Tim Finn is playing at the Double Door June 16.
The name Tim Finn means different things to different people. To some, he's the man from the New Zealand-based new wave band Split Enz from the 1970s and early 1980s who had a hit single with the song "I've Got You." To others he's best known as a member of Crowded House ( a band founded by his brother Neil ) , although he joined it briefly in the middle of the band's career. Hard-core fans know him as a member of ALT, in which he worked with Andy White and Liam O'Maonlai.
Of course, there is a whole other side to Tim Finn, which can be found on the albums he released under his own name. The latest Tim Finn album Say It Is So ( Periscope/Sonny's Pop/ W.A.R ) is a stunning addition to Finn's canon. With the exception of the difficult "Need To Be Right," this album of dazzling Beatle-esque pop songs ( including the flawless "Underwater Mountain," "Shiver," "Good Together," "Currents," "Twinkle," and "Death Of A Popular Song" ) ranks as one of the most accomplished records of the year.
Gregg Shapiro: Your almost 20-year musical career seems to be a balance of you working as a solo artist and as a member of a musical group ( including The Finn Brothers ) . Would it be safe to say that "Tim Finn plays well with others"?
Tim Finn: Yeah. I think I'm a good collaborator. I love what happens when people get together and I allow that to happen. I try not to go into things with intellectual concepts, because they always just dissolve anyway. I write the songs and structure them in my head. I don't even like to demo them very much. When I play them to the right musicians, I love what happens. It does require the right group, though. When I found ( producer ) Jay Joyce in Nashville, he put together a little band which included Ken Coomer, the Wilco drummer, and his own bass player Chris Feinstein. We were the band, the four of us—me, Jay, Ken and Chris, and when that happened, something bigger than just me thinking I knew what the songs were all about happened.
GS: Do you have a preference - solo or as a member of a band?
TF: I've always balked at the term "solo artist," because to me the best work is always collaborative.
GS: The opening track on Say It Is So is the gorgeous "Underwater Mountain." The opening track on your 1989 self-titled disc is "Young Mountain." Can you say something about your interest in mountains and the importance they play in your songs?
TF: ( laughs ) You're the first guy that has ever busted me for that, I have to say. It is true. Mountains. As we speak, I am currently living at the foot of an extinct volcano. Here in Auckland there are about seven major volcanoes. I think it was Gertrude Stein who said, "People are the way they land in areas." New Zealand is full of hills and mountains. It's a rippling kind of volcanic landscape and it's in me, it's part of me, it's who I am. I can't separate myself from that. I guess I love the image of a mountain, the visual side of it. Also, the solidity, the energy, the power that you can feel from a mountain. "Underwater Mountain," I was just reading about this mountain they discovered off the south coast of Australia. I thought it was interesting that you could have a mountain there, as opposed to a reef or a continental shelf. [ It ] was a great image that I was drawn to as an artist.
GS: "Death Of A Popular Song," also from Say It Is So, appears to be a comment on the current state of music, and art in general.
TF: I really responded to this article that I read ... actually, I have a lot to be grateful for to journalists, because they quite often give me ideas. Even if it's in the sense of giving you something to work against. This was a well-argued, quite eloquent piece about young people not being interested in pop songs anymore or that they were just one thing amongst many that they could occupy themselves with. ... I think on a deeper, primal level, it's not true. Possibly, superficially, it's true in our culture, but I think on a deep level, it's not. I think that if you play a great song to any human being they're going to have a human response to it. That's my belief. I'm a romantic, in that sense. I believe that great pop is art. So, I was having a playful look at that. You can't kill it. Music may be taken hostage, but it will be free.
GS: It's interesting because you mentioned the band Wilco and pop songs, and the last Wilco album, Summer Teeth, is a collection of perfect pop songs. You also mentioned, on your web-site ( www.timfinn.com ) , that you had "fallen in love with Wilco of late," and I was wondering if while you were in Nashville whether you came up to Chicago to check out the insurgent country scene, of which Wilco is a part?
TF: I didn't check it out. I've been listening to records. The record that I fell in love with first was Being There. There's a song on there called "The Lonely One" that made me cry and that hasn't happened for a very long time, where a record has just broken me down like that. I was very impressed. It became an intense experience to look into that record and other subsequent records. I discovered Lucinda Williams just prior to coming to Nashville. I hadn't even heard of her, I'm ashamed to admit. There are funny, quirky bands in Nashville, like Lambchop. There are people in that country area of the world almost working against it or working with it, but playing around with it, subverting it or perverting it. ... Great country is great music. There's no difference between that and any other form of music. ... Because it's become somewhat formulaic, there's going to be people exploring, like archaeologists, what was really good about it. There are bands in Australia and New Zealand now that are using country sounds and flavors and just writing really witty lyrics with it. It's a strong, urgent form of music that's been pushed underground.
GS: Would you say that your Nashville experience was a good one?
TF: It was an excellent one. I went over there with my wife and child, and it was a real adventure. We didn't have any idea why we were going there, it was just like an instinct. I had never thought of going to Nashville, and it was only that I was starting to listen to some of these records. We have a young child, so we spent a lot of time trying to create space for ourselves during the day, as parents day, going to a mall, even. Things that you would never consider doing, you find yourself doing because it gives you breathing space to be able to just wander and dream and whatever. ... Then, through the friend of a friend we met Jay Joyce. Everything just clicked. It was only just the last two weeks that I was there, out of two months, that it came together for me. I saw some great live acts. I saw Jimmie Dale Gilmore playing in a club. That was pretty transcendent. I was continuing to write songs, as well, but there were times when I felt very strange and sort of isolated there.
GS: Did you have a chance to go to Memphis to see Graceland?
TF: We definitely went to Memphis. We took a road trip there. We went to Sun Studios. It's like visiting the temple, you know. It's where the music happened. Graceland to me has to do with the decline, in a sense, and the isolation of Elvis. But Sun Studios was where he was at his most potent, some would argue. The same linoleum on the floor, the same light fittings. We went around as part of a tourist group, but I had my moment of daydreaming in there, I can tell you.
GS: I think it's interesting to hear musicians speak of the bands that they admire, and perhaps the highest compliment is to have a singer/songwriter perform your work in concert. Shawn Colvin has said that she is a big Crowded House fan, and has been known to do an impromptu "Weather With You" during her show. Were you aware of that?
TF: I knew that Shawn was interested in our work. There had been an approach, a few years back, about some possible co-writes, that didn't actually happen. She's a great singer and I'm glad to see her getting her moment there. That always is a great compliment when an artist does your work. Or when they step up to you and say, "Hey, good song." I remember a few years back when Paul Westerberg came up to me and complimented me on a song called "Not Even Close." He's somebody who I really admire.
GS: The song "Hit the Ground Running," from your album Before & After was written about [ gay artist ] Keith Haring. Can you please say something about that song?
TF: It was inspired by the Keith Haring story. I like his work and I was reading about him. I guess it really touched me. The urgency and the passion that he brought to his work. And then it was just snuffed out really fast. I knew other gay people who were suffering from [ AIDS ] and it drew me into that story, I suppose. I was feeling a little bit of compassion and I just wanted to write about it.
GS: Can you provide some more detail about the androgynous subject of "Niwhai" ( pronounced Nee-fi ) on the Finn Bros. disc, the "Pacific sister/her father's son" who had "five satellites"?
TF: Niwhai is a friend of ours. She is a he, but she's really a she. It's not like there's anything awkward about it. Everybody sees her as a woman and she's a great person. She's got a lot of class and a lot of style.
There's a tradition in Polynesia for boys to be brought up as girls. It's sort of socially acceptable. There's a different feeling. It's not like they're regarded as gay or different, they're just she/hes, I suppose. Niwhai is one of them. She was telling me, one night, about the most magical night of her life, how everything went right for her. The culmination was that she was watching the sky and she saw five satellites. It was just a lovely story.
Where it´s @
compiled by Gregg Shapiro
@ Abbey - 773/478-4408: Kimi Hayes Band 6.15
@ Allstate Arena - 312/559-1212 ( TM ) : Steely Dan 6.24 / Diana Ross and the Supremes 7.1
@ Aragon - 312/559-1212 ( TM ) : No Doubt 7.8
@ Arie Crown - 312/791-6000: Don Henley 6.17 / Dennis Miller 8.19
@ Arvey Field/Grant Park - 312/294-3000: Chicago Symphony Orchestra ( Symphony Sprint ) 6.24
@ Auditorium Theater - 312/559-1212 ( TM ) : Savage Garden 8.18
@ Beat Kitchen - 773/281-4444: Jean Smith 6.25
@ Chicago Theater - 312/559-1212 ( TM ) : Brian Wilson 7.22 / Lyle Lovett 8.10 / Gipsy Kings 8.31 & 9.1
@ Club Eden - 773/327-4646: Halo, Justin Long, DVS, Droopy 6.14 / Phantom 45, Sativa, Justin Long, Chris Gin 6.21
@ Cubby Bear - 773/327-1662:
@ Double Door - 773/489-3160: Loud Lucy 6.14 / Tim Finn 6.16 / The Handsome Family and Angie Mead 6.17 / Legendary Pink Dots 6.22 / BR5-49 6.30 / Tara MacLean 7.21
@ Elgin Community College - 847/697-1884: Maceo Parker 6.14
@ Empty Bottle - 773/276-3600: The Chicago Underground Duo 6.17 / Royal Trux and Edith Frost 6.23 / Town & Country 7.7 / Sixteen Deluxe 7.13 / Beachwood Sparks 7.15 / The Chamber Strings and Wax Wings 7.23 / Gaza Strippers 7.29
@ Fermilab - 630/840-2787: Odetta 8.19
@ Fireside Bowl - 773/486-2700: Jean Smith 6.23
@ FitzGerald's - 708/788-6670: Casolando and Spies Who Surf 6.16 / Michael McDermott 6.17 / Anna Fermin's Trigger Gospel 6.23 / Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca 6.24 / Fairbanks to Anchorage AIDS Benefit 6.27 / 19th Annual American Music Festival 6.30 - 7.3 ( featuring Robbie Fulks 7.1 / Alejandro Escovedo 7.2 / Dave Alvin 7.3 ) / Austin Lounge Lizards 7.27
@ Gentry of Chicago ( State ) - 312/836-0933: Open Mic w/Beckie Menzie ( every Sunday )
@ Hideout - 773/227-4433: Neko Case and Chris Mills 6.28 / Nora O'Connor 7.14
@ Hot House - 312/362-9707: Eight Bold Souls 6.14 - 29 / All Queer days: Executive Sweet 7.1 / Mambo Express 6.17, 7.29 / The Backyard Variety Cabaret Show 6.28 / Susana Baca 7.13 / Tomas Mapfumo 7.15 / 2nd Annual World Music Festival 9.19 - 30
@ House Of Blues - 312/923-2000: Groove Armada and Faze Action 6.14 / Los Van Van 6.15 / Ray Charles 6.16 / Jean-Luc Ponty 6.21 / Trinket ( 5:30 ) 6.22 / Michelle Shocked ( 7:30 ) 6.22 / The Specials 6.24 / Teena Marie 6.27 & 28 / Robin Trower 6.29 & 30 / Jimmy Sutton's Four Charms 7.1 / George Clinton & P-Funk All-Stars 7.2 / Dwight Yoakam 7.4 / Brian Setzer Orchestra 7.5 & 6 / Kool & The Gang 7.10 & 11 / The Spitkickers Tour ( Common, De La Soul, Biz Markie and others ) 7.13 / Les Nubians 7.15 / The Fixx 7.16 / Credence Clearwater Revisited 7.19 / Joan Armatrading 7.20 / Wynnona 7.23
@ Joe's - 312/337-3486: The Smithereens and Ted Ansani 6.23
@ Lift - 312/733-6699: Sven Vath 6.17
@ Martyrs - 773/404-9494: Lowen & Navarro 7.2
@ Crobar - 312/413-7000: Marcus Wyatt, DJ Iz, DJ Disciple 6.15
@ Metro - 773/549-0203: Yo La Tengo and Sue Garner & Rick Brown 6.17 & 18 / Evil Beaver 6.20 / "The Second Waltz": The Nicholas Tremulis Band w/David Ameran, Bun E. Carlos ( of Cheap Trick ) , Corey Harris, Rusty Kershaw, Bob Mould, Frank Orrall, Byron Stingily, Hubert Sumlin, Jeff Tweedy & Jay Bennett, Chris Whitley 6.21 / Local H 6.22 / Sunny Day Real Estate 6.29 / Catherine Wheel and Tracy Bonham 6.30 / "Respect Is Burning" 7.8 / The Toasters 7.15 / The Queers 7.30 / Saw Doctors 8.23
@ Morseland - 773/764-6401: Pointy Teeth 6.17
@ Mountain Moving Coffeehouse for Womyn & Children - 312/409-0276, women & children only: Author Mary Daly 6.24 / Alix Dobkin 7.15
@ Museum Of Contemporary Art - 312/280-2660: Kama Sutra 6.23
@ Navy Pier's Skyline Stage - 312/902-1500 ( TM ) : The String Cheese Incident 6.21 & 22 / Gay Pride 2000 Concert w/Chicago Gay Men's Chorus, Unison and Windy City Gay Chorus ( Patrick Sinozich and Welborne Young will conduct over 200 voices ) 6.24.
@ New World Music Center -708/614-1616: Britney Spears 7.7 / Roger Waters 7.8 / B-52s, Go-Gos, Psychedelic Furs 7.11 / Green Day, Dilate Peoples, Long Beach Dub Allstars, NOFX, Millencolin, Deviates, and others 7.12 / Wang Chung, Flock Of Seagulls, Missing Persons, Gene Loves Jezebel 7.23 / Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stone Temple Pilots and Fishbone 8.2 / LFO, B*Witched and others 8.3 / Duran Duran 8.18 / Santana 8.19
@ No Exit - 773/743-3355, 6870 N. Glenwood: New Music Sundays hosted by Laurie Lee Moses / Steve Boyer 6.18 / Ember Swift 7.15
@ The Note - 773/489-0011: Dan Savage 6.15
@ Old Town School of Folk Music - 773/278-6000: 3rd Annual Chicago Folk & Roots Festival (
@ Welles Park ) - w/Patti Smith, Richard Thompson and others 6.15 & 16 / Pine Valley Cosmonauts 6.16 / The Joshua Redman Quartet 6.17 / Juneteenth Celebration 6.18
@ Oriental Theater/Ford Center - 312/559-1212 ( TM ) : Nina Simone 6.18
@ Park West - 773/929-5959: Jimmie Dale Gilmore and John Wesley Harding 6.16 / Smog 6.20 / Kathy Griffin 6.23 / Roger McGuinn and Chris Mills 6.29 / Cherry Poppin' Daddies and The Four Charms 7.8 / Zap Mama 7.14
@ Ravinia - 847/266-5100: John Hiatt and Susan Tedeschi 6.14 / Rosemary Clooney and Marian McPartland 6.15 / Cassandra Wilson 6.16 / Tito Puente's Latin Jazz Ensemble 6.17 / Oscar Peterson Trio 6.18 / Indigo Girls 6.20 / BoDeans 6.27 / Taj Mahal and Buddy Guy 7.3 / Isaac Hayes and Liquid Soul 7.5 / Nanci Griffith and The Blue Moon Orchestra 7.12
@ Riviera Theater - 773/275-6800: Deftones 7.1
@ Route 66 Raceway - Eiffel 65 6.17
@ Schuba's - 773/525-2508: Of Montreal 6.15 / Continental Drifters 6.16 / Malcolm Holcombe 6.18 / Chris Whitley and Corey Harris 6.20 / Hoot Night: Punk vs. Funk 6.21 / Elizabeth Elmore 6.22 / Red Elephant ( 5-7 p.m. ) 6.23 / Marah 10 p.m. ) 6.23 / Ida 7.2 / Lowen & Navarro 7.3 / Mojo Nixon 7.4 / The Slugs 7.5 / Departure Lounge 7.6 / Paddy Casey 7.7
@ Soldier Field - 312/559-1212 ( TM ) : Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals 6.29
@ Starbucks - Neal With An "A" ( Andersonville ) 6.15 / Nick Markos ( Clark & Deming ) 6.15 / Diane Izzo ( Lincoln & Wilson ) 6.15 / Jonny Polonsky ( North & Sheffield ) 6.15 / Scott Stenten ( Oak & Rush ) 6.15 / Nicholas Tremulis ( Piper's Alley ) 6.15 / Carlos Ortega and Joe Cassidy ( Roscoe Village ) 6.15
@ Stargaze - 773/561-7363: Valerie James 7.8 / Suzette 8.4
@ Subterranean - 773/278-6600: Karma Sutra 7.1
@ United Center - 312/559-1212 ( TM ) : Ricky Martin 7.1 / Dixie Chicks 7.13 / Sting and Tracy Chapman 7.21 / Christina Aguilera and Destiny's Child 8.19