Interview: Tim Finn

Originally published through Tone Deaf


A sudden rush of adrenaline coursing through the body, accompanied by hyperventilation, tunnel vision, heart palpitations, loss of control and an intense feeling of going insane: panic attacks are not an experience anyone should ever have to go through.

They are so traumatic in fact, that many sufferers initially believe they are having a heart attack and dash to the emergency ward, or take days to recover from the event.

As Kiwi music legend – and someone with first-hand knowledge of the matter – Tim Finn succinctly puts it, “they’re no fun.”

“I’ve never suffered from depression, luckily, but I was definitely having really quite bad anxiety attacks for a while when I was in my late twenties/early thirties,” the soft-spoken icon recalls, “…late twenties mainly.”

“I didn’t know what it was. So I thought I was possibly going mad. When you’re inside one you don’t know if you’re ever going to get back out, it’s a very bizarre experience that only people who’ve had them know,” he explains.

Finn’s turbulent late twenties was also around the time that the classic New Zealand six-piece Split Enz, of which he was a founding member, was at its colourful and theatrical height.

As any fan of art rock (or men wearing full make-up) will be able to tell you, that time was over 30 years ago. So as someone who has been dealing with high-pressure situations for a long time now, what is his advice for fellow anxiety sufferers?

“If you give it a name it helps a bit, and then you just breathe… breathe your way through it,” he recommends, “and if you learn to do that it’s okay, because you know it’ll pass.”

“Hopefully you’ll get through the episode without having to resort to medication. But if you need to take a pill for a while, so be it,” he sympathises, “because it’s hard.”

Everyone has their own way of dealing with the challenges of life, and it probably goes without saying that Finn found his redemption in music – others, in turn, have found an outlet through his.

For Australians fans, they’ll have the opportunity to hear Finn’s superb songwriting in the flesh at this month’s Between The Bays festival, where he will play alongside such other mainstays as the Hoodoo Gurus and Troy Cassar-Daley.

Far from your typical alcohol and drug fuelled summer festival mayhem, Finn is looking forward to the family atmosphere of Between The Bays, which he’s heard is “like a big school fete.”

“There’ll be lots of kids there and I always liked an all-ages show. And it’s a lovely part of the country. I’m sure they’ll look after us. Good local produce, good wine, great crowd,” he concludes enthusiastically.

Finn’s dedication to his music is something that has brought him an enviable level of success (he has the knighthood to prove it). As well as Split Enz, his name has appeared in record stores also as a solo artist, and alongside his brother Neil in both Crowded House and as the Finn Brothers.

In his many years experience – from the classic 1991 Crowded House album Woodface to his solo release The View Is Worth the Climb two decades later – Finn has had plenty of time to craft his approach to songwriting.

According to him, the moment you know you’ve got it is when the music you’re writing feels like an empty, oceanic space.

“You’ve got to just kind of feel some little flavour or taste of perfection, and that feeling that you get when you’re on a beach. Just that openness, you sort of step into a space where you feel inspired,” he describes.

But it isn’t always that simple. As anyone who has ever sat down with a guitar and a blank piece of notepaper knows, wanting to write good music isn’t necessarily the same thing as writing good music, and it can be all too tempting to give up, or settle with something second-rate.

Finn – who plays the piano every day, but certainly doesn’t write a song every day – says patience is the key.

“There’s something to be said for stumbling along, not being too cluey too soon,” he muses. “Just wait for those moments of inspiration. It’s always around you but sometimes you block it. So if you can’t write or you don’t feel like writing, don’t!”

“Just go for a walk or go for a swim,” he continues. “Swimming’s good, I like swimming, laps just clears my mind …and maybe something good will come through. Don’t get hung up on it.”

Speaking with Finn, the impression comes across that he genuinely isn’t in it for the fame.

He speaks reverently of music and those who create it, citing artists from golden oldies like the Beatles and Duke Ellington, to modern day talents like Alabama Shakes and Tame Impala.

According to him, good music – good art, in fact – has a rare quality, which gives humanity a chance to transcend. “I think that you can find beauty everywhere,” he explains.

“Some artists have plumbed the depths. Others have lived on the surface; quite mundane, domestic lives, family lives,” Finn says.

“Look at Bach, I think he had 14 children and lived in a church but created some of the most sublime music that human beings have been lucky enough to hear. You can find beauty within, I think, in any situation,” he continues.

“Good art will provide a timeless experience for a human being, that is very time-bound. Just even for a moment, that little hint of perfection. It’s good to be alive.”

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