Stephen Langdon*

Home Music Music News

Forenzics Embrace the Past to Discover the Future

Having launched the Forenzics project a few years ago, Tim Finn discusses how a wealth of material from Split Enz helped to inform a nostalgic, yet refreshingly unique, new record.

There’s something rather beautiful about inspiration, namely, the fact that it can come from anywhere. It could be a scent, a memory, a sound, or a sight that sparks creative inspiration, or – in the case of Tim Finn and the relatively nascent Forenzics project – it could come from a back catalogue of your own past work.

Ask any artist and they’ll likely agree that there’s often a strange feeling that goes with revisiting your earlier work. With Forenzics, that’s not even close to the case, with the group actively embracing what came before as they discover what comes next.

The product of Split Enz mainstays Tim Finn and Eddie Rayner, Forenzics only began its official life a few years ago, though the seeds of its inspiration had been germinating for decades. Having been recording Split Enz’s Second Thoughts album in London with Phil Manzanera, his Roxy Music bandmate Brian Eno visited the studio, only hear a snippet of “Walking Down a Road”, and urging Split Enz to continue developing one small section of the track.

Many decades later, Finn presented Rayner with the idea, suggesting they create new material over section of their old work – much like an artist painting a new creation over an old masterpiece. Before long, Forenzics was born.

It was early 2020 that the public first received an example of what this project sounds like, with “Walking” (a track inspired by the project’s own inspiration, “Walking Down a Road”) being released into the world. Soon, Forenzics kept on creating something new from something old, with more songs following, and Finn and Rayner being joined by Manzanera, former Split Enz drummer Noel Crombie, and even Megan Washington to create a full-length album.

Dubbed Shades and Echoes, the record is a masterful exercise in breaking new ground by retreading the old, and how inspiration can once again strike when once that well of creativity was thought to have run dry.

In celebration of the record’s release, Finn spoke to Rolling Stone Australia about the formation of Forenzics, the creative process, and what might follow in the future.

Rolling Stone: I have a feeling that not many people would have been expecting you to be releasing an album in 2022 that features Split Enz members and also sees you taking inspiration from old Split Enz gear. But then again, I have a bit of a feeling you might not have been expecting that either.

Tim Finn: Yeah, it did creep up on me. It was in 2018 that we started and we sort of slowly built up tracks over 2019, 2020 using this process of finding pieces of Split Enz tracks, old ones;  Mental Notes, Second Thoughts, Dizrythmia. Finding sections that we loved and then, you know, looping them and sort of writing new songs over them.

It was an idea in the back of my head for decades because of something that Brian Eno had said in the studio when we were making an album over there with Phil Manzanera producing. Because they were mates in Roxy Music and all that, you know, he ends up walking into the studio, and he commented on one little section of “Walking Down a Road”.

That song, we had about 23 sections, and he really liked one of them. And I thought that was interesting, because for us, we were maximalists, you know? So it was coming from a different world, in a way. You speak of one section of our songs, but you could see his minimalism kind of instincts creeping in, I suppose. I asked Phil Manzanera about this recently and he had no memory of it. But I wasn’t in the control room, so I can’t swear to that. But it did stay in my head as a notion. And yeah, off we went.

RS: So you’re saying that it’s been an idea you’ve had in your head for quite some time, but what was the impetus for it to actually sort of take hold? I was reading something that mentioned how Phil had come to you with an old rehearsal tape and it sort of evolved from there. Is that right?

TF: It’s actually not right. There is an old rehearsal tape, which we did just before we recorded Second Thoughts. It’s actually really good quality. The band is playing really well together, all the songs that ended up on that album and a few others, actually. But no, that wasn’t. The relationship wasn’t that. It was. It was just literally something that I thought, “This is the time”.

I don’t really know why these things happen, but maybe you reach a certain age and you actually become quite interested by your past. For a long time, I was just, “Onto the next thing, onto the next thing”, and the last thing I would have done would have been to go back and examine the past and forensically as we kind of did. Maybe it’s just something to do with the age I’m at.

RS: It is also one of those things where, if you’re an artist, you are continuously moving forward, never thinking to look back. But this whole project sort of proves that there is a lot of fodder back in the past, and you’re able to sort of revisit it and sort of say, “Oh, actually, this is something we could probably evolve and work on.” That’s actually something that a lot of artists could learn from as well, couldn’t they?

TF: It’s both looking back and forwards, of course time because we were writing new songs. But yeah, looking back and really allowing yourself to examine your work is something a lot of artists don’t do. It’s very easy to cringe about your early days and your early work, but I think it’s important to actually figure out what it is you like about it, because it’s all too easy to see the flaws. But if you can find the jewels there, it enriches you and inspires you in a different sort of way to what you might be experiencing in your day to day life.

There’s a phrase that Milan Kundera said once. He’s one of my favourite writers, and he was saying that he thinks the true subject matter of all poetry and music is elegiacal nostalgia. So in other words, it’s not just nostalgia, which is like an unappeasable yearning, and it’s like an expression of that, whether it’s an allergy or a poem or a song or whatever. And in our case, it’s a song. It’s an expression of feeling that these artefacts give us.

RS: The whole project was introduced to the world with the release of “Walking” a couple of years ago, which feels almost poetic in the sense that it kicks off the project with that song, but it also kicked off the first Split Enz album back in the day. So if that was part of what inspired the project in a way, was that intentional to release that as the first track, or was it a bit of a happy accident?

TF: I think it’s a happy accident, actually. We were certainly not conscious of that. We didn’t talk about the fact that it was in the sequence. The 47-year-old sort of synergy or congruity didn’t occur to us, actually. It was just it was the magical opening of that because it, you know, the idea was there to sort of build on that one section, and Eddie created this music bed that I then wrote a new tune over and reworked some of the original lyrics.

And it just took on a whole new meaning, whilst all the others were more like new lyrics with occasional phrases that reference songs, like “Chances Are”. Obviously that phrase, “chances are“, is in the song “Spellbound”, and there’s a couple of other examples of that. I think “Shut the Door” was a kind of homage to our very first single, “For You”, in the lyrics. They’re completely different, but it’s clearly a homage.

If you’re a fan, you can have quite a lot of fun with this record. First of all, enjoying it as new music, and then going back and finding these little clues.

RS: That’s something I do want to touch on in just a sec, but you also mentioned Eddie before. When you had the idea for the Forenzics project and came to Eddie and said, “Let’s work on this”, what was his reaction to being involved in something like this?

TF: He was into it, and it came at a good time for him. He was in a lull and just wanted to get into something. Eddie’s the sort of guy who will happily spend eight or 10 hours a day behind the computer kind of working the production side of the arrangements, adding chords, bass lines. He just absolutely loves that, and he’ll do that till he drops, I’m sure.

That’s not me, really. I’d like more to work on writing lyrics and tunes and then sort of singing it a couple of times before handing it over. So the combination between us worked really well, and we both just loved it. I mean, when I sent him the new tune and the new lyrics – the reworked lyrics for “Walking” – I got a lot of capital letters and exclamation marks back, let’s put it that way.

RS: You did mention before how a lot of Split Enz fans would obviously find a lot to pick apart and they could really go deep into it. When I first listened to it, I hadn’t gone over the Split Enz catalogue for a while, so I heard it as a standalone album at first. But then, revisiting the older material, the record took on a different life, and it sort of had this strange, twofold effect. 

TF: I would hope that was the case. It’s a really great result if it does that; if you can sit and listen to it as new music and then kind of return to Split Enz itself in the early days, that’s almost like a perfect result. We couldn’t have planned for that, but a few people have now been saying that, and I couldn’t be happier.

RS: Is there a specific creative process that you would follow for making these songs? Obviously you’re finding these old versions of the songs, working on them, massaging them a bit, and expanding on them. But would that be the same for every song? It’s an entirely different process to what you’ve done before, and therefore I guess it could be a little bit of a daunting experience not knowing what’s going to come out of the project each time you approach it.

TF: It wasn’t daunting, it was actually really energising and exciting. Once we got “Walking” done, I can’t remember what the next one was, but, say, the song “Chances Are”. Phil Judd just played this amazing acoustic guitar intro to that song, and it’s just really trippy and interesting the way he sort of strummed it. You could just listen to it for hours, and we often did around the house. And he’d just be walking around playing that, and it sort of haunted me and it stayed with me. So I actually did a really rough loop of that, and that’s how we started that song.

By the time we’d finished the song, his loop had gone and we’d sort of put other things in there. But the homage is there; the memory is there. So everything was very exciting in that regard. Like with “Shut the Door”, I said to Eddie, “Why don’t we use that intro to give it a whirl, and just see what happens?” And then when he sent me back, because I’d sent him a very rough sketch, what he sent back was just… When that four-on-the-floor beat came around, I just lit up. It was exactly what I would have wanted him to do, but I didn’t know how to ask and I wouldn’t have asked for that. 

So there was a lot of luck, or synchronicity, going between us. All the tracks have a slightly different kind of beginning point, and there were other tracks where he would send me jams that he’d done with his band, and they were instrumental tracks and they started like songs waiting to be sung. So I would write a tune and write some lyrics, and I hadn’t worked that way. A lot of people work that way now. You know, there’s so many songwriters on tracks now, and one of them maybe has done the chords and one’s done the bassline, and one’s done the drums, or whatever. People are very used to writing top lines, melodies, and things over pre-created tracks, but I’ve never actually done that myself.

RS: When everything was really starting to sort of take hold for the Forenzics project, and you know had songs like “Walking” come along at first, was it always the intention to do a full album? Or was it sort of a more of a, “Let’s see how it all goes; just record some music and see if it evolves into an album”, sort of approach?

TF: Yeah, it was a bit more like [the latter] because we started with “Walking” and as far as we knew, that was going to be it. And kind of got so excited that we started doing more tracks. I think fairly soon after that, once we had three or four tracks, we had the feeling this was an album.

RS: Was there a particular sort of sonic focus that you were aiming for with these songs? You were mentioning that the songs are quite unique creations themselves, but the whole record feels very eclectic in its sound. You’ve got poppier songs like “Unlikely Friend” sitting next to a more reflective number like “Strange Stars”, and it sort of feels like it’s showing the entire spectrum of what you’re both bringing to the table. So was there any sort of musical thread that was going through it all? Apart from, obviously, the history of Split Enz.

TF: It was really just what Eddie and I might have dreamed up. He was creating a lot of the soundscapes, but “Strange Stars”, that started with me playing… There’s a piano section of “Under the Wheel”, and it’s a descending kind of A-minor thing that happens. So I just started, I played that and then sang this other song that came over that, and Eddie got that and he started mixing in it. Then Noel came on board and Phil Manzanera played guitars on all the tracks.all the Split Enz ones.

So, by the time the four of us had done our thing, that was the sound. Then Noel was a bit hard to get hold of. He was busy, he was away, he was out of town. But when we could get him, we got him. But Phil just just happened to be in a quiet period. He just did them all in, and it was amazing to have his guitar playing.

RS: One interesting thing about this record is that you’ve got the likes of Phil and Noel, in addition to the likes of Megan Washington, who were all recorded remotely. But that remote recording even continued with Eddie, who lives in the same city as you. Is the idea of working remotely that you find quite appealing? It would almost provide a sense of intimacy in a way, wouldn’t it?

TF: It does. It curiously does. And it’s very egoless, and I find it quite liberating. I find that the most exciting kind of creative development that’s happened to me for four years is this ability to be able to make albums with people. I mean, I made an album with Phil Engineer, I’ve got this Forenzics album, and there’s another one I’ve made with Andy White that’ll be out pretty late in the year.

But it’s just very liberating and I can work at my own speed. So it’s not like I’m being super busy when I talk about these projects, they just happen in their own way. The journey between writing a song and recording it and getting it released used to be so long winded, and this is just very simple. I love it.

RS: Had you been previously collaborating sort of like remotely even before the pandemic? Was that something you’d previously done, or is it much more of a ‘recent times’ evolution?

TF: We started in 2018, and there was another project that I started prior to the pandemic as well. They take the time that they take and there’s no hurry, you know? But at the same time, when I find that the lyrics are flowing really well…. I don’t know, I can just remember the old days where you’d sometimes leave songs lying around for months, sometimes years, sort of half-finished. Whereas now, it’s kind of easier when you’re collaborating with people. It’s easier to get things done, and it pushes me along as well, pulls me along, and off we go.

RS: What do you think the future holds in regards to Forenzics as a project? You know, do you think this is something that you’ll sort of be revisiting again as time goes by? Is it more of a ‘one and done’ sort of thing, or will you just see how it goes?

TF: Well, it’s a good question, because there are other tracks that we got that we could easily finish. Some of them just need mixing. So there’s potential there for Forenzics 2. We’re not sure. We’ll see this one out, and we might do some shows. I’ve been asked about that and I was thinking it might be quite good to do some very stripped back shows, even just me and Eddie, and play the songs in a very simple way with piano and maybe acoustic guitar.

Then we could talk about the tracks, maybe play some of the loops we created and take people into the process a little bit. Then bring them back to Split Enz and play them some of Split Enz songs, maybe, and then show some videos. It could be an interesting semi-theatrical kind of show, I think. So that’s definitely something that we are thinking about.

Forenzics’ Shades and Echoes is out now.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine