When Neil Finn first walked into it three years ago, the dusty old Art Deco edifice in his native Auckland, New Zealand was just another nondescript fixer-upper for sale. And while he admits he's no architect, Finn had the sneaking suspicion that buildings can communicate with potential owners, alerting them to their possibilities.
"This place absolutely announced itself as a great building to play music in," he recalls. "It just had a really good feel and lovely big windows looking west, so there was really good light all day. Inside, it was a good space, with good dimensions."
Finn trusted his instinct and bought the place, initially just as equipment storage space for his freshly rejuvenated outfit Crowded House. But the building kept right on talking: "So I took a big, deep breath and said, 'Yeah! I want to build a studio here!'"
The resulting Roundhead Studios is now a bustling nexus for Kiwi musicians. Crowded House recorded its latest Intriguer set there, as well, but only after "dotting all the I's and crossing all the T's — you can't go halfway into building a proper studio. So it was a big job."
But according to Finn, the first artist to break in Roundhead was, believe it or not, Kanye West. "He was in Auckland with some time on his hands, so he ended up spending two weeks there."
Other sessions were booked by Wilco, Sarah Blasko and Finn's all-star 7 Worlds Collide side project (whose Oxfam benefit album The Sun Came Out featured Johnny Marr, KT Tunstall, Finn's wife Sharon, brother Tim, and sons Liam and Elroy). "We're probably losing money with Roundhead, but not a lot," he adds. "But it's now a fully commercial studio, we're ticking away, and that's all I was hoping for."
Roundhead is within walking distance of home, too. "So that's part of our daily existence, going down there," Finn says. And it should come in handy. He and his missus (who also duets with him on Intriguer's forlorn "Isolation") have been jamming at home, on drums and bass respectively, as the Pajama Party, gradually amassing a body of work. In their PJs, of course, right before bedtime.
"It's quite different from anything I normally do — it's got more of a groove to it," Finn says.
And lest people forget Finn's rich legacy, Capitol/EMI is releasing The Very Very Best of Crowded House next month, in a 19-track CD format and 32-cut digital.
There's really only been one problem with Roundhead: Its name. "With my Irish heritage, I was not referring to Cromwell," says the studio head with a sigh. "I was referencing the Roundhead Period of prehistory, when man first made art — all the cave drawings in France and North Africa are from the Roundhead period. But it has worried me slightly, that association."
Given that Finn is now 52, much of Intriguer finds him lyrically grappling with maturity. "Some of my lyrics dawn on me as I'm singing them onstage — you'll get different angles that suddenly reveal themselves," says the man who penned "Don't Dream It's Over," one of the most picture-perfect pop songs ever. "But I've realized that I'm talking about being at a stage in life where you accept certain things and you sense the next generation coming through. And I think it's a fantastic point to get to."