Interview: Noah and the Whale applies newfound togetherness to ‘Heart of Nowhere’ (win tickets!)
September 25, 2013
Written by Roman Gokhman
Londoner Charlie Fink, lead vocalist and guitarist of pop folk revival band Noah and the Whale, still sends his brother, Doug, his demos. Doug Fink, the band’s original drummer, left a few years ago to pursue a career in medicine. But Charlie values his opinion.
“He’s always the first person I send stuff to; he’s always a good person to bounce stuff off,” said Charlie Fink, whose band performs at the Fillmore on October 1 as part of the Fall at the Fillmore concert series.
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At this point in his career as bandleader, Charlie Fink is used to change. Noah and the Whale’s four albums in five years have featured three different line-ups. Vocalist Laura Marling departed after the release of the band’s debut album, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, in 2008. Marling’s exodus for a successful solo career, and a break-up with Charlie Fink, inspired sophomore album The First Days of Spring. Doug Fink left the band a few days before the album was released.
Additional changes followed, and the lineup now consists of violinist-keyboardist Tom Hobden, bassist Matt Owens, guitarist Fred Abbott and drummer Michael Petulla.
“Every new album, we’ve had a different lineup,” Fink said. “Touring with Noah and the Whale is like taking a tour of Willy Wonka’s factory.”
The current lineup has remained consistent longer than any of the others: nearly three years. The band recorded its fourth album, Heart of Nowhere (out now on Caroline Records), live in the same room – for the first time. Fink credits this development on the togetherness of the five band members.
“We had a consistent lineup that had gelled on the road, and we wanted to capture that,” he said.
The newfound togetherness also led to greater collaboration. With the band’s first three records, Fink would write and arrange most of the songs himself before meeting with the rest of the band. This time around, the other four members have helped him complete the songs. Hobden started a couple of the songs.
“It’s a change in the approach of how I want to work,” Fink said. “When you are young, and you start music, you really want to prove that you can do everything. You’re, perhaps, over-controlling.
“But I think collaboration can be very rewarding. I’m at the point now where…I enjoy unpredictability and where collaboration can take you.”
Heart of Nowhere was inspired by Fink’s nostalgia for his youth. The song that got the ball rolling was the Tom Petty-esque “Silver and Gold,” named after the Neil Young album, which he checked out from the library to copy onto tape. He was hoping to find another Young album, Harvest, but the library didn’t have it. Fink has described the song as being about learning to love what you find.
The strings-heavy title track, which features guest vocalist Anna Calvi, includes things that Fink’s grandfather used to say when Fink was a child, such as, “There’s two kinds of people; the God-fearing and the godless.”
If four albums in five years were not enough for Fink, he has also kept himself busy with other projects. For the new record, as he had done for The First Days of Spring, he wrote and directed a short film to go along with the songs. The film tells a futuristic tale of a society that separates adolescents from society in London.
He has also directed some of Noah and the Whale’s videos, and is in the early stages of a feature film.
Fink has been passionate about the medium since he was a child, recording with a Super 8 camera.
“It’s a craft that you can learn,” he said. “I would definitely like to do more. The next thing I’d like to do is a film that isn’t connected to the band – its own piece. I’m cautious about giving away too much; it’s, like, a dark comedy.”
Fink doesn’t anticipate Noah and the Whale will continue to release music at its current pace. The band is planning to take a break after the tour supporting the new album.
“It’s always been the case that (when a) tour is finished, and we’ve got an idea, … we are going to investigate it,” he said. “I think it feels naturally this time for us to take a little breather.”