Silent for 11 years, Crowded House has reunited for a tour and a brand-new album called ''Time on Earth''

By Chris Willman
Updated May 10, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

That 11-year gap in Crowded House’s career as a band? That was just you dreaming it’s over. Earlier this year, the group’s supposedly final 1996 gig was released on CD and DVD as Farewell to the World. Caught up in a nostalgic reverie, I had written a review using the phrase ”damn shame” when there was a near-literal stop-the-presses moment, as the announcement came that the New Zealanders were reuniting. (Surviving members, anyway; drummer Paul Hester, part of the original trio and the man responsible for most of the group’s famous on-stage antics, committed suicide in 2005.)

What prompted the band to reunite? Frontman Neil Finn had been wrapping up his third solo album and brought in former House bassist Nick Seymour to play on it, when some sort of conventional wisdom prevailed and they decided to pick up the original group moniker. Guitarist Mark Hart, who’d been with the group in the ’90s, was brought back on board for the last few songs that were recorded, along with new drummer Matt Sherrod (a veteran of Beck’s crew). The result is Time on Earth (out June 10th), and it’s the first all-new Crowded House album since 1993’s Together Alone. sat down with the band at Coachella to talk about their upcoming tour, their new album, and what to do when water bottles are being throw at your head.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is this whole reunion thing just a clever gambit to sell more copies of the Farewell CD and DVD?
NICK SEYMOUR: No, just a clever gambit to sell our new, upcoming record.
NEIL FINN: That would be a very interesting market strategy, wouldn’t it? To come back together to sell a farewell concert.

But in all seriousness, did going back over that material for release contribute at all to the feeling that, hey, this is something that wouldn’t be bad to do again?
FINN: We were surrounded by it to some degree, yeah. And it made me look very fondly on the music that came out in that period, and how much spirit and energy was in it. And given that we were hanging out together, Nick and I, it started to add up to, ”That was good, wasn’t it?” And enough time has gone by to settle whatever neurotic feelings I had about it. Slight feelings of anxiety about the whole thing seemed to disappear and melt away.

On your solo albums, Neil, there was some continuity with the last couple of Crowded House albums, but it wasn’t as if you could have slapped a Crowded House label on them…

…and yet that’s sort of what happened with this one, since it started out as a solo album of yours. Obviously the fact that you had Nick already playing on it made a big difference. But was there something about the tone or spirit of the material that seemed…
FINN: Yep. It sounds like Crowded House. Everyone’s saying it, and we know it does, too. Especially the songs we recorded just in February with the new lineup, with Matt [Sherrod] on the drums and Mark [Hart, the guitarist] and Nick and I, those sound in a way like the most outgoing songs on the record, and in some ways like the vitality of Crowded House when we were a good pop band. So there’s some continuity there, and a few differences. It’s hard to say really what the overall feeling of the record is. But it sounds like Crowded House to us.

It was nice of you to do a Dixie Chicks cover song in your set [”Silent House,” which appears on both the Chicks’ last album, Taking the Long Way, and Crowded House’s forthcoming one]. Sorry, I had to be the first — and probably last — person to say that tonight.
FINN: Well, having written it, it doesn’t seem wrong.
SEYMOUR: You knew that is a collaboration [between Finn and the Chicks]?

Yeah, yeah.
SEYMOUR: Of course. It’s that dry, ironic writer thing…

Now, Neil, just to be clear — the old, grizzled guy with the beard on stage tonight. That was your son, Liam?
FINN: Yeah, the old, grizzled guy with the beard that did the cartwheels, that’s my son. He sang on the record, and because he’s got time off at the moment, we pulled him in to play some guitar and be the utility guy.

What’s Coachella been like for you?
SEYMOUR: We’ve had two days here, but not at the festival, at the hotel, doing interviews and photo shoots. And the hotel is a f—ing zoo. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. They’re the peripheral kind of glitterati at this hotel. Sort of degenerate paparazzi wannabes. None of them have even come into the festival. They’re all collected around the swimming pool, and they’re kids, and they’ve got boob jobs. It’s appalling. They’re not musical at all. They’re the type of people that are in agencies as spokesmodels. We actually do like to do festivals like a strike force, where you arrive three-quarters of an hour before you go on stage, maintaining focus and play without being too overwhelmed by the pomp and circumstance. Because it’s a big thing to get up in front of those people, if you have any doubts. You’ve got to be bulletproof. Did you see the show? Where were you? Were you aside the stage?

Of course.
SEYMOUR: Cool. You know, that same guy that hit Perry Farrell with a Birkenstock — have you ever seen that sequence? It’s on a [Jane’s Addiction] DVD. And when one of those bottles of water narrowly missed me, I thought, there’s the guy that threw the Birkenstock at Perry Farrell! Same guy!

There was a water bottle frenzy, but maybe it was nothing personal. I saw them being thrown backward in the crowd as well as at the stage.
SEYMOUR: You had to drink a good bit of it but leave enough water in the bottle for it to have weight so it could be thrown. There was one guy who was f—ing incredibly accurate. He picked each member off, except he didn’t hit Mark Hart. But one whizzed past Matt’s head, one hit Neil, one hit me on the rebound — which was incredible; he did a bounce-off and got me.

Do I have it right, that this was Crowded House’s third gig back together?
FINN: If you count the webcast we did in England, we’ve done five. We did one in Bath at Real World studios, one in Bristol on a boat, one in Tempe the other night, one in Pomona the night before last, and this one. So the new incarnation is not long on this planet.

Does it feel different to be doing warm-up club dates in Tempe and then all of a sudden be out here in front of tens of thousands of people?
FINN: They’re pretty different experiences. But we had no expectations of what we would connect, what we would find out there, because it’s been so long. We don’t know what people think or know or remember or whatever. We just decided we were just gonna play the songs we wanted to play, and try and play them as well as we could, and look at each other and f—ing enjoy the hell out of it, you know.

So, how long a haul are you in this for?
FINN: We’re just enjoying being in the moment with it, you know. We’re going to do the whole year. We’re certainly not ruling out the rest of our lives. But we also want to be respectful of each other and make sure we’re all enjoying it.
SEYMOUR: I mean, my dad thinks I’m retired. He thinks I retired at 24 when I finished university, you know. [Laughs]
FINN: He’s still waiting for you to get a real job.
SEYMOUR: He doesn’t think I work.