There's a lot to see in Roundhead Studios' Studio A, the recording outfit — in a 1928 art deco building — opened by Neil Finn in 2007.

There's the Steinway Grand piano, the luxurious red velvet curtains and gorgeous wooden window shutters, a multitude of dazzling light shades — including one made from colanders — and, of course, Neil Finn himself.

If the walls could talk, these ones might speak about artists like The Who, Joan Jett, REM and Alice Cooper who've used the facilities; what US rapper Kanye West was like or the time Finn's band Crowded House performed songs live to New Zealand radio.

They might also recall four consecutive Friday nights last August when Finn, expertly aided and abetted by local composer Victoria Kelly, gathered together his sons Liam and Elroy, a group of friends — many of them known and noted recording artists — and musicians from the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra to live-stream the making of Out of Silence, his fourth solo album, via Facebook.


The singles More Than One of You and Second Nature were released on August 11 and 18 respectively. The final recording was completed in a four-hour session on the 25th; Jimmy Barnes and Crowded House bandmate Nick Seymour joined in by Skype.

In his review, TimeOut writer Karl Puschmann described Out of Silence as being "a heavy trip, but goddamn is it a beautiful one. A quietly astonishing album that's worth shouting about" and gave it 4.5 stars.

Finn describes it as an experiment to try to create a record on the spot in full view of the general public via the internet. It meant being well prepared, so he had a bunch of songs created on the piano that seemed to be crying out for some beautiful string arrangements.

"We had a full four-hour session where a whole album was recorded. I think we did three takes maximum of any of the songs with a kind of a giddy atmosphere and now we want to play the damn thing live …"

Now, Auckland Arts Festival (AAF) has given him the opportunity to do just that.

For Neil Finn: Out of Silence, a large-scale outdoor performance, he'll be joined by 40 musicians from the APO and a who's who of our music scene: Liam and Elroy Finn, a choir comprising Sean James Donnelly (SJD), James Milne, EJ Barnes (the daughter of Jimmy), Jimmy Metherell, Julia Deans, Samuel Flynn Scott, Sandy Mill, Tama Waipara, Reb Fountain and Harper Finn, the son of older brother, Tim.

It's what we've come to know as "an event" and while it started partly as a social media experiment, to be witness to the world premiere of the live performance of Out Of Silence you'll need to buy a ticket and be there.

Finn's noted for saying, in 2000, "I'm looking forward to the day when you can wake up and write a song in the morning, record it in the afternoon and have it out there that night." In 2016, Crowded House made a behind-the-scenes webcast at rehearsals for what would be sold-out concerts at the Sydney Opera House.

APO's principal horn player Emma Eden, Neil Finn and composer Victoria Kelly join forces, with a host of others, for the Out of Silence live performances. Photo / Doug Sherring
APO's principal horn player Emma Eden, Neil Finn and composer Victoria Kelly join forces, with a host of others, for the Out of Silence live performances. Photo / Doug Sherring

It's a contemporary way to connect with more people; speak to Finn and you get the impression that making music, for him, is all about connection.

Take his collaboration with NZ composer Victoria Kelly, who's made music for, among so many things, films like The Hobbit, The Lovely Bones and Under the Mountain; been commissioned, performed or recorded by the likes of the NZ Symphony Orchestra, the APO, the NZ String Quartet, NZ Trio and artists like Don McGlashan, Anika Moa, SJD, Shapeshifter and Nathan Haines. The multi-award-winner was even the composer and musical director for the opening ceremony of Rugby World Cup.

"Neil essentially gives me his songs and often has strong ideas about what might be there — you know, melodies and textures — and what he's envisaged," says Kelly. "I'll listen and perhaps hear other things, so I'll go away and start mucking around and putting together demos of what kind of orchestral sounds or string sounds might work from how I hear it and what Neil has asked for.

"Then we'll sit down and listen to it all again and maybe something gets changed or something doesn't work or something else works particularly well and it's just a process of going backwards and forwards and crafting and carving out how other instruments may work with the music Neil has written."

Finn says he appreciates working with Kelly because she challenges him.

"If I were just looking for someone to write down my ideas, then I could go to probably a dozen people but I don't know anyone else who will be respectful of what I ask for but also come with a little glint in their eye and go, 'I've written something else as well!' and always something really unusual, something I wouldn't have expected.


"That's the joy of music and collaboration in general is that you don't want to just have your own ideas. It's an impenetrable wall when it's only you; it's when other people work on something that you get openings and light comes through."

Finn says for Out of Silence, Kelly called in her "A team": musicians from the APO. Principal horn player Emma Eden remembers the email inviting her to join the party.

"Victoria sent perhaps the best email I've ever had going, 'hello, would you like to play with Neil Finn?' and you're like, 'Oh My God!' trying to be casual, not email straight back but go, 'I think I'm free, that will be fine.'

"She did an amazing job of organising us all; luckily it was a whole lot of my colleagues from the APO who got to come in and do the Friday night sessions. Those were great and to hear that the AAF had it booked in… I think it's going to be an amazing opportunity to just get out there and play it live."

Ask Finn, Kelly and Eden why they make music and their answers are all about its power to connect.

"It is who I've always been and what I've always done and I think that there's just a whole world of things to express that there aren't words for, I guess," says Kelly. "I couldn't imagine not doing it; I've had moments where I've had quiet times and kind of tried to take a break and recharge my creative brain but there's always something I have to say in that [music] language.


"The other thing is having the creative relationships with other people. Like Neil says, it opens doors. It opens doors into the human condition; it opens doors into the way that other people think so to be able to exchange musical and creative ideas with people is just the best thing. It's happy, happy work."

Similarly Eden talks about loving the connections with audiences and other musicians, saying the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life is especially valued. She likes heading out for community and schools' performances; working with young people on various musical projects.

"The kids that you see and that you work with; just the shine in their face when they first play a song or their parents are clapping for them because they have this really awesome performance. These kids, I have hope for them because they know what it feels like to have self-esteem, to go out into the world and try new things."

Neil Finn at Roundhead Studios ahead of his Out of Silence concerts. Photo / Steve Dykes, EMI Music
Neil Finn at Roundhead Studios ahead of his Out of Silence concerts. Photo / Steve Dykes, EMI Music

Finn gets the last word.

"I can only speak for myself, but it's a compulsion that has been really the same since I was 16 years old and fixated on being a musician, actually it was probably earlier than that but it was more a fanciful notion before that.

"I joined my brother's band, Split Enz, and I was very lucky — it was pure nepotism at the time — but I can't even… it's a total compulsion and it's more fascinating than it's ever been now; the mystery and alchemy of the way music hits people, the feelings of empathy it creates and the journey that songs take are quite fascinating.


"I mean, some people use the same song to get married to or bury a loved one to, you know, and that's a fascinating thing for me because the feelings that songs engender are not necessarily literal.

"They open up doorways for people to share experience with other people and that's endlessly fascinating and that's what music is for me and I am just delighted to be part of that exchange."

A bit about Neil Finn: Out of Silence: It's a large-scale, outdoor concert, which will include the world premiere live performance of tracks from Finn's new album, Out of Silence, as well as some of some of his greatest hits. They include Crowded House and Split Enz favourites, and tracks from his critically acclaimed solo records. With arrangements by composer Victoria Kelly, Auckland Arts Festival says it's the kind of Festival event that happens once in a generation and remains with people for the rest of their lives.

Neil Finn — Out of Silence, March 9 and 10 at the Music Arena of AAF's Festival Playground in Wynyard Quarter.