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Neil Finn and Crowded House return with a new album - and a new drummer.

By Mikael Wood

There's no doubting that the highest-profile rock-band reunion at April's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was Rage Against the Machine, the fiery L.A. quartet that spent the 1990s pairing left-wing politics with funk-metal grooves. But Rage wasn't the only beloved act to take the stage that weekend in the California desert: Fans of crafty Beatles-inspired pop were also treated to one of the first shows given in over a decade by Crowded House, the jangly New Zealand combo responsible for the 1987 smash "Don't Dream It's Over."

This month, the band - front man Neil Finn, guitarist Mark Hart, bassist Nick Seymour, and drummer Matt Sherrod (a fill-in for Paul Hester, who died in 2005) - returns to record stores with Time on Earth, Crowded House's first studio album since 1993's Together Alone. Produced by Steve Lillywhite and Ethan Johns - and featuring a guest appearance by Smiths/Modest Mouse guitarist Johnny Marr - Time on Earth effortlessly picks up where Crowded House left off. We called Finn recently at his home studio in Auckland and asked him how he managed the trick.

Time on Earth started out as a solo album of yours. At what point did it become a Crowded House disc? I began recording early last year, but in the shadow of Paul's passing, Nick Seymour and I had kind of reconnected and developed a renewed friendship. I thought it'd be great to play music with him, so we started working on this record together. We didn't talk about it all through the making of it, but really close to the end, I took Nick aside and said, "You know, this feels like a band in all the meaningful ways. What do you think? Should we crank out the old girl again?" He was thinking the same thing but was a bit afraid to talk about it.

What was the next step? Well, once Nick and I decided that it felt right, we rang Mark Hart in L.A. because we wanted him to be part of it again as well. Then the three of us agreed that if we were going to be a band in more than name only, the most important thing was an absolutely brilliant drummer. So we started to audition drummers.