This month celebrated songwriters Andy White and Tim Finn release their new album AT.
Belfast-born, Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Andy and former Split Enz frontman and ex-Crowded House member Tim first collaborated as two-thirds of ALT, on the 1995 album Altitude, a venture which also featured Liam Ó Maonlaí, of Dublin band the Hothouse Flowers (the ‘L’ of the ALT acronym) – and it was a 2019 Irish magazine interview with Liam that sparked the two into reviving a partnership that still had plenty of creative mileage.
Ó Maonlaí had told the magazine how ALT came into existence, with the three musicians from different corners of the world becoming friends and going for a swim at the Forty Foot, a promontory on the Irish Sea near Dun Laoghaire (historically a 'gentlemen-only' bathing pool, now famous as the preferred meeting place of the Bad Sisters from the hit Apple TV+ series). With a mythical turn of phrase, Liam had declared that “the sea holds the memory.” An ALT fan sent the interview to Andy in Melbourne and he forwarded it to Tim in Auckland. Tim used Liam's phrase as the basis for a verse and chorus and wired the results back to Andy, who added a verse of his own. The song – initially leaving room for Liam – was soon finished, paving the way for another. And another. And another.
“It was overwhelming, and it all happened very fast,” says Tim. “Verses and choruses were sent backwards and forwards. We egged each other on as the songs were flowing.” Andy continues: ‘It was very natural and easy, and a real joy to be writing with Tim. We knew after four or five songs that we had the basis of a new album. It was fun and exciting, and we were able to take our time over each song.”
With Liam opting to sit this one out – “He wasn’t into home recording, not so much the technical side, more that it didn’t feel right for him,” says Tim – the pair decided to continue the unfinished business as a duo. The resulting album is a remarkable pooling of resources, dominated by melodic, uplifting story-songs adorned by strummed acoustics, shimmering keyboards and bursts of woodwind, chamber strings and atmospheric, effects-heavy guitars. The strings were arranged by Berlin-based composer Jonathan Dreyfus. Andy’s son Sebastian plays drums alongside Tim. There’s even a barking dog, baaing sheep, and the record ends (as many of Andy's home recordings do) with a bushfire alarm.
The album was mixed by John Leckie, the legendary producer behind The Stone Roses’ era-defining debut and classic new wave LPs by Magazine, XTC and Simple Minds.
Says Andy: “We sent John every one of our ideas. If I had three bass parts I'd send all three, if we had sung six harmony vocals they were there for him to play with. Listen to how much is going on in The Happiness Index! We didn’t think he was going to use everything, but he painted with every colour we sent him.”
Shortly after John Leckie had finished mixing, Andy and Tim reunited face to face in Melbourne, with Andy’s son taking photos for the album sleeve. The two musicians celebrated that night with an unplanned drive through a rainswept city, eventually getting lost. “The new record was playing on the car stereo, and we couldn’t see a thing through the downpour,” recalls Andy. “We were singing along to the opening track and laughing. Nothing had changed in 27-odd years… and we were doing it all again.”With thanks to Adrian Thrills