Vam­pire Week­end are back with a bite. They talk to Jim Car­roll, p6 Plus: Noah & the Whale in­ter­view,

Noah & the Whale emerged from a Chelsea scene that also spawned Mum­ford and Sons and Laura Mar­ling. Some­times, though, singer Char­lie Fink misses the sim­ple, mun­dane things of yore, he tells Tony Clay­ton-Lea

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

Chang­ing creative gear is cru­cial for any band, es­pe­cially when they can see their first two al­bums ca­reer­ing down the road in the rear-view mir­ror. Ask Char­lie Fink, lead singer and pri­mary song­writer with Noah & the Whale – one of the UK’s more sur­pris­ing and idio­syn­cratic suc­cess sto­ries of the past five years – about this and he’ll tell you why ratch­et­ing up from third to fourth be­fore ram­ming it into fifth is a wise move.

Fink is a con­fi­dent sort, straight out of up­per-mid­dle-class cen­tral cast­ing. Born in Twick­en­ham (his real sur­name is Finkel; his grand­fa­ther was a Ger­man Jew who es­caped the Nazi regime in the 1930s for a life in South Africa). He co-founded Noah & the Whale in the mid-Noughties with his older brother Doug.

It was while at­tend­ing St Paul’s pri­vate school in Barnes that Fink be­friended teenage banjo player Win­ston Mar­shall. The two friends weren’t to know it at the time, but in due course Win­ston would go on to form Mum­ford & Sons. Fink would fol­low suit with Noah & the Whale, and in the in­terim forge a brief but sig­nif­i­cant creative and per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Laura Mar­ling. It all started, re­counts Fink, dur­ing open-mic evenings in a cel­lar bar called Bo­sun’s Locker, on Chelsea’s King’s Road.

“It re­ally was a nat­u­ral, or­ganic scene, but at the time it didn’t feel un­usual in that you sus­pected it was hap­pen­ing in places other than Lon­don. Now I look back on it, how­ever, it’s re­mark­able that all those peo­ple were lo­cated in pretty much the same place. Peo­ple would just get up and play, very loosely, but mostly ev­ery­one who played there has sub­se­quently gone on to much greater suc­cess.”

Back then, there was lit­tle or no ques­tion of Fink chang­ing gears; the band’s de­but al­bum, 2008’s Peace­ful, The World Lays Me Down, was rooted in the nu-folk scene cul­ti­vated in that Chelsea pub. Yet 2009’s fol­low-up, The

First Days of Spring, was a per­cep­ti­bly al­tered al­bum, notably in­flu­enced by Fink and Mar­ling’s break up. The third al­bum, 2011’s Last

Night on Earth, was an­other creative blind­side (good­bye ex­haus­tive soul-bar­ing; hello sun-drenched West Coast pop), and so, too, is the band’s lat­est al­bum, Heart of Nowhere.

Fink, 2013 ver­sion, is in rem­i­nis­cent mode as he pon­ders on once-abid­ing friend­ships cur­rently lost or mis­placed. “Be­ing a suc­cess­ful band and be­ing on the road for such a long time – and then be­ing in a record­ing stu­dio, let alone the soli­tary na­ture of song­writ­ing – means you be­come adrift from a group of friends. And when, as has hap­pened, a good friend is get­ting mar­ried, you start to won­der about the set­tling na­ture that oc­curs in your 20s.” Fink pauses, back­tracks tact­fully. “It’s not that the fab­ric of the re­la­tion­ships frac­ture, it’s just that, in­evitably, friends drift

“I think back to what our am­bi­tions were as a band, and then see where we are now, and the jour­ney seems crazy”

apart. But, then, an event like a wed­ding brings peo­ple back to­gether again, doesn’t it?”

Has the suc­cess of Noah & the Whale al­tered his views of con­tent­ment?

“If any­thing I feel that when we’re tour­ing it’s the sim­pler, more mun­dane things I gen­uinely miss – like meet­ing up with your friends on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, hav­ing a bit more of a rou­tine. Which is odd, be­cause you spend so much time try­ing to get out of rou­tines, but I think ev­ery­one need some kind of struc­ture.”

And what about suc­cess in and of it­self – have your per­cep­tions of it changed from when you started in 2005?

“Well, there’s a per­cep­tion in most or all walks of life – not just in mu­sic – that once you achieve some­thing you aim for, then you set the bar a lit­tle bit higher for the next am­bi­tion. I think back to what our am­bi­tions were as a band at the very start of our life, and then see where we are now, and the jour­ney seems crazy.”

Fink goes on to tell a story about one of Noah & the Whale’s first gigs.

“We played in a small venue in Manch­ester, sup­port­ing a singer-song­writer from Amer­ica. I re­call dis­tinctly at that point that we felt we’d to­tally landed on our feet. Also, the idea back then that we’d ever make an al­bum seemed ab­surd. I’d made record­ings on a four-track in my bed­room, but never thought it would go be­yond that.”

And now? Well, Fink ac­cedes to the no­tion that – four al­bums in – it’s all gone just a lit­tle bit nuts and crack­ers. You can’t think about it too much, or to be in­tim­i­dated about it, he claims.

“I think it worked bet­ter for us that we came up with a bunch of other peo­ple who were go­ing through sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences – peo­ple like Mum­ford & Sons and Laura. So by the time a mod­icum of suc­cess started rolling in, we thought, well, maybe this is hap­pen­ing for a rea­son. I also think the op­por­tu­ni­ties you get the more am­bi­tious you get – I’m not talk­ing about record sales or size of venues, but rather what you can do with your song­writ­ing and how to de­velop your craft.”

There’s a strong sense from Fink that hon­ing his craft through a suc­ces­sion of dif­fer­ent-sound­ing records is more as­sid­u­ous than ob­ses­sive, more cre­atively in­stinc­tive than com­mer­cially as­tute. Which is all the more ap­par­ent from the new al­bum, which ben­e­fits from mis­takes in mu­si­cian­ship that Fink and the rest of the band al­lowed to linger.

“I love the idea that im­per­fec­tions are sig­ni­fiers of unchecked feel­ing and emo­tions. Perfection is cleaner, yes, but also colder and more clin­i­cal – and I think peo­ple re­spond more to things be­ing not quite right. It’s an in­ex­pli­ca­ble con­nec­tion that peo­ple have with hu­man per­for­mance: if you mess up, then it’s okay to mess up, and some­times it’s how you fail in an at­tempt to im­i­tate that orig­i­nal­ity is cre­ated.”

Well said, that man. But, er, speak­ing of im­per­fec­tions . . .

“Oh, I’m quite an anx­ious per­son, and one of the ways that man­i­fests it­self is by be­ing quite con­trol­ling. I’m try­ing to see what will hap­pen if I’m less con­trol­ling, and this al­bum is an ex­per­i­ment in that.” Did it work? “Oh, I couldn’t pos­si­bly say!”

Heart of Nowhere is re­leased to­day via Univer­sal. Noah & the Whale play Elec­tric Pic­nic, which runs from Au­gust 30th-Septem­ber 1st. elec­tricpic­

Whale meat again: (from left): Fred Ab­bott, Matt “Urby Whale” Owens, Char­lie Fink, Michael Pe­tulla, Tom Hob­den

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