Celebrated songwriters Andy White and Tim Finn have today released new single “The Happiness Index”, the second track to be lifted from their new album AT, out March 31st on Floating World Records. The track is also available as a limited double A side 7-inch with “Warrior Of Love”, which will only be available on vinyl in this format. Email Floating World Records to purchase a copy, price £15 including P&P. Also available now from AT is the album’s lead single “My Regeneration”.
“The Happiness Index” is a wry look at the United Nations-sanctioned World Happiness Report, whereby countries are ranked according to the emotional and mental well-being of their people, with Finland regularly top of the pile and an assortment of Third World nations lagging behind.
“How happy are we? The king of Bhutan wants to know. His Buddhist Kingdom allows itself to self- examine,” explains Tim. “We in the West however have turned his Happiness Index into a trans-global competition. Apparently, at the time of writing this, Finland is on top and Chad at the bottom. How sad to view an existential question in such a limited way. But the AT song is a joyous and belligerent revelation of these tragic-comic contradictions. You will come away feeling better!”
Like the rest of AT, the track 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, who provides “The Happiness Index” with a thick, thundering wall of sound.
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.”
The video for “The Happiness Index” features a guest appearance from British actor Sara Stewart, who plays the increasingly baffled news anchor.
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.
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.”
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