- Wed, 2011-02-23 14:43
Noah and The Whale saw their 2007 debut single 5 Years Time quickly cement their sound as the folk-pop crossover mainstream music fans had been waiting to embrace, with the resulting album Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down entering the UK album chart at number five.
2009 heart-break led follow-up The First Days of Spring arrived with a full-length film of the same name, directed by chief singer-songwriter Charlie Fink. With rich arrangements intertwining amongst a running narrative, the album demanded a delicate ear, not expectant of three-minute singles. As a result, The First Days of Spring entered the album chart at 16. Though mainstream coverage dwindled, critical acclaim grew, fans pledged loyalty and most importantly, Noah and The Whale saw their musical ability (both live and in the studio) develop and progress to far greater heights.
Third album Last Night On Earth arrives bursting with colour and individuality. Having followed the band album to album, I Like Music skipped merrily along to their loft-converted rehearsal-space, settling down in a very comfy arm chair to commence our third Noah and The Whale interview. Lead-singer Charlie and fiddle player Tom describe the process, themes, influences, live translation and production work behind Last Night On Earth. They also mention rather a lot of music documentaries, albums and inspiring artists...
“I Like Music because…I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life and it seems impossible to imagine a world without it.” Charlie Fink, Noah And The Whale
“I Like Music because…it’s a space we can all escape to, it’s a universal language we can all speak but most of all, it’s the most personal thing.” Tom Hobden, Noah And The Whale
ILM: How does it feel to have finished your third album?
Charlie: Good! Really good. It’s exciting. This album took longer than the last few to make, it’s been a long gestation period. It’s very exciting that people get to hear it, which will be the ultimate test.
Tom: Yeah, exactly!
ILM: How did the album begin to take shape, what were your initial ideas?
Charlie: The very first thing I had was the lyric “tonight’s the kind of night where everything could change”, that one little piece. I had that at the end of 2009. Then on January 1st I caught a train from Anglesey to London as I’d gone up to Wales on New Years Eve. I wrote the lyrics to Tonight’s The Kind Of Night verses on that journey back to London. For me that was the breakthrough because I’d found the lyrical thread and the silhouette of the characters I wanted to use. I guess that moment was the starting point for the whole album.
ILM: How would you describe your relationship with the lyrics on this album?
Charlie: Honestly, I couldn’t really express it. I genuinely don’t know where it comes from. Sometimes it is a matter of hard work and a matter of distilling. But then that phrase “tonight’s the kind of night where everything could change”, I don’t know where that popped out from! At that point I was starting to think about the third record and what I wanted it to be, and it takes a while from saying “ok, what’s it going to be about?” to knowing what it’s going to be about. It’s crazy – you think about when you’re a kid and you’re doing a school essay, and they say “write a story about whatever you want”, you’re like “what the hell can I write about?” It’s that feeling when you’re writing an album. You just have to wait for that moment you’re like “yeah, that’s it, that’s what it’s gonna be about.” Just wait until it feels right.
ILM: How would you describe the key themes on Last Night On Earth?
Tom: It’s an album of discovery; it’s about being young and kind of unleashed on the world. Seeing how you’d survive in it and what you’d make of yourself.
Charlie: The excitement of that.
Tom: Yeah, the excitement of being young. It’s kind of the feeling we get with every album.
Charlie: I feel bad saying this, I don’t want to impose my own interpretations too much, I like to leave it for people to find their own things… But for me, the main thread is exactly those feelings, like Tom was saying, of being young and in the night, and the limitless possibility of that. Going somewhere, not knowing what you’re going to find. There are lots of stories of change from both sides. The first song is about making the decision to make a change in your life, then there’s the song Just Me Before We Met where it reflects on a time when you were different. And then I think in that there’s the idea of choosing for yourself. So on Tonight’s The Kind Of Night there’s “he knows that his debt is to experience only, not for those who plan it as I”, and in Old Joy the decision that there’s more to tall buildings than a wife. But I think I’ve already spoken too much!
Tom: I like the idea that you could’ve already chosen a route but there’s always room to expand and try something different.
Charlie: You can always change.
Tom: You can be in a dead end job, you can be that waitress in the bar who isn’t happy with her life. Or you can be that unhappy writer….
Charlie: …Or even just stuck in the suburbs, whatever it is…
Tom: …Your life is always going to take on a different path if you want it to.
ILM: How did those themes go on to influence the sound of the album in terms of production?
Charlie: It’s funny, ‘cause I think the songs generally are pretty straight-forward narratives, simple songs. And so how you dress them sets the mood. We were talking about this the other day, I think in a way the arrangement is sort of like the set of a film. I think what we wanted to do is have an excitement, a freshness to the arrangements. And in terms of production, I think we wanted it to feel like our own, as unique as we could make it. And contemporary as well. We wanted to feel like we were making an album for now, not just a nostalgic album. It’s hard to say, but we were kind of trying to capture the excitement of the songs in the arrangements.
ILM: You worked with producer Jason Lader, famed for his work with The Mars Volta, what was Jason like to work with?
Tom: Jason’s funny. He’s from New York but for me, he encapsulates someone from L.A. He’s so L.A., Jason. Ha ha! I know L.A. is a lot slower paced than New York…
Tom: …People like to think about stuff differently. So with Jason, you’d talk about stuff and you’d sit and you’d think and then you’d talk about the news and then you’d come back…So I don’t know, I guess you chew on your ideas a lot more. I think the greatest asset he brings are his abilities to record sound; you envisage a sound and he can capture it.
Charlie: Yeah, in very little time.
ILM: Track 7, Paradise Stars, is the only instrumental track on the album and also the shortest, lasting 1:29. It seems to act as a small anchor point, a shift in feeling. How did it come to be?
Charlie: Well Paradise has taken the lyric from Tonight’s The Kind Of Night; what is it again... “paradise stars…”
Tom: “…and the infinity of dancing white light.”
Charlie: That’s right. It’s the idea of being in the night and that excitement that something’s happening, how amazing and magical the world looks – that these are paradise stars now and it’s dancing white light, it’s not just a street lamp. I think that’s what that song’s trying to capture. But I don’t know… haha! You can end up sounding infinitely pretentious about things like this…!
Tom: What I like about it musically is that it comes after Just Me Before We Met, which obviously is talking about the previous relationship, the past. It’s the most nostalgic track in that sense. So Paradise Stars is kind of a tip of the hat to First Days of Spring with the piano riff and the sounds. It takes a moment to step back, have a little thought about that, then we move straight on to Waiting For My Chance To Come, we come straight back in.
ILM: How do you think this album will translate live?
Charlie: We’re trying as hard as we can to be faithful to the album’s arrangements. Obviously it’s kind of difficult because the arrangements are so intricate, and there are layers. But it’s sounding really cool if I do say so myself! We’ve been in here for a month pretty much, I think we’ve got the sound down...
Tom: Yeah, we’ve found it.
ILM: Going back to the very beginning, what’s your earliest musical memory, when did you realise music could have such an affect on you?
Charlie: For me, my one is just dancing round the room to Buddy Holly! That’s what my mum used to do when she wanted a break from looking after me and my brother, she’d just put on a Buddy Holly vinyl. And just me and Doug, well, I say dancing, it was more like running round the room in circles essentially! When you’re a kid, you don’t listen to lyrics obviously, it’s just melody and rhythm. And I just remember how exciting that felt…
Tom: I remember listening to tapes in my dad’s car and going from the funny kids stories like Roald Dahl tapes straight onto Paul Simon and being like “what is this!”
ILM: What is it about music that keeps you coming back for more?
Charlie: I don’t know, music’s just the most amazing thing isn’t it? Thing is, it would sell it out to try and explain why. It’s just so amazing. It’s a total mystery to me, I don’t know how songs are written really, or where it comes from… Everything about music’s a mystery. I was trying to explain to someone – how does a needle on top of a piece of vinyl know where the drum mics were positioned? Everything about it is so mysterious. And also, the way you write songs as if you’re pulling something out of nowhere. What are you grabbing at? I don’t know, it’s amazing…
Tom: A never-ending mystery, we’re all just trying to find something.
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Charlie: I think the biggest records for me are Tom Wait’s Bone Machine and Lou Reed’s Berlin. For this album, they were probably the two that lyrically, were the most influential. Tom Wait’s Bone Machine, he has that amazing ability to have a phrase that implies so much. Even just the phrase “a little rain never hurt no-one”, in the context of that song, that lyric means everything. And then we listened to a lot of Petty and Arthur Russell…
Tom: John Cale…
Charlie: John Cale! I’m obsessed with John Cale at the moment, we’ve been playing Barracuda as a cover recently in rehearsals.
Tom: Last night we watched The Promise: The Making of The Darkness on The Edge of Town (2010 Bruce Springsteen documentary). We’re going to start doing this thing at rehearsals where we show inspirational videos. We’ve got a projector onto those big blinds, so last night we watched that. I don’t know what’s next to be screened, I want us to do The Last Waltz ( 1979 documentary on the final concert by The Band) at some point.
Charlie: Yeah, we should!
Charlie: I think we should do Runnin’ Down A Dream again (2007 Tom Petty documentary).
Tom: Yeah, that’s true. We’ve got a new drummer, and he’s only 21 I think…
Charlie: No he’s my age, he’s 23.
Tom: No he’s not, he’s younger isn’t he? But it’s cool, it’s exciting – we’ve got different influences, but he’s so open-minded about music and it’s exciting turning him onto all the stuff we listened to.
ILM: Where did you find him?
Tom: On the Internet! We were auditioning drummers and he was someone that wanted to audition, we saw this video of him…
Charlie: He was the wild card…
Tom: He was the wild card on the day. There was just this three minute video of him on his MySpace page, doing this amazing drum solo, like flicking sticks – it’s the coolest thing you’ll ever see in your life! Haha! And yeah, it’s working out really well.
ILM: What are your future plans?
Charlie: I think we’re just trying to concentrate on this right now; concentrate on translating the record to live in the right way and connecting that to people on stage. That’s the focus right now. Playing the record live.