“I think with every record I’ve judged its success just by whether I got to make another one. So says The Veils’ Finn Andrews as he’s about to release ‘Time Stays, We Go’, the fourth and quite possibly best yet in a professional career now just shy of 10 years, that sees him as a well-travelled and seasoned campaigner while still only in his late 20s. Andrews has a work ethic to match any in the business and an unwavering commitment to making passionate and uncompromising music that he can be truly proud of now and in the years to come. Mark Bell met up with the tireless traveller, somewhere in cyberspace, during one of Finn Andrews’ rare moments of actually sitting still…
Despite the fact so many of us spend so much of our precious time slavishly glued to the computer screens that were supposed to make our lives easier, it has to be said that they do come in handy at times. I’m at NZM Towers talking to a laptop which, thanks to the unfathomable brilliance of Skype, has a real-time live image of Finn Andrews of The Veils at home in London. He can hear every word I say, as I say it, across thousands of miles of ocean, and even more amazingly he can see me too.
To actually be able to say he’s “at home” is a state of affairs that has only recently existed for Andrews in the almost a decade since he set off for London, leaving the comfort of his mother’s Devonport, Auckland home as a green but ambitious 18 year old. I get things rolling by asking if the thrill of travelling constantly, gigging and making records offsets the more basic human need to feel like you belong somewhere, to have roots as it were.
“Ah well, that’s a huge question,” he responds. “I mean I’ve never really had any domestic stability since high school really, and we’ve been touring fairly consistently for, I suppose, eight or nine years since then. It’s only in the last couple of years that I bought some kind of cutlery and I was interested to see what it might be like, having not really stayed anywhere for more than a couple of months at a time, and I think it’s just made me all the hungrier to get out there again.”
Finn Andrews comes across as a thoughtful, intelligent and (no surprise) sensitive sort of guy, his slightly plummy English accent – akin to a watered down Prince Charles, betraying no trace of Kiwi origins. It’s clear from that opening exchange that far from being a necessary evil, touring is something he still enjoys, craves even in the times when he’s not doing it.
“I always moved around a lot as a kid as well,” he continues. “I think it really is where I feel most comfortable. And I think because the last few years has been so focused on writing and spending a lot of time on these songs getting them together, I really miss the part that is more chaotic and more instinctual and improvised. Yeah, I can’t wait to get on a stage again and to play these songs in front of people. It’s in no way something I feel I have to do to promote a record, it’s very much what keeps the blood circulating in the band I think, and myself as well.”
The band of which he speaks is the current line-up of long-time bass player (and former Takapuna Grammar classmate) Sophia Burn plus new-ish additions, guitarist Dan Raishbrook and drummer Raife Burchell. They’re all highly original and accomplished musicians and as a band have put together, along with co-producer/engineer Adam Greenspan, an album that is certainly their most cohesive to date.
There’s a sort of effortless grandeur to ‘Time Stays, We Go’ that’s been hinted at in some of their previous records, a sense that Andrews is really hitting his straps as a songwriter, producer and arranger – not that he was anything less than brilliant even as a teenager. As the son of Barry Andrews, keyboard player in one of my favourite bands of the ’80s, XTC, and also Shriekback, it’s likely that Finn Andrews’ career path was locked in before he was on solid food.
I wonder though, doesn’t all this flying here and there and motel rooms and eating out get a bit expensive? More to the point, isn’t it financially daunting taking a full band out on international tours these days?
“Yeah it is expensive and this tour we’re doing in America, it’s a seven-piece band. There’ll be a horn section and it’s a full kind of production and I mean we can’t really afford that, but it felt like what we most wanted to do.
“We did these sessions at Abbey Rd a month or so ago and it was such a great time having these extra people to play along with, and I think we always want to do what’s most interesting, as opposed to financially viable. We tend to make decisions about what we want to do and then try and make the money work around it.”
The Abbey Rd sessions can be heard as bonus tracks on the new album, and I can’t help asking what the experience of playing in such a hallowed room was like for him.
“I wasn’t really prepared for what a time capsule the room would be,” he admits. “And you really do feel… it’s unlike any other studio I’ve been in before. It kind of has this musty smell and everything’s so worn in and the piano keys, all the ivory’s been kind of scratched off and it has this tremendous awareness of time and the people that have passed through it. Yeah it was really touching and I found it far more affecting than I thought it would be as a place to play in.”
Apparently Sting and his lute were in the studio opposite.
“You just had to avert your eyes,” he says, hinting at a wry sense of humour.
After nine years with legendary UK label Rough Trade, their contract expired and rather than renew it or shop around The Veils opted to set up their own label, Pitch Beast Records. Isn’t that just making more work for themselves though?
“Yeah, very much so. I think it’s just wanting to have the path be a clear as we can make it between the things I write and the things we want to play and what people hear – and to have as few people in the way of that as possible.”
First release on the new label was 2011’s almost up-beat seven track EP ‘Troubles of the Brain’, for which Andrews eschewed the more lavish treatment of their albums (up to that point) and recorded in his home studio. It seemed odd to have delivered an EP, which at seven songs is so nearly an album.
“I think because it was the first thing we’d released on our own label and it was very much an experiment, that whole EP. I think I’d always been frustrated to write things and have to wait two years to kind of complete the set or to make it album length and then to record it. I just wanted to put it out. They felt like kind of sketches really and they weren’t completely fully-realised songs perhaps in the way other records had been. I didn’t really see the point of spending any more time on it than was necessary really, it felt like I enjoyed them as they were and we just put them out.”
Winding up I ask Andrews if, given his itinerant lifestyle, he ever wakes up thinking, ‘What the hell country am I in?’
“It’s easier to keep track of at the moment since I’ve been in London for the last little while, he replies. “But I quite like that feeling though. I don’t like knowing where I am particularly, I like a bit of ambiguity in that way.”