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The promo sticker on Crowded House vocalist/guitarist Neil Finn's 1998 debut solo disc, Try Whistling This, praised him as "one of the finest songsmiths of his generation." It was a claim few pop lovers would dare to deny. If you've turned on a radio in the past two decades, chances are great that you've heard Crowded House's earnest and catchy staple, "Don't Dream It's Over."
When the New Zealand-based band announced a reunion and released a comeback record a few years ago, the rock world was abuzz, and the band delivered. This year, the outfit released another solid album, Intriguer, its sixth studio offering, and announced plans for another tour. We spoke with Finn about his decades-long career, his approach to songwriting, and his grocery-store amnesia.
Westword: What has the rebirth and continuance of Crowded House been like for you?
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Neil Finn: It's been engaging and absorbing, and I'm really enjoying it. I guess that's pretty much as much as I could have hoped for from it. I think that this time around we are slightly different in terms of our focus on what's important, and able therefore to enjoy it, particularly the shows at the moment. There's a very strong connection of a community of people who've been coming to see us — or had come to see us in the past and are coming to see us again — and it feels good and soulful and real.
What is the songwriting process like for you?
Well, again, it's a mystery, really, because the days that you can't write, you can't remember how you ever did. But it's just a matter of dreaming away with an instrument in your hand until you get something that makes you feel something, you know? If it makes you feel something, it's the beginning of a song.
When I spoke with you years ago, you mentioned that sometimes when you're in the grocery store with your wife, you'd hear one of your songs and not realize it was you. Does that still happen?
Well, it does, yeah. For some reason, I seem to not have very good radar for my own music. It often sounds really annoying to me [chuckles]. It's familiar, but I haven't quite caught on that it's me.
What's it like to still be recording and touring after all these years?
It's a great blessing to be able to play music now for the good part of thirty years, and I guess I could feel there's every likelihood it will continue until I'm too old to pick up a guitar. It seems like there are enough people to take an interest in whatever I'm up to that I can go and play anywhere, and the records spread out, and they have great, mysterious lives. I'm really appreciative.