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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 The result is a record that sounds by turns melancholy and withdrawn, and at others flushed and exuberant.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.