Neil Finn – Out Of Silence album recording/webcast

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Out Of Silence was recorded live in-studio via webcast on Facebook and YouTube and will be mixed, mastered and digitally released one week after the recording, on 1 September 2017.

“It’s pretty damned exciting. It’s the way I always dreamed of making music.”

Each Friday for the last month, Neil Finn has been convening in his Roundhead Studios in Auckland, New Zealand with a collection of musical friends and colleagues and a worldwide audience of over 15,000. Live streaming the sessions has allowed the general public into the world of the recording studio and a chance to intimately witness the technical and creative process that goes into preparing for, and recording an album.

The first three weeks of the Out Of Silence webcasts were used to rehearse and fine-tune a selection of the songs destined for the album as well as treat the studio and online audiences to some musical surprises. Finn was determined to make it an interactive experience, allowing for Skype calls from both members of the public and friends and family from overseas. Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour called in from Ireland and playing along to their song As Sure As I Am, Liam Finn and Connan Mockasin beamed in from Los Angeles and Jimmy Barnes (whose daughter EJ was part of the studio choir) delivered a thrilling Skype duet of the Split Enz classic Shark Attack.

Though the primary purpose of the early sessions was to rehearse for the album recording in week four, Finn rose to the sense of occasion that the process presented. In week two brother Tim joined him for a set of Finn Brothers songs while the following Friday saw Neil back on guitar fronting a tight rock band comprised of James Milne (bass), Elroy Finn (drums), Delaney Davidson (guitar) and Finn Scholes (keyboards) playing Crowded House songs (Weather With You) and Split Enz songs such as I Got You.

Each of the lead-up sessions were a tightly focused two hours but for the final webcast and full recording of the album, a four hour window was allocated. There was clearly less frivolity and loose joking around with the seriousness of the matter at hand. One got the sense the preceding week had been an intense period of rehearsing and ironing out any weaknesses in arrangements and performances. Finn also alluded to a week where many of the musicians had to battle winter illnesses to get to the final stage of the project.

“Is there anything we need to remember?” asks Finn. “Don’t fuck it up!” came the reply from his son and the album’s producer, Liam.

In a tightly packed studio, with Finn solely on piano, brass and woodwind sections, a percussionist, choir, drummer and guitarists as well as studio technicians and a film crew it was clearly an exercise in logistics and planning. As the session progressed it became clear how much of a people-person Finn is. In a high pressure environment, with the world watching, he was still able to create a working atmosphere that allowed individuals to relax and express themselves, for opinions to be voiced and all without a raised voice or overtly autocratic approach. It made for an inclusive and harmonious vibe in the room and one that filtered through into the soul of the music.

With son Liam Finn in the producer role, the album songs were recorded out of sequence, allowing them to ease into the session and also to bracket together the songs that required the various additional groups of musicians. The one constant was the choir, a who’s who of New Zealand music, including James Milne (Lawrence Arabia), Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins), Reb Fountain, Sam Flynn Scott (The Phoenix Foundation), Don McGlashan (The Muttonbirds), Sean Donnelly (SJD), EJ Barnes and Tim’s son Harper Finn. Dressed in robes and described by Finn as looking like “the mysterious alumni of some obscure university”, they provided a warm, campfire vibe that took in gospel and folk elements, giving weight and ascendency to Finn’s voice across the recordings.

Multiple takes of each song were undertaken, with micro adjustments made on each successive performance. Finn experimented with the interplay between his piano playing and singing, requesting a click track on some takes and none on others – anything to find the right mood and feel for each song. He fine-tuned string arrangements on the fly with arranger Victoria Kelly and provided suggestions to the choir on where to focus the impetus of their singing. It was a fascinating insight into both the process and Finn’s creative spirit and attention to detail.

From the momentum and pulse of Second Nature to the swooning melancholy of More Than One Of You, the Robert Wyatt’ish Alone with Tim Finn on guitar and vocals to the topical and Split Enz-sounding baroque pop of Terrorise Me with the line ‘love is stronger when it hurts’, Finn touched on themes of war, terror and policing but countered it with the greater and often more mysterious power of love. The overarching sound of the album was one of ornate and highly textured music, classic in tone and sophisticated and adventurous in its emotional range.

Chris Familton

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EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: September 6th, 2013

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This week I got to listen to a preview stream and review the new LP Dream River by the always reliable Bill Callahan. The review will be in The Music next week (and online) so I won’t give too much away other than to say it is a wonderful album, a very, very good record and a stylistic change for him in some ways yet still quintessentially Callahan.

Locally in Australia there have been some notable new releases this week in the form of King Khan & The Shrines, Violent Soho, Neko Case, Summer FlakeBushwalking, The Paradise Motel, Califone and Vista Chino (formerly Kyuss Lives!). All records that I’ve been looking forward to hearing and no doubt some will push for places in the year end best-of lists. Pixies also returned, somewhat out of the blue with a new 4 track EP that sounds a damn sight better than the Bagboy track they recently released. Indie Cindy in particular sounds like a return to form.

Personally I’m looking forward to spinning some records tonight at The Green Room Lounge in Enmore, Sydney. It is an all vinyl affair, part of their monthly We Play Records night so I’ve been doing the fun yet painful trawl through my collection this week to find some choice cuts. It is shaping up to be a real mixed bag including James Brown, The Clash, Bauhaus, The Congos, Wooden Shjips, Spoon, A Tribe Called Quest and many more. It is looking like I’ll be DJ’ing there again next Saturday night so pop in if you’re in the area.

Voting is open in the Pedestrian.TV Ultrabook Blogster Awards for a few more weeks so if you get a chance hit this LINK and throw us (and Post To Wire) a vote. I wrote a piece for the awards on a guilty pleasure song this week, regressing to my 80s hair metal obsession for one of my favourite tracks of the time.

What Should We Call It? (Naming an Album)

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by Chris Familton

Choosing a name for the collection of songs that you’ve spent hours, days or often years sweating into existence can be a stressful and difficult exercise. There are countless tales of bands leaving it to the last minute with no inkling of what to christen their creative work. There are also many albums where the musician has a theme, concept and a title clearly defined in their mind as they write, or at the very least, record their album; Neil Young’s Greendale being a good example.

Over the years there have been some seminal albums with names that sound as perfectly formed as the music contained within. Of course it can be hard to separate the title from the music much in the same way that a child becomes their name, even if it initially sounded like a ridiculous moniker. Marquee Moon, Raw Power, Meat Is Murder, Nevermind, Loveless, Sweetheart of the Rodeo – they all convey emotion and a visceral connection to the music they are attached to.

Conversely there have been some absolute clunkers attributed to albums regardless of how good the music is. Eric Clapton’s latest Old Sock, Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom, Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto and Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water only scrape the surface of terrible album names that could never be redeemed by the music they grace. One wonders if those around them ever thought to pipe up and say “Excuse me Sir Paul, with all respect do you really think it is a good idea to call your album Kisses on the Bottom?” Maybe the names were all just victims of a bad sense of humour or a tragic pun like Toby Keith’s Shock’n Y’all or Blink 182’s Enema of the State but regardless there is no excuse for sabotaging all that hard work in a few syllables or words.

Often a song title will provide the name of the album. Mostly this is the case, presumably as the chosen song in some way represents the mood or theme of the record or because it is a catchy phrase that will linger in the listener’s mind. Too often acts take the cop-out route and go with their own name – the self-titled syndrome. Perhaps it was John Lydon’s PiL who found the best way to circumvent having to decide on something when they christened their 1986 release – Album.

this piece was first published as an interview sidebar in Drum Media streetpress 

FEATURE: Signposts in Modern Music

DS Featured ImageSIGNPOSTSWe look at six songs that stand out as important moments in modern music, changing the playing field and inspiring legions of other musicians…

JEFF BUCKLEY – GRACE (1994)

With alternative music (as it was known at the time) in the grip of grunge and hard rock it took a sensitive young man with an angelic voice, good looks and a mesmerizing guitar style to usher in a new era of appreciation for the tortured heart and lost lovers. Buckley spent a long time crafting and refining the batch of songs that would make up his debut album and the epic title track and first single Grace ignited a whole swathe of music listeners who were sick of the posturing and angry angst on the radio. Buckley’s sweet falsetto and powerful voice seduced and influenced everyone from Thom Yorke to Chris Martin and Rufus Wainwright and marked his as one of those special artists even before his tragic death.

THE CURE – A FOREST (1980)

This was the first single that charted for the band in the UK and it marked the real arrival of their sound from which they would base all their future work. It was dark, melancholic and mysterious enough to keep the tortured teens of the time guessing as to what it meant. Sonically there are similarities to early New Order with primitive beats and a prominent bass line that binds and propels the song. By not punctuating the song with big choruses it feels linear and unconventional marking it as something different to the standard chart fodder like Blondie and ABBA. A Forest was an exercise in reductionist pop composition that took them from post punk mopes to leaders of the indie scene at the dawn of the 80s.

PUBLIC ENEMY – BRING THE NOISE (1987)

Public Enemy were the first truly militant hip hop act to garner widespread success in a genre that too often was viewed as cartoonish and not ‘real’ music by the mainstream. PE changed all that by politicising their lyrics and delivering them rapid fire over brutal and drilling beats courtesy of DJ Terminator X. From the opening Malcolm X sample of “Too black, too strong” this was serious music with Chuck D and Flavor Flav playing the roles of orator and jester between the searing scratching and a wide spectrum of beats. Importantly it wasn’t all bluster and noise, Chuck D’s vocal work superbly navigates different meters and phrasing like a poet re-enacting a Miles Davis trumpet solo. Hip Hop would never sound as visceral as this again.

DAVID BOWIE – ZIGGY STARDUST (1972)

Perhaps the best known of Bowie’s many incarnations, Ziggy Stardust was a song that told the tale of the character, created the myth and liberated a generation of music fans and other musicians. In the early 1970s art rock was a underground scene that only reached the masses with the arrival of Marc Bolan on Top of the Pops in 1971. Fellow maverick Bowie was on the same path and with the creation of Ziggy Stardust the two of them led the way for a plethora of like minded extroverts such as Gary Glitter, Slade, Queen, Roxy Music and the New York Dolls. It is easy to underestimate the conceptual influence of Bowie’s theatrical side which has permeated most forms of music ever since. The song Ziggy Stardust (surprisingly not released as a single) was the vehicle for a call to arms for creative freedom and expression and Mick Ronson’s opening chords still sounds magnificent nearly 40 years on.

THE STONE ROSES – FOOLS GOLD (1989)

The final track on the band’s defining album provided the band with their first top ten hit in the UK and their appearance on Top of the Pops is seen by many as the defining moment when the band gained national and subsequently international fame. Fools Gold is the definitive Stone Roses song with Reni’s trademark funk-fueled breakbeat drumming, Mani’s rolling bass, John Squire’s rip and tear wah guitar and Ian Brown‘s lackadaisical vocal delivery. It felt intoxicating, loose limbed and completely of its time on the eve of Britpop and in the twilight of the so called Summer Of Love  – two British music movements that The Stone Roses straddled. Few bands have married guitars and dance beats so successfully since.

THE BEACH BOYS – GOOD VIBRATIONS (1966)

Brian Wilson’s masterpiece of composition and production was reaction of sorts to what he was hearing from The Beatles on the other side of the Atlantic in the mid 1960s. Described by the band’s publicist Derek Taylor as a ‘pocket symphony’ he wasn’t far off the mark. Incorporating instruments like the electro-theremin and cello it sounds like a disorientating wave of melodies, harmonies and musical treats all wrapped up in 3.5 minutes of pop perfection. Psychedelic music was already around but this song elevated it into the mainstream, reaching the top of the US single charts and widening the minds of millions.

LIST: DS Top Albums of 2012

2012 TOP ALBUMS

2012 felt like somewhat of a mixed bag of musical lollies with our favourites encompassing americana, power pop, 80s synth, indie and many shades of psychedelia. The only thing that tied them all together was the strong streak of melody that each was built on. Even in the case of someone like Neil Young & Crazy Horse it was Young’s incredible weaving of musical notes on Old Black that made that record such a delight. Hopefully there will be a few surprises scattered across our list which will send you down another musical rabbit hole to find out if we are onto something… Hopefully we are.

30-21

20-11

10-1

square-600-11Charlie Horse – I Hope I’m Not A Monster

square-600-16Deep Sea Arcade – Outlands

LOWER PLENTYLower Plenty – Hard Rubbish

square-600-15Dinosaur Jr – I Bet On Sky

square-600-13Lee Ranaldo – Between The Times & The Tides

UnknownNeil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill

square-600-17Lawrence Arabia – The Sparrow

square-600Lambchop – Mr. M

square-600-14Suzy Connolly – Night Larks

square-600-12Father John Misty – Dear Fun

FEATURE: Girls Aloud

In the last five years an increasing number of female artists have been making themselves heard above the generic indie clatter. Many of them have stepped away from the softer folk leanings of artists like Feist and Cat Power and established a stronger, more assertive aural template.

In the electronic realm the likes of Austra, Fever Ray and Zola Jesus are creating dark electronic pop music with great critical success. Their music takes influence from post punk, goth, industrial and synth pop but they meld and advance those forms with an added coat of modern digital sheen and futuristic glamour. Across the hallway in the indie room there is Anna Calvi conjuring up swooning guitar-led songs full of passion and drama while next door Florence Welch is taking the baroque sounds of Kate Bush and others and magnifying the music to maximum grandeur.

What links all of these artists is a bold and commanding vocal presence that is of a maximalist nature, projecting outwards. That strength of delivery isn’t something new – Bjork, Patti Smith, Nico, PJ Harvey and Siouxsie Sioux were all there first –  yet this new generation of songwriters are embracing both their natural voices and a desire to invest passion and drama in their music while creating new and interesting work from established musical forms. Simon Reynolds recently wrote of the current trend for overblown sonics and production styles in his Maximal Nation article for Pitchfork. There his focus was on the electronic world yet the themes and trends he discussed are also fertile developments in the pop and indie worlds.

As these artists continue to gather an audience the trickle down effect will increasingly become apparent in other like-minded singers. Locally, acts like Brous, Melodie Nelson and to some extent Washington are embracing big bold artful pop shapes with differing levels of intensity while internationally Feist was one artist who noticeably moved away from some of the sweetness of her earlier work on last year’s Metals LP. Musically it felt like both a retreat and an advance but most of all it was an example of her desire to expand and evolve her craft. It all makes for interesting times as both nostalgia and now increasingly futurism become permanently embedded in the evolution of popular music. The number of female artists among those creating forward thinking and ambitious sounding music is an encouraging and important sign of the times.

this was first published in The Drum Media

FEATURE: Life in a Chord | Flying Nun Records

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Flying Nun, here is a reprint of a piece I wrote about the label last year…

written by Chris Familton

A record label at the right place at the right time can be integral to a music scene, often gaining revered status further down the track as history settles into place. Sub Pop, Motown and Factory are obvious examples. At the start of the 80s very few would have predicted the impact (albeit on a lesser scale) that a label started in the lounge room of a record shop clerk, on a culturally isolated island at the bottom of the world, would have.

Born in Christchurch in 1981 to Roger Shepherd and raised in Dunedin, Flying Nun became home to a unique cross-section of bands who were influenced by both the cold dark winters and the independent music that was coming out of the northern hemisphere.

Simon Coffey, who was a radio DJ and gig promoter at the time, sums up the origins of the so called ‘Dunedin Sound’. “I think it was the combination of the UK’s Punk ethic of DIY and rejection of bloated 60s/70s rock (seen clearly with acts like The Clean, Tall Dwarfs and The Puddle), the influence of US ’60′s psychedelia, up to and including acts like the Velvet Underground which combined to embody themselves as lo-fi pop.”

The original mission of Flying Nun was to create an outlet for bands from the South Island to have their music heard and the first wave included The CleanThe ChillsThe Bats, The Verlaines and Chris Knox’s Tall Dwarfs. It is those bands that are now, more than 25 years later, being cited as influences by current acts such as Stephen Malkmus, Jay Reatard, Pete & The Pirates, Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls.

JB Townsend of US band Crystal Stilts recalls when he discovered Martin Phillipps’ The Chills. “The first time I heard Pink Frost I was astonished that there was a band out there with a song that sounded like that. The whole spacious half melancholy pop thing… It was exactly the feel I was going for in our earlier records. They took from all the right resources before them and make it sound thoroughly unique and as good as their classic predecessors.” says Townsend.

One of the key figures on the Flying Nun scene was Chris Knox. The singer of early NZ punk bands The Enemy and Toy Love, he was the driving force behind the label’s lo-fi approach to video, artwork and early recordings. Matthew Bannister of Sneaky Feelings summed up Knox well in his book Positively George St; “The most important contributor to the cult of shambling amateurism was Chris Knox, a punk puritan who mistrusts anything too polished or seductive.”

That perceived lack of aspiration worked in the label’s favour, so much so that contemporary bands like UK’s Pete & The Pirates see it as a defining part of Flying Nun’s appeal. “What makes them unique is that they never seemed to aspire to what most labels would: making money! and they didn’t seem to interfere with the artistic processes of the artists,” says singer Tom Sanders, “It seemed almost like a strong compulsion to capture the music that the label found and loved in it’s rawest and most honest form, seemingly for posterity rather than commercial gain.”

New Zealand writer Graham Reid has been writing about the Flying Nun since the mid 80s and recalls an insular scene which contributed to the lack of wider success for many of the bands. “They were so inward looking, some of them only played ten hours together before they recorded something, they didn’t tour, they didn’t play often enough to become good at their craft – they didn’t want to do that. They’d play 2 gigs in three months and want a cup of tea and a lie down,” he laughs, before adding, “It was like a little boys club that looked in on itself.”

Prior to punk music reaching New Zealand and planting the seeds for these bands, there had been little for people to latch onto and call their own. A cultural cringe outweighed pride and self promotion. Graeme Jefferies of Flying Nun bands This Kind Of Punishment and The Cakekitchen sees the label as a major cultural turning point for the country. “I think from my own generation’s point of view that it was extremely important for our cultural identity. That early Flying Nun stuff has some real milestones and was the first real indication of Kiwi underground culture outside of books and movies. It was really important then and historically it still is.”

As the label grew and the bands began to expand their sound with larger recording budgets the strain began to show. In the mid 80s the label shifted offices to Auckland to be closer to the wider music industry which was viewed by many as a betrayal. By 88, with cash-flow problems mounting, a deal was made with Australian label Mushroom Records which provided both funding and international distribution opportunities.

Though both The Chills and Straitjacket Fits inked deals with American labels Slash and Arista, the big push to promote many of the bands overseas ultimately led to burnout and disillusionment causing many of the label’s profile acts to disband. Shepherd battled on, relocating to run the London office in 95, but, by 97 he had departed the label and Mushroom had amalgamated with Festival Records, further distancing Flying Nun from its independent beginnings.

The label has been relatively dormant in the 21st century with The D4The Phoenix Foundation and The Mint Chicks the exceptions. Recent activity in 09 from prominent ex-Flying Nun bands shows the creativity of the early pioneers is still strong with new albums from Shayne Carter’s Dimmer (Degrees Of Existence), The Bats (The Guilty Office), The Clean (Mister Pop) and The Verlaines (Corporate Moronic).

The most recent and encouraging development in the Flying Nun world is the news that a Roger Shepherd-led consortium has bought back the label’s catalogue from Warners who absorbed Festival Records in 05. Neil Finn is one of the other major backers of the group and you sense that in their hands the legacy of Flying Nun as well as the cultivation of new artists will be well looked after.

Though it never sold a lot of records it seems that there is still an immense amount of pride and respect for the label that started at the bottom of the world, took flight and ended up influencing so many with its pure and enthusiastic dedication to music.

www.flyingnun.co.nz

Interview with Martin Phillipps

Interview with The Clean

Live review of The Bats

Review of Dimmer’s Degrees of Existence

This article first appeared in A Fine Line magazine


FEATURE: Daddy, What is Indie Music?

written by Chris Familton

“Good question son, it is kind of everything these days but in the good old days it actually meant something tangible”.

It always fascinates me how musical genres are constantly invented then warped, diluted and eventually rendered inert as valid descriptions of a style or movement in music. Rock n roll was a clearly defined take on blues and country that very quickly grew to represent any form of guitar based energetic pop music from the 50s through until the emergence of electronic music. As it grew it split into a plethora of strands – heavy metal, classic rock, garage rock, punk, grunge etc. Many of these sub genres in turn mutated and generated sub-genres – thrash metal, black metal, post punk etc. Of course with ‘rock’ as the initial seedling this was a totally understandable evolution fueled primarily by journalists and record shop clerks fastidious about classifying and labeling the music for ease of access.

Back to indie though – a term that first emerged to categorise music that was being generated by bands and DIY record labels outside the mainstream record industry. They were considered to be ‘independent of the machine’. It was essentially a word that described the route to market rather than the sound or style of the music. In the USA the best example was the hardcore punk scene of the 80s that spawned the likes of Black Flag, Minor Threat and Circle Jerks. Across the Atlantic it was the same decade that saw labels like Postcard, 4AD and Mute creating local grassroots scenes that their fans identified with and felt part of.

Things started to blur when bands grew in popularity and felt they needed to further their fame and/or wealth by shifting to a major label where distribution networks were larger and more funds were available to line their pockets. Some made the transition and retained the elements of their music that made them great. R.E.M were one who managed a few albums with Warner Bros before stasis set in and Sonic Youth have perhaps been the most successful at straddling both the under and overground.

As these changes happened and the bands’ music changed, the indie label stuck. Meanwhile other bands with similar sounds became associated with these acts and you ended up with mopey, jangly guitar bands who may have replicated the sound of their inspirers but had none of the poetry, grace or conviction. Indie as a result became watered down, diluted into smaller tributaries like indie pop, indie folk,indie rock, madchester, no wave, britpop, indietronica etc. The groups were scattered across major labels, independent labels – even no labels. Now the single term ‘indie’ can be used to describe bands as disparate as The Arcade Fire, No Age, LCD Soundsystem and Fleet Foxes and as a result the word has been rendering flaccid and inert.

This all begs the questions… who cares, who is to blame for the intellectual laziness, do genres serve a purpose, are they more relevant now in the age of digital media and itunes music classification, could we just survive on a simple and universal set of name tags like blues, rock, jazz, pop, country and avant-garde?

“Daddy, what is indie music?”

“I don’t know son, you tell me…”

this article first appeared on the Germinal Press blog. GP is a new venture in Australia’s publishing landscape. They are unabashedly independent and opportunistic, drawing their inspiration from the original DIY attitude of the fanzines movement of the late 1970s. Check ’em out!