Tim Finn puts family first, songwriting second

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Tim Finn puts family first, songwriting second

Tim Finn
Photo: Stephen Ward
Words by David James Young

When Tim Finn takes to the stage at the Queenscliff Music Festival next month, you know what to expect. ‘Six Months in a Leaky Boat’? Absolutely. ‘I See Red’? It’s in the bag. ‘Fraction Too Much Fiction’? Of course!

For these rare solo appearances, Finn doesn’t hesitate to pull out the songs that have helped to define his legacy over the last 35-plus years. Even after playing these songs hundreds upon hundreds of times, he is steadfast in his response when asked if he has any singles he can’t stand playing.

“I actually don’t,” he says down the line from his home in Auckland. “I know that may seem disingenuous to people, but all of the songs that I play in these festival sets are the ones that have really stood the test of time – the hits, if you will.

“It’s not so much about trying to make that personal connection to who you were when you wrote those songs, it’s about relaying it to the people in front of you who care about them and have it mean something to them. As long as that connection is there, I feel like I’m doing my job – and it’s a great feeling.”

It’s been nearly a decade since the eldest Finn sibling removed himself from the touring regime and began to shift his focus elsewhere. He’s been focusing a lot of his attention on composing music for theatre, which is something he describes as being a “very rewarding” experience.

“It’s quite the challenge as a songwriter, too,” he says. “If you’re over at my place, you’ll hear me from the other room singing as everyone from a poorly old maid to a sea captain and everyone in-between.”

Finn has also been focused on raising his two kids – one of which, Harper, has just launched a music career of his own. Harper Finn recently visited Australia to perform on a promotional run for the first time, and his dad couldn’t be happier to see a new generation of Finns succeeding in the music world. “He’s on the right track,” says Finn.

“He’s a very bright kid and I’m very proud to see him getting out there in the world. All the songs that he’s been working on, I’ve been listening to for a long time – they come rattling from across the other room in the house.

“Growing up, I was always the one in the family who’d always be sitting around at the piano, singing and playing for hours. These days, I go to sit down at the piano for a bit – and then I’ll hear another piano going from the other end of the house. Harper’s driving me nuts the same way I used to drive my parents nuts.”

Just last year saw the release of Lightsleeper, the debut collaboration between Neil and Liam Finn – Tim’s brother and nephew, respectively. Given the extended Finn family always appear to be around music in one way or another, it’s questioned whether Tim and Harper will end up collaborating in the same way Neil and Liam have.

“I’ll never say never on it, but it’s probably too early to see where that would go,” says Finn.

“I mean, Neil didn’t make that album with Liam until Liam was well into his 30s. I think with that sort of father-son dynamic, you’ve really got to let them spread their wings a little bit and really find out the kind of singer-songwriter that they want to be before you approach them in that sense. That said, we jam together a lot and he’s really developing his own personality, which I’m quite impressed by.”

That’s Tim Finn circa 2019 for you: composer, family man and very occasional rock star. In fact, Finn finds himself returning to the stage less and less these days – more often than not, he’s letting actors do the performing for him, or seeing his legacy carried on through his younger brother pulling into the Enz archive when he plays live. It’s for this reason that seeing Finn live is such a rare treat – and certainly not one that any of the attendees of the Queenscliff Music Festival should be taking for granted.

“I basically only do festivals these days,” says Finn. “I’m not touring anymore, I’m not really writing solo songs anymore. All that I have as a connection to that is these shows. They’re great, because you get the chance to perform to this really unique cross-section of people.

Not only are you getting the older crowd that obviously knows who you are, and came to see you play, but you’re also getting a lot of children and a lot of young people – they would have never caught the Enz, or they might know the songs but not the name. There might even be people out there who have no idea who I am – they’re just parked in front of this stage, and they’ve seen four acts before and they’re gonna take a punt on whoever’s up next. That’s me!”

Tim Finn will perform as part of Queenscliff Music Festival (sold out), happening from Friday November 22 until Sunday November 24. Try your luck at the ticket resale via qmf.net.au.

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