Henry Oliver sits down with Connan Mockasin and Liam Finn ahead of their collaborative performance, with Lawrence Arabia, at Wondergarden, a new music festival in Auckland this New Year’s Eve.
The Spinoff: Have you been preparing musically or do you just need to be mentally prepared?
Liam Finn: We’ve been preparing via email and text message but we did the show earlier in the year which was sort of our – what would you call it – like a sort of pre-imagining. Because that was very un-party-like it ended quite raucous but it wasn’t like a New Year’s Eve slot, we indulged in kind of mellower songs, at least of mine and James’, that we wouldn’t normally get to play live because they need a slightly different approach.
So at the Crystal Palace did having a captive audience allow you to go soft?
LF: Yeah well when you’ve got a bit more patience, it’s such a powerful thing and it’s something I kinda learned from Connan. I get quite speedy when I’m on stage from adrenaline and from years of seeing Connan’s patience to let moments hang I kind of learned that okay, that’s a lot of drama in that and I need to taper that adrenaline.
So for New Year’s Eve, do you feel a certain pressure to give people a party?
LF: No pressure. You know how you kind of see it as a shape sometimes? So my shape was just thrown out the window because I thought we were playing from eleven till twenty-past-midnight, but we’re playing from twenty-past-eleven till twenty-to-one which has kind of thrown my shape into complete disarray, but it’s a better shape now forming.
Connan Mockasin: Yeah you’ve been thinking about it a lot which is good. Someone has to. Professional, very professional.
LF: That’s why the band I think works quite well because we all think about different things.
Why did you want to do it? Was it just because you like each other and like each other’s songs?
CM: We’re all here which can be rare – and every second year just by chance, I do something at the Te Awanga Hall Kindergarten in the Hawkes Bay which is where I’m from and it just happens to fall that we’re all here and we’ve got a lot of friends from all around the world coming as well for just this year, so just by chance so it seems just all perfect timing really to do this.
LF: And it feels nice that we in New Zealand get to do this thing where the three of us who’ve made music together and hung out a lot over the years get to do something focused together and it feels special.
CM: I really enjoyed the one we did earlier this year at Crystal Palace. That was the first time we did the three of us, that was a really lovely night that one.
Do you choose your own songs or do the other two choose your songs?
CM: Half and half a bit really. You guys will say to me, ‘do you wanna do these ones?’ and I’m like, ‘yup’.
LF: ‘So we’re doing these ones, right Connan?’ It’s quite diplomatic within the band about exactly what angle it’s going but I feel like our vision is relatively in tune with each other. We haven’t had to shift the vision too much but, without it being blatantly making a party set, we’ve definitely shifted our vision to sort of incorporate some of the tunes that we feel like people will enjoy.
CM: We’ve had to get James to pull his arm a bit to play more of his hits. Last time he was a bit reluctant, a reluctant hit player. So that’s definitely a little hint.
And you’re doing a request song?
LF: Yes, a public suggestion, which we’ve got to say on today, which we didn’t know until this morning that it was today.
So I’ve seen on Facebook, have you been key listing on multiple platforms for suggestions?
LF: Well I think the official thing was that it had to be on the Wondergarden Facebook but as much as you can try and over explain these things people still just keep writing it on the thread – anything that we’ve written like, ‘hey we’re doing this idea’ and people just ‘aah this one’ and then you’ve gotta tag your friend and then, how much is too much, how much are you supposed to go ‘hey guys, really great suggestions coming, just make sure you click the original link above and tag a friend you wish to bring along’ which I did write once, but then also all the people who are writing are all American just jumping on this thing of like ‘why don’t you play Dolly Parton’ but they’re in Tennessee, do you wanna come to New Zealand?
So, without spoiling anything, have you seen a selection and gone like… that’s the one?
LF: There’s definitely a shortlist – in our heads of ones that hit a nerve and then some that are like – you know – what’s ironic and what’s not these days? Because while I don’t really like irony that much there’s still a time and a place.
And that’s where these things go right?
LF: Yeah, yeah, and I mean fuck, I enjoy adding to that pile of shit aye, but it’s gotta be good music.
CM: My favourite choice, if you’re talking irony, drunk and high by Coldplay, what’s the real name of that – something a hymn? A ‘Hymn for the Weekend’. ‘I’m feeling drunk and high, so high, so hi-i-igh, da da da da da.’
LF: Because that song’s been under your skin for a long time.
CM: Yeah every taxi when you’re a little bit drunk and high and you hear it come up.
LF: I remember you selling me on the song and saying well Coldplay really do make people feel excited in that way, they’re an uplifting –
CM: They’ve got the formula.
I saw them once, a friend of my wife works for them and it was actually surprisingly enjoyable, it was like ‘bring back stadium rock’
CM: When we were doing the Radiohead support tour, I asked if my brother wanted to come see Radiohead he’s like ‘I saw them in Japan. I thought Coldplay were better’ so he didn’t want to come.
LF: This is probably, in a way, good fodder for us as far as how to control a festival crowd – well not control – but how to inspire because I think that’s what they do, because I had a lot of friends that went along maybe when they were – was it at Vector?
LF: Yeah and came away from it going ‘well that was a show, they put on a show’.
Because on the record they can be quite sappy…
CM: Music for bedwetters…
LF: Where have I heard that?
CM: My dad. He calls Radiohead bedwetters music as well.
So all three of you are predominantly solo artists, but you’ve got bands rather than are in bands. Is there part of just being in a band that you miss?
CM: I have a touring band and it’s been the same one for quite a few years now which I used to chop between but I’ve had the same one for six years? Probably five or six years.
LF: I used to just play with EJ, but that still felt band-like because we felt like equals in the show, she brought so much to it. And then the way my band’s expanded has been through introducing people in the same way that EJ was close to me as a friend and it’s not been like session musicians. I never want to be a solo artist with a session band. But that kind of means that I’ve had a band that’s been quite Fleetwood Mac actually, it’s been couples, but it’s been like a family kind of thing and meant that everyone’s on the edge of their ability which makes me feel like it’s a band. I’m being fulfilled from that and I think Connan feels the same like the guys in his band are pretty irreplaceable now. Everyone pays their role.
But people aren’t like turning up with a song being like ‘let’s try this’?
LF: No. No-one’s going ‘hey, check out I’ve got this song I think we should do in the studio’, no. But your original question is, is this a band of three solo artists, I think that’s what’s made this feel like it’s the right time, because we’ve also been all working really hard for the last seven, since we’ve made the BARB record which was our band band, we went off and just did our own thing since then and this time coming back together it’s beyond the friendship that we have, it’s more like being excited to want to play the song of Connan’s that I haven’t seen him play in ages, even the same with James, like playing ‘Half the Right Size’ off his first record – I’ve always really loved that song, it’ll be on my compilation that I’ll make before I go on stage – so I think that that’s what makes it of exciting for me in this band is to play songs as a fan but sort of out of admiration as well as excitement for making good music together.
CM: It’s funny doing James’ Sparrow tracks, because I did all the bass on that album. That feels weird. I’ve forgotten it all, but it’s familiar. He had specific rules, he said I want you to do Gainsbourg sort of bass on this record, he’s probably gonna be pretty upset by this…
So you play on his record and you have to do what he says, right, but now you don’t?
LF: Yeah I think that there’s enough trust in each other. We found that indulging us as a band rather than indulging a song and how it’s supposed to be, like my vision for how it is in a studio is out the window because I don’t want it to be like “no no no Connan, just play it down strokes, can you use a pick, can you just use a pick, forget these fucking nails.” None of us are very uptight about it, which is good. We’ve all got pretty clear visions of what we like and don’t like but we’re not uptight with each other about stuff, or sensitive.
CM: I’m pretty sensitive.
LF: You just… you hold it back.
The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark. Listen to all the music you love on Spotify Premium, it’s free on all Spark’s Pay Monthly Mobile plans. Sign up and start listening today
Join The Spinoff Members for as little as $1 to help us hire more journalists and carry out more investigations. Or pay $8 a month and get a free Toby Morris-designed tea towel!
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.