Fink, aka Fin Greenhall, is a musician with an impressive CV. He’s an accomplished singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and DJ. Signed to the record label Ninjatune, Fink has built up his acoustic blues/folk music into critically successful array of albums for his hordes of fans. On a crackling phone line, Fink chats to Soul Culture’s Philip Javens about his latest album, Perfect Darkness; graffiti artist Banksy; working with the late Amy Winehouse and rap artist Professor Green; and his philosophy on making music – “the better the music, the better you’re going to do…”
“I’m based in Brighton, but I grew up in Bristol.” Bristol being the epicentre of the world renowned UK graffiti artist Banksy; “Totally – Banksy, Massive Attack, Portishead – a great heritage. Bristol is a great place to have come from.”
“You know, you’re driving through London and you see a giant rat – I think that’s fucking genius. I just love that shit. You know, I don’t think any other city could have produced Banksy. His sense of humour and political sense of humour is Bristol, very West Country.”
“When I was a kid, growing up in Bristol, music was just something I’d love to do. If I wasn’t making it, I would just be enjoying it. You know, it wasn’t like it was on my radar as a career, not until I got into university really. Before I got to university, I was just into travelling. As soon as I got myself any money or get a job and do anything, I was on a plane or on a bus or on a train and exploring the world – it’s a big old place.
“So yeah, I spent most of my teenage years clubbing, working, and travelling – it was awesome. I’d never considered music as a career option at all. I just fell into it really. I know a lot of people say that, but I really did. I’d just met a few people at uni, and next thing you know we’re signed, and next thing you know I’m a DJ, and next thing you know I’m a singer songwriter. It’s just all about rolling with the punches.”
And roll with the punches he did, as Mr Greenhall got the chance to work with the late, great Amy Winehouse when she first started putting her demos together. “She was an incredible talent, even at 16/17. She had a voice to absolutely die for, and you know, before the fame and the money, and what some people consider problems, it was just all about the music,” he recalls.
“It was just about going out and having fun and making music. It was just a great period of her life. It was a real honour to be a part of it at that time. She was always full on (laughter), I would say that she was fucking full on, but man, the talent was amazing. But you don’t get one without the other, that’s the thing.
“You know there was no doubt at all that from the first five minutes that Amy Winehouse was not Joss Stone, simple as that. She wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to write a song, I wonder what the right demographic is for it?’ – bullshit to that. She had idols that she had loved, Diana Washington and some of the old jazz legends, all of the jazz legends that she liked were the ones on the edge, and I think she wanted to be a part of that kind of heritage, and I don’t think there’s any question at all that she is. Admittedly, it’s an early entry into the legendary status, and that’s a fucking tragedy, real tragedy. But yer, she was amazing and really inspiring to work with.
“The fact that a girl like Amy can sing some songs with an amazing voice and get signed, it really inspired for me to sing myself to be honest, because we wrote some songs together and I just thought, ‘Man, there is hope in the music business for a good song.’ She didn’t look like the kind of girl that would be in a fucking girl band or Pussycat Dolls, and yet she sold more than any of them put together. Just because the songs were there, her voice was there, and she was genuinely who she was, and that was obvious even at 17. She was a no compromise, full on artist. It was just awesome to work with her.”
His latest collaboration with the young talent of today was with the UK rapper, Professor Green. “We did it as a full band. We did a band track with him on his last album [Alive Till I'm Dead] called, ‘Closing The Doors.’ He was a fan of our earlier records, and to be honest I [initially] didn’t get where we fitted in with his vision at all. But when we did hook up, it totally made sense to me. Professor Green’s got a really good sense of vision – that I didn’t see, but he did.. I mean he really dives into it, man. You know, he’s not just a UK rapper showing up and doing some rapping, I made him sing a little bit. We wrote that track like it was a song. It was a rap song instead of just a lyrical situation. So that was brilliant, his mind is so open to new shit, I love it.”
“You know the music business is two words, ‘music’ and ‘business.’ I’m very much on the music side, and some musicians are very much more on the business side. Like pop music is business really, it’s not music. I’ve worked with Jonathan Cleary, I toured with Ben Howard last year, I’ve got Charlene Soraia on my tour at the moment and Rachel Sermanni’s on the tour for Europe, and worked with Professor Green last year; [there's] a lot of talent just coming through and it’s just nice to show them that it’s not all business, and the music side is just a really cool side to be on.
“I just try to impart the whole kind of, ‘the better the music, the better you’re going to do’ and ‘concentrate hard on the music, make it as good as you can, and the business will just take care of itself.’ I mean, I wish I was a multi-billionaire so then I can say, ‘you see!’,” he laughs.
“I’ve made my choices and I’m perfectly happy where I am,” he concludes. ” It’s like, I’m on my fourth album as a singer songwriter, I’m on my fifth album as Fink, I’m on my ninth album as an artist, and it shows it’s doable. It is totally doable – just never sell out. The minute you sell out, you’re also selling out your fans. Yeah you might get a six figure cheque, but you’ll only get one. If you don’t sell out, you’ll get lots and lots of five figure cheques, and they all add up… you know what I mean. We [as Fink] are really conscious that we’re not going to sell out – we would lose all of our fans. Maybe we would gain 100,000 new fans for like six months, but that’s it – it’s over, go home. We don’t want that to happen, we love touring, we love travelling, we love playing.”
Now let’s go on to his new album, Perfect Darkness. It has been said that Fink’s intentions were to capture, or at least evoke, a sense of embracement of fear and urgency. Why was that the topic/theme for the album?
“That was the topic for the track, ‘Fear Is Like Fire,’” he says. “I wanted to explore the fact that what we do as a band for a living is quite scary sometimes, getting up on stage and doing your thing you know. Getting up live in front of 1000s of people every night and playing songs isn’t…well I wouldn’t say it’s not easy, but it’s not like getting to work every day. It can be really terrifying. You’ve actually got to try to embrace it, and use it, and work with that fear to create something cool.
“Coming from a skateboarding background, I skated for many, many years, it’s like fear is the part of the fun for it, you know? You don’t go snowboarding so you never fall over, that’s not the point of snowboarding, it’s the same point with skateboarding. The point of skating isn’t to never fall off. The point of skating is to push it and see how much you can push it. So when you push it and you don’t fall off, you just get this wicked feeling of like, ‘Yer I’ve just broken my legs, but I’ve totally landed it, that was fucking great, even though nobody saw it!’ I mean it’s that feeling of doing it for yourself.
“It’s that extreme vibe. I felt there was a connection between that sensation and doing the music kind of thing. We’re in the music business to play music to people, put albums out and have fun. Especially in the early days; going out onto those stages and being that person – it can be pretty terrifying. But our vibe is, you can burn your house down with it, you can use the fire to ruin yourself and not do anything, or you can warm your hands on it and go, ‘this is great, look at this.’ So it wasn’t really an overriding album concept, it was more about just one track.
“The point of Perfect Darkness as a set is to try and lay down the best music that we’ve ever done – simply put. That’s what we try to do on every album, to be honest. But this album in particular, was just because we worked with a good producer.”
Certainly there was an element of fear and urgency within the production of the album as a whole, as Fink and his band apparently had only 20 days to record it. “We did it over 20 days, but we only recorded it for 17 of those days and one of them was Thanksgiving Day. So we really did it in 16. It was awesome,” he says.
“It was great because you can’t over think about stuff. You can’t spend a week trying to get one take perfect. You have to get it done. It’s almost like a gig, almost like live conditions. You’re playing a track now, and the key when you’re on stage is to not to fuck it up. Once you get past that, then you’re into the right state of mind to think, ‘Right, how can I make this as good as possible?’ We had the same mentality in the studio on this one, and it was bloody brilliant fun. I cannot wait to get back into the studio and do the next one. It’s just so much fun being in the studio.”
Was this his most most definitive work then? “Well it was definitive for what mood we were in in November of 2010. I think it’s the best record we’ve done, only because it’s technically the best record we’ve done. I think the songs are really good, and the playing is really good, and the studio is really good, and the producer was really good, and we were all in a really good space. Guy Whittaker laid down some sick bass lines, Tim Thornton laid down some really interesting drum patterns and rhythms, and I think I wrote some decent songs for it. We just hope everyone else thinks so,” he laughs.
Any favourite tracks? “Well it changes every night on stage really. But at the moment, my favourite track to listen to from the record would probably be the title-track, ‘Perfect Darkness.’ It’s just got some heavy bass lines in it, lovely vocal work in it from me. But on stage at the moment for me would be ‘Wheels’ – that was totally live, and I never played it before. I hadn’t even written it before I started playing that song – all I written was the chorus, and the verses I made up on the spot. That’s the great thing about blues. That was the first take, first time ever, and I think we really captured some energy on that one – it was really dope. I love playing that one live, it’s very organic.”
Fin and his band are currently on tour promoting their music. However there is a difference; they are collaborating with visionary stage and lighting designers, 59 Productions, who were the set designers and animators for the worldwide successful stage production of Warhorse.
“Well, it’s not like Warhorse,” he laughs. “But they basically designed and custom made films to go with our tracks. They’ve been part of the album big time since the moment we started to write it because we knew that they would be involved with the stage show,” he explains. “They’ve custom engineered the show that doesn’t overpower the music but just kind of embraces you and it emphasises some of the atmospherics in the music.”
For those who have seen the new Twinings Tea advert on TV, a young female artist by the name of Charlene Soraia did the music behind it and produced her rendition of ‘Where Ever You will Go’ by The Calling. The reason why I have bought this up is because she has been touring with Fink lately; I ask his thoughts about her and her music.
“Yeah, she’s fantastic,” he nods. “She is pigeon-holed as jazz, but it’s really not. I’d say it’s really avant-garde, really highly skilled, very progressive. It’s actually a bit psychedelic at heart. She has got an unnaturally intense voice that really can deal anything, and her guitar skills are delicious. I think Charlene is signed to the right label, she’s signed to Peacefrog Records. Her song writing is really clever, really avant-garde…It’s really easy to be confident, or be good-looking, or be loud, but it’s really hard to be unique. Charlene is just no question about it, one of the most unique artist’s I’ve ever worked with.”
So Fink is a busy, busy man who collaborates and works with a lot of young people in the industry, whilst recording music, whilst playing music, whilst touring with his music, whilst talking to me about his music. I had to know of his future plans; “Going to LA for a few top secret projects in between touring, and then the European summer festivals, and then in the autumn of next year hopefully we’ll be working on the new album,” he says. “I can’t fucking wait mate, bring it on!”