"It really gets all tangled up," says Tim Finn on the subject of his creative partnership with his brother, former Crowded House frontman Neil Finn. "We're both songwriters, we both write words and music, so it's not an easy collaboration where one does one and one does the other. We get all tangled up in that and the brother thing and it gets pretty heated, but it's good tension, and I think it makes good music."
The latest example of the Finns' good tension is their third full collaboration, Everyone is Here, a Beatles-tinged collection of smiling melancholy and off-kilter Pop perfection. They have notched great successes apart, but the Finns' greatest accomplishments have come when they've combined forces. Elder brother Tim found cultish acclaim when he formed Art Pop eccentrics Split Enz in their native New Zealand in 1972. The band's bizarre costuming and broad musical range (New Wave to Prog Rock to Cabaret Pop) kept them from commercial success for a number of years, but in 1977 fellow founder Phil Judd departed and was replaced by Tim's little brother, Neil. Split Enz ditched the elaborate staging and concentrated on writing spiffy Pop songs, resulting in the band's biggest hit, 1980's "I Got You," from the album True Colours, and a subsequent trio of erratic but ultimately satisfying albums.
In 1985, Tim left Split Enz for a solo career and the band's care fell to Neil. Within a year, Neil dissolved Split Enz and created a streamlined Pop trio with Enz drummer Paul Hester and bassist Nick Seymour, christening the new aggregation Crowded House.
The band's debut album in 1986 took nearly a year to catch on, but it was a worldwide sensation when it did, spawning the Top 10 hits "Don't Dream It's Over" and "Something So Strong."
Crowded House's second album, Temple of Low Men, an album of gorgeous melancholy, was largely overlooked. When the band reconvened for their third album, Tim had become an erstwhile fourth member and collaborated with Neil on what would become one of the band's most beloved works, 1991's Woodface. Tim headed back to his solo career, and Neil kept Crowded House going until dissolving the band in 1996. Before launching his own solo career, Neil had worked with Tim in 1994 on Finn (later re-released as Finn Brothers), a stark and stripped-down album that the pair created in less than a month.
In the intervening years, Tim and Neil have maintained their solo identities and worked on the occasional film project. When they decided to record a follow-up to Finn, they also decided to make it a more thoughtful and less spontaneous process.
"We wanted to give it as much time as it took and write for as long as we wanted to write," says Tim. "We wrote on and off for nearly a year, and that was unprecedented for us. Mostly we'll grab three weeks here and there, and we'll have other projects brewing. This time, this was all we had on, so we wanted to give it its fullest expression."
With both brothers experiencing life-altering events — they lost their beloved mother Mary in 2000, and Tim and his wife celebrated the birth of their baby daughter — the song ideas they brought to each other were among the most intimate and personal they had ever produced together.
"I knew I was particularly interested in pursuing themes about us," says Tim. "I wanted us to sing to each other and of each other and from each other, and it felt like a whole new area suddenly opened out in songs like 'Disembodied Voices' and 'Life Between Us,' which we put right in the heart of the album. It felt like they were love songs, but not between men and women necessarily, and there was something about that that was very satisfying to tap into."
Tim calls Everyone is Here "the hardest album we've made," and not just because of the difficult personal nature of the material. The Finns recorded almost an album's worth of material before scrapping it and starting over.
"It was just a niggling feeling that we could probably do things better or differently," says Tim. "We've done a lot of records now, and it just gets harder in some ways unless you just trust 'first thought, best thought,' which can also work. When it's just the two of us, it makes it even harder somehow."
The Finns ultimately reunited with producer Mitchell Froom (who had done the Woodface album), and worked with drummer Matt Chamberlain, ex-Soul Coughing bassist Sebastian Steinberg (who has previously worked on Neil's solo efforts) and Pop genius Jon Brion, among others. The combination of the band's chemistry (they had already been working together on a project for Brion) and the Finns' incredibly well-crafted material resulted in the astonishing intimacy and beauty of Everyone is Here, which the pair dedicated to their mother, the third such dedication in their works.
"That was certainly a fundamental, underlying feeling and meaning to the record for us," says Tim of the Finns' matriarch. "My wife and I had a baby girl during the writing phase and, on the day she was born, I wrote 'Luckiest Man Alive' that night. I was reacting very directly and viscerally to the experience of fatherhood after so many years of pretty unsettled life and just wandering around. Then there's 'Edible Flowers,' which is a bit more existential. I don't think we could write that at 35. It just came to us. Neil's 46 and I'm 52, and it has a lot of that feeling of mortality."
THE FINN BROTHERS perform Thursday at the 20th Century Theater.