Interview – Noah and the Whale’s Tom Hobden
– by Ria Nevada
The lads from Noah and the Whale put most 22-year-olds to shame. Since their formation in 2006, they’ve toured internationally, been featured on a handful of mainstream TV shows, have prime spots on some of the most sought-after music festivals in the world, and have two gold records under their belt. When I was their age, I was steaming garments at a women’s clothing store and living above my parent’s garage.
I spoke with Tom Hobden from the group about the close relationship between their music and the world of film, the coming-of-age themes in their newest record Last Night on Earth, and his soft spot for the fair city of Vancouver.
Ria Nevada: I’m very excited to be speaking with Tom Hobden, fiddle and keys extraordinaire from Noah and the Whale. Firstly, thanks for taking the time to speak with Guttersnipe News. Your fans here in Vancouver are extremely excited about the upcoming gig you have at the Biltmore Cabaret on May 31.
Tom Hobden: Oh, as are we, as are we.
RN: Have you visited or performed in Vancouver in the past?
TH: I have actually been to Vancouver. I haven’t played there unfortunately, but um,Â I visited there a couple of summers back with my family.
RN: Any favourite spots in the city?
TH: Oh yeah, well we actually were lucky because we hired a yacht and went out to Vancouver Island. It was very beautiful.
RN: That’s awesome. So you guys are heading out from England soon. Do you ever get jittery about performing away from home soil?
TH: Um, yeah I quite enjoy it . We’ve done a couple of tours in America and Canada. But it’s a totally different experience and wonderful opportunity to go to different parts of the world that you never go to.
RN: The perks of this career right?
TH: Yeah, absolutely!
RN: So your latest record has been incredibly well-received by audiences in your home country of England. You managed to fend off the mighty triumvirate of Kanye West, Drake and Rihanna from the top spot of NME‘s weekly top 10 in March. Not an easy feat by any standards:.
TH: [chuckles] That was quite surreal actually, to be honest. I was quite surprised.
RN: You guys deserved that top spot. What do you think is the secret to this record’s success?
TH: Um… Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t know. Just uh, we always made albums with the aim of being honest in our songwriting, with what we’re trying to express and stuff. That’s all we can do. You can’t really pin down a formula [laughs].
RN: I personally love how you guys embrace the strong effects that popular culture has on our daily lives. I remember an interview where your band mate, Charlie Fink, talked about Wet Wet Wet and the Peep Show. What shows, bands, films, trends are you currently hooked on?
TH: Well yeah, we love all those things. We’re living in the age of great TV.
RN: That’s true.
TH: We all kind of watch like, Boardwalk Empire. And all those great things, so it’s a good time.
RN: And of course I have to mention your band name Noah and the Whale and how it pays tribute to the incredibly talented director, Noah Baumbach, and his films.
TH: No doubt about that. He’s a really big influence on us
RN: I do get the feel for the ’80s off-kilter romanticism and the coming-of-age storytelling in your music. Are these some of the common lines can you see between your art and his film, The Squid and the Whale?
TH: Oh wow, well that film was about a very dysfunctional family, which we certainly aren’t. We all get along very well. I think, you know, as you said, the coming of age story, especially that story, The Squid and the Whale, plays out in a more extreme way. But the things that we’re trying to encapsulate with this record are the kind of excitement and romanticism associated with either making a bus journey out of town for the first time, or like exploring the unknown on your own. These are exciting things that people can relate to.
RN: Right, and that’s why you guys attract a younger, university audience as well, because they’re all kind of going through these things with you as they listen to the record.
TH: Yeah, well, you know I’m only 22, so I’m living it right now, even.
RN: Yeah, it must be cathartic for listeners who can relate to your music.
TH: Yeah absolutely. I hope that comes across.
RN: Have you ever been in contact with Noah Baumbach or gotten any feedback from him?
TH: Never really in contact directly, no. But there was an episode when Charlie was editing First Days of Spring and just so happened to be editing in the same studio suite as Wes Anderson, and they had a brief encounter on the lift. So that was the closest we ever got. [laughs]
RN: That’s pretty exciting.
TH: That’s pretty cool, yeah. I think it’s crazy because I think straight after that, like, the next day, the studio burned down or something? It’s a really bizarre story. Charlie would have to tell you in better detail.
RN: What would you hope Noah would say about the band and the type of music you guys play?
TH: Oh, I hope he’s interested. Um, but I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s the kind of music he listens to. Maybe he listens to rap-metal or something.
RN: You guys just released a short film on your website yesterday giving fans a sneak-peak to the making of Last Night on Earth and a few of the demos that did not make it onto the album. Also, your video “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N” draws from Classical Hollywood and film noir conventions. Do you have plans for larger cinematic projects in the future?
TH: Um, yeah, I mean we have a lot of experience with film. And the band is, we’re all huge film buffs. As you say, First Days of Spring had a film that coincided with the album. But I think for the near future, we haven’t really been focusing on it to be honest. I think we’re just kinda knuckling down to album work. We go through phases. We’re either recording-involved or gigging. At the moment we’re in the gig phase.
RN: You guys prove that music and film have an inseparable bond. What film would you love to re-do the soundtrack for?
TH: Wow, very good question. Let me think. It would be quite fun doing a horror movie soundtrack. I’ve been thinking about that actually. We watched The Evil Dead a couple of weeks ago for the first time, and I thought “Gee, that would be quite fun to just play around with that”
RN: Yeah, put in all those sound effects, and what not.
TH: Yeah, I just think you could do something really unusual. Because there are so many cliches with horror music soundtracks, like the classic screeching strings. You could do something crazy and off-the-wall with that.
RN: And is there a soundtrack that you think is untouchable?
TH: I think, well, I was very impressed with the There Will be Blood soundtrack. That’s something that had a real big impact on me at the time. It came out just before First Days of Spring actually. But that was a very immaculate soundtrack.
RN: So the title of your latest record pays tribute to poet Charles Bukowski. Do you ever worry that these more academic, or I should say, slightly obscure references might intimidate or put off wider audiences?
TH: Um, not really, because I don’t know, I think lyrics are a real interesting animal. I think people take them at different face value? Like for some people, lyrics are like the most important, like really impact their enjoyment of the song. Whilst other people look for melody. People come from different places. So I never worry about that, and I don’t think Charlie worries about that because ultimately those references, as you say, is obviously how you fit into the context.
RN: Yeah, so they have a universal value.
TH: Exactly. I mean we always try to explore those universal themes and try to present them in a universal way that people can access the song from many different levels. So I think that’s the key to getting people excited.
RN: So you guys will be playing quite a few festivals this year, including Sasquatch at the Gorge in Washington, just a few hours away from Vancouver. What do you find are the advantages and disadvantages of playing in these vast landscapes amongst huge line-ups of artists?
TH: I think it’s really exciting! It’s amazing to be able to go to a festival and be able to see five or six bands that you really love all in one setting. I think that’s a pretty incredible phenomenon. Um, and I know that bands often complain about how the sound isn’t what they want, or you don’t get a soundcheck. But I think at the end of the day, you know, it’s good for bands to be under that pressure next to other big bands. I think it’s good. Keeps everyone on the ball.
RN: Yeah for sure, and the setting helps you build camaraderie with other bands.
TH: I love just meeting people. It’s quite bizarre, or strange how I only see my other musical friends at festivals. It’s kind of nice I think.
RN:Well, thanks for speaking with me today. Best of luck to you guys, and we’re excited to have you in our city in the next few weeks!
TH: That’s very kind. Thank you so much!
RN: Thanks Tom!