The second thing you notice about Liam Finn is his shy, unassuming manner. The first? Well, it’s his beard of course. At just a little over 5 feet 5, and sporting a gnarly, grizzly number that makes him look like he can sprout forth folliclely at will, Finn shares passing resemblance to Gennaro Gattuso, the former Rangers midfielder known for his snarling tenacity. Except, in Finn’s conversation, that’s a quality that’s absolutely lacking.
It’s all quite surprising, because since birth, Finn Junior has been as good as royalty in New Zealand. Son of Neil, nephew of Tim, sometime affiliate of Crowded House and a rolling member of the Seven Worlds Collide collective, one might have half expected to be confronted by an indignant victim of rockstar excess. But no, politeness is his thang: “Are you sure I can’t get you a bottle of water? I’m afraid we don’t have much of a rider, but…”
With the release of his debut album I’ll Be Lightning last year, Liam Finn proved that the family gene pool has yet to be spoilt. It’s as enjoyable as anything his elders have churned out and given that he played every instrument himself, an arguably more accomplished record all round. But did he feel a pressure to step out of his family’s shadow?
“Not really. I know it probably seems that way, and it might seem like the right thing to say, but they’ve been very supportive. Plus I’m very proud of what they’ve all done. I don’t think I should be trying to shun that side of things, but I’m very independent. I’ve been doing my own thing for a long time now, and it’s just good to see the fruits of all the hard work. I was determined to do things my way and I think I could’ve chosen to do things much more easily than I have.”
As if to hammer home his last point, Finn explains how he made his way to Auld Reekie for this particular evening’s gig. “We’ve just come up from Whitley Bay today. We had a few beers, but I wouldn’t recommend it, but it was cheaper for us to get some hotel rooms there and travel to Edinburgh this morning. Gotta keep an eye on these things!”
Given his lineage, one would surely think that his future had been set out in the stars even before Finn first lifted a guitar. But he had other plans. “I really wanted to be a professional basketball player,” he says. His poker-face suggests laughter wouldn’t be a viable option, but he goes on to explain. “I know what you’re thinking… short-arse Kiwi, and I don’t look the part, but I was pretty serious about it for a while. I just love playing basketball and when I had it in my head that I wanted to do it, I was convinced.”
Alas, the NBA never beckoned and with such an obvious musical talent at his disposal, we should be appreciative of his diminutive physical stature. His self-effacing demeanour disappears when he hits the stage. With the exception of long-term musical partner EJ, his is an exhausting solo show: wired, charging from instrument to instrument, bellowing out his back catalogue spliced with vitriolic crashes of hi-hats. I wonder what has happened to the nice young New Zealander I encountered earlier. A humble bow après show, though, and a shy look returns to his face.
“I just love playing live. It’s what it’s all about, being a musician. The recording part can be okay, even fun sometimes. But if you’re a serious musician, if that’s what you class yourself as, then that’s where you should be able to come into your own. It’s liberating. You’re on the stage, in front of all these people who have come to see you sing your songs. What more could you ask for?”
An interview for The Skinny