Noah and The Whale
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Noah and The Whale
February 2012, and Noah and the Whale’s tour had at long last carried the band back to London, back to the synagogue where they had recorded Last Night on Earth, back, they hoped, to the beginnings of a new album.
But those early days found the band’s frontman and principal songwriter, Charlie Fink, struggling for new songs. “I had nothing really,” he says, “a few lines, a few other things here and there. I just didn’t feel like I was ready to start a record.”
Inspiration, when it finally came, was kindled by the opening two lines of the track Silver and Gold: “I was looking for Harvest,” it runs. “But I only found Silver and Gold.’ In these lines, Fink found not only a sense of the nostalgia that would permeate this new album, but also an image that embodied the conscious shift in perspective he had recently made - to let go of perfectionism and control, to take a more freewheeling approach to life and to music.
“That line,” he explains, “is about when I was a kid, I would get CDs from the library and then record them onto tape. I remember one time I was trying to get into Neil Young, and someone told me I should check out Harvest. But when I got to the library I was disappointed because they only had Silver and Gold – but that is now one of my favourite records of all time. And that lyric, that sentiment, that album, they resonate because that song is about learning to love what you find.”
What followed was a process of collaboration, encouraging the rest of the band to contribute more to the songwriting process, and recording the album live, to embrace all of the cracks and scuffs and happy accidents he could. The result is a record that sounds by turns melancholy and withdrawn, and at others flushed and exuberant. But there is a looseness to these songs that speaks of a band full-grown and at ease with its sound.
“Being a perfectionist and being in control are things I feel have served me well sometimes, but then I don’t think they necessarily support originality” he explains. “They can get you so far, but if you keep your mind closed you miss the fact that it’s what comes up in the moment that’s really exciting.”
He speaks of the atmosphere in the studio blossoming under this new spirit of collaboration. And specifically he tells of the joy he felt in recording the track Not Too Late, a song that evolved from something more considered into something spontaneous and gutsy. “When we first came in to record it we had a big arrangement for that song, four or five minutes long, instrumental, loud, big drums,” he recalls. “But for me there was no connection between arrangement and emotion. So we tried a couple of things, we tried stripping it back, and then we tried it all standing in a circle. No one really knew their parts yet, we were just making it up, a bit messy. But I managed to convince everyone to go with the first or second take. If you really listen to each instrument it shouldn’t work, but the blend is fantastic. And I love it.”
The album took shape in the early spring quiet of Osea Island, in the Blackwater Estuary, a location with limited access that provided perfect isolation for the fledgling songs. Later recording took place in the south of France, and finally in British Grove Studios. It was produced by the band and mixed by Craig Silvey.
Beginning with an instrumental, a rich, string-led burst of sound that nods to similar interludes on First Days of Spring and Last Night on Earth, the mood is soon torpedoed by the album’s title track, a brazen pop song that features guest vocals from the magnificent Anna Calvi and includes a line that quotes one of Fink’s grandfather’s sayings: “There’s two kinds of people, the god-fearing or the godless.”
Elsewhere we find a keen yearning for youth and for the past — perhaps clearest on the track Lifetime, a song about the curious discombobulation of seeing your friends getting married. “It’s quite a nostalgic record I think,” Fink says. “It’s looking back on that period of life, on adolescence. Lifetime was a reminder for me that I spend so much time on the road, and so much time away from London, that when my friend said he was getting married I became aware of how much I had drifted from my friends, and how little I knew what was going on in anyone’s lives.”
Friendship is one of the record’s presiding themes — one underlined by the album’s accompanying film, co-written and directed by Fink.
The film is set in a time not far from now, in some future form of England, when adolescents have been separated from society until they are deemed mature enough to return. The film follows a tightly knit group of teenage friends who attempt to avoid eviction and integration into adulthood.
Produced by Parkville Pictures, who produced Charlie’s first short film The First Days Of Spring, Heart Of Nowhere (the film) was co-written with Charlotte Colbert. Its story evolves many of the themes that run throughout the album and carries them into a cinematic narrative, which stands in its own creative space.
Heart Of Nowhere (the film) is now set for a tour of the international film festival circuit, while also playing at selected screening events alongside the tour of the album. The trailer for the film will act as the music video for the first single There Will Come A Time, which will be premiered on Wednesday March 20th.
Heart Of Nowhere (the album) hits radio on March 20th, with first single There Will Come A Time. The full album will be available from May 6th.
Titling her third album Sweet Heart Rodeo might appear a calculated risk but singer-songwriter Dawn Landes, Kentucky-born and Brooklyn-based, swears she didn’t have the Byrds’ pioneering 1968 country-rock classic “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” in mind. Instead she was thinking of her great-grandmother’s beau, a young man who ran away to join the rodeo during the Great Depression and decades later inspired Landes to write the title song. A rodeo theme runs throughout the record, as Landes compares the ups and downs of romance to the rigours of bull riding.
“I guess you could say each song is like its own bull,” the twenty-eight-year-old deadpans, “each ride its own love-story…you know, trying to hang on to a wild thing isn’t always graceful.” Her feminist approach proved problematic when it came to turning up images of feisty cowgirls for the artwork. “There aren’t many female bull riders,” she admits. And with good reason. “I went to a few rodeos as research. They don’t stay on those things very long.”
Though she grew up in Louisville her perfect variations on country and folk music have all been recorded in her adopted hometown of Brooklyn. The culture clash of urban and rural traditions is an intriguing base for Landes’ material and audience. She spent most of 2008 touring with a variety of country/folk and indie-rock stalwarts like The Tindersticks, Midlake, Josh Ritter, Jason Isbell (of the Drive by Truckers), Alexi Murdoch and the Swell Season, to name a few. And though she might recognize kindred spirits in contemporaries like Conor Oberst and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Landes is blessed with a voice as pure and ringing as any folk or country diva.
The voice has always been there, but it’s taken a while to be heard. Her first self-released records, simply called Dawn’s Music and the EP two three four effectively proved her talent, but it was 2008’s acclaimed Fireproof that revealed it to the world. Around that time her splendid bluegrass cover of Peter Bjorn and John’s instant classic “Young Folks,” performed with an elderly group of Texans called The WST Band (“It stands for ‘we sorta tried’”), became a YouTube favorite. “Straight Lines,” one of her best-known songs, sound-tracked in adverts on both sides of the Atlantic. Here it accompanied a cute campaign to encourage urban cycling. There it promoted Axe, the local equivalent of Lynx and the preferred perfume of adolescent males. Its writer was bemused. “The same song was used to promote bicycling in a childlike way and men’s deodorant in a sexual way. What does that mean?” she once pondered. For a while she lived in France, learning to love Gainsbourg, Brassens and Francoise Hardy, and spent her time in Paris at the most unlikely joints. “I found myself in a lot of situations I wouldn’t have been invited to otherwise,” she says, “I played a lot of parties, fashion parties, one in a hotel where there was a bubble bath filled with champagne!” As you can imagine this is a world she doesn’t usually inhabit.
Since her last release, Landes (her surname has two syllables) has finished fitting out her own studio, Saltlands in Brooklyn. “I actually built it! Some friends and I put up the walls and floated the floors,” she declares proudly, christening it with the recording of Sweet Heart Rodeo. Again working with regular collaborator, drummer and all-rounder Ray Rizzo, her recording outfit was completed by guitarist Josh Kaufman and bassist Annie Nero, a couple (of musicians) that she met on the road. A cover of Kaufman’s composition, the charming, gentle “Dance Area” fits perfectly alongside Landes’ own material.
“Sweet Heart Rodeo” is packed with fine tunes, again beautifully sung. The opener “Young Girl” ponders gender stereotyping—competitive boys, jealous girls—over a reductive and distorted keyboard riff. The deceptively cutting “Romeo” berates a certain someone who ruined one of Landes’ birthdays by standing her up. No wonder she borrows a hook from “16 Tons,” Tennessee Ernie Ford’s fifties nugget of resignation. The haunting ‘Money In The Bank’ marries down-home hippie wisdom (‘the night before you die, what are you gonna buy?’) to a glorious chorus bolstered by a wistful French horn. Dawn even drums on an unlikely cover of Margo Guryan’s already unlikely “Love,” a 1968 collision of cool jazz and nascent psychedelia. “She’s amazing, one of these unsung geniuses like Vashti Bunyan was, who made one fabulous record then disappeared,” she says of the woman behind the lost classic “Take A Picture.”
Rizzo’s idiosyncratic harmonica style (“kinda cloudy—the opposite of ethereal”) boosts the quirky “Wandering Eye,” a rare song that combines sex and travel without causing offence, while “Little Miss Holiday” imagines a conversation between Jodie Foster and the teenage hooker that inspired her character in Scorsese’s unhinged “Taxi Driver.” It’s tender rather than bleak. “Brighton” is a tribute to a magical day in that great Southern (English) town, yet it could hardly sound more American, Appalachian even. “I hope I captured it in the song,” she says. By the album’s conclusion, the wobbly wedding march of “All Dressed In White,” you’ll probably be thinking of giving love a try. Even if it does hurt when you fall off.