Eddie Rayner and Enzso II, October 1998

by Chris Bourke

When New Zealand’s two biggest bands got together in 1996, it was a celebration that took the music scene by surprise. Enzso, the album of Split Enz songs arranged by Eddie Rayner and performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, with members of the original band and other special guests, captivated the public on both sides of the Tasman.

Over 45,000 New Zealanders bought the album (that’s three times platinum) and just about as many attended the Enzso concerts. In Australia, the figure was 200,000: Enzso was the fifth biggest-selling album of all albums released there that year.

“I wasn’t surprised that it was a success, but I was shocked by the level of that success,” says Rayner, with typical candour. “One of the facts of life is profile: if you’ve got famous people on board, then they will attract attention. With the calibre of singers on Enzso, the odds were high of it succeeding.

For Enzso II, released this month by Sony Music, Rayner’s orchestrations are once again brought to life by conductor Peter Scholes. “We talked a lot about what we wanted to achieve,” says Rayner. “For me, the aims were simple: to air another batch of deserving Enz songs. I was smitten by the whole orchestra thing, by the feel of playing inside that sound: that warm, luch, incredibly wide dynamic. It was a new area for me, and that first album initiated that curiosity for me. That intensified once I went on the road with the NZSO.”

Rayner is the first to admit that with Enzso he was “a novice”. This time, with one album of rich orchestrations successfully completed, he was a lot more confident. “I’d learnt a lot, particularly from Dave Woodcock, who transcribed my arrangements. I learnt things like how to beef up the bottom end, that the timpani aren’t actually a drums at all. I thought they were a drum kit! But they’re more like a percussion punctuation machine.

“I’m still wet behind the ears when it comes to most of the instruments. But I’ve leant about their ranges, and combinations of instruments that work well together. I’m a bit more sussed. I particularly love the woodwinds, they can be very quirky. I guess that comes from the whole Split Enz thing. They’re very flexible. I’m still not sure about the brass, how fast you can push them to play before they decide to walk out!”

Rayner sees another step forward in the way they recorded Enzso II. The sessions used techniques of recording rock music, to gell the singers and the orchestra together more. “I wanted to make the orchestra more of a groove band than a note band, to get the feel of the songs. They were written as humble pop songs, that’s what Neil Finn said right from the start. I think part of the humble song is the feel that’s created.”

So all 90 members of the orchestra donned headphones to tighten up the rhythms. “Orchestras are so big, compared to rock bands, they come and go. I knew there would still be a little bit of breathing about the beat, a lag between sections. This way, the singers could fit in better with the ‘rounded’ beat of the orchestra.”

The singers who appear on Enzso II are Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Margaret Urlich, Jon Stevens and, returning from Enzso, Dave Dobbyn. The Finn brothers don’t appear on the album, as both are ensconsed in the solo careers. Neil Finn is currently touring Europe promoting Try Whistling This, and Tim is finishing off his next solo album.

“They’ve got their own careers, this is what I’m doing. I’m still challenged by what I can do with these songs and the orchestra.

“I want the character of the songs to come through, and also the character of Split Enz. I love working in this idiom. In a way it’s daunting that the first projects I’m doing in the orchestral idiom are so high profile. It’s a weird situation to be in.”

What was it like working with Dame Kiri? “One of the secrets about dealing with people is to treat everyone the same,” says Rayner. “Then your attitude makes people feel comfortable right from the start. We recorded ‘Bon Voyage’ in London. She said, Yes, I’ll do it, but I want to start at 10 o’clock in the morning and finish by 12. I thought, no one does a vocal in two hours. But she was in and out in an hour-and-a-half. Talk about professional. She came in, had it completely sussed, put down a few versions and went home. A very easy experience for both of us.”

With Enzso II completed, Rayner is back at work as an independent producer based in Auckland. Recent projects have included albums with the Exponents, Dead Flowers and, just completed in Australia, an album of classic New Zealand songs performed by Margaret Urlich. Rock music is still in the blood of the eclectic keyboard whiz. “I still love performing live,” says Rayner. “I love grungy guitar, drum kits, the volume thing. But I now love the orchestra. The only thing I haven’t done so far is a jazz album.

“Maybe,” he says with a laugh, “I should recorded Crowded House songs, done in bebop style!”

Enzso II ­ track by track, by Eddie Rayner

‘Pioneer’/‘Six Months in a Leaky Boat’ ­ instrumental
“When we recorded the first Enzso, we ran out of recording time, so ‘Pioneer’ and ‘Six Months’ were left off. They’re at the beginning of this album almost as an overture. They’re so well known ­ or rather, ‘Six Months’ is ­ that I thought they’d be instantly recognisable. ‘Six Months’ is classic Split Enz in a lot of ways. Very Tim Finn. The middle bit, the whistling, and the end bit are very strong melodically. It has a jaunty feel, almost Latin American, and slightly maritime.”

‘History Never Repeats’ ­ with Jon Stevens
“ ‘History’ is really over-the-top, the anthem treatment, with a very rock chorus. I had to go that way to commit to what the song is about. Jon’s a great singer, totally professional. We recorded it in LA, where he’s working. He already had it worked out, he’d done a version at home. He sings it pretty much as Neil did, in fact he sounds very much like Neil. He gets very virtuosic near the end, shows off his range by going very high.”

‘One Step Ahead’ ­ with Boh Runga
“We did this with the lovely Boh, Bic’s older sister, who has a band called Stellar. They’ve just been signed by Sony, and will have their album produced by Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins. The familiar descending bassline of ‘One Step Ahead’ is now played by cellos and bassoons. The chord sequence is vaguely reminicent of Spain. The arrangement is quite strange, it almost stands up on its own, with the vocal melody sitting on top. It’s become a different beast than the original.”

‘The Devil You Know’ ­ with Dave Dobbyn
“ ‘Devil’ is one of Neil’s songs, from one of the last Enz albums, Conflicting Emotions. It’s not so well known among the general public, but to this day it’s a favourite of Enz fans, it’s always voted near the top in the fanclub’s annual poll. We recorded this the day Sinatra died, and I think it shows. This is Dave doing his tribute to Sinatra.”

‘Shark Attack’ ­ with Sam Hunt
“I wanted to get completely away from the original, as we did on the first Enzso with ‘I See Red’. They’re both such punchy, familiar anthems. Try writing a song like that: it’s very hard. So I asked Sam to do it. He loved it, in fact he’s now including it in his own stage show. Treating it like a poem brings out all the sharky puns in the lyrics. The influence of Phil Judd was still showing through.”

‘I Walk Away’ ­ with Jon Stevens
“I always thought this was one of the great lost Split Enz songs, though Neil recorded it again with Crowded House. It was a song from See Ya Round. We did it to a drum machine then and it never felt right. Again, Jon did a wonderful job.”

‘Semi-Detached’ ­ with Margaret Urlich
“This is the rarest Split Enz song: it only appeared as the B-side of ‘Things’ in 1979, so it’s become almost mythical. It was a dark, dank period for the band, when we were in London, not exactly living in poverty but things were difficult. Tim was living away from the band in Palmers Green when he wrote it. It’s pretty depressing but a good song nevertheless. And Margaret does a great job of it.”

‘Maybe’ ­ with Dave Dobbyn
“This was a transition song for the Enz, written by Tim between the quirky, arty material of the Judd era and the pop songs from Neil. It was our first attempt at a pop song, though Tim couldn’t resist throwing in a 3/8 bar to confuse people. Dave treats it in the same humorous way he did with ‘My Mistake’ on the first Enzso. I got Noel Crombie to add record some spoons on it, which really brought the rhythms to life.”

‘Bon Voyage’ ­ with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
“Tim wrote ‘Bon Voyage’ for Conflicting Emotions in ’83. Kiri was amazing to work with. We recorded it in London. She said, yes I’ll do it, but I want to start at 10 o’clock in the morning and finish by 12. I thought, no one does a vocal in two hours. But she was in and out in an hour-and-a-half. Talk about professional. She came in, had it completely sussed, put down a few versions and went home. A very easy experience for both of us.”

‘Frenzy’ ­ instrumental
“Why ‘Frenzy’? It’s quite a nutty little track, always was. It’s indicative of the pottiness of the band. A real challenge. It was written by the whole band and was very punchy on stage. We had quite a few instrumentals. When we first wrote this, it had lyrics, sung by Noel.”

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