Charlie Fink

Charlie Fink

From Folk To Film — Noah and the Whale frontman opens up about new album, new film and his cinematic heroes.

The British folk-pop boom of the late naughties broke bands like Noah and the Whale and Mumford & Sons into mainstream music culture. But while Mumford settled at the top – wooing America and securing superstar status with performances like their one at the recent Grammy’s – Noah and the Whale retreated a little out of the limelight and focused inwards on their music and art.

With their second album The First Days Of Spring they released a short feature film, directed by lead singer Charlie Fink, which acted as a visual accompaniment to the album, and by their third album Last Night On Earth the predominantly Twickenham-raised five-piece (drummer Michael Petulla is from Australia, FYI) had cemented themselves as troubadours of some sort of modern pastoral experience. Now they’re back with their fourth album Heart Of Nowhere, out May 6, and Charlie has stepped behind the camera again for a short film called Teenland.

If the video for recent single There Will Come A Time – a teaser to Teenland – is anything to go by it’s a dark sort of sci-fi rumble that builds on the heritage of coming-of-age films like Stand By Me and Lost Boys. We caught up with Charlie in East London last week to chat about the new record, film, Twin Peaks and the Lake District.

You’ve talked in interviews before about songwriting in terms of scenes. What comes first the film or the album and how do they complement each other?
I guess with this album, the songs came first – or at least the first songs came first and then as the album was finished we kind of developed the film at the same time. I think in this case they worked together in that the themes of the album are kind of evolved and explored in the film – the album’s kind of nostalgic and about the end of adolescence and coming of age, and I guess the film’s about the same thing, so yeah they both inform each other.

Do you always think of your music in terms of narrative?
Well it’s funny, yeah, I guess so. The last few albums have had a strong emphasis on the narrative – I don’t always know if it’s totally essential. There’s music I listen to that’s kind of more a series of non-sequesters – something like Talking Heads ‘This Must Be The Place’. I don’t really know the story of that song and I don’t really need to. Sometimes it’s more about the way words sound and the melody, but for some reason I have always drawn a narrative in what I write. I think it’s nice when you think about a song as this thing that people do between each other rather than necessarily a commercial thing. Like, why would you sing a song to someone? Why bother unless you’re telling the story or you’ve got something to say? I guess that’s what appeals to me.

How did you get into film?
I’ve always loved film. When I was growing up, I never even considered that any normal human being could actually make films. It was some kind of magic art. The first video we did for the band, we shot with a friend of mine called James Coper, and he shot the whole thing on Super 8, and I kind of helped out a little bit and watched what he did and in doing that I kind of realised that and it was kind of possible for someone to make films. Someone told me, ‘Everything you need to know about filmmaking you can learn in a day,’ so I thought, ‘Okay cool – maybe I can do this.’ I started doing some videos for the band and it’s just progressed from there really.

The 1980s were quite a rich time for cinema – especially kids’ adventures in the Spielberg style. What films/music did you grow up on?
The music I grew up on was Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys. I think Buddy Holly was the first musician I really connected with. Films, yeah, the kind of classic 1980s Spielberg adventure style, I think that was the stuff I definitely liked. There’s something of that in the film that I’ve made with this record I think it’s that thing that he does, which is using something fantastical or sci-fi to explain a really human story, you know what I mean? So like E.T. is really a film about divorce rather a film about aliens. And I guess the film we made is a coming-of-age story that has these distinct elements to it.

Do you think the films you watched when you were younger affect the way you approach your art now?
To be honest I feel the films that really effected and influenced me were probably the films I watched in my later teenage years. I remember watching the Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze films and being so interested. Subsequently, Charlie Kaufmann films and things like that. I must have been about seventeen when Eternal Sunshine Of A Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich came out. I also love David Lynch, Twin Peaks and all that kind of thing… The influences on this film though? There’s a film called Over The Edge, it’s definitely a big inspiration and Breaking Away too. I gave the actors a stack of DVDs to watch with those in the collection as well as True Romance, Brazil and a couple of others.

When I was growing up, I never even considered that any normal human being could actually make films.

Who inspires you now?
Oooh there’s so many people! Spike Jonze did a short called ‘I Am Here’ – I loved that… And I love quite predictable directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Haneke, Lynch. Recently I’ve been watching Nick Roeg movies – I’ve got this big red jacket and everybody kept telling me to watch Don’t Look Now ‘cos of the jacket and I did and it was like, wow! […] Gummo was a big influence aswell – just the look of it, and the apocalyptic feel. Oh and Kids! That’s a good movie.

Where did the idea for Teenland come from?
I guess the idea was just to have a really simple film about friendship and adolescence, kind of like the album. So I had this idea for it being about the band’s last show and then I was searching for environments and nothing was really interesting me until I had this idea of ‘teenland’ these kids that are seperate from society and once I had that idea it just kind of evolved and evolved, but I’m not really sure where that idea came from.

How will the film be released?
We’re gonna do a bunch of screenings first of all, I think we’re going to screen it with the tour – we’re doing a month of Sundays at The Palace Theatre and we’re going to show the film every night there, and then hopefully do some film and music festivals. Eventually, we’ll hopefully have it so you can get it at home.

What do you hope people take away from it?
That’s a good question! For me actually, what started the whole album was basically that one of my oldest friends that I used to spend whole summers with, he just recently got engaged, and there’s a song on the album called ‘Lifetime’ that’s about that. I guess that was a moment for me, because I had been on tour so much – I didn’t really know what was going on in my friend’s lives and coming back and discovering that it had become ‘that time’ where everyone’s like an adult now, and it’s the end of being a kid. I guess the film is about indulging those memories – of the strong friendships you’ve had.

What music are you into now?
I’m listening to this guy called Toro Y Moi, he’s really cool. I tell you what, I really liked that single by Sky Ferreira. I was so impressed, her new stuff is really interesting. With old stuff, I’m always listening to Bob Dylan, and Talking Heads.

The music scene that you came up through seems to have largely decamped to the States but you seem rooted in the UK. What do you like about the UK?
I love England, I guess I’d say our second record had something more of the pastoral side of England about it. I really love The Lake District and those parts of England – it’s so beautiful out there. It’s quite a tricky question – I think you’re always going to be influenced by your environment. It’s funny, you know, when we first started making this record, my initial goal was to make a more British record because I felt our last record had a really strong American influence, which is cool, but I felt it’d be interesting to make a more personal record to ourselves. Taking it back to our roots.

Heart of Nowhere will be available May 6 on iTunes. The album will be launched with a full UK tour that includes a four-week residency – ‘A Month Of Sundays’ – at London’s Palace Theatre.