After living and working for years in London alongside his band, The Veils, Finn Andrews returned to Auckland last year. Gareth Shute caught up with him between performances at WOMAD to find out about his heartbreak-inflected new album, One Piece At A Time.
The impressive achievements of The Veils have often been overlooked. After all, Finn Andrews was the first success story to come out of the North Shore music scene that would later produce The Checks, The Electric Confectionaires, and Lorde. In fact, they all went to the same high school,Takapuna Grammar, and all recorded early demos with locally-based producer Rikki Morris, but Andrews was the first to take his music overseas, using these recordings to score a deal with Blanco Y Negro in the UK. These demos would be the last time he’d record in New Zealand, up until he started work on his latest album in March 2018.
In the interim, The Veils have racked up an impressive fanbase through France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands – in fact two of their albums reached the Dutch top 40. They also have many fans in the US, their audience there expanding further after the band appeared in the third season of Twin Peaks playing the entirety of their song ‘Axolotl’ in the show’s iconic roadhouse bar.
The track was off their album Total Depravity (2016), which had seen Andrews working with hip hop producer El-P of Run The Jewels fame. With One Piece At A Time, he decided to take a different approach.
“I make everything as an antidote to the last thing. That last Veils record was so meticulously put together over a few years in all these different places, with all these different people. It took me to the edge of my sanity bringing all the elements together. This time, what I felt I needed to do was go into a room with some musicians, put up some microphones, and just record the whole thing live.
“Then it was just a matter of asking ‘did you like this take, yes or no?’ If yes, great, you move on. If not, you do it again. It was great to simplify everything.”
Once Andrews had decided to record in New Zealand, he reached out to Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins) to ask what musicians she recommended and she suggested he use her own band: Cass Basil (bass) and Alex Freer (drums), along with the multi-talented Tom Healy, who ended up producing the entire album (with string arrangements by Victoria Kelly). Andrews says he loved working mostly in Healy’s small studio space at The Lab.
“It was a lot more intimate – we didn’t have headphones or anything. Nothing could be louder than the piano, we didn’t really have any guitars. It let me sing in a totally different way as well.”
Many of the resulting songs see Andrews reflecting on a relationship that ended just before he left London, though he says the album as a whole is no more personal than any of his previous work. “But I guess I’ve written more in the first person and I’m not imagining myself as an axolotl or a bird. [These songs] are very directly from me.”
Another uniquely personal element to this album is the focus on the piano, an instrument Andrews admits he’d previously mostly avoided. His father, Barry Andrews was keyboardist in the British new wave band XTC for their first two albums before co-founding Shriekback alongside Gang of Four’s Dave Allen.
“My dad is obviously a really great piano player,” says Andrews. “I think that’s why guitar was my instrument because he can’t play that. My grandmother also played very well, while I play piano like a singer really. It was nice to spend some time with it, despite all this family baggage.”
What’s it like being a successful musician with a successful musician for a father?
“He’s naturally become an agony aunt to my music industry woes. I just go to Dad and say ‘I’ve fucking had it with this agent’ or whatever. He knows exactly about all that. I sent him this record and I didn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks, then he wrote me this really lovely email with his track-by-track thoughts on it. That always means a lot.
“It must be weird having a kid who has the same job as you. Or even having a kid who writes songs – you hear this whole other side of them. I always get the impression that it feels a bit weird for him.”
The New Zealand tour for One Piece At A Time included a slot at WOMAD, where Andrews found a highly receptive audience – one woman was even inspired to yell “Great harmonies!” repeatedly after one song (“It was the most positive heckling I’ve ever heard”). After six albums and over a decade in the business, he’s happy to look back at where it all began.
“I occasionally play my first single, ‘Lavinia’, when I’m playing on my own. As much as I might not want it to be, it is part of me. For a long time, I hated my first record and wanted to get as far as possible from it. I was literally 14 when I wrote half of those songs, so you can’t help but feel a little nostalgic [but] it’s my adolescent diary that I happened to publish, so obviously it’s also hideously embarrassing.
“It’s an argument for starting a bit later, though learning on your feet is a good thing as well. It is nice that each album becomes a record of how I felt at that time.”
This piece, as well as Finn Andrews’ album One Piece at a Time, was made with support from NZ on Air.
You can get tickets to Finn Andrews’ nationwide tour right here.