The Laughing Heart, a poem by celebrated American writer Charles Bukowski, opens: ‘Your life is your life. Don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission. Be on the watch. There are ways out.’
This was a key influence on Charlie Fink when he was writing Noah And The Whale’s third album.
The biggest giveaway is the record’s title, Last Night On Earth, which is also a poetry collection by Bukowski.
‘It’s that idea that you should live every day as if it’s your last,’ explains Fink, relaxing after doing a soundcheck for the band’s first gig in more than six months.
‘I love the idea of night-time, and the excitement, melodrama and freedom that brings. If you think about it, there’s a limitless potential to each evening, and I like the romantic idea that there’s something exciting happening somewhere in the world, and you’re going to stumble upon it’ If the 25-year-old sounds upbeat, that’s because he is. And, after the turbulent events that inspired the band’s second album, The First Days Of Spring, we shouldn’t begrudge him reflecting on how wonderful life can be now.
If you’re unfamiliar with story behind the London-based band’s last album, here’s a brief recap.
Fink and recent Brit-winner Laura Marling were once a couple. She sang on their first album, he produced her debut, then she dumped him, breaking his heart.
Taking the old adage about suffering for your art, Fink set about documenting his pain and made The First Days Of Spring, one of the finest records of 2009.
From the opening title track, which deals with the realisation of a relationship being over, through misery (I Have Nothing), one-night stands (Stranger) and the hope he won’t be this sad forever (Blue Skies), he emerges with finale My Door Is Always Open and, ultimately, acceptance.
It was big leap for fans of the band’s debut, Peaceful The World Lays Me Down, which was an altogether more light-hearted, jaunty affair.
‘I remember the first gigs we played, before First Days came out, and there were people obviously expecting 5 Years Time [a song they originally released in 2007 and rereleased in 2008 to become a number seven hit], but we’d walk out and play something like My Broken Heart or I Have Nothing. There were crowds just looking around saying, “What is this?”
‘But I had to make that album. It was very cathartic writing and recording it, even if it was a little difficult to play live.
‘I was naive to think people wouldn’t draw the conclusions they did, and I was also surprised how much people asked me about it. I thought the record was candid enough, it spoke for itself, so I try to be more reserved in conversation.’
While he claims the experience didn’t change the way he approached writing the new album, it would be easy to understand why having scores of journalists asking about your private life would alter your songwriting technique.
For Last Night On Earth, Fink wrote about fictional characters for the first time.
There’s pendulum-hipped brown-eyed floozy Lisa from L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. for starters, and a nameless, excitable teen heading out of town on a bus, hopeful of finding the right party in Tonight’s The Kind Of Night, which is due for release on May 16.
‘It’s the beautiful thing about songs,’ Fink explains. ‘Depth of illusion. You’re asking a listener to put it all together. If you’re making a film, you have to have everything on screen, but with a song, people can have their own take on it.
‘ They’ll know what each of the characters I’m singing about looks like. Hopefully they’ll know someone who it sounds like, too.’
If The First Days Of Spring was a stylistic leap on from the debut, Last Night On Earth, released last month, takes things even further.
Fink’s bruised baritone is still there, but added into the mix this time around are synthesizers, fist-pumping and seventies adult rock chord changes the likes of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen built careers on.
‘I’ve definitely been listening to lots of new music - new to me anyway,’ he begins. ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town by Bruce Springsteen, Bone Machine by Tom Waits and various bits of Arthur Russell,’ says Fink. I imagine there will be people expecting more of the same from us, and while that does have an effect on what I do, I wanted to further my ability as a writer too.
‘I purposefully wanted to take away anything that was comfortable on this album. I tried not to rely on chord progressions I’d used before, familiar lyrical inflections and shapes.
‘There was a vocabulary to the first two albums that I’ve tried to remove from this one.
‘I like the thought that from the first track people will be surprised, that we’re moving forward. I want to test myself all the time.’
The album’s brevity is another interesting point – 10 songs hurtle by in half an hour.
‘I’ve never put things in songs for the sake of it,’ he says. ‘But with this album I was especially brutal, and being concise was the most important thing so I didn’t write anything that has more than two verses. I want to say the most I can with the least words.’
Does this mean we can expect fewer words but more characters from Charlie’s future songs?
‘I guess I’m just not that tactical about my writing,’ he says. If there was something I wanted to express, being exposed again wouldn’t worry me.
‘I needed to make the last album, and it’s the same this time around. I’m happy, and these are the songs I had to write.’