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Noah and The Whale break out of the folk mould

09 june 2011, 15:15
British band Noah and The Whale rose to fame as part of the new London folk scene which produced Brit Award winners Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons, but they have broken out with their innovative third album, AFP reports.

Just weeks after the Brit success confirmed the resurgence of the genre, the quartet produced the electronically influenced "Last Night on Earth", confirming a move away from their early folk-drenched sound.

Speaking to AFP on their global tour, singer-songwriter Charlie Fink explained how the new record retains the band's love of lyrical richness, and is influenced by the ballads of US songwriters Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waites and Tom Petty.

"Those were the bands I was listening to," he said. "Obviously I was aware of Springsteen and Tom Petty but didn't quite understand the full extent of their work and didn't quite have the respect I now have."

The album's balladic style represents a lyrical change from the band's second record, "The First Days of Spring", which was written on the back of a painful break-up between Fink and Marling, a former bandmate and now a highly successful solo artist.

"The nature of this album is about people making a change in their lives, and then their lives are against the backdrop of the night-time," Fink said.

"You're always on the precipice of making a change in your life, you can always take the opportunity to do something differently."

The band recorded the album in Los Angeles so they could work with producer Jason Lader, who has collaborated with artists as diverse as Jay-Z, ex-Strokes singer Julian Casablancas and veteran crooner Neil Diamond.

"I heard the Julian Casablancas record he did and I really loved it," Fink said. "I wanted someone who was equally as adept at making guitar records and programmed records, and he's someone who can do both of those."

Fink co-produced the album, and told of his increasing appreciation for the technological side of the creative process.

"It's amazing with synthesizers, the more you know, the more depth you see in it," argued Fink, who has recently written and produced a song for Anglo-French singer Charlotte Gainsbourg.

"It's like Brian Eno said, 'they've got less baggage'. A guitar has so much history you are immediately assigned to a memory, but I still strongly believe that the song has to be able to stand up when it's just played with an acoustic guitar or a piano."

The development of Fink's technical skills partly reflects how young he and his fellow London folk artists were when they began to attract attention in the late 2000s.

"When we were starting out we were all about 18," Fink recalled of the movement's unplugged beginnings. "It was just much lazier, an acoustic guitar was easier to carry than an electric guitar and an amp."

The crowning of Marling and Mumford and Sons at February's Brit Awards completed the scene's journey to the mainstream, but Fink, as the latest album suggests, is reluctant to be defined by a genre.

"I don't think there's any genre I would restrict myself from visiting if it felt right, but who knows," he said.

When asked why folk has enjoyed a resurgence, Fink replied: "I've no idea, maybe people were looking for more honest music.

"If I recorded the album exclusively with an acoustic guitar, people would say 'it's a folk album' but as soon as you put a drum machine on it's not any more."

Fink described Marling's success as "fantastic", adding: "She is phenomenally talented and it's good that everyone's finally realised that."

And he can afford to be magnanimous: Noah and The Whale recently played a string of European and US gigs, including the South by South West festival in Texas, and next month they play in Japan and Australia as part of a global tour.

"The shows were crazy," Fink said of the US gigs. "They were some of the most receptive audiences we ever played to."

By James Pheby

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