Londoner’s Noah And The Whale getting to set for the release of fourth album Heart Of Nowhere (out 6 May) with the laziest tour of their career – they’re staying put at home. Kicking things off this weekend (28 April) at the capital’s Palace Theatre, the band are staging a “Month of Sundays” residency at the venue, alongside a handful of UK dates. Although staying at home does have its advantages, the band adopted the stationary approach so they screen a new film created by frontman Charlie Fink which sits alongside the new record. Q sat down with the singer (far left) to discuss the new record and his cinematic ambitions.
How the devil are you?
“I’m good, I’m good, getting back into album mode.”
Your new album is called Heart Of Nowhere, but it sounds like that’s where you wrote it too. You were on an isolated island?
“Yeah, it really was. It was called Osea Island, it’s in the Blackwater estuary. It’s only accessible six hours a day by a pathway that’s otherwise covered by the tide. It’s pretty much the ultimate isolation for a record, you can’t get off the island at night! We were there for two weeks. One week on my own, one with the rest of the band.”
Isn’t that dangerous if you disagreed over a song there’s no where to go?
“It was more dangerous if you got hungry in the middle of the night! It was dead quiet most of the time I was there, just a few cottages and then one weekend there was a hen party and it totally transformed the nature of the island. I guess we wrote five or six songs there then we went down to a studio called La Fabrique in the south of France, it’s actually where Nick Cave’s new record was done, and to be honest not a lot of work got done there. There was too much distraction. But we managed a couple more songs there before finishing off the writing in a studio in Crouch End. It was where Bjork did Debut. They were knocking the place down, so we had one room while the building was coming down around us!”
And that was just the writing process, no recording?
“We recorded the whole album at British Grove studios in two weeks. By doing it that way, spending all the time writing it then recording it live you can’t hide the songs. If you do something that’s heavily produced you can make a crappy song sound good, whereas recording it live means the song is so exposed. It has to stand up. It’s why we took so long writing it, we wanted to have confidence in the songs. A lot of the time we’d use the second take, it’s a really fun way to record. You feel like you’re really making a record that way.”
Having spent so long on writing, when did you first feel you had something that would stand up to that exposure?
“The first track I had for the record was a song called Lifetime, that was written about a friend of mine who got engaged and that was where the inspiration for the whole record started. A lot of the album is about the end of adolescence and memories of friendship. We’d come back from tour and find out shit has changed since we were last here. I found myself at that point in life where you’re becoming an adult. That was the starting point for the record.”
Where adolescence ends and adulthood begins does seem to be quite blurred now.
“Exactly. A lot of the songs concentrate on that idea. The last song, Not Too Late, focuses on that idea of finding your own way to be a man. A lot of it is going backwards and exploring the times of your adolescences and the relationships you had.”
Looking at how the song titles on Heart Of Nowhere progress it could imply there’s a narrative across the whole record, is that the case?
“It’s themes rather than a story. I have this thing where I always write songs in pairs. I guess you get stuck on an idea, you put it down and then think: But I also believe this as well. Something that balances with it. Silver And Gold is the song that goes with Lifetime, it’s writing about similar times. There’s a lyric on the song which goes I was looking for Harvest but I only found Silver And Gold, and that was about when I first got into music and started writing songs. I used to go to the library to get albums, it was the only place you could get music for free basically, and they only had Silver And Gold or Harvest. Now that Neil Young record is my favourite of his albums even though it’s not his best. You find something that you really love, and I think there’s a lot of that in the album.”
Why write in pairs?
“I don’t think I consciously write it pairs, you just get to the end of the record and think, Shit I’ve done it again! However I always think it’s a real success if you managed to make a record that more enjoyable to listen to in full than rather hearing a few songs. It’s something that’s really hard to do, so we always consider the energy and the emotions.”
What’s your feeling for the record, you could take the title in quite a bleak way, yet the last song is melancholic but uplifting. Where is it for you?
“There’s something really romantic about the Heart Of Nowhere. The character in the song says I will follow you to the heart of nowhere. There’s a romance to it. But I also like the idea that some people feel their teenage years are in the heart of nowhere. More than anything it feels a nostalgic record. I really struggle to write anything that doesn’t have a hint of melancholy in it, I don’t know why. It’s just something I naturally warm to. I’d like it to be an album you can listen to with your friends, it has an element of that in it. I always like to think of context about albums, where people listen to them. It feels like something you’d put on driving around with your friends or hanging out at a party.”
You’ve also made a film with the same title with the album, how does that fit into in the creative process?
“I wanted to make a film with the record, but I didn’t have a story. Then I had the first couple of which established the idea for the album and that let me develop the film story. I co-wrote the film with a girl called Charlotte Colbert, a young up-and-coming screenwriter. We spoke just as I started writing the album.”
So how does it all fit together? Are they integral or separate entities?
“They can be enjoyed separately, but hopefully watching the film might help you find something extra in the album and vice versa. The film evolves the same idea. It’s a half-hour short film – it only uses a couple of songs from the album and there’s a score that takes some of the melodies from the rest of the record – and it’s a story about friendship. There are four friends who are on this island where the teenagers live. They’re separated from society and the film starts with them learning it’s now the time they’re being taken to The City to be adults. It’s the last night they have together. In the film the idea that adolescence and adulthood are very separate worlds and you don’t bring anything with you from one to the other.”
Why do a film at all? It’s a lot of effort on top of an album…
“You’re right, there’s been some times over the last few weeks where I’ve asked why have I done this to myself. Having said that working on the film has been such a joy. I guess it’s a really exciting opportunity to be able to do that. I’d like to develop my skills as a filmmaker and it was a good opportunity for us to do that. The last album put us in a good position to have some creative freedom and do interesting things. I feel like the music industry has only existed for such a short period of time, it’s been in mainstream culture since the 50s which is nothing in terms of industry, so it’s got to evolve and change and so it could be cool if albums are becoming more immersive experiences. It’s more than a record, it comes with something else.”
Bands like The Smiths did that with their artwork in the 1980s, perhaps album films are the updated, 21st century version version?
“That’s interesting. Album artwork exists less and less now, maybe part of the incentive is to replace the sleeve.”
How much is film a different expression for you and how much do you see commonalities between making a movie and writing songs?
“They inform each other. It’s interesting to go between the two. One thing I picked up from film was how collaborative it is. A director will always get too much credit or blame for a film, I think, because so many people make that film. You have to trust your team and learn to put stuff in other people’s hands. I think that’s something I tried to do with this record as well. It’s our most collaborative record. Also a lot of the songs on the albums are stories and part of that is imagining the scenes and pulling out the detail. It does help I think.”
So are you films slightly melancholic as well as your songs?
[laughs] “They are, yes! I can’t escape it!”
What are you ambitions in film?
“I feel like I’m still learning a lot about filmmaking, every time I do it I feel I figure something new out. It’s something I really enjoy. I did the score for this film which is separate from the record and that was great too. You can’t plan too much but if a cool opportunity comes along you have to be ready for it.”
Is the film something you can go back to as your tour the album and release singles?
“One of the ideas I’ve had for the other the videos for the other singles is to keep the idea from the film but maybe bring in different directors to work on the idea of teenagers being different from the rest of society. What would their take be? See how they interpret it, or do their version of the film in their part of the world. There’s a girl called Emily Kai Bock, she did a Grimes video and a Grizzly Bear video, and a photographer we’ve worked with called Autumn De Wilde who does cool videos, so we want to do something with them.”
Finally, you’re playing the same theatre in London every Sunday for a month. Couldn’t be bothered to tour?
[laughs] “Exactly, the new series of Mad Men is on so why not stay at home? It’s an interesting opportunity to be able to do something with the shows and it gives us an opportunity to screen the film too. It’s going to be great, but it’s obviously a bonus being at home! We’ll do a big tour in the autumn.”
For more head to Noahandthewhale.com.