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AN OASIS OF CALM: WIND BACK WEDNESDAY FINDS A REBUILT CROWDED HOUSE IN THE DESERT


Crowded House got to the very, very nearest point to the peak of the American charts in this month in 1987, with the huge hit – and now pop standard – from their debut album, the none-more-Neil-Finn ballad, Don’t Dream It’s Over. They did alright afterwards too, including not just a decade-long career but a beautifully managed farewell, a mess-free decade-long “hiatus” and then a return that’s been all kinds of interesting, different and, yes, sometimes messy.


Soon we’ll be hearing a new Crowded House album, Dreamers Are Waiting, via a band that has two original Housers in Neil Finn and Nick Seymour, and a bunch of newish and familiarly old but still kinda new members.

While we wait, Wind Back Wednesday dons the shorts, applies the tanning butter and returns to 2007 when that reformation began in the scorching desert of southern California. They weren’t the only act reforming for that festival (remember them?) but they seemed the most civilised.


And 14 years on are the only one of those reformation acts to still be releasing music together.

As Rhianna might say, goodbye world, hello Coachella-ella-ella-ella.

There are many reasons for a band to reform. Or at least many reasons given for a band to reform: finishing the job; the passion has been rediscovered; for the fans; for posterity; for the music, man. But really, the most common is the cash, even if hardly anyone - with the notable and indeed, noble exception of the Sex Pistols - admits to it.


At this year's Coachella music festival, not far from the nouveau riche playground of Palm Springs in the southern California desert, there were three well remunerated reformations on show over that weekend, and the contrast was striking.


Jim and William Reid, the brothers at the heart of Scotland's Jesus and Mary Chain, could barely look at each other and played with the sullen indifference of a couple of warring siblings made to "play nice" by a threatening mother. No wonder they sounded bored and boring.

Even funnier/more tragic were the members of the festival's headline act, Rage Against The Machine. No one was shocked to hear that each member was staying in separate and deliberately well spaced-apart bungalows at a nearby resort. Few were surprised that on stage the unspoken tension fair crackled and the aggression was heightened.


But there was no avoiding the symbolism in the sign outside the autograph signing tent all weekend which advised that when Rage guitarist Tom Morello appeared he would sign ONLY his solo releases, not RATM material.


I can't help but compare those examples with the two men sitting before me in a semi darkened room of a Palm Springs hotel's beauty spa. No, Neil Finn and Nick Seymour aren't being buffed and pampered before they perform tonight at the first major outing for Crowded House after 10 years apart - for men who turn 50 next year they're in impressive condition.


It's just that this room is the only cool (in a day fast heading towards a 40 plus degree maximum) and quiet (there's a DJ mixing live for preening young and rich Angelenos by the pool) spot. Plus, the room smells right purty.


The two remaining original members of Crowded House not only appear to be comfortable in the same room and on the same stage but, quite bizarrely, maybe even like each other.


Seymour laughs conspiratorially. "It's just a sham," he says “We realised that we are known for getting along really well so we have to pretend to do that."


Finn nods with a solemn expression. "It's really a struggle."


More seriously, the sharply dressed Seymour, shakes his head. "I don't know, I can't imagine those guys [in RATM and JAMC] actually not liking each other. It's possibly that the intensity angle is something they're playing for the media perhaps. How could they not like each other?"


Could this Crowded House reformation - with long time keyboardist/guitarist Mark Hart back and American drummer Matt Sherrod replacing Paul Hester, who died two years ago - have happened if they weren't friends?


"I don't think it would have got close to it," says Finn. "We got close to it because we started really liking each other."


He quickly adds. "Not that we didn't, but we started connecting again as people and as musicians. And the idea [of reforming] was really six months later. Honestly, we didn't talk about it until near the end of the record making process.


"It might have been swimming around a little bit but I didn't want to .. ," he pauses, reconsiders.


"It's quite a big stick even just to bring on the name again and I didn't want to jinx what we were doing together by having it in the mix."

When the pair started working together again on what has become the album Time On Earth, it wasn't intended as a Crowded House record. It was meant to be Neil Finn's next solo album. But soon Seymour, who had been the most reluctant to split the band in the first place, found himself more than a hired hand, and Finn found he was enjoying it.


"We realised we were collaborating in a way, quite intuitively," says Seymour.


Finn comically rolls his eyes and says: "Yes, he started throwing out my ideas pretty quickly," continuing, as Seymour laughs beside him, "There's just something about the way Nick plays bass in my songs that immediately sounded like Crowded House. And that was on its own a lean in that direction but then when we finally did apply ourselves to getting a drummer, subconsciously I suppose I was looking for a certain snap in the way that he would play which would work with the way Nick plays and how I play, and Mark [Hart] plays.


“We thought this was definitely worth slightly delaying the album by going in and doing some late songs so that the band could be fully engaged in the album. Those four songs I think have an outgoing-ness and an energy level to them that I think really made the album, really cast an atmosphere over the album. Combined with possibly a more reflective set of songs from the first period it really made it sound all the more like Crowded House.


"It's the allowing someone else to influence your music that creates character, if they are characterful players. And Nick is certainly a characterful player."

As far as characterful players go, few would match Hester whose on-stage personality as much as his versatile playing and singing, were vital parts of the Crowded House appeal. In retrospect it's not hard to see that Hester's departure from Crowded House played a major part in the end of that band a year later. But it was Hester, in this case his death, which played a major part in bringing the band back together.


"There is a chronology to it in my mind which to some extent did begin in the shadow of Paul's passing," explains Finn, who these days lives in Bath in southern England, a few hours from Seymour's home in Ireland. "Nick came straight over when I called him and said why don't you come over to London, we [Finn and his older brother Tim] are doing the Albert Hall and it felt right that he should be there and that we should be together. We played a few songs at that time and really I suppose kept in touch more than we had been.


The first impression and the second and third for that matter, with the new material is that it sounds pretty much how we would want Crowded House to sound: those melodies; the fluidity; the harmonies. It would have been hard to deny it in the studio.


"It wasn't that we verbalised it in those terms, it just inevitably was," concedes Finn. "I was thinking it but I was kind of nervous about bringing it up. It's like when you are having a relationship - I guess as I haven't been in a dating situation for a long, long time - when you start going out with a girl, short of the odd passionate declaration that comes out immediately, probably people should be naturally wary of declaring their thoughts, lest they wake up in a week's time and go I think I've done the wrong thing."

Taking that dating analogy further, one thing that can kill a relationship early on is someone asking where do we see ourselves in five years. But I'm not in a relationship with either Finn or Seymour, so where do you see yourselves in one year, two years, five years?


"We are enjoying not having to think about it really, to be honest," says Finn. "We are so fully involved in what is going on at the moment it's a blessing. But we want to be recording within a year."


Seymour adds: "We wanted to be recording in December."


"We really feel that there is a lot of stuff that's bubbling away now, excitement building, to do some more recording," Finn continues.


So we are talking at least two albums?


"At least," says Finn. "No one's putting any limits on it. We would want to see it as a restrictive environment either. I'm sure there's room for us to have an open marriage."


Crowded House’s Dreamers Awake is due for release on June 4.