Once their children had left home, Crowded House songwriter Neil Finn and his wife found themselves with too much time on their hands ? and thus Pajama Club was born
When their youngest son Elroy followed his older sibling Liam out of the family home to pursue his own musical career, Neil and Sharon Finn were faced with the conundrum that awaits all parents: how to fill the silence once occupied by the lively din of teenaged kids. Some take up golf, others travel the world; the Finns, meanwhile, repaired to the music room in their Auckland home to make some noises of their own.
With a career stretching back 35 years ? beginning in older brother Tim's eccentric art-pop group Split Enz, then the beloved (and latterly reformed) melodic institution Crowded House ? such behaviour is second nature for Neil Finn, but less so for his wife of 29 years.
"Sharon's sung on a few Crowded House songs in the past, but she's never been in a band before," Finn says. "She's got a very lovely voice; kind of the opposite of Mariah Carey, no melismas whatsoever, just a lovely, unaffected tone. We've had a bit more time on our hands since the boys left home, and we just decided to make a record. It was as simple as that. We called the group Pajama Club, because we were dressed in our pajamas when we started."
In the music room, Sharon picked up the bass guitar, while Neil sat behind the drum kit. Neither had ever played their instrument before. "But we found ourselves locking into these grooves which were incredibly fun to play," says Finn, who claims ESG ? the South Bronx group whose minimal funk proved one of New York post-punk's most enduring contributions ? were a key influence on the initial jams.
"We naturally gravitated towards being 'funky'," he laughs, wincing at the word. "I'm so wary of bogus 'funky' pop musicians. But we'd been listening to a lot of ESG, and they gave us hope. They made funk sound really simple and down-home ? like when punk happened, it encouraged people who weren't accomplished musicians to start bands anyway. The girls of ESG, the Scroggins sisters, they did that for us: they gave us encouragement to be funky, when we really had no right to be."
Finn describes Pajama Club as a "project begun in a spirit of abandon", and found himself bewitched by the fruit of their labours. Aided by their friend, songwriter and producer Sean Donnelly (and, on some tracks, by a visiting Johnny Marr), the couple began building the skeletal instrumentals into songs, a process that proved revelatory for Finn. "I was working back-to-front, writing melodies for Sharon's basslines, exploring the possibilities they offered," he remembers. "It was all new to me, it felt like starting over. When you've been doing something for as long as I've been writing songs, you can feel like you've exhausted your reservoir of ideas. Discovering new methods, new angles on songwriting, was very exciting."
Like their methods, Pajama Club's music is a volte-face from Crowded House, swapping the Beatlesque tunesmithery of hits such as Weather With You and Distant Sun for dub-haunted laments, off-kilter motorik disco, angular post-punk and, yes, the aforementioned eerie funk of ESG. "Some people aren't gonna get it; it's not as 'songy', in a traditional way, as Crowded House," Finn acknowledges, but his familiar melodic knack plays well off the unfamiliar sonic scenery, the glam-pop throb of Daylight and dreamy melancholia of From a Friend to a Friend finding Finn at his finest.
Though at pains for Pajama Club not to be perceived as "a frivolous side-project" ? they've recently taken the group out of the music room and on the road, to prove that point ? for the Finns, filling the silence of their empty nest, and trying something new, is as important as the finished product. "I've learned how to be restless, creatively," Finn says. "And I like what happens when you keep yourself open to new things happening. It keeps the music fresh and alive."
? The album Pajama Club will be released on Lester Records on 19 September.