Page last updated at 07:52 GMT, Friday, 11 July 2008 08:52 UK

Talking Shop: Noah and the Whale

Noah and the Whale
The band describe themselves as "serious amateurs"
Folk-rock four-piece Noah and the Whale can currently be heard brightening up the summer airwaves with their single Five Years Time.

Its jaunty mandolin strum and chorus of "sun, sun, sun all over our bodies" suggest a band with a whimsical, carefree attitude - but the band's debut album reveals a darker side.

Singer-songwriter Charlie Fink and bass player Urby Whale discuss death, forests and children's television.


Five Years Time has really taken off. Did you get an inkling it was going to be this big when you wrote it?

Charlie: I had absolutely no idea! It was originally going to be part of a four-track EP but we took it to (record label) Young and Lost and they said: "You should probably do more with this."

We were supposed to be doing this interview at the Hampstead Lido but it got rained off. Is Five Years Time going to curse the summer like Rihanna's Umbrella did last year?

Charlie: Hopefully not... although I always think there's a unifying thing about watching a gig in the rain. Everyone's pretty miserable, so they all pull together.

Urby: I was at the Hop Farm Festival on Sunday and it rained all day - until Neil Young walked on the stage and the sun came out.

Charlie: He probably put that in his contract!

Urby: He just commanded it... and it was so.

Presumably the dark skies came as a relief to you, Urby. I read you were allergic to direct sunlight.

Urby: You did what? Where did you read that? [Collapses in fits of uncontrollable laughter].

It's kind of a band thing to make up ridiculous stuff about me. I'm basically the butt of most jokes. I don't tan that well but I'd like to go on record to say I am not actually photosensitive. I am okay in photographs and for brief periods of sunlight when I wear factor 80.

Glad to have that cleared up... You played a couple of gigs in forests earlier this year. How did the music go down in that setting?

Charlie: Before those concerts, we were having a debate about the perfect way to tour. Laura Marling [fellow acoustic songstress and frequent collaborator] had just done a church tour and we were wondering what the equivalent for us would be.

Half of me always wants to play to a sit-down theatre, and the other half wants an energetic crowd. And forests turned out to be the answer, because they're serene, quiet places where you also get great energy.

Urby: From now on, you'll only ever see Noah and the Whale in a forest.

One early review of the band called you the "Blue Peter Pogues" and the "Magic Roundabout Magic Numbers". What do you make of that?

Charlie: One of the tough things about the internet is that people make assumptions based on one single. Our early records were more accessible, because you're inclined to release those accessible songs. But I think people are starting to get the right idea about us.

Noah and the Whale
Charlie directed the band's idiosyncratic slapstick videos
The album certainly balances the optimistic tracks with more melancholic, introspective songs like Peaceful The World Lays Me Down.

Charlie: Absolutely. Theoretically you could put Five Years Time and Peaceful back to back and think it was two different bands. But we worked really hard to make the songs linked thematically.

So if you just take Five Years Time you might get a quote like "Blue Peter Pogues" - but if you hear Peaceful and get the cross-reference of the two, then you get a picture of what the band is.

So if you absolutely had to compare your music to a children's TV show and another band, what would you say?

Charlie: We could have a really dark band, like Slipknot

Urby: And Superted. We are the Superted Slipknot!

Do you get frustrated when your music is dismissed and misrepresented in that way?

Urby: It's interesting for us because this is only the second interview we've done where the interviewer has heard the record. And we finished it in January. I don't actually believe we're releasing an album yet - it's just something that happened in January.

So when was the last time you sat down and listened to the record?

Charlie: Embarrassingly, I listen to it quite a lot. I really like it! I kind of treat myself with it.

So what's the best way to listen to it?

Charlie: For me, in bed.

Urby: My family plays it a lot around the house, which can be a bit strange.

A lot of the lyrics talk about death and decay. What's someone so young worried about death for?

Charlie: I've been obsessed with death since I was a boy. It's always terrified me. But a lot of the songs are written as antidotes to that fear. It's almost therapeutic.

And has the therapy worked?

Charlie: Well, I'm still afraid of death... but surely everyone is quite scared of death?

Urby: Coincidentally, I experienced death first-hand for the first time just after I joined Noah and the Whale... and I started thinking about it a lot more due to playing the songs every night. I started having panic attacks, but I did come through the other side eventually.

Charlie: I think if you don't worry about death then maybe you should be wary of our songs; but if you do worry about death then have a listen.

Five Years Time is out now and Peaceful The World Lays Me Down is released on 11 August. Noah and the Whale were talking to BBC News entertainment reporter Mark Savage.


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