Charlie Fink is in a rush. Let alone 5 Years’ Time, it’s five minutes’ time he’s worried about – such is the heady media profile his band Noah And The Whale are building up. Yet decent chap though he is he’s found a slot in his schedule for musicOMH, where the subjects are colours, forests and more musical aspects of his life such as music production and songwriting.
We begin by mulling over the Noah And The Whale tour recently completed in June. Immediately Charlie, despite his heavy workload, seems relaxed. “It was good, it went very well, and we got a really good reaction to our songs which was cool.” Understatement, it seems, is at the core of Fink’s personality as he says, “It wasn’t necessarily that amazing, though it was good playing in the woods, I must admit. With our music it’s hard to find the venue that adds the perfect atmosphere. I found on the tour we were playing in venues half way between a rock music venue and a theatre. A forest has a bit of melancholy, though, which suits us just fine.”
For all the positive breeziness of 5 Years’ Time, there seems an undercurrent of light melancholy running through Noah And The Whale’s music. Charlie agrees. “Yes, I think on the album it’s definitely there – more so than on the singles, but even on the songs that people consider to be uplifting and joyful there are always those undercurrents. I think you could best sum up our approach by saying that we write songs about revelling in the sunshine, whilst looking out from the dark. Our songs always mutate a bit as they go as well.”
Another important aspect of the band’s writing is its focus on instrumental colour. “Yeah, I think so,”, says the front man, “because recently we’ve just brought in a horn section and it’s great to work with them. For the next album, it would be cool to use that a lot more.”
Regarding his own approach to production and songwriting, there’s no specific training in there. “It’s something I’ve just picked up as I’ve gone along,” he says, “especially when I’ve been doing production for other people. For the writing it’s always been a case of devising songs in the bedroom, and that’s a case of trial and error to be honest. I really enjoy that process. But once a song’s recorded I really don’t believe that it’s the finished article – it’s more of a pilot version.”
With the album Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down finally released after a year of building up awareness, I’m curious to know if this marks the end of stage one of a grand Noah And The Whale plan. Fink is not so sure. “To be honest it wasn’t really like that – not part of a campaign at all. We never really had much ambition, to be honest. We were gigging because we enjoyed it – we still do – but the time came when people wanted to do a single. That’s why it seems a bit bizarre that it’s all taken off like this!”
“We never really had much ambition, to be honest”
– Charlie Fink reflects on his band’s unexpected rise.
The infectious enjoyment of their music still comes across. “I guess that’s probably true,” he agrees, “Because we’ve never made the music sound a particular way, it just has this natural affinity without trying too much.”
The singer had something of an epiphany at this year’s Glastonbury. “It was amazing”, he reflects, “and it was like one of those times where you see what you’ve been doing in action. You hear songs on the radio – which is amazing but never seems real, but then when you see people reacting to you and singing all the words you know it’s happened.”
He goes on to talk about the band’s visual identity, which at the moment finds them all colour co-ordinated, blue and yellow seemingly the home strip. “We’ve always tried to have every aspect connected to the next, and it’s important that the music reflects the visual appearance, the artwork and vice versa. We want it so that when you look at the pictures you imagine the music, and that’s something important to us.”
Does Fink see himself as a romantic songwriter? “Yes and no. A lot of the songs do come from personal experience, though it depends at the time. Often personal experience can be said to be a thought or a fantasy though, not something that’s necessarily happened. A lot of my songs are written around scenes and philosophies rather than concrete events.”
“You’ve always got to test yourself, and to have ambition in that way is a good thing”
– Charlie Fink sets the bar high for Noah And The Whale.
As a producer, Fink was at the controls for the Mercury Prize-nominated Alas I Cannot Swim, the debut album from his now ex-girlfriend Laura Marling. He manages the juggling of duties without too much trouble. “It’s difficult but I’m obviously very busy with Noah And The Whale, which always comes first. With production it sounds obvious but I try only to do the stuff I really like. It does feed my own material too – it’s kind of interesting to see how other people work, but whatever works for you, works for you. At times it can be abstract and erratic.”
Finally we discuss where he would like Noah And The Whale to be in one year’s time, let alone five. Standing still for Fink, it seems, won’t be acceptable. “We will hopefully have recorded a new album by then. For that we want to take our music to the next level and have a conscious narrative, with a film attached. It won’t be a literal transformation, but the two will complement each other. You’ve always got to test yourself, and to have ambition in that way is a good thing.”
And with that flourish he’s cheerily on to the next interview, a man in demand at the moment. We’ll come back in a year and see if he’s achieved his audio-visual goal.