Neil Finn of Crowded House: ‘We could represent Ireland at Eurovision! If John Lydon can go for it, then why not us?’

The band are more Irish than Australasian these days, says the singer, who first gig in Ireland was a memorable night at the Olympia in Dublin in 1991

When Crowded House step on to the stage at Musgrave Park, in Cork, next month, it will be almost 33 years after their first Irish gig, at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin. Neil Finn remembers one part of that night in 1991 very well: a man in the audience came up on to the stage and proposed to his girlfriend. “This is why we like little accidents, because it makes you remember them,” he says from his home in New Zealand. “We had a brilliant night. It was a midnight show or something.”

His bandmate Nick Seymour, who’s based in Sligo – he’s speaking from his “man cave” garden studio – confirms Finn’s account. “Yeah, they had a theatrical show during the evening; then they put on a gig after midnight.” (The Midnight at the Olympia phenomenon started that year.)

As part of their encore at the Olympia, Crowded House sang Van Morrison’s Irish Heartbeat, a favourite of Finn’s mother, Mary, who left Co Limerick for New Zealand as a child. “It became very popular at our family gatherings,” Finn says. “My mother always asked for it, so my brother [Tim] and I used to perform it.”

Crowded House’s Irish thread runs deep. Seymour, who’s originally from Melbourne, bought an apartment on Exchequer Street, in the middle of Dublin, in 1994, and has been an Irish citizen since 2008. They’re more Irish than Australasian these days, he says. “The only person now in Crowded House that doesn’t have Irish citizenship is Mitchell Froom [the band’s American keyboard player]. I would think that qualifies us as an Irish band.”


“I had an Irish passport long before Nick,” Finn says. “We’d arrive in Ireland and I would sail through passport control. We could represent Ireland at Eurovision! If John Lydon can go for it, then why not us?”

Until they make that coveted appearance, the band – who are now a five-piece, with Finn’s sons, Liam and Elroy, on guitar and drums – have their eighth studio album, Gravity Stairs, to occupy them.

It’s signature Crowded House, with their perfect blend of light and shade. The album takes its name from a lyric on the stunning opening track, Magic Piano. “Nick came up with those beautiful, melodic bass lines that weave in and out, doing a little musical dance with Liam’s liquid, electric guitar parts,” Finn says. “We were aware that we had made something with great beauty and integrity. It felt like a definitive statement and that it should be the first track on the record.”

The song documents the rewarding if sometimes tortured role of a songwriter. “Melody and chord are my first love – the words being a little harder to fashion,” he says. “There’s a certain darkness that comes at times with that gift. It can be distorted, subverted or used for ill-gotten gain. Like any blessing, it comes tinged with the possibility of not giving it enough respect. It touches on the duality of what music can be and the obsessive nature of doing it.”

One of the other songs on the album, All That I Can Ever Own, is actually one of Finn’s most lyrically direct. He is now a grandfather; the song captures the process of letting go as children grow. “It’s a lifetime of gathering them and forming them into something that you have great aspirations for,” he says, “but at some point it’s also a process of being able to let them live their own life. You can’t control the outcome. It’s that little dichotomy that I’m talking about.”

We’re excited to be an active band again. We’re a band that lives on opposite ends of the earth, testing the parameters of what’s possible.

—  Neil Finn

The track Some Greater Plan (for Claire) features a Greek bouzouki band called Maistrato, whom Finn invited on tour after hearing them perform late one night. The song’s uplifting feel is a reminder of the positive force of music. “I think music could really save the world,” Finn says. “It has the ability to affect people’s state of mind and lead them to better decisions, better thoughts, heal wounds, provide a soundtrack for deep sadness and also joy.”

“There’s an incredible sense of anxiety that I feel about the proposition of lawlessness that seems to be all around us,” Seymour says. “Music is a refuge, and I really do look for it as a point of stillness.”

For Seymour, another place of safety and inspiration is his visual art: he has always designed the band’s album covers. He is proudest of the sculpture that was used on the front of their fourth album, Together Alone, which now sits on Finn’s mantlepiece. Gravity Stairs features a Beatles-inspired cover illustration. “I wanted to embark on some kind of description of the characters in the band,” Seymour says, “and make a piece that was in the style of Klaus Voormann’s Revolver.”

It’s almost 20 years since the suicide of Paul Hester, the band’s drummer. Their friend is never far from their thoughts, Seymour says. “It’s constant. Whenever we’re jamming up an idea, Paul is always seemingly in the room.” Finn misses Hester’s left-field humour the most. “Paul’s presence and personality is still in the very DNA of the band,” he says. “In our live shows, when we get on a roll with some banter or unscripted stops, we miss Paul’s interjections.”

When Elroy plays on Crowded House classics such as Weather With You, Fall at Your Feet and Don’t Dream It’s Over, he’s using techniques that Hester taught him., he’s using techniques that Hester taught him. “Elroy learned how to play brushes from Paul directly,” Finn says. “I remember our former drummer Matt Sherrod, who struggled to get the feel of the brushes. Elroy was at school at the time, came to rehearsals and actually showed Matt how to do it.”

Finn’s other son is becoming quite the songwriting protege: Liam wrote The Howl, one of the tracks on Gravity Stairs. The pair seem to have a good dynamic. “We help each other out now and again,” Finn says. “If I’m struggling on a last verse I’ll have a little pow-wow with him, and similarly with him and me. Lovely things like that happen. There’s no demarcation of what’s possible. Liam’s phrasing is a little looser than my approach, as I like to get it locked together. It’s good for me to be reminded of that.”

With the band scattered around the world, airports are a constant for them. Finn is pleased to be on the cusp of rehearsals for Crowded House’s upcoming tour. “We’re excited to be an active band again,” he says. “We’re a band that lives on opposite ends of the earth, testing the parameters of what’s possible.”

Ultimately, it’s the power of music that motivates him. “You can unite an incredibly disparate roomful of people with a feeling that humanity has warmth, goodness and possibility,” he says. “I’ll continue to feel like it’s the only thing I can offer.”

Gravity Stairs is released on Friday, May 31st. Crowded House play Musgrave Park, in Cork, on Sunday, June 23rd