Plus, we talk extensively with the New Zealander about his upcoming album 'The Nihilist.'
On May 6, Liam Finn will release his third full-length album, The Nihilist, a weird, twisted, strange, and haunting journey into the subconcious of what we all perceive to be the subconcious of the subconscious of the sub—well, you get the point. Finn's looking to explore the parts of world that we don't understand—so much so that it's difficult to write sentences about exactly what he's trying to accomplish. His debut record I'll Be Lightning dealt with more tangible subjects—love lost, the break-up of a band—and so for this one, Finn felt like he needed to explore something else. The New Zealander now calls New York home, recorded his album here, and speaks candidly about how the city and culture is reflected in his art.
Below, Noisey is happy to premiere the new video for the album's lead single, "Snug as Fuck." The video, like the album, is a whirlwind of weirdness. Finn's character shows up for a strange, foreign holiday called Jubilancy Day, illustrating how some of our holidays, when we think about it, are kind of weird (example: one day a year, a fat man slides down a chimney in the middle of the night, eats cookies, leaves presents, and goes back up the chimney where his magical flying reindeer are). Anyway, in order to try to understand the psyche of this Finn, I called him up (from the other side of the world), and we talked about the album and the video.
Noisey: You have a new record, which is your first in three years. What did that time period teach you about yourself, and what do you want to accomplish with the new album?
Liam Finn: It was about three years because I spent about a year and a half touring the last record after it released. And then we stayed in Brooklyn, set up camp there, and it took me a minute to figure out a place to start writing and recording, as it does in that city. I went into it with hopes of making it more of a band record, instead of making it so performance based. And so the writing process started out that way—it was pretty collaborative, because we worked things up as a band—but immediately once I started tracking it live, I rediscovered the demo problems of not quite having the atmosphere and feeling of some of what I made previously.
I think the reason it ended up taking so long is because I was trying to take these quiet, human parts of performance-based tracks and re-processing them and trying to add back to them, into this different dimension I was trying to create. I probably spent about seven months almost on my own with these songs to some people sounded almost finished, but I was meticulously obsessing over them until they sounded the way they sounded in my head. That was the torturous long process in the end, but it was also really enjoyable in a maddening, romantic way. With my last record, I was quite rushed and had a deadline that was pretty much unmovable. So I didn’t get to enjoy the last stages of making that record, and so this time, I really wanted to take my time and make sure I got it exactly how I wanted. These things become such a big part of your life, you know? I worked harder on this record than I ever worked on anything in my life.
Was that challenging road worth it?
Yeah, definitely. For me, you have to rediscover why you’re making music with every record you make, and so you have to treat it like it’s a first record. That’s something I felt like I lost sight of with my last record, and this one is very much redefining what made me excited in music. It was quite a good experience for me to get better as a producer.
You play 67 instruments on the record. That’s a lot.
[Laughs.] That came out from people always asking me about how many instruments I played during interviews, and I’d always pull a number out of my ass but I realized very quickly people would keep asking me about it, so we counted every single instrument I played on the record, almost because I thought it was funny. But it’s become a leading point on the bio now, I think, ha.
What were you trying to accomplish, and do you feel like you did it?
My first solo record was very much a breakup record for me—my band broke-up, a relationship ended—and that was very obvious on that record. And that record means a lot to me, but you can’t always make break-up records because they’re painful for you and everyone else. [Laughs.] For this one, I wanted to have that revealing and honest nature about it, and I was trying to explore ways to write about it without repeating myself. Distancing myself, almost using it as a guard to write about some stuff I’ve been thinking about in the depths of imagination—fears and fantasies. And by giving it this blanket, it almost came out more honest.
My studio window overlooks Manhattan, and I was working mostly at nighttime. And the city was always almost this pulsating, living, breathing organism and I was imagining that as my subconscious, with these ideas and characters inhabiting the songs living out the stories in Manhattan. It got kind of…weird, especially at nighttime because things get a little stranger then because you’re a little bit lucid. But I got quite fascinated with the whole idea of the subconscious dimension.
How do you see New York reflected in this record?
I’ve always loved and been fascinated by New York. I came here when I was 14 years old with my family, and I think that was when I made the decision that I wanted to live here some day. It took awhile to make the proper move, but I felt so inspired there, it felt like an obvious place to immerse myself in. Like you said, it reveals itself pretty heavily on the record. A place like New York feels incredibly exotic. We’ve grown up watching it in films and in television since we were born, so when you’re walking the day-to-day trek to the studio, you sort of feel like you’re in a movie. It’s quite a surreal way to approach the day and writing songs and making art or anything like that. It keeps the possibilities endless.
I’m a transplant as well, and New York just seems to inject itself into you.
For sure. There’s something really great as well about being relatively anonymous. I feel like I can be myself more in the States than I ever have been in New Zealand, because there’s no preconceptions or history for me anyway. There’s just me and what I’m doing now. I think that’s a really good thing for most people—to get out of their comfort zone of where they’re from.
Talk to me about the video of “Snug as Fuck.” What are you trying to accomplish?
Originally, I was trying to make the video myself because I like the idea of doing everything myself. [Laughs.] But time was running out so I put it out there to a bunch of different directors in the States, New Zealand, and Australia and had about 15 different treatments come back. Some of them were really cool and some were absurd but the one that I went with seemed to have a sense of humor that me and my friends seemed to be into—something that was slightly absurdist. Not silly, but just a bit strange, and hopefully making you feel a little bit uncomfortable and uneasy. But the one we went with is there’s some sort of holiday in a different dimension or reality that you’ve never really witnessed before, and how strange that would be to witness. Like, if you weren’t from earth and you came and saw us worshipping an Easter bunny or a guy in a big red suit, you might think it’s quite strange.
Eric Sundermann is wearing a red shirt. He's on Twitter — @ericsundy