Liam Finn Song Premiere: 'Burn Up The Road'

photo by Jessica Letkemann
Liam Finn live in Brooklyn, March 2014.

Liam Finn has filled his new album, "The Nihilist," with a cast of characters navigating through deliciously chilly soundscapes that oscillate tantalizingly into the warmth of big semi-processed drumbeats and his fuzzy guitars. But while the New Zealander with the uncanny melodic sense shares that they may be "part of your subconscious," the most obvious character here is his adopted city of New York. That's precisely where the track "Burn Up the Road" coalesced, a song that premieres here.

"Road" had been begun even before his 2008 solo debut, "I'll Be Lightning,"  Finn says. "It took until I was in a pretty weird manic phase of my living here [in NYC] and trying to make this record" for it to come to life. "I found myself living a nocturnal experience, riding my bike in the middle of the night as fast as I could, being quite reckless really. This song was a product of that kind of attitude… I was kind of imagining myself in this post apocalyptic world that always exists in the nighttime."

Despite the sparkling guitars and Liam's semi-sweet vocals, there's a searching vibe lurking within that is in evidence throughout the excellent "The Nihilist," due May 6 in the U.S. on Yep Roc. The "weird, manic phase" he mentions began with his move to Brooklyn "after having quite a big year of touring around [2011's]  "FOMO" and in some ways to not much success and not much excitement… So, I was writing these songs and enjoying myself more but also kind of losing my grip on reality."

"It was quite a strange process, because I ended up having two [international] labels drop me over this record because they didn't like where I was taking it," he says. "They didn't really get it."

"I was paying for this entire record myself," he adds. "So it was quite an intense year of worrying about it as well as not knowing whether we were going to have to pack up and leave because we'd run out of money. But I think in some ways it was obvious that that's what had to happen to make this record and also to re-trust my instincts and not compromise."

Finn's U.S. label, Yep Roc, stood behind his move into this sublime aural space where his sometimes sunny, always harmonious songcraft now moved into a place -- such as on the masterful, eerily-angular-yet-groove-laden "I" and "Arrow" --   where organic sounds and artificial ones commingle like the citizens of the city-after-dark he's fallen in love with.

"I went into it in a very self conscious New Zealand way of not wanting it to be blatantly my new York record," he says. "But ultimately this city is infectious. You get to the point that you don't want to leave, as much as it's stifling sometimes and it's intense.... There are so many stories to tap into and there's a very surreal element to being here that made me realize that that's why I find this the most inspiring city I've ever lived in."

Fittingly, Finn's been sharing "The Nihilist" on his own terms -- in bits and pieces via his third annual month-long Brooklyn residency last month, aided by his band, which includes longtime collaborator Eliza-Jane Barnes on vocals and guitar, brother Elroy Finn on drums, Cecilia Herbert on backing vocals and keys, and temporary bassist Matt Eccles. Finn hopes to expand the idea into a touring residency that will take him and his growing team of fellow musicians to other world cities like London and possibly San Francisco or Barcelona for similar month-long, one-a-week stands of shows. "It seems like a new and interesting way to approach touring and to approach promoting a record," he says.  "Hopefully you build up friends in each city and you can go back each year and see all these friends that you've made, as well as continue on something that you started there that is unique to what you do."

New York fans will have a special chance to see Finn perform the album in it's entirety for the first time at Brooklyn's Union Pool tomorrow (April 18).

And far from Finn being afraid of the dark that helped inspire "The Nihilist," Finn looks at the idea as more of an opening of possibilities. "Nihilism can be a very dark thing but it's also I think it a hopeful thing, or at least an important debate. What is it that we believe? What's your reality?"


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