It’s a sunny but chilly April evening, and I head to Noah and the Whale’s label’s HQ. It’s all a bit posh. As I arrive, Charlie, Tom Fiddle and Urby are sat in a glass fronted meeting room, while a confident-looking lady with a DV Camera finishes her interview. I’ve never felt more lo-fi in my life: I’ve got a tape cassette dictaphone, circa ‘97. Happily, when I meet the three assembled band members, they are not perturbed by my lack of 21st century interviewing technology. The band have had a busy year thus far: they have recently played South by South West, completed a tour supporting Adam Green and have been recording their debut album. I catch up with them just before their appearances at this year’s Camden Crawl. There is a lot you should know about this self-dubbed ‘Post Grunge Folk’ band. So without futher ado: I turn the dictaphone up to 11, let’s go!
KV: You’ve just been on tour with Adam Green, what’s it been like playing to bigger crowds?
Charlie: It’s been great, the biggest date was probably Koko on that tour – we’d actually played there before, supporting Broken Social Scene. It’s great – Fiddle likes the space on stage, and Urby really does; in fact he’s recently been described (admittedly by me and Doug) as Mick Jagger with a bass.
Urby (looking a little perplexed): Have I?
Charlie: (laughing) Yeah, he needs a bit of room.
Fiddle: We wanna build one of those things that go out into the crowd.
Urby: I want a Bridge
Charlie: Urby was built for O2 Arena, not small pubs in Camden.
Urby: It’s something that sadly I’ve got no control over. If a gig is going well, I’m gonna ya know [I’ve witnessed it: he’s a man who likes to dart about the stage. If you see him, you just better give the man some space-KV]
What next I wonder, are Noah and the Whale going stadium?…
Charlie: We’re actually gonna gig on roller blades one day.
KV: That I’d like to see.
Urby: Noah and the Whale on Ice…it’s in the early stages of production.
Charlie: When you have the dexterity of Noah and the Whale…
KV: Then anything’s possible?
Charlie: Exactly, Urby could do bass-solo on a half pipe.
KV: That would be impressive, and would open you up to the skater market.
Urby: Yeah, it’s the new market, there’s been skate punk, punk metal…folk skater
Charlie: Yeah, we’re trying to move on the ‘evel knievel’ crowd as well
It seems they have their sights set on rock shows, extreme sports and ITV prime-time…maybe.
KV: So, is it fair to say that Noah and the Whale are a band with good skills?
All three: Yes!
KV: (Chuckling) That’s a nice word, and not one I was expecting to hear today!
Urby’s stage antics aside, I explain that I was taken by the dynamics both within the music and between members. They look very comfortable together, and I wonder whether everyone contributes to the song-writing process.
Charlie: Yeah, generally the way it works is I’ll come in with the song written, lyrics and melodies for instruments, but then everyone plays them in their own way and adds their own bits to it. I definitely think the songs would sound different if they were played by other people, and also we’ve played like 200 gigs together or something.
They are gig veterans, but despite the show-boating banter of before: they like an element of surprise.
Urby: The first time I ever played with Fiddle was on stage, we’d never met before he came back, ’cause I’d replaced him
Charlie: Because he’d been on holiday!
Urby: Yes, I should stress that…he’s fully competent. And yeah, we just met on stage at the Proud Galleries in Camden and played. So, we’re not a big rehearsals band. We’re more uncomfortable in a rehearsal space.
Charlie: For the Koko gig, the drummer and Becca (from Slow Club) the singer have only just been with us for this tour [Drummer Doug and Laura Marling have been rather busy with Laura’s solo tour commitments of late] and we actually didn’t rehearse cos I decided to take a holiday and go walking and climbing hills!
KV: Sounds nice, is there a nervous energy with gigs then?
Urby: No, we’re probably too far the other way, we’re really relaxed. The drummer we had was a professional musician, who was slightly more nervous than the rest of us and we felt quite comfortable putting him through hell…haha! But he didn’t really beat us up about it it, so it was ok.
KV: So just a few changes here and there; different lyrics etc. to keep him on his toes!
Charlie: Well we sent him our recordings, then we said “actually we don’t play it the way it sounds on record, so what you’ve heard is completely pointless.”
Urby: He had the lyrics though, that helps a drummer
KV: He looked like he was having fun though, sitting there with his egg-shaker and drums; which is always a nice combo I feel.
So that’s the live side of things, but there is an album on the way. It’s time to find out about that.
KV: Are you looking forward to the album coming out and highlighting different sides to the band than you’ve been able to do with singles?
Charlie: Definitely, that’s the thing, I can’t wait for people to hear the album so they can hear what kind of a band we actually are. Because with the singles it’s such a microscope of what we’re doing and you’re very limited as to what you can actually put out as a single.
KV: Yeah, with an album it’s a whole body of work. One thing that comes up a lot is that you’re perceived as ‘twee’ etc and actually having watched you play live I think your music is more complex than that. I imagine an album will show that.
My rather verbose summation is met with nods of approval. So we’ve examined things sonically, but lyrics are important too.
KV: Lyrically your songs give colour to the everyday; do you sit down to write or do you write as you go along?
Charlie: I write quite erratically, not with a set time to write. I definitely think I write optimistically, and I write more on musings…sorry I lost what I was saying [He is apologetic, but looked deep in thought I don’t like to interrupt]
KV: By now you must be used to reading about yourselves, what’s the silliest thing you’ve read?
Charlie: We did an interview on BBC 6, apparently there was a rumour going around that one of us had no belly button. So we showed Marc Riley our belly buttons! but for us…it’s the whole ‘Twee’ thing, we find it a bit baffling.
KV: Do you want to set the record straight then?
Charlie: I just want people to hear the album, then they can call us twee, feel free!
My next question may seem a little random, but given the recent ‘belly button’ bombshell, perhaps it isn’t.
KV: I’ve noticed a lot of anatomical references in your lyrics, is this a deliberate theme? Is there a biological concept album in the pipeline?
Charlie: Well, I purposely wrote the album as a coherent work and there is almost a sort of vocabulary to it. You know, as in there are words that are representative of things throughout the album. Obviously, the heart comes up throughout the album as being your centre or a metaphor of love. Then erosion comes up, like a metaphor of time or whatever. Obviously the physical body is the manifestation of everything about you. For me, bits of the body almost take on their own personality.
Fiddle: You can’t be more real when you’re talking about you than the elements that make yourself up.
It’s spring, and for most bands that means festival season is nigh.
KV: You played festivals quite early on, do you feel less nervous about doing them this year?
Urby: Personally, I like to go on stage and know everything is sounding as it should. I think it’s that far more than nerves that would worry me – we’ve played together so much. I think the biggest concern is not getting a soundcheck. Sometimes even when you do get a soundcheck you come on stage it’s just not as it should be…but occasionally the beauty of live music is you don’t always know what’s going to happen. Once on tour, I turned around and my Bass was in two bits…I don’t know what happened. Now it’s been to a specialist and sounds better than ever, but you want to know it’s all sounding as it should be.
Charlie: At the same time at South By South West , one of the only bands I saw was Herman Dune, and what was great about watching them was there was just the two of them and they couldn’t have been more relaxed, his lead kept cutting out on stage and he just twiddled it and carried on. There is nothing worse than seeing people stressed on stage, it’s infectious.
KV: Exactly, you go to gigs to switch off from that.
Charlie: Yeah, and you have to enjoy playing live, so even if something cocks up people understand. It’s part of the charm if bands handle it well.
This decends into Charlie recalling seeing Blink 182 at a festival, turns out he’s a huge fan. I volunteer that I’d seen them at Reading a few years ago, as it happens so had Urby: we concur it was a great gig! However, I digress…
KV: So, you’ve established yourselves as adept wordsmiths, and you’re playing a gig in a Library (Archway library as part of Puregroove’s festival). So I’ll ask you a bookish question. If you could escape into the realm of any book, which would it be and why?
Charlie: What, like a character?
KV: Yeah, a character or place in a book
Charlie: That’s a big question. I mean, even though it’s a completely horrific period of history: I always look quite romantically upon the American Depression (Fiddle nods in agreement) You know, reading Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie’s ‘Bound For Glory’ I remember thinking that even with ‘Of Mice And Men’ it’s such a sad story but I can’t help but think “that’s so sweet” and that kind of lifestyle. I actually saw a version of that with um, who’s that Kelly who presented ‘Stars in their Eyes’?
Urby: Matthew Kelly…you’re joking, I was gonna say Lorraine Kelly
KV: Oh God, even worse!
Charlie: Matthew Kelly! yeah, it was so bad it was brilliant
Urby: On a more national level, I’d say Dickens. Again, awful period of history and descriptions, but there is something romantic about it.
KV: What kind of character would you be? a Mr Bumble-type figure?
Urby: No, I imagine being a street kid
Charlie: (Laughing) I can see that, you’d be the artful dodger [I picture that too, well you’ve gotta pick a bass string or two-KV]
Urby: No, I’d be in his gang, hanging around dirty, grimy London with my mates, eating a pastry.
KV: You wouldn’t have a pastry, you’d be stealing pastries!
Urby: As a kid, I think there’s a certain element of fun to it.
Just as I think it’s time to shut this chapter and think about wrapping up the interview: Charlie throws a curveball.
Charlie: (Placing a hand on his comrade’s shoulder) Urby here was in a little movie adapted from a book by Thomas Hardy. Starring alongside Catherine Zeta Jones and Clive Owen
From the expression on Urby’s face, I see Charlie has opened a whole pandora’s box of childhood memories!
Urby: Oh that’s awful, I can’t believe you did that!
Charlie cackles at his revelation
KV: I think we need hear a little bit more about this, please do go on.
Charlie: If you wanted you know a 6 year old ginger kid in the early 90s – Urby was who you came to
Urby: Yeah, I was that kid. That’s why I had to change my name…for legal reasons!
KV: Wow! Were you the English equivalent of Macaulay Culkin?
Charlie: Yeah, you know he was like the kid out of Jerry Maguire
Urby: Hmm, puberty was harsh!
Charlie: What do you reckon happened to that kid?
Urby: He probably looks a bit like me!
Charlie: haha do you think he’s playing bass in a band?
Urby: Yeah, he’s playing bass in some band
Charlie: Really? what kind of band?
Urby: I think they are probably reggae
Urby reveals that during this time, he took 6 months off school and upon his return everyone at his school hated him, although he admits it may have gone to his head ever so slightly…
Urby: I’d probably become quite egotistical, you know I had a Winnebago and a chair with my name on it! No nine year old kid should have a chair with their name on it
Charlie: I don’t want to be harsh, but your performances weren’t that celebrated
I can’t help but laugh, poor old Urby: the floodgates have opened, and there is just no going back!
Urby: No, no they weren’t, but it is worth bringing up that I think 98% of child actors are awful [Note-this is not an official statistic!-KV] that is that small deviation
Despite Urby’s attempts at deflection Charlie isn’t letting this one lie…
Charlie: I hesitate to use the word forgettable…
Urby: (admitting defeat) It was, it was so awful. It was about six years later and I checked out one of my films and it had one review which said: Who paid for this?
KV: haha…you IMDB-check yourself? So what was the title of this film?
Charlie: Return of the Native!
Urby: I was Johnny Yeobright, next to Clive Owen
Charlie: Next time you see us, can you heckle “little Johnny Yeobright”
KV: Yeah, but you’ll know who it is heckling! Still, Catherine Zeta Jones and Clive Owen, a stellar cast!
Urby: That’s why I’m so unimpressed with the highlife and the glamour now, I’ve seen it before…I’ve just grown up in that environment.
KV: Yeah, what’s a packet of Twiglets when you’re used to bathing in Mars Milk!
Charlie: I want to make a documentary about Urby breaking back into the child acting business, but only child acting roles, not adult ones!
There is yet more discussion of where Urby’s rekindled career could go. A long lost Weasley kid in Harry Potter is suggested. Urby tells me it’s the sort of thing that comes up all the time. Hollywood, are you listening? Perhaps I should finish on a sensible note!
KV: Well, I feel as if I’ve steered you on a bit of a tangent!
Charlie: No it was my fault
Urby: It’s always a privilege to discuss my failed acting career!
KV: Ok…one last question. It’s only April, and you’ve already been to South by South West, been working on an album, and gigging in Europe: What’s left for you in the rest of 2008?
Charlie: Just retire I reckon, yeah wrap it up! ..nah it’ll just be good to keep doing what we’re doing and enjoy it.
I think I’ve kept these gentlemen long enough. After all it’s tea-time, it would be impolite to get in the way of that.
Noah and the Whale release ‘Shape Of My Heart’ on 5th May – see below to order online/pre-order the album: