To me, the best bands are those that defy description. They don’t fit into neatly defined boxes, designed by mainstream alternative media. Noah and the Whale is such a band. Formed in Twickenham, London, England in 2006, they consist of Charlie Fink (vocals, guitar), Tom Hobden (fiddle), Matt “Urby Whale” Owens (bass), Fred Abbott (keyboards) and Jack Hamson (drums). Amy talked to Charlie about their current tour and channeling Neil Young and Prince.
TDOA: How do you think Noah and the Whale carves a unique niche for themselves in a world of Mumford and Sons types?
CF: Noah and the Whale have always very much pursued our own path and never tried to consciously pursue sounding like any one particular band or artist. We also enjoy challenging ourselves in our music and embracing change and those things unfamiliar and exciting to us. This has long been part of our band mantra, but as to where we fit into a perceived world, it has never really been of much concern to us as we have too little control over too many factors.
TDOA: I really, really love L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. What made you choose to punctuate the title like that? Where did the concept come from?
CF: Thank you. It comes down to a combination of our deep-seated love of melodic and rhythmic chorus hooks and also punctuation.
TDOA: Why did you think that Noah and the Whale, a combination of the film The Squid and the Whale and its director Noah Anderson, would fit the sound?
CF: Anyone who has ever tried to come up with a band name knows it is possibly one of the hardest things in the world to do. Essentially we just chose what sounded good, and we weren’t sure initially it would work. Naming children is much easier as you can just steal names that you’ve already heard and favour.
TDOA: NPR noted that your newest record, Last Night on Earth, is a bit of a departure from your folky roots. How do you think the indie-folk community perceives this release?
CF: Those favouring the songwriting and musicianship of the last 2 records, along with the sense and respect of the album as an art form, should be hopefully carried along. By now, people may be relaxing to the idea that we enjoy throwing ourselves into new sounds and sonic frontiers and that we are still the same artists, only working with charcoal this time around instead of watercolour.
TDOA: On that note, what inspired a shift away from your traditional sound?
CF: Ultimately the curiosity and challenge to try something new, and attempt to consistently evolve and grow as musicians. As you improve you want to bring what you’ve learnt to the table.
TDOA: You all have a quite mature sound – what do you think inspires that?
CF: Thank you again. Listening to the “Great Artists,” as it were, of whatever genre you’re playing, and gleaming whatever you can definitely helps. Equally, playing electric instruments musically, like you would any other musical instrument and being fortunate enough to play a wealth of vintage gear also probably contributes to that too.
TDOA: I like the comparison to Neutral Milk Hotel, minus a little of the Mangum-driven insanity. What do you think about that comparison? Is it accurate?
CF: It is certainly a massive compliment and we are all big fans of “Aeroplane over the Sea.” We listened to that album incessantly around the time of the first record.
TDOA: I’m really looking forward to your June 10 show at Club Dada in Dallas. What has this tour been like for you? Have you played in Dallas before?
CF: This tour has been phenomenal and genuinely our most enjoyable to date. We are having so much fun playing every night, the crowds have been amazing and the response to the new material has been particular heartening. We’ve never played in Dallas before, but we’re incredibly stoked to be there and we can’t wait to gig in Club Dada.
TDOA: Recording in Sunset Studios must have been quite the surreal experience. Can you talk about the creative and recording process for Last Night on Earth?
CF: Sunset Studios was nothing but a complete privilege. We got to play the piano which Neil Young recorded “After the Gold Rush” on, in the room where Prince recorded “Purple Rain.” This was the first record where we allowed ourselves longer than 3 weeks to record it. With, “Last Night on Earth” we took the best part of 9 months. One of the main advantages of the process this time around, was that we could return to stuff we had recorded with fresh ears, and allow our most recent influences to weave themselves into what was already there. Equally recording out in LA gave us access to new gear and fresh sounds.
TDOA: What do you think about the state of indie-folk. Does the recent mainstream attention bring good things or bad to the genre?
CF: I have absolutely no idea as to whether the new album comes under the category of indie-folk, swathed as it is with synths, electric guitars, drum machines and gospel vocals. If it does, and as implied brings more attention to the genre, then I can’t see artists receiving more attention as a bad thing, especially when it’s through the medium of other bands, who more often than not, are probably grouped together more by journalists than a strictly, functional scene. As soon as something is in fashion, it has equally the unenviable ability to go out of fashion, but as much as this may be true, genuine fans will hopefully ride the course, and enjoy the music for the reason they liked it and listened to it in the first place.
See the band on tour!
JUN 8 & 9 The Parish Austin, Texas
JUN 10 Club Dada Dallas, Texas
JUN 11 Fitzgerald’s Houston, Texas
JUN 13 One Eyed Jacks New Orleans, Louisiana
JUN 15 Variety Playhouse Atlanta, Georgia
JUN 16 House of Blues Boston, MA
JUN 17 9:30 Club Washington D.C., Washington
JUN 18 Irving Plaza New York, New York
JUN 25 Glastonbury Festival, John Peel stage