Tom at the Concert
Published September 8, 2011
TOM HOBDEN (FAR RIGHT) AND HIS NOAH AND THE WHALE BANDMATES.
Tom Hobden is exactly what you’d want the violinist for a successful British indie-rock band to be. Hobden, who plays the fiddle and keys for Noah and the Whale, is a little shy, averse to bragging, and clearly thankful for what his band has achieved. He’s also stylish, with an asymmetrical mop of curly hair and a tailored gray flannel suit by a London brand called Mr. Start, which has been called “Shoreditch’s answer to Savile Row,” but he’s modest if you try to compliment it.
In short, Hobden’s a delight—as are Noah and the Whale, particularly of late (this year’s album Last Night on Earth is a little more upbeat than previous fare). It’s an album that’s more fun to experience with others, which is why yesterday’s news that the band will play a North American tour in November was so welcome. Tickets go on sale tomorrow, and we strongly advise picking some up.
We, in fact, happened to talk to Hobden right after a show—on the main stage at Øya Festival in Norway last month. He happily chatted about the new album, the band’s filmic influences (they get their name from Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale), old friends who are making good (Laura Marling and Emmy the Great among them), and, of course, that suit.
ALEXANDRIA SYMONDS: I get the sense that, despite the title, Last Night on Earth is sort of an optimistic record overall. Do you agree with that?
TOM HOBDEN: Yeah, very much so. We always set out to make an optimistic album. I guess the main themes of the record are, it’s all based in the nighttime and it’s meant to be about being young, breaking out from your small town, driving out into the night, and seeing what happens to you.SYMONDS: Can you speak to the headspace that you were all in when you were recording?
HOBDEN: Yeah, our second album was First Days of Spring, and was a very introverted, quite melancholic album.
SYMONDS: Compared to this one, especially.
HOBDEN: Having toured that album and made that album, we were looking to do something a bit different, so I think we always set out with the intention of making a more upbeat record. And we recorded it in Los Angeles, partly due to the fact that our producer, Jason Lader, works out of there, but also as a means of escaping London, where we made those first two albums. We’re all quite instinctive, we like to follow our gut, and at the time doing something different was what we wanted to do, in order to test ourselves.
SYMONDS: Have you found that touring with this album, you end the shows in a better mood?
HOBDEN: Yeah, it’s quite hard getting to that level playing sad songs. It’s quite hard trying to make a convincing performance every night; you really have to refresh yourself.
SYMONDS: Yeah, I don’t know how Morrissey has done it.
HOBDEN: Yeah. [laughs]
SYMONDS: For 30 years…
HOBDEN: He revels in it. That’s the key. Playing the sets we’re playing these days, which are new album-heavy, is great. It’s not only great for us to play, but it’s great to see happy faces instead of people crying.
SYMONDS: Yeah, although there’s something to people crying, I suppose. As long as there’s something going on.
HOBDEN: Yeah, of course.
SYMONDS: I know that you all had considered titling the album Old Joy, but then you switched it over.
SYMONDS: Why the switch? Was it just a marketing thing?
HOBDEN: No, not really. It was more, “Old Joy,” the sentiment that the track actually came to resemble wasn’t what we really wanted to pursue.
SYMONDS: It’s a beautiful song, though.
HOBDEN: Yeah, well, that song has been through various mutations. I remember demoing that song and it sounded completely different.
HOBDEN: Almost quite Stones-y.
SYMONDS: Oh, no way! Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine that song sounding Stones-y.
HOBDEN: Well, I think we’ve put some of the demos out on the Internet, so you can listen to it, and it’s like a nine-minute epic.
SYMONDS: Oh, wow.
HOBDEN: With all kinds of slide guitars, and much more organic-sounding, not so electronic. But that track is a nice way to tie up the record, I think.
SYMONDS: Is that title a reference to the Kelly Reichardt film?
HOBDEN: With Bonnie Prince Billy? Yeah, yeah. It was a reference.
SYMONDS: It’s a beautiful movie.
SYMONDS: I know that you guys are sort of film buffs in general.
SYMONDS: There’s a lot of film stuff in your work. Has there been anything that you’ve seen lately that’s stuck with you?
HOBDEN: Recently? What have I seen recently… oh, I saw that new Woody Allen film.
SYMONDS: Did you like it?
HOBDEN: Loved it. Thought it was a real return to form. [laughs]
SYMONDS: Oh, absolutely.
HOBDEN: After You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.
SYMONDS: Yeah, that was kind of a left turn.
HOBDEN: Whenever he does films in the UK, I really don’t think he ever captures the mood of the UK. It just felt really weird. [laughs] But Midnight in Paris, absolutely brilliant. I thought it was stunning. And household names like Owen Wilson and—what’s the girl called? Rachel McAdams?—and it just totally reinvents them, it’s great.
SYMONDS: I’m curious, have you guys ever actually gotten to meet Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach? After all this time, when you’re clearly huge fans?
HOBDEN: No, we haven’t. There was a brief encounter—Charlie, when he was mixing the film for the last album, he was doing it at some mixing studio in London, and he got into the lift, and Wes Anderson was there. He was working on Fantastic Mr. Fox in the same building. But they didn’t say anything [to one another].
SYMONDS: I know that it’s been a while since Charlie and Laura split up, and she since she left the band, and since you’ve kind of stopped working with Emmy the Great so much. Are you all at a place where you can just let go and be happy? Or is it strange for you to see them getting attention? Do you ever feel competitive about that?
HOBDEN: No, I don’t think so. It’s quite bizarre how the media kind of wrapped us all together I think. I guess it made sense.
SYMONDS: Yeah, that is strange—because I don’t think that either of their solo work is that similar to what you did together.
HOBDEN: Yeah, not at all. In the initial stage, when we were all starting off, it made a bit of sense, because we were all friends and part of that community, but since we’ve all had our success in various forms, we’ve just been touring and we don’t really see each other. I’ve played on Laura’s album subsequently, but I haven’t seen her for like a year now.
SYMONDS: Yeah, well, I’m sorry to be one of the people who are continually—
HOBDEN: No, no. It’s great, I love these people, they’re really old friends. It’s great because you get to see their output and not necessarily be involved with it; you get to see it as a fresh outsider, which is awesome.
SYMONDS: It seems like you all went through some really formative years together, and now you’re taking these different roads.
HOBDEN: Yeah, exactly. It’s great.
SYMONDS: And you get to watch it from a parallel street, which must be interesting.
HOBDEN: It’s one of the real pleasures I take—the fact that we’ve all made it, I guess, and that we’re all professional musicians now. That’s pretty cool. When we were starting off when we were sixteen…
SYMONDS: It’s funny that you’re so bashful about that. You guys are huge! [laughs] Can you talk to me about what you’re wearing, and how you chose it?
HOBDEN: Oh, sure. I’m wearing a suit, a London suit actually, from a place called Mr. Start in Shoreditch.
SYMONDS: It’s beautiful.
HOBDEN: Thank you. It’s kind of gray, I don’t know what you call this fabric—
SYMONDS: It looks like a flannel to me.
HOBDEN: Flannel, that’s it. I’m wearing a white shirt, nothing very interesting about that.
HOBDEN: We like to dress in suits… I think we’ve become more formal in the last year and a half or so; we’re focusing a bit, we’re growing up.
SYMONDS: That’s nice. I think it’s nice when a band actually cares enough to dress up onstage, and doesn’t just wear jeans and t-shirts. I read that Mario Puzo, when he was writing The Godfather, would wear a suit from 9 am to 5 pm every day when he was writing, because he thought of it as a job.
HOBDEN: Yeah, well, that’s the thing; it definitely gives you a degree of focus, I think. I’d like to say that I wear my suits all the time, but that might not necessarily be true. I don’t wear them to bed or anything.
LAST NIGHT ON EARTH IS AVAILABLE NOW. NOAH AND THE WHALE WILL TOUR NORTH AMERICA THROUGHOUT NOVEMBER. TICKETS FOR THE TOUR WILL GO ON SALE TOMORROW. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.