Liam Finn sighs, holds his hands up in mock surrender, and admits that the leader of Crowded House and composer of such stellar classics as "Don't Dream It's Over" is, in fact, pretty damned cool. "It's not that I don't like talking about it," the 24-year-old New Zealander contends. "But I've had to talk about it my whole life, and I probably always will. And I always loved my dad's music, but it wasn't until my late teens, when I was making music myself, that I realized how beautiful his songs were."
In many ways, this apple fell far from the artistic tree. Neil Finn's son has grown a full John Brown beard; he left home for London with his original group, Betchadupa; and once it broke up, he reconfigured as a virtual one-man band, backed by loop pedals and throaty co-vocalist Eliza-Jane Barnes (daughter of Cold Chisel frontman Jimmy Barnes).
Finn's buoyant Yep Roc debut album, I'll Be Lightning for which he flew home to record at his father's studio in Auckland gives a punkier, DIY feel to the quirky, off-kilter schematic that's peculiar to most New Zealand pop. From more jagged cuts like "Lead Balloon" to elegiac hum-alongs like "Lullaby" and "Better To Be," it's a skeletal but sure-footed effort.
Is it as addictive as, say, Crowded House's '86 debut, or 1980's True Colours from its precursor, Split Enz? Not exactly. But it does introduce a bright young talent that's just beginning to blossom.
Ironically, everything came into focus for Finn when his world was falling apart. After his band splintered in Britain, his long-term romantic relationship did, too. Then he lost his job at a local coffeehouse, thanks to a friend telling off the manager on his behalf.
He didn't sink into depression so much, he says, as a period "of anxiety and intensity."
"It wasn't like I couldn't get out of bed and do things, but I became very anxious. And I learned a lot about myself, and learned how not to be anxious, and how to be happy. So it was a good time, in a way, as much as it was a terrible time. But you need to have those moments in your life, don't you? Where you get to the lowest of the low, and you all of a sudden turn a corner and everything's great. And I haven't looked back since."
Today, that has Finn traveling so much, he's stopped paying rent in London.
"So I live nowhere just outta my suitcase," he explains.
As for the soundtrack to this vagabond minstrel life? It's not all familial, he confesses.
"I listen to a lot of different stuff a lot of poppy-sounding stuff, but a lot of really experimental stuff, as well. There's a band called Lightning Bolt that was pretty incredible, and they're kinda noisy. But at the end of the day, I like songs, and that's what I write: songs."
Bringing the conversation full-circle: Did Finn's folks give him any life-changing advice once he claimed music as a career?
"My mom said, "Don't worry, be happy,'" he says. "And my dad said, "Listen to your mother.' They were actually really supportive. And I think they've got pretty good instincts."