Interview: Noah and the Whale

“I think you’re booked to do something like a ball because people might ‘know you’; whatever THAT means.” MONA EBERT talks to indie-folk cuties NOAH AND THE WHALE. In a blue leather furnished tour bus.

Cambridge charles bukowski Crisps Homerton interviews Lou Reed May Ball Music noah and the whale The Junction Tom Waits tour bus

The only place to sit on Noah and the Whale’s tour bus is between a canvas bag and lyricist Charlie Fink’s dry-cleaned suit. This has been their mobile home for the past few weeks; the London-based indie-folk band is on the final leg of their Last Night on Earth album tour.

After their second album, First Days of Spring -perhaps one of the best albums ever for the broken-hearted- Noah and the Whale have come a long way to the synth-infused sounds of Last Night on Earth. Starting with ukuleles, whistling and whimsicality, it would appear the band has now come of age.

Having played the Junction once before, as well as the Homerton May Ball, Urby must have come with some expectations. “A ball is a bit like a huge festival but everybody knows everybody else. And everybody thought they only had another six hours to live.” He laughs heartily.

“I think you’re booked to do something like a ball because people might ‘know you’; whatever that means.” At this point, keyboardist, fiddler and backing vocalist Tom Hobden appears; with perfectly side-swept curls and a suit in tow. He apologises sweetly for being 5 minutes late. Immediately likeable, politeness and charm set Noah and the Whale apart.

Instead of worrying that their Cambridge audience may be filled with overanalytical students taking apart every lyric, the feeling they get is that “people in a massive area of learning are more repressed and just want to get out,” adding through chuckles that they “just want them to totally lose themselves.”

They agree on the joys of people watching. “I love that about touring.” Urby explains. “You get out and you’re surrounded by people – there’s subtle nuances about places and the people in them.”

He adds, without the least hint of snobbery: “there’s a big division isn’t there, between the students and academics and those who live devoid of the university, would you say that’s fair?” I nod hesitantly. It’s clear that Urby and Tom care about the people they play for.

Their fabulous blue leather-furnished tour bus

Their newest album is characterised by big choruses, cheerful harmonies and beautifully optimistic lyrics. ‘The title comes from a series of Charles Bukowski poems called ‘The Last Night on Earth’.

“Fink is ‘quite diverse in the stuff he reads and takes inspiration from’.” Tom adds, “as a band we’re quite malleable, I guess. That’s a good word.”

Bukowski isn’t the only discernible influence. “Lyrically there are some of Tom Waits’ songs and a bit of Lou Reed; they’ve all been in that kind of melting pot of inspiration,” says Tom.

They both agree that it’s a matter of honesty: “You’ve got to be whole heartedly behind it and maintain a sense of what you want to achieve.”

Tom seems aware of the progression I see since their first album, and that’s a part of how they see the act of writing. They think of them as “Little pockets in our history and stages of our development as people as well as musicians – it’s like ‘this is who you were then, this is who you are now’”. So who are they now? “Exhilarated” and keen to convey that feeling of “life affirmed”. Well, their enthusiasm is contagious.

Listening to Last Night On Earth, it’s not hard to imagine Noah and the Whale in their tour bus heading down Route 66; and that’s exactly how to listen to it – Tom suggests taking a night time drive, “maybe by yourself in the car”. But most importantly, adds Urby, is to listen to it “loud and listen to the whole thing.”
Having been warned explicitly by the management team not to ask ‘silly questions’ about ‘favourite crisp flavours’ – it seemed too good to resist. Urby confirms my suspicions: “I like Twiglets. That’s probably why you were asked not ask that question. Because I don’t really like crisps. I mean, you know, I like Kettle Chips… they’re posh crisps, but they’re also quite good.” How about Prawn Cocktail? I suggest. “Nice” says Tom, “Worcester sauce!” This band is at once cool enough for blue leather and down-to-earth enough to enjoy a bag of Prawn Cocktail.

Check out our review of Noah and the Whale here.

Photographs by Tamsin Lim