by Amanda Mills

Forenzics: Time For A Change

by Amanda Mills

Forenzics: Time For A Change

Split Enz’ international heyday came in the late 1970s/early ’80s, but the band’s origins as Split Ends date back to Tim Finn’s early university days – which means that the end of 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Enz, as it were. Cue the February release of an album from Forenzics titled ‘Shades and Echoes’ – 10 new songs inspired from lesser-known Split Enz works, worked up by Finn and Enz’ keyboardist Eddie Rayner – who Amanda Mills talked with.

Excavating your own older musical works for new approaches and old references is not a new phenomenon. However, a different tactic is to take a small piece of an already realised song and fashion something completely new from it, while still retaining a sonic link to the past. This is what Forenzics (the project of NZ music legends Tim Finn and Eddie Rayner) have done on their album ‘Shades and Echoes’: forensically mining their early Split Enz recordings for those melodic motifs, chord sequences, riffs, lyrics and passages to create completely new works from.

When the video for the first Forenzics’ song, Walking, appeared in 2020, it was clear the project was more than a walk down the Split Enz memory lane. Walking spins a new twist on Walking Down a Road, the opening song from the debut 1975 Split Enz album ‘Mental Notes,’ taking a bridging piece from the original track and creating completely new work, while referencing the original.

The origin story is well-documented: the re-creation idea was originally suggested 46 years ago (in 1976) when Split Enz were recording their ‘Second Thoughts’ album in London with producer Phil Manzanera (from Roxy Music). Ambient musician (and former Roxy Music member) Brian Eno visited the studio as the band were recording Walking Down a Road. He heard an instrumental passage, and told the band he liked it and to develop it further.

After pondering this for a (long) while, Finn approached Rayner in 2018 about re-working the material, and they went through early recordings to find pieces to develop.

“We were all contributing musical bits and pieces for each song, and they were embraced as part of the arrangement,” Rayner explains. “So many of those songs, like Stranger Than Fiction, Under The Wheel, Time For a Change, all the longer ones… had pieces in them that sort of came and went… to take a little snippet of one bar of something, and then repeat it over and over and join it up with a whole bunch of other stuff and somehow make it work, it’s a particular skill in itself.”

Apart from Walking Down a Road, Rayner calls the process of choosing the parts ad hoc.

“I played the first one, and it was Walking Down a Road, and I went to the next song.”

Lyrically, Finn’s words don’t reflect the original songs, but have contemporary themes and reflect his own experiences, Rayner thinks.

“Tim talks about stuff in his lyrics that’s affecting his life at the moment. A song like Empty Nest, it’s about the dilemma, the feelings that parents find when their kids leave home. But, there’s songs like Shut The Door… [the line] ‘you’re outside the times’ was directly from a song called For You, which was one of the first [Split Enz] singles before I even joined the band.”

There are further links back to the Enz. Percussionist/drummer Noel Crombie plays drums on three tracks (and designed the band logo on the album cover), while Phil Manzanera contributes guitar on five tracks.

While Crombie is still local and was available, Manzanera is based in the UK, but proved very much keen on being part of the album, which was actually recorded before he and Finn worked on their own 2021-released collaborative album, ‘Caught by the Heart.’

“Tim thought it was an obvious thing to do to ring up Phil Manzanera,” Rayner recalls. “Phil was into it at a hundred miles an hour! And within what seemed like hours I was being bombarded with guitar parts for songs… he makes a fantastic contribution.”

Along with Tim Finn’s children, Harper and Elliot, on backing vocals, a vital contributor is Australian singer, musician and songwriter Megan Washington, who provides beautiful harmonies. Washington had worked and toured with Finn previously on his 2011 album ‘The View Is Worth The Climb’, and both were keen to include her on the album according to Rayner.

“She has a beautiful timbre, and is a great singer in her own right.”

‘Shades and Echoes’ is the combination of a couple of projects Finn and Rayner had been working on, and not simply about re-creating new from the old. Rayner was working with his own group, Double Life, with friends and peers Mark Dennison (brass and woodwind), Pat Kuhtze (drums), and Adrian Stuckey (guitar and bass).

“I wanted people who were easy to work with and kind of excitable!” he laughs. “I said, ‘Hey… we’re going to be a jamming band and just follow me’. And we just started playing, I think we did three two-hour little experimental sessions in my studio.”

Those six hours of jamming created 18 different instrumental pieces that Rayner shaped into rhythm tracks, alongside already completed Forenzics’ songs. Finn provided further lyrics and vocal tracks, and before they knew it there were over 30 songs to select from.

Rayner says he’s keen to use some of the remaining Double Life tracks.

“I think now that the record’s out, and they’re getting some credit for their work… they’re going to be very excited about doing some more. I certainly am.”

With this album firmly rooted in the early work of Split Enz, I wonder if there were any other band members involved apart from Noel Crombie? Rayner says not, but explains that he did let other band members know what he and Finn were doing.

“I did tell everybody early on… and I didn’t get any particular response. Mike Chunn, Geoff Chunn, they were very happy to hear that I was doing it. And curious – I don’t know what any of them think of it now.”

And what of Phil Judd, the estranged co-writer of many of those original song pieces used on ‘Shades and Echoes’?

“Tim was very concerned that Phil Judd wouldn’t like them to be used in our version… Phil’s been quite responsive, he’s allowed us to go ahead and use these bits and pieces that he’s written in the past – I think things are healing in that regard.”

‘Shades and Echoes’ was mostly recorded and assembled remotely, with Finn and Rayner recording at home and sending files to each other online. Working this way allowed them to work with musicians both locally, and across the world. 

“I love when you’ve got the energy of a whole bunch of… excitable people, and talented people who are willing to collaborate,” Rayner smiles. “But, I also love sitting by myself with nobody to answer to, trawling through acres of samples or presets in a new piece of software, and then making something out of nothing. I love making things out of nothing.”

‘Shades and Echoes’ has a broad sonic palette, which Rayner admits comes from experimenting.

“It takes me a long time to get the palette of sounds that somehow works for me,” he explains. “I have a particular sound, particular style, a set of sounds that I like, that are appealing to me. I guess most of my recordings have a lushness or fullness about them.”

Lush is an appropriate way to describe the album: it has a painterly effect that comes from sonic echoes of the past colouring the new songs. Walking, Shut The Door, and Chances Are may be the most recognisable in terms of original elements, but there is charm, strangeness, and familiarity throughout.

Strange Stars and Europe Speaks are atmospheric, sedate, and slightly foreboding, and Europe Speaks has a trace of Roxy Music about it. Unlikely Friend, while not overtly referring back to original Split Enz songs, conjures up the early incarnation of the band in the swinging, playful rhythm track and vocals.

Live performances of ‘Shades and Echoes’ are currently up in the air.

“It’s hard to know whether we’ll actually do anything. Tim’s already talking about the end of the year, and I’ve put to him that I think if we go and play live it could be something very small: piano, bass, and acoustic guitar, and maybe Megan. The other alternative for me, which I prefer, would be with Double Life, so we’d have all the elements.”

But, Rayner is busy and Forenzics is only one of his projects. He is part of the recently reformed glam-rock group Space Waltz (fun fact – Space Waltz vocalist Alister Riddell turned down an offer to join Split Enz twice), who have their second album coming out soon, nearly 50 years after the debut album. His other band, Another Life (with Andrew McLennan and Pat Kuhtze), also have a completed album in the works. Finn too apparently has an album with Andy White (his ALT band member) coming out later in 2022. That said, Forenzics aren’t done.

“There will definitely be another Forenzics album. There’s all that material lying around that we’ve already finished. I’ve been working on another couple of songs just recently that… could do with a bit of a tart up.”

Rayner talks about Amy from ‘Mental Notes’ inspiring a song called Play Together, Stay Together, which is finished and ready for a potential second release.

‘Shades and Echoes’ has come at a fortuitous time for Split Enz fans, as the band celebrates their 50th anniversary at the end of 2022. If there are anniversary plans Rayner is keeping them close to his chest. The Forenzics project, and revisiting the legacy of Split Enz appeals to him, and he considers himself the band’s conservator.

“I’m the keeper of the tapes, and the keeper of the records… plus the fact that I’m proud of what Split Enz has done,” he grins. “I think it’s quite valid to be able to go back in and examine your old music and fix it up a bit.”