It’s rare to find an artist who reduces his live audience to complete silence. Yet that is what Fink has been doing for three years now. He has three albums to show for his transition from electronic beatsmith to emotive singer-songwriter.
His first gig in his current incarnation was at London’s Luminaire, a venue with a hardline policy on chattering audiences. It suited his penchant for quietude.
“It was a really great experience, but I can’t remember who was on support on that night – some country act or something – and everybody was nice to them as well,” he recalls. “It was something I wasn’t quite used to then, but to do gigs like (that one and) Night & Day in Manchester and have that response was amazing”.
The more silent the audience, the better. “I love the fact people are really quiet. We did a gig in Amsterdam where they were pin drop silent, when we were supporting Lou Rhodes, and that was a big venue – 1,900 capacity. It’s been people who really like the music who come to the gigs, and they want to absorb every note.”
Fink, aka Fin Greenall, retains some surprise at the longevity of his acoustic venture. “I thought it would probably go one of two ways,” he says, rolling a cigarette, “that it would be a one album experiment, and that’ll be nice and I can say that I’ve done it, but it’s turned out to be the hard graft. I’ve especially enjoyed touring, though you do know you’re on an indie when you start playing live, as you do everything on a budget, and you have no support or tour bus. You rock up and do the stage.”
He laughs, remembering. “When we were supporting The Rapture at SXSW a couple of years back, there were three of us and 30 of them! We hope that doing this hard grind will buy us the love. An old veteran told me that you spend the profit for the live show on the live show. It’s been really rewarding though to do the hard graft, even after seven years as a DJ where you go home with a big wad of cash for an hour’s work and have no expenses! With DJing you can also take it a bit easy, kick back and chill for a night, but with this it’s a full on experience for every gig.”
Greenall says this is down to the intimate nature of his songs, and the intensely personal material from which they derive. But drawing on his cigarette, he offers a caveat. “If it’s a good gig I’ll definitely go there; if it’s not, I don’t. When we first started live I had to think about playing, singing, remembering the words and interacting with the rhythm section, all at the same time, but now a lot of those boxes are ticked. Now I feel I’m able to perform the stuff and give it more of a kick than before. As a DJ I’d have been used to jumping up and down, this is something rather different.”
Prior to his metamorphosis into a singer-songwriter, Fink – and alter ego Sideshow – dealt exclusively in the currency of electronic music. “I could easily have made an album just me and a guitar with a few digital bits and changed my name,” he reasons, “but I decided not to. Every major’s got four singer-songwriters, three guys and one chick, and they’re all working with the same producers, and then they all get put out at the same time and people say that singer-songwriters suck! I’m really paranoid about doing a record where it’s not just about me, where it’s our vision. The first album was where I was more directing stuff, and that’s how that came together, and then when we had to do four tracks at the last minute, and that’s where the band really came together.”
– Fink on working and recording with John Legend.
He continues as Sideshow, however – and has not long released a second album. “I used to play guitar in private and do electronic music for a living”, he says. “Now it’s totally the other way round, and when I’m bored it’s such a relief to make dubby techno. It’s not such a personal experience; it’s emotionally detached. I’ve been really surprised at how that’s done and how people like it. I’m not trying to sell records, I’m trying to make techno with dub, just a big fat bassline – and we all record around that, piece it together and make it techno.”
For third album Sort Of Revolution, he says his love of dub informed him more this time round. “Most definitely. It helps me to keep my music pure and simple, and definitely helps me keep the songs cool and confident. With dub and reggae, it’s a vibe thing – we all love getting into that hypnotic groove and feeling our way around it.”
He notes a change in his songwriting approach since the 2006 debut Biscuits For Breakfast. “I think it’s got more confident, to be honest, and we all have a much better idea of who we are. The live gigs have totally informed our songs, and my own vibe about what kind of musician I am, and I think that’s why the new set is more soulful. I’m more comfortable with blues and soul this time around, where as before I was maybe a little too reverent”.
Talking about lyrics brings us back to the first album and Sorry I’m Late, which bemoans a crowded inbox. “Everything about a song is super traditional,” he considers, “so the only thing you’ve got to contemporise it with is new technology and lyrics. Sometimes it’s so lazy, and I wonder why people sing ‘you make me feel so free’ when it’s so fucking whack, you know what I mean?! I’ve seen several guys who I thought would be massive, and then they make a really bland record. I see a lot of entertainment in the music industry but not a lot of artistry, so when a band like Radiohead put something out like In Rainbows, you don’t need Thom Yorke to dance around and pull a girl out from the audience as well, if you know what I mean!”
For Sort Of Revolution Fin worked once again with John Legend, an artistic relationship that goes back some two years. “I’m not suddenly gonna go all R&B,” he laughs, “but when I’m with John that side of me does come out more – but I can’t go there. When I go with John he can sing absolutely anything from super falsetto to low baritone, and he can make any lyrics sound convincing. He’ll lay a guide down at the end of a day and that will be a Grammy award winning take, and that’s only a guide for him to preserve the lyrical ideas!”
Legend’s principal contribution to the new album was an atmospheric piano accompaniment to Move On Me. “Working with John was an absolute delight,” he gushes, “and we really kinda met artistically in the middle ground between commercial and underground. He’s actually a really adventurous pianist given the opportunity – and the take he did for Move On Me is actually seven minutes long, it’s a massive kind of 4 Hero sweeping intro. If you like it was a totally rock ‘n’ roll experience… with a soul twist!”
On his first album Fink sang of the 9-5 drudgery in title track Biscuits For Breakfast, on which he elaborates. “It was about the fact you get the job of your dreams, and you think it’s the one – like women, I guess – and then four years later it’s not so easy. I wrote that song when I left the major labels as a worker, and I’m glad I got out like that. I felt like I was a step ahead in terms of what I wanted to do, and I made a conscious decision to get out early and do songs.”
He elaborates. “Earlier in my life I was a political activist about killing the song, and saying that the verse, bridge and chorus is dead. I said that if you want some of that, you go back to Dylan in 1963. And there we were with new forms, new structures, ambient house and stuff.” He pauses. “And then like everything in life that gets a bit boring after a while. But the song doesn’t.”
So having got out of the office job, the new album talks about money on If I Had A Million. Does he dream of winning the lottery? “Nah,” he responds emphatically, “I’m gonna do it the hard way – one record at a time.”