Crowded House is a New Zealand rock group led by New Zealand musician and singer-songwriter Neil Finn. Finn is widely recognised as the primary songwriter and creative direction of the band, having led it through several incarnations, drawing members from New Zealand (himself, Tim Finn and Eddie Rayner), Australia (Paul Hester, Nick Seymour, Peter Jones and Craig Hooper) and the United States (Mark Hart, and Matt Sherrod).
The success of the group's third album Woodface and the general success of Crowded House and Split Enz prompted Queen Elizabeth II in June 1993 to bestow the Order of the British Empire on both Tim and Neil Finn for their contribution to the music of New Zealand.
Originally active between 1984 and 1996, the band's notable hits from this period include "Don't Dream It's Over", "Something So Strong", "Better Be Home Soon", "Now We're Getting Somewhere", "Distant Sun", "Fall at Your Feet" and "Weather with You". In 2007, the group reunited with a new drummer. In this period, the group has released one album, Time on Earth, which reached #1 on Australia's ARIA Albums Chart.
Formation and beginnings (1984?1986)
Main articles: Split Enz and The Mullanes
The group had important connections in the Australian and New Zealand rock scenes. Neil Finn and Paul Hester were former members of the New Zealand rock band Split Enz; Neil is the younger brother of Split Enz founding member Tim Finn. Nick Seymour is the younger brother of singer-songwriter-guitarist Mark Seymour, leader of the now defunct Australian rock group Hunters & Collectors.
Neil Finn and Paul Hester decided to form a new band during the Split Enz farewell tour Enz with a Bang. Nick Seymour approached Finn during the after party for the Melbourne show and asked if he could try out for this new band. The first incarnation of the band, The Mullanes, formed in Melbourne in 1985 and also included guitarist Craig Hooper, formerly of The Reels. They secured a record contract with Capitol Records and moved to Los Angeles, at which time Hooper left the band. At the label's behest, the band changed its name to "Crowded House," which alluded to the cramped quarters the three members shared at an apartment in North Sycamore Street in West Hollywood during the recording of the album. They also invited former Split Enz keyboard player Eddie Rayner to join, and he produced the track "Can't Carry On" for the debut self-titled album. He initially joined them on tour in 1988 on keyboards, but had to leave for family reasons before he could be made a full member. Crowded House was later nicknamed The Crowdies by their Australian fans.
Early albums (1986?1990)
Main articles: Crowded House (album) and Temple of Low Men
The band had an already-established Australasian audience waiting to see what was next for the Split Enz alumni. In 1986, Crowded House participated in festival shows in Australia and New Zealand. They released their eponymous debut album, Crowded House, in June 1986. The group's record label, Capitol Records, did not see any immediate promise for the band, resulting in a low-profile promotion by the label, despite the Split Enz fan base continuing to draw attention to the group. Faced with this difficulty, the band played small venues to seek attention.
Crowded House in San Francisco, April 1987. From L to R: Paul Hester, Neil Finn, Nick Seymour
The album's first single, "Mean to Me" failed to chart in the US, but its moderate success introduced listeners to the group's music, and the song "Don't Dream It's Over" was released as the album's second single in December 1986. It became a massive international hit and remains the group's most commercially successful and most awarded hit.
The video for the single was mostly autobiographical, showing the houses which the band members occupied on their way to the "crowded house" that they rented in Los Angeles during their album's production. "Don't Dream It's Over" reached #2 in the United States, and the video earned the group the MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist in 1987, the first of many Crowded House awards. The song has since been rerecorded by artists such as Paul Young (1991) and Sixpence None the Richer (2003). In 1986, the group was also awarded Best New Group at the inaugural ARIA Music Awards.
In June 1987, the album finally climbed to the top of the Australian charts at #1, taking the place of Whispering Jack by John Farnham. "Something So Strong" was the third single from the album, and it peaked at #7 in the US. "World Where You Live" was issued as the fourth single reaching #65 in the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in the late summer of 1987. The fifth and final single "Now We're Getting Somewhere" achieved moderate chart success internationally.
"Don't Dream It's Over" was later used prominently in the made-for-TV movie "The Stand," based on Stephen King's The Stand. It is also now used in the advertisement for New Zealand Tourism Board in its "100% Pure New Zealand" worldwide promotion.
Crowded House at the Montreux Pop Festival in Switzerland, May 1988
As primary songwriter for the group, Neil was now under pressure to create a second album that matched the success of his band's debut (the band joked that one potential title for the new release was Mediocre Follow-Up). Temple of Low Men was released to great fanfare in 1988 along with the single "Better Be Home Soon," which reached #42 in the US. Other highlights of this album were "Into Temptation" and "Sister Madly", the latter evolving into a fan favourite sing-along when played in concert. Although critics were impressed, the album was not as well received commercially as their debut.
As a contrast to the debut album, the first single "Better Be Home Soon" was an acoustic song which performed moderately on the charts, though the following four singles from the album all failed to chart altogether, and through the low single impact, album sales were not as successful as the debut. The label quickly pulled promotion for the album yet again, and Crowded House performed a short tour of Australia and Canada. Supertramp member and multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart then accompanied the band from January 1989 as a tour performer, taking Eddie Rayner's place.
In early 1989, following a short tour by the group to support their second album, Finn removed Seymour from the lineup. In 2007, he discussed this on Andrew Denton's Enough Rope, commenting that he had fired him because of artistic differences. After a month, Seymour initiated contact and the two agreed to have him return to the group. Following this, the group decided to take a break before re-entering the studio for their third album.
The early nineties (1991?1994)
Main articles: Woodface and Together Alone
After the Temple of Low Men Canadian tour, the group decided to take a break and Neil began writing some songs with his brother Tim Finn for an album they were considering to release under the name Finn. The sessions yielded enough songs for an album and both brothers were happy with the result, but Neil was also faced with the task of writing a third Crowded House album. After recording with Seymour and Hester, the record company rejected most of the songs recorded for this album, Neil asked his brother if they could use some of the Finn songs for the next album. Tim agreed on the proviso that he be made a member, though in some interviews, he indicated that this was meant as a joke. Neil took this literally and the group with Tim as a newly appointed member, returned to the studio.
These recording sessions were combined with songs from the earlier sessions that yielded Woodface. The album was released in July 1991 and featured seven songs written by Tim and Neil Finn. Most of the songs written jointly featured the brothers performing harmonised vocals except the sombre "All I Ask". This song was performed solo by Tim and was later featured on AIDS awareness commercials in Australia. The other tracks were primarily Neil's compositions, with the exception of the exuberant Hester-written song "Italian Plastic", which became a crowd favorite at live concerts. "Chocolate Cake" was released as the first single, and it sealed the fate of the band in America. The song was a humorous comment on American excesses. It was not taken well by critics or the public in the country and failed to achieve a position on the United States' Billboard 200 singles chart. The album's second single, "Fall at Your Feet" proved more successful in the U.S., but it still only reached #75.
The album sold well in the UK and Europe, in contrast to its limited American success. The immense success of this album particularly in the UK prompted the Queen in June 1993 to bestow the OBE upon Tim and Neil for their contribution to the music of New Zealand. In this same era, Princess Diana, known for her love of music, reported that Crowded House was her favourite band. The band was at the pinnacle of its creative output, and the songs "Weather with You" and "Fall at Your Feet" became signature songs for the band. During the first supporting tour for Woodface, Tim Finn was asked to leave part of the way through the UK leg (which was projected as the final leg but the success of the album dictated more dates be added).Mark Hart was recalled to play keyboards for the remaining dates, after which he was inducted as a permanent member of the band. The final date of this first tour at the Town and Country Club in London was recorded and given a limited release in Australia, while excerpts were released as B-sides for the album's singles in other countries. (In 2007, Jimmy Buffett covered "Weather with You", making it the semi-title track for his album Take the Weather with You.)
For their next album, Together Alone, Crowded House recruited New Zealand based Martin Glover (known as "Youth") to produce. The sessions were recorded at Karekare Beach, New Zealand. The opening song of the album is a jam session by the band that was then named "Karekare" after the beach. The album sold well internationally upon release in October 1993 on the strength of lead single "Distant Sun" and its followup "Private Universe". The song "Locked Out" was the album's first single in the US, receiving a modest amount of exposure on MTV and VH1, partly due to its inclusion on the soundtrack for 1994 US film Reality Bites. The song was bundled with The Knack's only hit "My Sharona" as a promotional jukebox single, as both appeared on the Reality Bites soundtrack.
Saying farewell (1994?1996)
Main articles: Recurring Dream, Farewell to the World, and Finn (album)
The band toured Europe and had begun a series of dates in the United States when drummer Paul Hester left the band, requesting more time with his family. Although they finished the tour with session drummer Peter Jones, Finn decided it was time to bring the group to an end. After the tour, he decided to revive work on the Finn Brothers album Finn with his brother Tim. Following this, Finn set his sights on beginning a solo career. The band officially dissolved in June 1996 in a press conference held by Neil Finn. During this press conference Neil also announced plans to release a Crowded House greatest hits album featuring four songs from each album and three songs intended for the group's cancelled fifth studio album.
Crowded House playing live in Cafe De Kroon, Amsterdam, June 1996. Left: Neil Finn, right: Mark Hart
This career-spanning collection of greatest hits and a few new songs was released in the same month as its announcement. When released, it went straight to #1 on the Australian and UK record charts. By this time, their success in the UK was comparable to their success in Australia with some of the singles making it to a higher chart placing. Early copies of the album came with a second CD of live material that captured a few moments of the band's distinct live presence, with varying locations from England, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. The comedic aspect of the banter between songs and spontaneity is displayed on this offering. Though no longer being credited as a band member, founding member Paul Hester returned to the skins for the Crowded House greatest hits collection to record the album's three new songs. Released as singles, these included the funky "Instinct", the Beatlesque "Not the Girl You Think You Are" and the optimistic anthem "Everything Is Good for You", which featured backing vocals from Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. ? Later that year, the Sydney Children's Hospital required emergency funding and decided to raise the funds through a charity event. Due to the strength of sales of Recurring Dream and the band's philanthropic nature, the group decided to reunite to help in the cause. The group performed a free concert to an audience on the footsteps of the Sydney Opera House on 24 November 1996. Initially the concert was to occur the day before, but was postponed due to weather issues. All the band's members, including Hester, participated. To feature elements of eras of the group's history, the group also called upon Peter Jones and Tim Finn to make guest appearances. Prior to the performance, Crowded House was supported by Custard, Powderfinger and You Am I. The concert is considered one of the biggest live performances in Australian history with varying reports of the crowd being between 120,000 and over 200,000 people. In 1996, this was released on VHS, but wasn't initially released in audio format on cassette or CD. This was rectified in 2007 with both a double CD and a DVD of the concert made available.
Following farewell and before reunion (1996?2006)
Main articles: Afterglow (Crowded House album), Deadstar, 7 Worlds Collide, and Everyone Is Here
Following the initial breakup of Crowded House in 1996, the members embarked upon various different projects in an array of mediums. Neil Finn initiated a successful solo career, releasing two albums and a soundtrack. Having left the group in 1992, Tim Finn resumed his solo career, though he appeared with them sporadically throughout the Woodface tour as a support act. He has released four solo albums since leaving the band. Together, Neil and Tim Finn recorded two albums as the Finn Brothers, Finn in 1995, just prior to Crowded House's initial breakup, and Everyone Is Here in 2004, which proved more successful than the first.
Peter Jones and Nick Seymour joined Australian group Deadstar for their second album. Nick left after the release of their third album to move to Ireland, while Peter played with the band until their end in 1999 and then moved on to become a school teacher. Nick Seymour then worked as a record producer in Dublin. Most notably, he produced Neither Am I, the debut by Irish group Bell X1. He has also worked with Gemma Hayes and Juno Falls. Seymour also became a contributor to The Cake Sale collective, which brought him together with artists and musicians from Bell X1, The Frames, Damien Rice and Snow Patrol. Having played with the group prior to joining Crowded House in late 1992, Mark Hart rejoined Supertramp in the late 1990s. He has since toured as a part of Ringo Starr's All Starr band. In 2001, Hart released a solo album entitled Nada Sonata on the PSB Records label.
Initially after leaving the group in 1994, Paul Hester reunited with his friend Anthony Field who had formed a successful children's entertainment group The Wiggles with former members of rock group The Cockroaches. Field requested Hester to participate in some performances with The Wiggles, and so he was made "Paul the Chef" for a handful of performances. Following Farewell to the World, Hester became a television and radio personality in Australia with his own ABC show Hessie's Shed, and a stint on the short-lived Mick Molloy Show. He also worked as a session drummer and formed his own band Largest Living Things, a name he'd had in reserve since 1985 when Capitol Records refused to allow a band of that name. It was on Hessie's Shed that Finn, Seymour and Hester last shared a stage: on an episode filmed as part of Finn's promotion of Try Whistling This, he and Hester play Not the Girl You Think You Are with the Largest Living Things, before being joined by Seymour to perform Sister Madly. The last song the three ever played together was a version of Paul Kelly's Leaps and Bounds, featuring Kelly on vocals.
In 1999, the group decided to release a collection of (formerly) rare and unreleased recordings, which was entitled Afterglow. It featured the promotional and radio single release "Anyone Can Tell" and live favourite "Recurring Dream" that had previously only been available on the soundtracks of the movies Tequila Sunrise and Rikky And Pete as well as single B-sides. In the same vein of the Recurring Dream album, there was a short history published in the album's sleeve detailing information about the collection of songs and their history. Some limited release versions of the album included a second CD of spoken-word commentary about the songs from Finn. The liner notes in this CD included a confirmation that Crowded House were, at this point, not going to reunite.
In 2001, Neil Finn collaborated with several international acts, such as two members of Radiohead, session bassist Sebastian Steinberg, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder (who previously appeared on "Everything Is Good for You" on Recurring Dream), Lisa Germano and first collaborated with Johnny Marr, previously of The Smiths, with whom Finn later wrote the song "Even a Child". He also invited brother Tim Finn and his son Liam Finn's band Betchadupa to all join in for a New Zealand based live collaboration given the name 7 Worlds Collide, a line from the Together Alone song "Distant Sun". The live concerts sold out and were released as a double CD or DVD in November 2001. The concerts featured several songs from Crowded House, Split Enz, Tim Finn and Neil Finn's respective solo careers, Finn Brothers, Betchadupa and some pieces written specifically for the performances.
Hester and Seymour reunited to play and record for Melbourne group Tarmac Adam in 2003. In late 2003, Hester was called upon by Australian channel Music Max to host their successful Music Max's Sessions series. After a long battle with depression, Hester took his own life on 26 March 2005 at the age of 46, hanging himself from a tree in a park near his home.
In November 2006, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the farewell concert, a double CD album and a double DVD set was released. The DVD featured a newly recorded audio commentary with Finn, Seymour and Hart, all of the previously released special features (with the exception of the t-shirt released with the video in 1996) and a new documentary featuring the concert's participants and promoters.
Main article: Time on Earth
After Hester's death and with the ensuing ten year anniversary of Farewell to the World, Neil Finn, Nick Seymour and Mark Hart had all reconnected with one another as a group for the first time since Farewell to the World in 1996. Through this reconnection, Finn asked Seymour to play bass for his upcoming, third solo album. Seymour agreed and the two joined with producer and drummer Ethan Johns to begin recording Finn's third album.
However, through the recording process, the two finally decided it would be better fit as a Crowded House album than a Neil Finn solo venture and so called upon Hart to return to guitar and piano. In January 2007, the group made the public announcement that they would officially reform and had recalled Mark Hart to return and would begin auditioning drummers. After twenty days of auditions, the group announced that they had decided to have former Beck drummer Matt Sherrod to join as the group's drummer on 23 February 2007. The four band members then recorded four new songs for the album, including the album's lead single "Don't Stop Now", with producer Steve Lillywhite.
On 17 March, the band played a live gig from their rehearsal studio to about fifty fans, and broadcast the concert live online. The two and a half hour set included numerous Crowded House staples, along with a handful of new tracks, including one co-written by Natalie Maines and the members of the Dixie Chicks and Finn, "Silent House." This was followed by a "warm-up" concert at the Thekla, a moored ship in Bristol on 19 March 2007. Crowded House played at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California on 29 April 2007, performing classic songs along with songs from the new album. On 7 July 2007, they performed songs in front of thousands at Live Earth in Sydney, Australia. On 8 July 2007, Neil Finn and Nick Seymour appeared on "Rove Live" and the band (including new drummer Matt Sherrod) performed "Don't Stop Now" to promote the release of their new album.
Prior to the album's release, the lead single "Don't Stop Now" was released in Australia on 16 June 2007 and in the United Kingdom on 25 June 2007. The album release shortly followed with it being released on 30 June 2007 in Australia, 2 July 2007 in the United Kingdom and 10 July 2007 in the United States.
Neil Finn announced on the commentary track of the Farewell to the World DVD in 2006 that a box set of rarities would be released the next year. He specifically mentions that his demo version of "Don't Dream It's Over" will be on it. This was mentioned when he and Seymour were on Enough Rope with Andrew Denton in July 2007. Finn indicated that the release will be postponed to about 2008 or 2009 as the group is likely to re-enter the studio to record a new studio album with the new lineup before the box set is released.
On 8 August 2007 Crowded House performed at the Masonic Hall Grand Lodge of New York; the show was filmed as part of the series Live from the Artists Den.
On 21 June 2008 Crowded House played to an audience of 5000 at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, as part of the Forestry Commission's Forest Tour. A week later, the band performed on the main 'Pyramid' stage at the 2008 Glastonbury Festival. A massive crowd sang along to a string of classic Crowded House hits including an already legendary Weather with You (weather being a Glastonbury obsession) and Neil and the band were one of the big successes at the festival.
On 6 December 2008 Crowded House played the Homebake Festival in Sydney. Prior to this were four "warm up gigs" held in Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney, to relatively small crowds in intimate venues. Finn's younger son, Elroy, played backup guitar at these events, while Don McGlashan played a wide variety of instruments.
On 14 March 2009 Crowded House made a special appearance at the Sound Relief concert in Melbourne, Australia they played 3 of their songs with Liam Finn.
Crowded House began recording their follow-up album to Time On Earth in April 2009, in Finn's own Roundhead Studios. While Time On Earth was somewhat of a hybrid between a Neil Finn solo release and a band album, the follow-up is the first Crowded House record since 1993's Together Alone to feature the entire official lineup throughout. Jim Scott produced, staying as a holdover from The Sun Came Out and Wilco (The Album), both of which he had recently produced at Roundhead Studios. Having observed over their career that Crowded House often ended up playing songs much better on tour than when they were recorded in the studio, the band decided to "road-test" several new songs on tours leading up to the album sessions. Their hope was that the extra familiarity would allow them to better capture their live chemistry in the studio, though it is not known how many of these road-tested songs (if any) were actually recorded.
In August 2009, Neil Finn traveled to Los Angeles to finish the sixth Crowded House album. He recorded final overdubs at Jim Scott's Los Angeles studio before they commenced mixing the album. During this period Finn also made several appearances at LA nightclub Largo, performing on his own, with Jon Brion, and with members of the 7 Worlds Collide collective promoting their charity album The Sun Came Out. Finn stated in numerous interviews that Crowded House intended to release their next album in January or February 2010. He noted that the album will contain an occasional "twist and turn" and that a few of the songs "sound like nothing we've done before."
Better Be Home Soon
The first single from Temple of Low Men (1988).
Don't Stop Now
The first single from Time on Earth (2007), also the first single featuring drums from Matt Sherrod.
Don't Dream It's Over
The group's most internationally successful single, taken from Crowded House (1986).
The first single from Together Alone (1993), and the first featuring guitar from Mark Hart.
Song writing and musical influences
As the central songwriter for the band, Neil Finn's music has always been the driving force for the band's song catalogue. Finn has often cited artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and folk rock artists such as John Denver and Joan Baez. Finn has said that his mother has always been a huge musical influence to him, encouraging him from a young age to listen to a variety of different musical styles, including Irish folk singers and Maori music. Maori influences can be heard particularly in Together Alone and also in the Finn Brothers release Finn.
Finn often writes lyrics in sonnet form with rhymes, similes and metaphors combined with literal descriptions. Some songs he has written have random lines, notably "Pineapple Head" from Together Alone, based on lines murmured by his younger son Elroy when he was sick and delirious with a fever as a young child. The story is often told as though it was Finn's elder son Liam who was sick, but in fact it was Elroy.
Album covers, costumes and set design
Crowded House was a follow-on group from Split Enz, a group who were known for their flair, style and set design. Crowded House adopted this concept in part, especially in the group's earlier days. Noel Crombie, Split Enz's costume and set designer, was not a member of Crowded House, so Nick Seymour, a professional artist and art school graduate, was the obvious choice to fill this role. Seymour designed or co-designed all of the album covers and co-created and designed all interior layouts. He also designed many costumes worn by the group, notably those from the cover of the group's debut album Crowded House.
Seymour also collaborated with Neil Finn and Paul Hester to design the sets for many of the groups early music videos, such as "Don't Dream It's Over" and "Better Be Home Soon". Since reuniting, Seymour has continued to maintain the visual artistic direction, again designing the album cover and designing the cover for its lead single "Don't Stop Now". His design was carried over to the music video.
Though all the album covers were by Seymour, the majority of the single covers were not. Some simply featured photographs of the band, such as "It's Only Natural" which featured a photo of the band lineup of the time with the typeset of "Crowded House" as used on the song's album Woodface. The artwork for "Pineapple Head" was created by Mental As Anything member Chris O'Doherty (commonly known as Reg Mombassa, creator of Mambo Graphics). At times during Crowded House's initial era, Mombassa and Crombie assisted Seymour creating artwork and costumes. Most notably, the set design from Farewell to the World was solely designed by Crombie, while Mombassa and Seymour designed all promotional materials and artwork.
Finn in 1996
Seymour in 1989
Hart in 2007
Sherrod in 2006
Finn in 2007
Don McGlashan at the Kings Arms Tavern in 2007
Former additional musicians
Hester in 1987
Finn in 2007
Eddie Rayner - 1986-1989
Keyboards and co-songwriter
Peter Jones - 1994-1996
Drums, percussion and backing vocals
Jules Bowen - 1993-1996
Keyboards and road crew
"The Mullanes era"