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Jan 30, 2009

Noah and the Whale have great taste in films. The band’s bittersweet pop songs aren’t bad either.

By Michael Tedder

Sitting in a bar in Brooklyn, N.Y., a few hours before the launch of their first U.S. tour, the young men of Noah and the Whale are discussing the joy they felt the first time they ran a harmonium organ through a distortion device.
Ask Charlie and Doug Fink (the band’s singer/guitarist and drummer, respectively) if there’s any brotherly competition in the group, and they’ll gleefully discuss the British children’s show, “The Chuckle Brothers.”
Inquire about their dislike for the term “twee,” and you’ll get the sense they’re only a spare afternoon away from writing a 100-page thesis on why all genre labels should be summarily banned by Parliament.
But attempt to elicit any comment on the possibility that their name is an homage to their favorite director, deadpan maestro Noah Baumbach, and his divorce drama, The Squid and the Whale, and a spirited round of dodge-the-question ensues. 
“People have said that,” says Charlie. “Maybe.”
“It’s not possibly incorrect,” opines bassist Matt “Urby Whale” Owens.
“It may not be no or yes,” Doug adds helpfully.
“It’s definitely possible,” Owens confirms.
Charlie concludes, “it’s definitely a possibility.”
Playful reticence aside, the videos for the group’s singles from their debut album, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, are filled with knowing nods (yellow instructional text across the screen, precise horizontal staging, silly uniforms) to the films of both Baumbach and his frequent collaborator, director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited).
“We take pride in the fact we can incorporate the visual aspects as well as the musical aspects,” says violinist Tom Hobden. “The whole thing is an art form, so you need to have all those areas covered. Without it, it doesn’t feel like a cohesive unit.”

FLYP lets you listen to clips from three songs off of Noah and the Whale’s debut album, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down.

Growing up, the Fink brothers’ household was filled with the sounds of their mother’s Bob Dylan, Beach Boys and Woody Guthrie records.
Though Charlie says he and his brother were more interested in soldiers and cars than music when they were kids, he got a guitar when he got older and started writing songs.
He spent about seven years writing “rubbish songs” before taking a break. It was when he started again that “I thought it was starting to get worthwhile. I think ‘Mary’ was the first Noah and the Whale song that I wrote. So I guess that was the first step.”
The next step was to recruit his brother and some of their childhood friends to be the other members of the band.
Noah and the Whale began playing shows in late 2006 and proceeded to record limited edition vinyl singles for the tiny label Young & Lost Club, which was eventually purchased by Universal Records.
Given the option to release albums through any Universal subsidiary, they chose Interscope imprint Cherrytree, which had recently had success with one of their favorite artists, Feist.
Upon its release, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down spawned a U.K. hit with “5 Years Time.”
The real accomplishment was that the album proved even more popular than the single.
“It was exciting for us to know that people were coming to the album,” Charlie says. “Hopefully it’s cementing a fan base.”  

With a live performance and interviews with the band members, FLYP’s short documentary on Noah and the Whale will give you a taste for their sense of humor and laid back style.

Remarking upon the creation of “5 Years Time,” the group’s first U.K. single, Charlie says “that song is probably the quickest song that I’ve ever written. I’m not criticizing it for that reason. I’m just saying that it’s just, well, very simple.”
According to Charlie, the rest of Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down is not necessarily autobiographical, but “it is based on my own experience. But that’s not to say personal experience.”
The group worked with producer Eliot James (Bloc Party, The Rakes) to craft the sardonic but breezy, horn and string-infused album, which often gets described as folk-influenced.
“That doesn’t really mean anything, because it’s so broad,” he says.  “It doesn’t actually define anything. A term like ‘honesty’ means more than a term like ‘folk’ or ‘grunge.’ It’s laziness that leads to terms like that.”
Genre quibbles aside, the group is still happily surprised that enough people care about their band to categorize them at all. It is an impressive accomplishment considering that the band members never actually decided Noah and the Whale was a better use of their time than, say, attending university like the rest of their friends.
“I don’t think we ever made a decision about it. It kind of just happened,” Charlie says. “Everyone was off doing their own thing, and then we started gigging, and slowly we started doing it more and more. Suddenly, it was like, ‘this is what we do now, guys.’”

Go Wes, Young Man: With his movie soundtracks and scoring, director Wes Anderson has garnered a reputation as one of modern cinema’s greatest music enthusiasts. In the process, his films have become reference points for a generation of young musicians. FLYP Media’s interactive page details Anderson’s influence on a few of the hottest bands out there, and gives you a chance to sample their music.

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