AOTEAROA - The Magazine of the Air New Zealand Link Network - Issue 1, June 1996, page 15
by Chris Parvin

Neil and Tim appear on the front cover, with the caption: The brothers of reinvention.

Since Neil and Tim Finn first nudged their way into the music world from their Te Awamutu home they've taken their unique harmonies around the globe. They keep coming back to New Zealand to tour, record and get back to their roots but don't expect to find them draped in the flag with a fern behind each ear.

Pavlovas, sand flies, summer at the bach, Rangitoto, ukeleles, camp fires, she'll be right...and the Finns. There's a heady mix of memorabilia and nostalgia in every traveller's armoury of New Zealand reminiscences, and it's a fair bet a few of them may even not know who the Finns are. But wherever they are in the world they'll all know at least a few bars of I Got You, Six Months in a Leaky Boat, I See Red and Four Seasons in One Day.

The Finns have become, almost by accident, a big stitch in the fabric of New Zealand. After 20 years of writing songs together and alone, Neil and Tim have covered just about every aspect of life under the sun. But it's always been a particularly warm sun, a very Kiwi sun which comes through in the angles they choose for the emotions they've always portrayed.

They've never set out to mount a podium featuring all things New Zealand, but a happy childhood doing very Kiwi family things has clearly been anchored in the Finn psyche, showing itself courtesy of their creative muses.

While writers around the world base their lyrics around Americanisms and aging romantic cliches, you'll find Finn songs still featuring the nuance and accent of Te Awamutu and Auckland, and that's an adhesive which has firmly fixed the Finns to a special place in New Zealanders' hearts.

"We can go into any small town in New Zealand and chances ae we'll strike up a conversation with a person in a baker's shop or something and it'll be quite nice, you have an accessibility," says Neil.

Tim reckons there are places where that accessibility goes deeper. "There's levels and levels. In Dublin the people are far more friendly than here, it's not like this is the most friendly place on earth, people here are sometimes quite suspicious and guarded, it's that island mentality."

It keeps them on their toes, having to constantly "reinvent themselves" and refusing to ever take New Zealand for granted.

"There's something good about that and something bad too. No one in New Zealand is overly impressed with us which is quite good in a way, yet when we play a gig and we see their shining eyes and grinning faces, and screaming voices, you realise that we can touch a nerve here at the drop of a hat. Our audience here is younger than anywhere else in the world" says Tim.

That doesn't mean there's any of the teen hysteria which accompanied their Australian single releases in the Split Enz days, but that's an aspect of their job they don't miss. "With Split Enz that was enough really. We wanted to see what it was like because we'd watched the Beatles and all the hysteria in the sixties as kids. It was interesting to experience it but having done so it's really a pain in the arse," says Tim, renowned the music world over for his delicate phrasings.

In fact, there was never that sort of reaction in New Zealand and the brothers seem quite philosophical about it.

NEIL: "Australia was more media driven and there was more of an excitement in the pop market over there. There was a series of bands like Skyhooks and Sherbet and ourselves, but in New Zealand there's not much of an industry really."

They cite another recent band's meteoric rise to Kiwi stardom and subsequent fade as the perfect example of New Zealand radio stations' attitude to home grown talent.

"It always seems to well up and then die away, look at Supergroove who, through their own hard work sold over 50 or 60,000 albums which is the equivalent of 10 million in America or something and nobody plays them on the radio. Now in Australia when a band started generating that sort of heat, probably most radio stations would get on it. There's a different attitude here" says Tim.

"We find that astonishing though, that radio thing. I think it's less than three per cent of local radio is New Zealand music. Pretty frightening isn't it," he adds.

Of course, it's a double-edged sword. That's part of the reason people like the Te Awamutu brothers can walk down New Zealand streets unmolested in a way the Mick Jaggers and David Bowies of the industry never could.

NEIL: "I've got used to having a public profile and so I've kind of got completely accustomed. I just don't think about it anymore, I just go out. You get recognised a bit and say hi and stuff and very, very occasionally it's a pain if you're eating dinner or something but mostly it's just a part of life."

TIM: "I think we're quite elusive in some ways, people don't really quite have a fix on who the Finns are. If you're a great sporting hero here like Jonah Lomu I think you'd probably get mobbed all the time because people know exactly who he is and what he is, but I think because we slip through the cracks and we only get a hit single every six or seven years it keeps an elusive quality there which is really healthy for us. We enjoy the enigma, if there's any enigma or mystery about us that would be a reason to celebrate. I think you get chewed up and spat out as soon as you're digestible to the public...maybe that means we're indigestible."

NEIL: "Yeah, we're responsible for a lot of wind in New Zealand."

Joking aside, but never for very long when you talk to the Finns, they remain one of the most popular touring and recording acts in the Southern Hemisphere. One measure of that is the size of their fan club membership. Some 10,000 people subscribe to the Victoria-based club which ranks as the second highest fan club membership in Australia. The highest one belongs to Elvis, another musician from small town rots who started his performing career with a dubious hairstyle.

Elvis made a great show of promoting his love for the USA at the drop of a hat, and though Neil and Tim have never hidden their birthright, these days they're dubious about wearing New Zealand like a badge.

NEIL: "I guess I'm a proud New Zealander but I'm always put off by the parading of one's nationality like a badge of honour. I just think that sort of thing's responsible for more wars than there should have been and it's also something that's fed upon as some sort of marketing exercise."

TIM: The mass public don't care, all they want is a good song. As a marketing thing it would be a disaster to expect anybody to like your music because you're from New Zealand."

NEIL: "Look I love New Zealand I'm really passionate about the place an if New Zealand wins in the sporting arena I'm jumping up an down like anybody else but I just don't think music should be aligned by country. To be paraded as Kiwi rock is kind of anatherma."

It's a far cry from the peculiar young chaps of Split Enz who left the country for a British tour, all clad in black track suits bearing the Silver Fern, and wearing them with a certain amount of theatrical pride. But there was a spin off in Neil's mind to that apparently out-of-character show of nationalism.

"The great thing about Split Enz in a way was that it actually freed New Zealand men up a little bit I think. To see that there wasn't only one stereotypical New Zealand male."

TIM: "I suppose we were flag-waving a little bit and I sometimes shudder when I look back. But they were quite stylish track suits. In a sense were flag-waving only to the extent that we felt the quest of it all, that no one from here had ever done anything overseas and we carried that a bit on our shoulders and we thought 'we'll do it, we'll take this music to the world and part of that is that we're New Zealanders.' It didn't make a blind bit of difference over there!"

Whatever happened in the past there's no question Tim and Neil Finn have reached that stage where they can justly be dubbed the elder statesmen of the New Zealand music industry. After 20 years in the business they've taken Kiwi music to all four corners of the earth and made sure their songs have permeated the consciousness of numerous cultures.

Think about it next time you're walking through a supermarket and the muzak in the background changes into one of the tunes you grew up with courtesy of two brothers from the Waikato. It seems reassuringly normal their music's still part of the scenery, just like the brothers themselves.

thanks to Linda Grudgings [] for typing this out
(NB: Thanks to fellow listies Steven Meade and Campbell Clark, who both sent her a copy of this magazine)

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