Noah’s House Band refuse to be contained by a genre, instead they choose to be contained by a boat. A great big imaginary boat, which they sail all over the UK. This included a trip to the landlocked city of Salisbury where they performed at Music Unbuttoned Live. Their show took us on a musical safari, introducing us to some of the more emotional animals who reside on Noah’s Ark. But don’t panic Noah’s House Band aren’t biblical, just bonkers. They are fun and theatrical, never break from character even for the following interview.
How did Noah’s House Band come to be?
It started out as a solo project by Phil/Noah steering heavily to the starboard away from previous more pretentious musical outings. Creating short, quirky, simple, folk orientated songs that initially appealed to his childlike mind, but then when translated to live appeared to appeal to kids and adults alike (if there is a difference). The first album all came about in his cramped little 200-year-old cottage aptly named Noah’s House. The main focus at the beginning, along with folk instruments like banjo, ukelele and guitar, was on vocal percussion which sounds like the animals aboard the Ark. Then about a year or so later Noah (Phil) and Gruff (Steve-Drummer/Sample player) went about cutting up the original vocal samples and applying them to sample pads which Gruff triggers live through a honky old wooden box on chair legs.
Describe your first gig as Noah’s House Band?
If I remember it was at a place called La Havana in Chichester, an underground, brickish, archy sort of place that was very orange at the time. The gig went very well and I'd say we're still getting that similar reaction of surprise and delight today. It's a reaction that makes me think we're onto something pretty special. There was a friend of mine there who did not get it though. Kinda had a quizzical squint on about it. Since then he's come around and loves it.
You are clearly great musicians but do you find it difficult to be taken seriously?
Thank you that's very kind! I don't think we've ever been in a situation where that's been an issue. I like to think the folks who know us know we know what we're doing (more or less), and the folks that don't are so surprised/baffled/amused/delighted with what we're doing that it a question of musicianship isn't raised. I prefer we raise eyebrows, smiles and the occasional hairpiece. The songs may sound like a wooden cacophony box falling down some rickety stairs, but they were actually crafted with a space laser we keep in one of the backrooms of the Ark. The gusto we rattle them out with is key, oh and the fact we don’t take ourselves terribly seriously.
What are your influences?
It’s probably folk like Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, Nick Cave and Mark Lanegan. The link is a love of a musician with stories and characters, music that was recorded with a pile of dusty old things by dusty old folk with dusty old dreams. Waits in particular has an amazing ability to take really complex musical ideas or avante garde arrangements and craft them into seemingly simple jamborees. It's not to say that's the only thing. Storytellers, films, books, artists, the sea on a choppy day, the Muppets, badgers snuffling in the long grass, It's all going in and being processed somehow.
Other than festivals what is you main type of gig?
Festivals are definitely our true home we played Boomtown last year and are at Larmer Tree this year. We find people tend to be more open-minded when they have a ‘Festival Bonce’ plus all the crowds are aged from 0 to 130 years old, which suits our music. Other than that it’s much more about intimate shows like mini festivals, art houses and the odd pub here and there.
Tell me about your album.
I'll tell you what I make of Noah's album, cause there's almost certainly a level to it that's locked away in the hold that we'll never know. It goes like this: On the surface it's a bunch of happy little ditties about happy little animals on a happy little ark. The animals sing in funny voices. It makes you smile. You could listen to it like that, take that away and be happy too. But when you dive a bit deeper you realise that these happy little animals aren't actually that happy at all. In fact it's quite the opposite, they all have some fairly serious emotional or physical grievance that they're dealing with. Whaley is a whale with thalassophobia – a fear of the sea. Aardvark is lonely because the only friends he meets are ants and beetles, which he then devours. Imagine eating your friends! Duckbilly is a duckbilled platypus with such low self-esteem, he doubts he even exists! Anyway, the Ark is then revealed as the safe-haven for all these 'defective' animals to live in peace. Noah provides refuge to these struggling sorts where they won't be judged or victimised for their quirks. That's what our song Shanty's all about. I think that folk will find that they can relate to at least one of these conditions at some point and that's where the appeal lies. I mean, you try explaining to the police that you accidentally ate your best friend. It's not easy. I've tried.
How do you expect people to listen to your album?
This is a good question. It's two camps I think. Kids love it. So folk with children love it. I can see the nippers saying 'Put the Hippo song on!', then having a boogie to it. Then the camp without kids would be all, 'Have you heard this? It's bonkers!' and play it for their friends. Most of the tunes have a groove, so we regularly see people dancing to them. Personally it's just in my collection same as everything else and comes on at random. It makes me smile when I listen to it. It's Summery, sunny day music. Sat on the grass with your shoes off and your toes out.
How important is the album artwork?
Pretty important I'd say as it should establish the tone of the music within, which I think they do nicely. The album has an A3 colour poster artwork wrapped around the CD with a hymn sheet inside, whilst the new EP is all on recycled brown paper and has a brown recycled sleeve with a NHB coat of arms on the front. It looks like its from another age, discovered in the hull of an old seafaring vessel.
What does music mean to you?
Music is what keeps the boat a-floatin' (taps temple, which makes a wooden knocking sound). What keeps our animals fed n' watered.