 2003).
In 1992 Mark Hart – who has been a ‘touring member’ of Crowded House since 1989 – is promoted to become a full member of the group.
Mark Hart is born on 2 July 1953 in Fort Scott, Kansas, U.S.A. He has an older brother named Jeff. Mark starts taking piano lessons when he is 7 years old. He takes up guitar ‘some years later.’ In 1984 Mark Hart forms a group called Combonation. The line-up is: Mark Hart (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Steve Dudas (guitar), Rick Moors (bass), Billy Thomas (drums, backing vocals) and Randy Foote (percussion, backing vocals). This act releases only one album, ‘Combonation’ (1984), before dissolving. Subsequently, Mark Hart becomes a session musician and a hired hand to fill out the sound of bands on tour. He is probably most closely associated with the British art pop outfit Supertramp before becoming involved with Crowded House. The addition of Mark Hart (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) means that Crowded House remains a quartet after Tim Finn’s departure. Crowded House’s leader Neil Finn describes Mark Hart as ‘the keeper of knowledge.’
In the 1993 Queen’s Birthday Honours List both Tim Finn and Neil Finn receive an O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) for their contributions to the arts.
Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour separates from his wife, Brenda Bentleigh, in 1993. They never reconcile and the marriage comes to an end.
The fourth Crowded House album, ‘Together Alone’ (1993) (AUS no. 2, US no. 73, UK no. 4), is released on 18 October. This disc is co-produced by Crowded House and Youth. Born Martin Glover, Youth was the bassist for the U.K. group Killing Joke. The cover art for ‘Together Alone’ – by Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour – shows Jesus Christ and Buddha sharing a taxi. Although this raises some eyebrows, it was nearly even more controversial. Seymour’s painting originally had the Islamic prophet Mohammed in the backseat of the taxi so the image had the central figures of the three most popular religions (Christianity, Buddhism and Islam) represented. “This was pre 9/11 and the times weren’t so sensitive,” points out Seymour years later, referencing the attack on the New York World Trade Center by Islamic extremist terrorists on 11 September 2001. Richard Thompson, the guitarist who made a guest appearance on the earlier Crowded House song ‘Sister Madly’, is a practicing Muslim. “Richard Thompson…pointed out the contentious nature of the artwork,” says Nick Seymour. So the depiction of Mohammed is removed. “I made the change begrudgingly,” says Nick Seymour. ‘Together Alone’ is the first Crowded House album on which guitarist and keyboardist Mark Hart is credited as a full member of the group. ‘Distant Sun’ (AUS no. 23, US no. 113, UK no. 19), the first single from the album, was released in September, a month before the album. ‘Distant Sun’ uses an astronomical metaphor for sexual intimacy: “When your seven worlds collide / Whenever I’m by your side / The dust from a distant sun / Will shower over everyone.” An insistent acoustic guitar strum frames the narrative. Although ‘Nails In My Feet’ (AUS no. 34, UK no. 22) would seem to be an image of the crucifixion of Christ and so play into songwriter Neil Finn’s Catholic background, the meaning remains ambiguous. The nearest the lyrics get to the song’s title is, “Sit like a lapdog on matron’s knee / Wear the nails on your feet.” However the real refrain of this low-key tune is, “And it brings me relief.” By contrast, ‘Locked Out’ (AUS no. 79, US no. 120, UK no. 12) is frantic and, by Crowded House standards, hard-rocking (“I’ve been locked out / I’ve been locked in / But I always seem to come back again”). ‘Fingers Of Love’ (UK no. 27) features decaying electric guitar chords, washes of acoustic guitar and an echoing mix. “And I can’t look up / Fingers of love move down,” sings Neil Finn. ‘Private Universe’ (AUS no. 46), like ‘Distant Sun’, mixes the cosmic and the carnal. Over the nervous tap of a heartbeat rhythm, Neil Finn gently vows, “I will run for shelter / Endless summer, lift the curse / Feels like nothing matters / In our private universe.” ‘Pineapple Head’ (UK no. 27) is bewildering in its imagery: “Sleeping alone, the pleasure / The pineapple head / It spins and it spins / Like a number I hold / Don’t remember if she was my friend / It was a long time ago.” This woozy song becomes a bit more understandable – if still intensely weird – when it is known that the song was inspired by phrases muttered by Neil Finn’s son Liam while the boy had a fever. When ‘Pineapple Head’ is released as a single, the appropriately bizarre cover art for the disc is provided by Reg Mombassa (the former Mental As Anything guitarist and artist for Mambo surfwear). Sharon Finn, the wife of Neil Finn, provides backing vocals for three songs on ‘Together Alone’: ‘Fingers Of Love’, ‘Private Universe’ and ‘Black And White Boy’.
By 1993 Crowded House drummer Paul Hester is ‘frustrated by the demands of his career and suffers a phobia about leaving to go on tour. On his return to Australia that year he starts to see a psychiatrist.’
Crowded House tours Europe to promote ‘Together Alone’. However, when they move on to the U.S. leg of the tour, part way through the series of gigs drummer Paul Hester quits. Increasingly anxious, Hester had suggested that Crowded House should just work six months per year but he was overruled. The drummer’s uneasiness was compounded by the birth of his first daughter, Sunday, in 1994. When Kurt Cobain, the leader of U.S. grunge rock trio Nirvana, commits suicide on 5 April 1994, a shaken Hester comments, “I just thought how could he do that to a kid and a girl?” (i.e. Cobain’s wife Courtney Love and their daughter Frances Bean) Less than two weeks later, on 15 April 1994 Paul Hester quits Crowded House. “Paul built up a layer of contempt for the whole circus,” says Crowded House’s leader, Neil Finn. Bassist Nick Seymour observes, “I think he (Paul) has a major chemical imbalance. He’s always at extremes.” Neil Finn adds, “It actually felt better because we had a problem we could identify with and overcome. We couldn’t fight against Paul’s moods, but we could find a new drummer and do a good show, just to show the b*st*rd.”
Paul Hester’s sudden departure leaves Crowded House scrambling for a new drummer. In the short term, they borrow Wally Ingram from the band of U.S. singer Sheryl Crow with whom they are touring at the time. Peter Jones, with whom Hester worked in Rose Amongst The Thorns, is summoned from Australia to become the new drummer for Crowded House in 1994. Although he becomes a member of the group, he is fated never to appear with them on any official album made in the recording studio.
Peter Robert Jones (21 April 1963-18 May 2012) is born in Liverpool, England, in the United Kingdom. He is the son of Barrie and Joan Jones. Peter has two siblings, Phil and Christine.
The Jones family arrives in Australia in 1966 and settles in Doncaster (a suburb of Melbourne) in Victoria. Peter Jones begins playing drums when he is 13; his brother Phil was already playing guitar. Peter attends Templestowe Technical College. In 1982 he does a jazz course at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Peter Jones’ career as a musician really begins in 1983 when he accompanies Australian jazz singer and trumpeter Vince Jones (no relation). In 1984 Peter Jones plays with Melbourne pub rock band The Feet. The line-up is: Wayne Drury (vocals, bass), Tom Roberts (guitar), Peter Jones (drums), Tom Hoy (saxophone), Peter Orr (saxophone) and Amanda Bathgate (saxophone). The same year, he also plays in Transwaste. This group consists of: James Fielding (keyboards), Michael Sheridan (guitar), James Boddington (bass), Peter Jones (drums) and Gavan Dunn (saxophone). However, perhaps the best known act with which Peter Jones plays prior to Crowded House is the blues rock band called Harem Scarem (1985-1989). The opening line-up in February 1985 is: Chris Marshall (vocals), his brother Charles Marshall (bass), David Moll (guitar), Glen Sheldon (guitar), Kurt Lindtner (harmonica) and Peter Jones (drums). In September 1985 there is a membership reshuffle (and some instrument swapping) that results in this configuration: Chris Marshall (vocals), Barry Palmer (lead guitar), Charles Marshall (guitar), Chris Wilson (harmonica, saxophone), Glen Sheldon (bass) and Peter Jones (drums). Harem Scarem releases the albums ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ (1986) and ‘Lo & Behold’ (1988) before disbanding in 1989.
With Peter Jones on board, Crowded House complete their touring commitments. By the end of 1994, the group’s leader Neil Finn decides they should cut back on touring. “I remember [bassist] Nick [Seymour] wanted us to be the biggest band in the world…but I didn’t really like the attention that much and so I pulled away from it,” says Finn. The decision is a bit ironic in light of former drummer Paul Hester’s rejected pleas for the band to spend less time on the road.
1995 is largely devoted to side projects away from Crowded House.
In 1995 former Crowded House drummer Paul Hester plays with a group called Ultrasound. This ‘experimental’ outfit again unites Hester with his ex-girlfriend Deborah Conway. The members of Ultrasound are: Deborah Conway (vocals), Wally Zygier (guitar), Bill McDonald (bass) and Paul Hester (drums). (Note: Guitarist Wally Zygier later becomes Deborah Conway’s husband.) Paul Hester diversifies his activities beyond playing music. He and Joe Camilleri (from Jo Jo Zep And The Falcons and The Black Sorrows) open the Beach House Café in Elwood Beach, Victoria. From 1995 to 1998 Hester is also a regular guest on the Martin/Malloy radio show. This program features comedians Tony Martin and Mick Malloy and is syndicated to fifty-four Australian radio stations.
Current Crowded House drummer Peter Jones begins working in August 1995 with a group called deadstar (whose name is all in lower case letters). The members of this side project are: Caroline Kennedy (lead vocals, guitar), Barry Palmer (guitar, bass) and Peter Jones (drums). It may be recalled that Jones and Palmer previously worked together in Harem Scarem (1985-1989), though by this time Barry Palmer has become a member of Hunters And Collectors (from 1988), the group led by Mark Seymour (elder brother of Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour). deadstar releases the album ‘deadstar’ (1995) in October.
Crowded House’s leader Neil Finn records an album with his brother Tim Finn (formerly of Split Enz and Crowded House). Tim and Neil’s previous attempt at recording as a duo was reworked into the Crowded House album ‘Woodface’ (1991). This time, they see their fraternal collaboration through to completion. ‘Finn’ (1995) (UK no. 15), released in November, is credited to The Finn Brothers. This album generates the singles ‘Suffer Never’ (UK no. 29) and ‘Angels Heap’ (UK no. 41).
Recording session for a new Crowded House album began before the recording of The Finn Brothers album, but those sessions were abandoned. ‘Hoping to breathe life into the Crowded House sessions, [former drummer] Paul Hester returns for three songs with original producer Mitchell Froom back in charge.’ A title is devised for the projected album – ‘Help Is Coming’ – when the work is shelved yet again. A decision is made to add the three new songs to a compilation of Crowded House’s past hits instead.
In June 1996 at a press conference in a London hotel room to promote their forthcoming compilation album, band leader Neil Finn reveals that Crowded House will disband. Years later, Finn says he “can’t remember what made me break up the band. I was just over it, that was 1995.”
‘Recurring Dream: The Very Best Of Crowded House’ (1996) (AUS no. 1, UK no. 1) is released on 24 June. The album takes its name from ‘Recurring Dream’, the B side to the 1986 single ‘Now We’re Getting Somewhere’, even though the song ‘Recurring Dream’ is not included in this assemblage. Aside from the expected hits from the band’s history, this album provides three new songs recorded with ex-drummer for the group, Paul Hester. ‘Everything Is Good For You’ (AUS no. 10) trades in Nietzchean philosophy – “Everything is good for you / If it doesn’t kill you” – to the accompaniment of a funky bass part from Nick Seymour. ‘Instinct’ (AUS no. 90, UK no. 12) is another showcase for Seymour’s bass work, but throws in some smouldering sensuality too. “When your turn comes round / And the light goes on / And you feel your attraction again / Your instinct can’t be wrong,” goes the chorus for ‘Instinct’. Another line points out, “It’s nearly time to flip the switch / And I’m hanging by a single stitch.” The sepia-toned ‘Not The Girl You Think You Are’ (AUS no. 37, UK no. 20) is a rickety, old-fashioned number with Paul Hester making good use of brushes on his drum kit.
Crowded House undertake a farewell tour of Europe and Canada in 1996. The 1986 single ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ (UK no. 25) is rereleased in 1996 and charts slightly higher in the U.K. the second time around. Crowded House bows out with a farewell show on 24 November 1996 at the Sydney Opera House. The performance attracts ‘one of the largest live audiences in Australian history’ with an estimated crowd of between one hundred and twenty thousand and one hundred and fifty thousand. The show is also telecast around the world. Neil Finn, Mark Hart, Nick Seymour and Paul Hester are joined by Tim Finn and drummer Peter Jones for guest appearances during the show. Crowded House’s final gig is used to raise funds for Sydney’s Children’s Hospital.
Former Crowded House leader, vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Neil Finn embarks on a solo career. His first solo album, ‘Try Whistling This’ (1998) (AUS no. 1, UK no. 5), holds the singles ‘Sinner’ (AUS no. 40, UK no. 39) and ‘She Will Have Her Way’ (AUS no. 61, UK no. 26). Neil records a cover version of the 1972 Johnny Nash song ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ (AUS no. 88) for the soundtrack of the animated children’s movie ‘Antz’ (1998). Finn’s second solo album ‘One Nil’ (2001) (AUS no. 9, UK no. 14) is retitled ‘One All’ (2002) for U.S. release. This disc spawns the singles ‘Rest Of The Day Off’ (AUS no. 77), ‘Wherever You Are’ (UK no. 32) and ‘Hole In The Ice’ (UK no. 43). ‘7 Worlds Collide’ (2002) (UK no. 140) is a collaborative project that takes its name from a line in the 1993 Crowded House song ‘Distant Sun’. On this disc, Neil Finn joins forces with Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway (both from Radiohead), Tim Finn, Sebastian Steinberg, Lisa Germano and Betchadupa (the band of Neil’s elder son, Liam). This is followed by a second album by The Finn Brothers, ‘Everyone Is Here’ (2004) (AUS no. 2, UK no. 8). Neil and Tim’s second outing has three singles lifted from it: ‘Won’t Give In’ (UK no. 26), ‘Nothing Wrong With You’ (UK no. 31) and ‘Edible Flowers’ (UK no. 32). Neil Finn and Tim Finn tour to promote this disc and they are joined for guest performances in 2004 by two other former members of Crowded House: Paul Hester (at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne) and Nick Seymour (in Dublin, Ireland).
Former Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour joins deadstar in November 1996. This is the outfit that was formed as a side project involving Crowded House drummer Peter Jones in August 1995. The addition of Seymour makes the band a quartet with this line-up: Caroline Kennedy (lead vocals, guitar), Barry Palmer (guitar), Nick Seymour (bass) and Peter Jones (drums). This version of the band records their second album, ‘Milk’ (1997), released in August. Nick Seymour leaves deadstar at the end of 1997 and relocates to Dublin, Ireland. There, Seymour meets Nicola McCutcheon who becomes his girlfriend. Nick and Nicola move in together in Easky in County Sligo on the Atlantic coast. Although they do not marry, the couple go on to have two children together: Lola (born in 2008) and Francis (born in 2011).
Bassist Nick Seymour reunites with fellow former member of Crowded House, drummer Paul Hester, in a band formed in 2001 called Tarmac Adam. The full line-up is: Matt O’Donnell (vocals, guitar), Sean McVitty (guitar), Steve Paix (keyboards), Nick Seymour (bass) and Paul Hester (drums). They ‘release a few EPs’ and the album ‘Handheld Torch’ (2003).
Former Crowded House drummer Paul Hester keeps busy with an array of projects. He forms a trio called Largest Living Things (1997-2000). (The band’s name is recycled from a rejected name proposed when The Mullanes became Crowded House.) The line-up of Largest Living Things is: Paul Hester (vocals, guitar, drums), Kevin Garant (guitar) and Barry Stockley (bass). The group makes two EPs, 1997’s ‘Largest Living Things’ and 1998’s ‘Largest Living Things II’. Paul Hester writes the songs, sings and plays guitar in Largest Living Things in addition to his more familiar duties as drummer. Around 1998, Hester makes a number of guest appearances with Australian children’s entertainers The Wiggles in the role of ‘Paul the Cook.’ ‘Hessie’s Shed’ is a ten-part television series screened by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in which Paul Hester is the presenter as well as being a musician in performances with friends of his from the music industry. Hester goes on to host the ‘Max Sessions’ on the Foxtel Music Channel, Max. After Largest Living Things disbands in 2000, Paul Hester rejoins former Crowded House colleague Nick Seymour in Tarmac Adam in 2001. Tarmac Adam ‘releases a few EPs’ and the album ‘Handheld Torch’ (2003).
Around 2001 Paul Hester breaks up with his ‘long-time partner’ Mardi Summerfield. He begins a relationship with New Zealand singer Kashan Vincent. According to her, the relationship lasts thirty-two months, so it would have to have begun in 2002. Again according to Kashan Vincent, she and Hester become engaged, but the wedding is called off. They remain a couple, but are not cohabiting.
On 26 March 2005 Paul Hester commits suicide by hanging himself from a tree in Elsternwick Park. ‘He had been suffering from depression for a number of years and was prone to extreme mood swings.’ Paul Hester was 46 at the time of his death. Crowded House leader Neil Finn says, “When we lost Paul it was like someone pulled the rug out from underneath everything, a terrible jolt out of the dark blue. He was the best drummer I had ever played with and for many years my closest friend.” On another occasion, Finn says of Hester’s death, “It’ll always be a sad and mysterious thing and I can’t really say more than that.” When Paul Hester dies, Neil Finn is on tour with his brother Tim as The Finn Brothers. Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour joins The Finn Brothers on stage at London’s Royal Albert Hall and they all pay tribute to Paul Hester.
Former Crowded House guitarist and keyboardist Mark Hart releases a solo album, ‘Nada Sonata’ (2002).
Former Crowded House drummer Peter Jones reunites with former Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour when Seymour joins deadstar for their second album, ‘Milk’ (1997). Seymour leaves the group at the end of 1997 and is replaced by Pete McCracken (bass). McCracken had previously worked with deadstar frontperson Caroline Kennedy in a band called Plums – and he becomes Kennedy’s future husband. deadstar becomes a five-piece band in mid-1998 with the addition of Michael den Elzen (guitar). deadstar releases their third album, ‘Somewhere Over The Radio’ (1999), in September before disbanding. Peter Jones goes on to play with The Reggaebites with Ross Hannaford (Daddy Cool) and produces albums by Stephen Cummings, Tess McKenna and Rebecca Barnard. From 1999 Peter Jones is employed at Roxburgh College (in Roxburgh Park, Victoria), first as a drum instructor and then as a classroom teacher. Jones remains involved in the music scene, working with new bands Stovetop (who first record in 2005) and Lucy’s Crown (who first record in 2010). Peter Jones is not a member of either of these groups but perhaps acts as a mentor to them. In March 2011 Peter Jones is diagnosed with brain cancer. He dies on 18 May 2012 at the age of 49. Following his death, a statement is issued by Crowded House mourning “a warm-hearted, funny and talented man, who was a valuable member of Crowded House.”
After Crowded House disbands in November 1996, the band’s musical legacy is perpetuated by the following three albums: ‘Afterglow’ (1999) (AUS no. 36, UK no. 18) is a compilation of rarities and outtakes. It includes ‘Help Is Coming’ (written by Neil Finn, Nick Seymour, Mark Hart and Peter Jones), the title track of the aborted fifth Crowded House album and a version of ‘Recurring Dream’ by The Mullanes when Craig Hooper was still in the band. ‘Classic Masters’ (2003) is a ‘greatest hits’ set oriented towards the U.S. market. ‘Farewell To The World’ (2006) (AUS no. 43, UK no. 120) is a live album that captures the final Crowded House performance at the Sydney Opera House on 24 November 1996.
Former Crowded House leader Neil Finn begins work on his third solo album in 2006. He invites old colleague Nick Seymour to play bass on the album and the project turns into a revival of Crowded House. (When Nick Seymour returns to Crowded House, Tarmac Adam – the band in which he played with Paul Hester before the drummer’s death – reorganises and continues with an amended line-up, minus Seymour and Hester.) It is a relatively simple matter to recall guitarist and keyboardist Mark Hart. However, the group needs a drummer. Peter Jones (who does not pass away until 2012) either declares he is not available or is not invited to rejoin. Matt Sherrod joins Crowded House as their new drummer in 2007.
Matthew Sherrod is born on 11 July 1968 in California, U.S.A. He is brought up in Southern California. Matt Sherrod begins playing drums when he is 9 years old and learns to play piano when he is 12. Sherrod is ambidextrous but plays drums left-handed. Prior to joining Crowded House, his biggest claim to fame is working with the U.S. recording artist Beck. On joining Crowded House, Matt Sherrod’s only concern is that he be a full-time member of the group, not a temporary hired hand. Crowded House leader Neil Finn opines, “Matt is his own man. I think that was what we like about him and he actually didn’t know a lot about Crowded House, but he responded to the songs.” Matt Sherrod debuts with Crowded House on 17 March 2007 in a webcast of a live show by the band from their rehearsal studio.
A new Crowded House album, ‘Time On Earth’ (2007) (AUS no. 1, US no. 46, UK no. 3), is issued on 29 June. The album is released by ATO Records (in the U.S.) and Parlophone (for the rest of the world). The album is produced by Ethan Johns and Steve Lillywhite. The album’s title, ‘Time On Earth’, is taken from a song of the same name that doesn’t end up making it onto the album. The cover painting by bassist Nick Seymour contains some interesting images. The blue dragon eating a human is based on the depiction of a sea serpent in ‘History of the Northern World’ (1555) by Olaus Magnus and, in this instance, is used ‘to symbolise former member [Paul] Hester being consumed by depression.’ Similarly, the tree in the cover painting is a nod to the tree from which Hester hung himself. Group leader Neil Finn says of ‘Time On Earth’, “It doesn’t sound like any one particular Crowded House album, but it has elements of Crowded House…I think there’s a lot of heart and spirit in the album which is connected with the loss of our dear friend Paul but also an attempt to try and make sense of it and move forward.” Indeed, ‘Time On Earth’ ‘is laden with echoes of the grief and loss regarding the loss of their former bandmate.’ ‘Don’t Stop Now’ (AUS no. 34, UK no. 41) is a swaying example of gentle pop/rock that concludes, “And all I want is something I can write about / All I want is something I can cry about.” ‘She Called Up’ (UK no. 156) is more lively but, again, it seems related to Paul Hester’s passing: “She called up and gave me the news / It made me so sad, sad, sad / There was nothing I could do.” The despairing lyric contrasts strongly with the upbeat pop of the song. ‘Pour Le Monde’ (UK no. 51) is said to be inspired by a demonstration in Paris against the so-called ‘war on terror.’ “Pour le monde pas pour le guerre” translates from French into English as “for the world, not for the war.” These words are repeated a couple of times in the song – in English, then in French – but they are not really the chorus. Despite the song’s apparent outward focus, it still seems to also reflect on Paul Hester’s more personal war and what he gave the world. ‘Pour Le Monde’ is based on a sombre and majestic piano underscored by shuffling drums.
When Crowded House performs to support ‘Time On Earth’, they are joined on some dates by group leader Neil Finn’s sons Liam Finn (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals – 2007-2008) and Elroy Finn (guitar – 2008).
In March 2009 Neil Finn performs at Sound Relief, an all-star charity to benefit victims of the 2009 Victorian bushfires. The show is held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Neil sings the 1991 Crowded House song ‘Weather With You’ and is accompanied by his brother Tim Finn and son Liam Finn.
Crowded House’s Neil Finn reconvenes the multi-artist project 7 Worlds Collide for a second album, ‘The Sun Came Out’ (2009) (AUS no. 39, UK no. 58), with the proceeds going to charity. This disc is issued on 31 August. Eddie Vedder is absent this time, but new additions include Wilco (including their leader Jeff Tweedy), K T Tunstall and New Zealand performers Don McGlashan and Bic Runga. The Finn family is also well represented by Neil’s brother Tim, Neil’s wife Sharon and Neil and Sharon’s sons Liam and Elroy.
‘Intriguer’ (2010) (AUS no. 1, US no. 50, UK no. 12) is a new Crowded House album, issued on 11 June. It is released on Fantasy (U.S.) and Universal (the rest of the world). ‘Intriguer’ is produced by Jim Scott. Considering his cover art for this album, bassist Nick Seymour admits, “It does look like a Teddy Bear Biscuit,” but explains, “It’s actually a child’s nightlight that was bought at a second hand shop.” Group leader Neil Finn claims, “’Intriguer’ is exotic in parts, [but] traditional in origin.” ‘Saturday Sun’ has a pleasantly nostalgic tone. The wispy ‘Either Side Of The World’ has gently stroked instrumentation. Neither of these singles makes an impact on the charts.
Crowded House undertakes a world tour in 2010 in the wake of ‘Intriguer’.
The compilation album ‘The Very Very Best Of Crowded House’ (2010) (AUS no. 5, UK no. 49) is released in October by Capitol/EMI. This package contains both a CD and a DVD.
In 2011 Neil Finn forms a new side project, Pajama Club. It starts with Neil and his wife, Sharon, playing unfamiliar instruments. While Sharon tackles bass guitar, Neil makes himself comfortable at the drum kit. Sean Donnelly is added to the group. The line-up is: Neil Finn (vocals, guitar, keyboards, drums), Sean Donnelly (guitar, keyboards) and Sharon Finn (vocals, bass). The album ‘Pajama Club’ (2011) (AUS no. 61, UK no. 154) is released in September. When Pajama Club plays some live shows in September 2011, Alana Skyring (drums) (formerly of Australian band The Grates) becomes the fourth member of the band.
‘Goin’ Your Way’ (2013) (AUS no. 5) is an album co-credited to Neil Finn and Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly.
Crowded House leader Neil Finn releases his third solo album, ‘Dizzy Heights’ (2014) (AUS no. 6, UK no. 22) on 7 February. The band’s guitarist and keyboardist Mark Hart puts out his second solo album, ‘The Backroom’ (2014).
‘Help Is Coming’ (UK no. 88) is released as a single from Crowded House in 2015. This is the title track from what was intended to be the fifth Crowded House album. It was made available earlier on the compilation album ‘Afterglow’ (1999). This hypnotic and poetic track features a strummed guitar and is co-written by Neil Finn, Nick Seymour, Mark Hart and Peter Jones.
In 2016 Neil Finn releases a medley of three Crowded House songs ‘Better Be Home Soon/Fall At Your Feet/Distant Sun’ (AUS no. 53) that he performs with Australian singer-songwriters Missy Higgins and Bernard Fanning and the three of them share a credit for the single. When Crowded House plays some gigs in 2016, they are joined on stage by guest musicians Tim Finn (vocals – Neil’s brother), Elroy Finn (guitar – Neil’s son) and Harper Finn (keyboards – Neil’s nephew a.k.a. Tim’s son).
Crowded House may have played early gigs at ethnic restaurants, record stores and small shows for industry insiders, but they went on to play before immense crowds such as those at their Sydney Opera House ‘farewell’ in 1996. However to see this as a simple progression is a bit inaccurate. Two members of the group – Neil Finn and Paul Hester – had already played to big audiences as part of Split Enz (Tim Finn was also in Split Enz but was not in Crowded House in the latter’s early zany gigs). The weird and way out performances by Crowded House in their first year as a unit have something to do with their own wilful wackiness as well as a lack of record company backing. Crowded House’s ability to function as a simple acoustic combo as well as a stadium powerhouse is a tribute to their own skills as musicians and performers. Their best work remains the material recorded by the band’s 1986-1996 incarnations. Neil Finn’s way with a melody ensured that Crowded House earned a place in the hearts and minds of listeners. ‘Like their shows, Crowded House songs possessed a defining moment that stayed with you forever. Sometimes it was hard to put your finger on it, but you certainly knew it when you heard it.’ ‘Crowded House recorded some of the best pop music of the late 1980s and early 1990s, leader Neil Finn’s carefully crafted songs, meticulous eye for lyrical detail and gift for melody were matched by few other songwriters’.
- allmusic.com, ‘Crowded House’ by Chris Woodstra as at 6 April 2017
- wikipedia.org as at 2 April 2017
- Internet Movie Database – imdb.com – as at 5 April 2017
- ‘Spellbound’ (1993) Split Enz video documentary directed by Kerry Brown & Bruce Sheridan, script and interviews by Bruce Sheridan, narration by Sam Neill
- ‘Together Alone: The Story of the Finn Brothers’ by Jeff Apter (Random House, Australia, 2010) p. 13, 16, 18, 24, 27, 49 via books.google.com.au
- ‘New Zealand Herald’ (New Zealand newspaper) – ‘In the Family: Judy Thompson, Sister of Neil and Tim Finn’ by Julie Middleton (8 January 2004) (reproduced on nzherald.co.nz)
- ‘That’s What I Call Finn’ by Stefan Warnquist (October 2009) (reproduced on oocities.org/thatsfinn/timfinnbio.html)
- allmusic.com, ‘ Split Enz’ by Chris Woodstra as at 31 August 2001
- concordmusicgroup.com – ‘Crowded House’ by Neil Finn (2010)
- ‘Q’ (U.K. rock magazine) – ‘Crowded House: Internal Tensions, Artistic Agony and the Melodic Miracles Behind Woodface’ – Crowded House interview conducted by Phil Sutcliffe (July 1992) (reproduced on theguardian.com – 25 March 2015)
- neilfinn.com as at 20 April 2017 [for the instruments played by the members of After Hours]
- milesago.com as at 24 April 2014 [for the date Neil Finn joined Split Enz]
- whosdatedwho.com as at 24 April 2014
- ‘Enz Of An Era’ by Split Enz – anonymous sleeve notes (Mushroom Records Pty. Ltd., Australia, 1982) p. 3
- Notable Names Database – nndb.com – as at 7 April 2017
- news.com.au – ‘Hester’s Love Turmoil’ by Kathy McCabe and Nui Te Koha (29 March 2005) (via skidmerc.livejournal.com)
- ‘The Independent’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Obituaries – Paul Hester – Extrovert Drummer with Crowded House’ by Spencer Leigh (28 March 2005)
- ‘The Big Australian Rock Book’, ‘Split Enz’ by Bruce Elder, ‘Tim Finn’ by Ed St John, ‘The Reels’ by Ed St; John and ‘Index’ edited by Ed St. John (Megabooks, 1985) p. 62, 99, 103, 149, 159
- ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 152, 155, 195
- markseymour.com.au as at 8 August 2013
- Max Music TV – ‘My First Gig’ – Mark Seymour interview conducted by Christie Eliezer (2 April 1986) (reproduced on humanfrailty.com – The Official Hunters And Collectors website)
- ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Neil Finn: “Lorde Should Leave New Zealand”’ – Neil Finn interview conducted by Andrew P. Street (6 February 2014) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
- ‘Crowded House: Something So Strong’ by Chris Bourke (Momentum, 14 August 2014) via books.google.com.au
- billboard.com – ‘Nick Seymour – Biography’ by Linda Seida, Rovi as at 14 April 2017
- ‘Q’ (U.K. rock magazine) (2014) via 10 (above)
- frenzforum.com – ‘Crowded House: A Secret World Returns’ – Nick Seymour interview conducted by Scott McLennan (12 August 2010)
- metrolyrics.com as at 7 April 2017
- ‘Mojo’ (U.K. rock magazine) (1997) via 17 (above)
- ‘The Irish Times’ (Irish newspaper) – ‘Uncrowded House’ – by Emma Cullinan (re: Nick Seymour) (24 March 2012) (reproduced on irishtimes.com)
- discogs.com as at 5 April 2017
- wiggles.wiki.com as at 4 April 2017
- backstagerider.com – ‘Past. Present and Future Crowded House: Interview with Neil Finn’ by Mikala Turner (16 August 2010)
- sonicbids.com – ‘Stovetop’ – no author credited – as at 15 April 2017
- lucyscrown.com as at 5 April 2017
- ‘Entertainment Tonight (ET) Canada’ (Canadian television program, Global Television Network) – ‘Time Right for Finn’ – Neil Finn interview conducted by Jason MacNeil (6 February 2014) via 2 (above) – Matt Sherrod
- ‘EMI Site Video Interview’ with Neil Finn (February 2007) via 2 (above) [‘Time On Earth’ LP]
- ‘Recurring Dream: The Very Best Of Crowded House’ – Sleeve notes by Peter Paphides (Capitol Records Inc., 1996) p. 3
Song lyrics copyright EMI Music Publishing Ltd with the exceptions of ‘Nails In My Feet’, ‘Fingers Of Love’ and ‘She Called Up’ (all Chrysalis Songs O/B/O Roundhead Music); and ‘Don’t Stop Now’ (BMG Rights Management US, LLC)
Last revised 25 April 2017