Image: One Piece At A Time artwork – supplied.
Author: Marcus Gordon
I first saw The Veils play in 2009, throughout the performance the band’s singer seemed caught between a state of tears, panic and violence. It felt, at least to me, like somebody was finally telling the truth. Finn Andrews is a descendant of a tradition facing extinction, he is one of those rare singers, graced with Lorca’s ‘Duende’: ‘the dark sound, the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art’. Finn, however, would sooner describe himself an impostor than position himself in a tradition like Duende or anything so grandiose, but if you listen to the first two cuts that preview his sixth album, you’ll hear a singer whose voice is nothing short of quicksilver and blood soaked.
‘I’d written all these songs in London and everything was falling apart there and I… I don’t know, they sort of led the way back to New Zealand like they needed to be made here, and have distance from The Veils and everything in London.’
At age sixteen, Finn followed his songs from New Zealand to London where he formed The Veils and quickly garnered a worldwide cult audience. Come January 2018 and these events that birthed Finn’s career are mirrored in auspicious ways. At age thirty-four, Finn made the decision to leave his band and London life behind and return to New Zealand. Led once again by his songs, but this time another kind, a kind that demand another approach as well as another hemisphere.
‘It’s really just the songs, I tried all these songs with The Veils and they didn’t work… I always hated the idea of being a solo artist, everyone wanted me to be one in the beginning when I was sixteen. I was really insistent on having it be a band… I just didn’t want to be alone in it, I really like the dynamic of working with these sorts of people, I wanted it to be a family.’
One Piece At A Time is the first release under Finn’s own namesake. The album was tracked in the height of New Zealand’s summer, in an underground studio with a broken air conditioner, across seven long days. One Piece At A Time realises an old dream of Finn’s, to record an album entirely live and capture the mistakes and magic of musicians playing off each other. Finn describes this process as an antidote to Total Depravity, the last Veils record, which saw the band spend three years dressing their songs in drum machines, pro tools sorcery and Midi instruments.
‘By the end of all that, all I wanted was to just be in a room with some people making a racket, playing off each other.’
‘For me it’s just been about confidence I think… I’ve felt that as I have gotten older and gotten to know my way a little more, that the great stuff always happens in the fuck-ups; it’s good to be capturing that stuff, that frustration, we all know that, but it’s hard a thing to find, it’s harder than doing it bit by bit.’
Keeping with the spirit of rebirth, Finn chose to abandon the guitar and write and record One Piece At A Time behind a piano, an instrument he confesses to having a complicated history with.
‘I came very late in the game to that, I had to really try and up my piano game for this record. It’s a complicated instrument for me, there’s a lot of it in my family, like my dad is a really great piano player and his mother played piano, it’s really got a sort of history, which always feels kind of heavy to take on. They’re [pianos] beautiful, inconvenient things, no one wants them anymore… people can’t give them away, they are from another time now; they don’t quite belong here anymore.’
I’m inclined to make an association between Finn’s view on pianos with his own songs – beautiful, unwanted and from another time. This atmosphere of artefacts carries over to One Piece At A Time’s cover, where a nine-year old Finn is photographed in London wearing a dress, eerily foreshadowing the romance and provocation of someone fated for the vicissitudes of two opposing worlds.
‘I was sort of sent back to London when I was eight to live with dad for a year and it was a really odd time. All my first memories seemed to have occurred in that time, it was a strange period. There was something about the look of me in that, it brought up a lot of conflicting childhood feelings, a sort of lost weird little kid. I guess I felt a sort of connection between me and that boy as I was leaving London to go back to New Zealand – still this sort of strange character, still a bit of a stranger to myself in many ways, still caught between these two parts of the world. I guess it seemed to make sense to put that little guy in front of what my old guy is doing.’
I’ve always viewed Finn Andrews as a survivor, as someone who succeeded to sustain a world class career as a non-commercial artist. When I asked him whether he had any advice for younger artists on how to navigate all of this, his genuine modesty rung clear…
‘I don’t know if I have any advice at all, I’ve never known what the hell I’m doing, I think I came into it feeling completely lost, and completely like an impostor and I still feel that way [laughs]. I don’t think it’s gotten any clearer really, I sort of stopped giving myself such a hard time over the years. I think when I was younger I was pretty paralysed with fear and I think that lessened a little over time, I let myself enjoy aspects of this in a way I didn’t use to.
‘But I feel like maybe you need to go through that stuff anyway, so I don’t know if that would even be advice – to try and enjoy things, because maybe you need to not enjoy things, maybe you need to punish yourself for a bit, so you can get yourself to a place where you feel like you do belong in it. It all feels like a necessary part of it.’
These remarks echo the poet Lorca on navigating the path to duende, that dark sound, that unexplainable and deeply felt force that blesses Finn’s music, ‘Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts and rejects all the sweet geometry we understand’.
See Finn Andrews perform in Australia
- Sydney: Saturday November 10 at the Newsagency.
- Melbourne: Sunday November 11 at the Wesley Anne.
- Melbourne: Monday November 12 at the Wesley Anne.
One Piece At A Time is slated for a March 2019 release.