Fink [Interview]

When I picture a singer songwriter, I see a dark, brooding, tortured soul that pours their emotions into angsty songs that can be great but often come across as whiny. Fin Greenall, better known as Fink, is the complete opposite. He’s cheery, charismatic, and phenomenally excited to talk about his musical journey [it’s been a long one!]. Starting out with ambient techno with friends at school, he was quickly signed as a techno producer and a trip-hop producer shortly after. As the years progressed, his personal interests changed, and with that change came a radical shift in musical styles. Now, Fink writes more traditional guitar and vocally focused songs, captivating a hugely diverse audience. He has a very personal connection to his fans – the energy was apparent just from walking into the small, dark venue he was set to play for the LA stop of his tour. People were talking excitedly before he took the stage, captivating the crowd with his soft voice and careful guitar. It was really an incredible vibe – one that I haven’t felt in the LA area before. Maybe it’s because I spend most of my time in the electronic scene, but something about this show just felt right. It sat very well with me, and was very excited to talk to the man himself. Check out the full interview and photos from the show below:

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You started out in music by making ambient techno with friends at uni, and now you’ve taken a complete departure from that style to focus on singing and songwriting. How has the journey been from that sound to your current sound?

It’s been a long journey with a load of records released and learning curves published. I was into ambient and electronic music when I was a teen because it was new and it was ours and it was our revolution and we were changing how music is made, how it’s consumed. Things like the nightclub were avant garde, and things like being a DJ your parents wouldn’t understand. It was awesome in a completely different way than being an singer songwriter, which wasn’t going to be very avant garde to me at that age. As I went through the process of being signed as a techno guy, then signed as a trip-hop guy, after about ten years of that I was ready for a change, but I didn’t know what that change was going to be, and as far as I was concerned that change could easily have been stopping making music. Maybe the change is you’ve done the electronic thing and now you’re gonna own a bar or something. But yeah, I worked with a few artists, had a nice time, and I just morphed into it on accident. I never had any plans to be a singer or a guitarist. I much would have preferred to become a producer.

Working as an electronic music artist and a producer is much more of a solo thing, whereas now you’re working with bands and other people. Is that process a lot different?

Big time. Sometimes being on your own is awesome. I used to think my dream weekend would be to wake up, go record shopping all day in SoHo, then go home and be in the studio till Monday morning at 8 A.M. when I had to get up and go to work making trip-hop and sampling records. That was just my dream weekend. That to me know sounds like a hellish, horrible, lonely existence. Not the record shopping bit. I was getting a bit lonely up in that studio, and also having no feedback or soundboards around you also means you talk yourself out of stuff and talk yourself into stuff that maybe isn’t the best thing to do. If you’re a band and you have a team around you, when you want it you get a lot of opinions, and that’s great. Even if they’re opinions you don’t want to hear you can always ignore them, but it all of a sudden became fun and sociable and I got to share my experience. All of my DJ experiences through Ninjatune, only I have them. I shared them at the clubs that I played at obviously, but in our band at least there are four people and we all remember that thing or that gig or that day or that view or that drive, and it’s actually kind of cute to share it. It’s nice to build bonds with people through music.

This tour has been pretty hectic for you guys it seems – you played in San Francisco just last night. That’s my hometown so I have to ask…

Oh yeah! Mission District was really really great, the Mission is a great little place and Sour Barrel is absolutely brilliant. But yeah it was fun, we sold it out, that was nice, and it was quite spikey, the audience was quite chatty which took us by surprise. It was a fucking pleasure, met some lovely people. Just generally had a really nice day, there’s this awesome thrift store over on the corner by the venue called ‘Stuff’, which was awesome! God! So yeah I’ve been to San Francisco a few times and never liked it, I always thought it was overrated, but I’d only been to the touristy bits, my hotel, and the venue. This time I actually saw an area that I really dig, I really get it. Now I really get how New Yorkers always talk about San Francisco being the only other city in America worth going to. When I was in the Mission, it really reminded me of some of the trendier parts of New York, only with older buildings and more hills. I got it this time, I can’t wait to go back and explore.

I read in an interview that you have quite an extensive collection of hats, did you pick any up at the thrift shop?

[Laughs] I don’t know where this comes from but I totally don’t! I don’t know where this comes from, must be a weird translation…

[Laughs] There was this interview where the first question started with ‘you’re a man of many hats’ referring to all your different music production styles, and the response was ‘well actually I have a bunch of hats!”

Yeah no I don’t have a massive collection of hats, I have three! I have this new one I bought in Vancouver from Skull Skates, I’ve got my flat cat which is my Fink hat, and I’ve got like a custom regulation beanie hat for cold gigs, you know? I’ve always liked hats, I don’t know why. As a man, your options to accessorize are very limited.

It’s t-shirts, shirts, jumpers, jeans, trainers, that’s it, and girls get all kinds of combinations, and they get makeup which we don’t get. Yeah, I think men should wear more hats.

You mentioned skating there for a second, I also read that you had to begrudgingly give up skateboarding recently [Yeah, two years ago], did you notice the skate culture influencing your music at all?

No it doesn’t, at all, because skate culture and music…there is a skate scene of music and bands, but it’s not like a skate sound, because skating is such an individual thing. Every skater has the music that they like, it might be the skinny jeans skater listening to New York Dolls or the baggy jean skater listening to, you know, 2Chainz, or it might be the Norwegian guy listening to dubstep, you know what I mean? It’s so individual, so there isn’t like a skate sound, and that’s good man, that’s one of the great things about skating. Even though there’s a uniform and it’s full of all the usual cliches of any subculture in every sense. Especially know it’s so culturally dominant. Everybody skates. When I was a youth, girls didn’t fancy skaters at all. Skaters were gross! They were stinky, had no mates, covered in cuts and bruises, they were like ‘what’s the point?’ It’s different now. Skating really promotes individuality, and in a way, individual greatness. Like if you can pull off that trick and none of your mates can pull of that trick, none of your mates are gonna hate you for pulling off that trick. They’re actually gonna be like ‘dude that was awesome, I wish I could do that!’ And the way you feel towards them is like ‘you do all the tricks I wish I could do!’ or ‘fall off as many times as I did and you’ll be able to do it!’ It’s actually really beautiful like that, it always has been I think.

That actually sounds very similar to sharing music in a way.

Absolutely. Although in music the cream rises to the top for sure when it comes to bands…I’m talking about the heights, not the ground, I’m talking about the dizzying heights, it’s the same with any subgenre. Skating also involves a lot of art and a lot of photography, and that attracts all of us to it because it’s visually very beautiful. Just like surfing. When you actually go surfing, it doesn’t feel like what it actually looks like [laughs], it’s cold and it’s salty and it’s wet and it’s really really hard, but when you watch Riding Giants or the Peralta movie it just looks fucking easy! You’re like ‘oh yeah I could do that, I could ride a fifty foot Hawaiian wave easy!’, but it’s not like that. Surf culture’s a lot older than skate culture. I look forward to getting into that later on, when I’ve done the music thing.

Switching gears for a second, I imagine making ambient techno and electronic music production in general requires a completely different gear set than just the voice and the guitar. How is working with those two mediums different, and have you ever considered fusing the two?

Well I tried, we tried fusing the two on the album  Sort of Revolution and in my opinion it didn’t work. It worked best when it was one or the other. So on that album that came out in 2009 that I produced in my house, it was an effort to try and recoup my advances by it costing nothing, and me trying to produce it and produce loads of different styles. Of all the tracks on that record, the ones that failed were the hybrids, the tracks that worked were the one’s that were either that or that. Also they don’t really sit very well on the same record. We learned a lot of lessons on that record. I think the best track on that album that actually worked was the title track ‘ Sort of Revolution’, which was pretty big over here, where we fused this kind of electronic dub thing with the band and a song, and it actually worked, which was really quite inspiring. Some of the tracks on there really really failed, badly [chuckles]. That’s why the new album is so liberating, we approached it like a band, as a band, wrote it as a band, altogether, recorded it in LA like albums have been recorded for fifty years, with a producer, and runners and interns and shit like that, and it was wicked. Wicked. And the record has done loads better than all the others, easily, by a mile! And we think, ’cause we have this naive view that the better the record, the more it’s gonna sell [laughs], I know it’s not the case in the pop world necessarily, but in our world we definitely stand by that. Out of the four song based Fink records that we’ve made, the ones that sold the least were the least good in our opinion. The ones that sold the most were the best, easy.

That’s how it should be!

We think that’s how it is! Also, Fink has been really lucky to have a lot of syncs, a lot of licenses to movies and TV shows and stuff, and it’s always the best cuts that get that. It’s never the one where you think ‘oh, they licensed that, wow!’, it’s always the one that’s the best cut from the record.

That’s interesting, I’ve talked to a number of artists that are very surprised by the tracks that get chosen to be used in movies or TV or whatever.

Well we might be surprised by the choice of track at first, but it becomes obvious over the years that that was definitely the best track. Like the most licensed track off Distance in Time our 2008 record, ‘This is the Thing’, is probably the best track I’ve ever written. At the time I had no idea, it was just track three on the ten track record. The licenses on  Sort of Revolution are all ‘Sort of Revolution’, and all the licenses off Perfect Darkness are all ‘Yesterday Was Hard On All of Us’, which is the best song on the record. You know that now, a year later. As you play it live every night everyone loves it, but when you write it it’s just track two or track five. That’s why I love music supervisors and Los Angeles, because we actually have a lot in common. We love watching movies and listening to music [chuckles]. A lot of artists have a problem with shmoozing with music supervisors, but I don’t see it that way, I see it as a free gift of loads of new mates. I love it, I love it. It’s nice to be here actually, we have a lot of friends coming down tonight.

Yeah, it seems like you’ve been very happy making the change from being a solo artist to collaborating, both in terms of working with people musically and in terms of working values and that sort of thing.

I have been lucky, but I always say ‘the harder you work the luckier you get’. If you have a good team around you you also have a good spread of people to draw on. In the old days when I was an electronic artist and I needed a drum beat I would have sampled one, which would take ages digging out the grooves and create digging for breaks and all this, and now I just call Timmy and he comes down and does it. Brilliant! In fact, I don’t even have to worry about what kind of beat I want, I just ask him to do whatever he thinks. That’s one of the greatest things about having a band; if I need a bass line I got a bass player, if I need a drum beat I’ve got a drummer, if I need a keys line I know a keys player. That’s a good lesson to learn, because a lot of people from my generation of electronic producers come from the world of doing it all yourself, all of it, buying the equipment right up to the idea, but you don’t have to. Sure you could spend a week learning that keyboard part, or you could just get someone in that plays keys and get them to do it in an hour, it’ll just cost you a couple hundred quid or something and it’s done. It means that other people’s styles can influence you styles and make it better.

I’m almost out of questions, but I definitely wanted to ask where the inspiration comes from on Perfect Darkness – it’s a very dark album that feels influenced by your ambient days but the lyrics also seem to have a positive message.

Lyrical content is always the toughest gig for a writer whose done three albums already, ’cause there’s only so many times…you know there’s I miss you, you miss me, I fancy you, I don’t love you anymore, I mean the subject is kind of finite…unless you’re Thom Yorke [laughs], or Damon Albarn, who never seems to run out of lyrical content, motherfucker. It’s all about collecting moments on your journey of life, and from the past, and banking them in a way. I think artists and poets and creatives, generally being assholes most of the time I can vouch for that, tend to record these moments and store them away for when they need them. So a lot of the songs on Perfect Darkness, some of them come from experiences that happened yesterday and others come from experiences I had when I was 18. The way that Fink works is I have these musical riffs floating around and I have lyrics floating around, and when I get into writing mode, it’s just like speed dating. You let them all mingle, then they naturally start attaching to each other. Like on ‘Burning Sunshine’ I wrote the lyrics without the melody, and then the melody popped in and they met and it was like ‘oh yeah yeah, a happy couple’. Same with Perfect Darkness. It’s really impossible to sit down and force a Fink song out. It’s a long journey.

Well that’s it on my end, thanks again for talking to me today!

My pleasure dude, great questions!