Charlie Fink chats to Gigwise about band's new album...
Will Lavin

16:35 10th March 2011

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With a new project, a new member line-up, and a return to music after their critically acclaimed break-up album, ‘The First Days Of Spring’, Noah & The Whale turn the tables on the indie folk genre and opt for a more retro rock approach to their craft. More a night time offering than a seasonal walk in the park, ‘Last Night On Earth’ is the next step in the evolution of Noah & The Whale.

Gigwise caught up with lead singer Charlie Fink to talk poetry, TV ads, and car music…

So Charlie, we’re talking on the release day of the new album. How are you feeling?

“It’s kinda weird actually. It feels like this day has been coming for so long. It’s exciting that everyone gets to hear what we’ve been working on. It’s just a bit crazy that it’s finally here.”

Would you say that there are any expectations for the album, either how it’ll perform or how the fans will take to it?

“I guess so. The thing is I try not to think too much about that kind of thing. You know? I think once the record is done and out there you can’t really control it. It’s not what you can do then, it’s up to the people.”

After listening to it, ‘Last Night On Earth’ seems very different to your previous two projects. It’s much more up-tempo, and at times quite rocky, more so than the others. How would you describe it?

“I think it’s fair to say that it’s definitely different to our previous records. I also think it’s different in spirit as much as it is in production, or musically. It’s the first time I’ve written third person narratives, and I think it’s probably more outward looking. But in all honesty I don’t really know how to describe it. People often ask and I say rock ‘n’ roll, but that isn’t really what it is.”

Where did the album’s title come from?

“It’s a mixture of a few things. Some of the lyrics on the album were inspired by some of Bukowski’s poetry. There’s one collection of his poems in particular called ‘The Last Night Of The Earth’. I liked the title. I liked the immediacy of it potentially being the very last night on earth, but also that it could be just any other night. For a while I was going to call the album ‘Night Windows’ after the Hopper painting. I like the idea that the album is just a portrait of people’s lives over one evening and what they’re doing.”

What did you do differently this time around when putting the album together?

“It’s funny because I was talking to someone about this the other day. I was saying how the last theme of the album is change and people making a change in their life so I wanted the music to reflect that, and have the same sort of excitement. On top of that I wanted to challenge myself, test myself, and not rely on what’s familiar, as well as use tools I hadn’t before. However, someone then pointed out that half the reason I started using drum machines is probably because we didn’t have a drummer, as my brother Doug left the band to become a doctor, so it was partly out of experimentation but also out of necessity. It’s also the first record Fred’s played on as well; he’s the new guitarist/keyboard player in the band. I’d probably say the biggest difference between this and the last two records is the length of time we put in to it. With this it was almost a nine month recording process, on and off, because a lot of the demo recordings went on to the final version, whereas the previous two albums were both done in three weeks. Another reason why it took so long is because I wanted it to be a really concise and direct record. I wanted to cut it down to the bare essentials. It’s only 33 minutes long.”

Noah And The Whale - 'L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.'

What about the rest of the band? Did they get a say in the direction in which the album went?  

“I must admit I have tunnel vision when it comes to making a record, this was definitely collaborative effort though. I’d say this album more than the others is the most reflective of shared influence, and I think for the rest of the band this is probably the closest to the music they naturally listen to.”

You had the legendary Waters Sisters, who sang back up on Michael Jackson’s classic ‘Wanna Be Starting Something’, sing on the album. What was it like working with them?

“It was genuinely amazing. I basically said to Jason, who we made the record with, that I wanted some gospel vocals, and he said that if I wanted that type of sound they were who I needed to see. He had already recorded with them on a Jenny Lewis track. They were one of the great pleasures of the album. One of my favourite parts was when we were all around the piano singing ‘Old Joy’ for the first time together, working out harmonies. There’s just something magical when you get a harmony right. It was a real treat to get to play with them.”

You’ve been quoted saying that influences such as Frank O’Hara, Tom Waits, and Lou Reed helped you craft this album. How do you choose which influences to go with and what direction to take them?

“I’m very reactive really. It’s usually whatever is inspiring me at the time. I remember reading the poem ‘Having A Coke With You’, by Frank O’Hara, and then wanting to write something that had the feel of that. I wanted to write something that had me feeling the same way. I remember we were in the car and I think we were listening to (Bruce Springsteen’s) ‘Badlands’, or something like that, and we were all singing along and I was just listening and thinking how I’d love to write a song that people could drive in a car to and sing along to like we were. So I guess experiencing something a certain way then made me want to try and give people that same experience or my translation of it at least.”

How would you say the new guy is settling in?

“Fred actually joined when ‘The First Days Of Spring’ was released. So that’s like a year and a half now. He fits in really well. Live, he adds a massive dynamic, it really helps having an extra player and yeah… he’s settling in very well. We’ve got a new drummer now as well. He joined in January. He’s amazing.”

With the recent success of Mumford & Sons, and of course Laura Marling, both winning big at the Brits, both can classed as part of the British folk-rock scene. How do you feel about their recent success, and are there any other acts on the come up we need to look out for?

“I think it’s really great that our music is making a serious dent in the charts again, or that it’s becoming more a part of mainstream culture than it once was. I think it’s cool that bands are coming though and mainstream culture is becoming more diverse now than ever before. Everyone’s moving on to doing their own thing. I feel like the folk scene, definitely for us, is something we’ve moved on from a bit, just like The Vaccines. (Lead singer) Justin, who used to be Jay Jay Pistolet, is now doing that. I think the coolest thing I’ve heard recently is Anna Calvi. That album’s incredible. I’m sure there’s gonna be a whole arsenal of folk bands coming out over the next couple of years and I’m sure they’ll be of mixed quality. That’s the way it goes isn’t it? It’s definitely an exciting time for new music right now. I think one of these years we’ll see one of these bands win that Brit, the critic’s choice, the one for the up and coming act. Hopefully they’ll give it to someone who isn’t a female singer/songwriter. It’s like the last four years it’s been female singer/songwriters who have won that, and also won the BBC sound poll.”

On a side note, did you know that ‘5 Years Time’ was used to advertise the TV show ‘Scrubs’ on Comedy Central?

“Really? It’s very frustrating and ultimately annoying because as a band basically you have no say over what TV uses your song. I’m always being told that someone heard our song on a cookery programme or on some other random show. You have no say in it. It’s kinda frustrating, although sometimes it may come up on Match Of The Day, and that’s cool.”


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