Charlie Fink, Cover My Tracks Interview: “There is a lot of things in the realm of gig-theatre, but I feel like we’ve made something truly unique.”
We’re told that selling your soul is a necessary reality of the modern music industry, but Charlie Fink has taken two steps to the left and defined his own reality: while peers are traipsing their way up the industry’s increasingly steep flight of stairs, he’s gliding up an escalator.
Cover My Tracks premiered at the Old Vic in tandem with the release of ex Noah and the Whale frontman Charlie Fink’s debut solo album earlier this month. The album, produced by Fink, features studio arrangements of the music heard in the show with string arrangements by Trey Pollard (Natalie Prass, Matthew White), backing vocals from The Staves and classical guitarist Laura Snowden. Festival appearances of Cover My Tracks are set to follow throughout the summer. I found Charlie in a chatty mood when we talked recently.
“I can relate to the idea of what that character has and represents,” says Charlie Fink. “When there is so much available to you that it feels hopeless; why do we need more? What’s the point? The key mistake this character makes is trying to find his satisfaction through his expression and on out his own. Both characters represent a sense of collectivism; there are things he says that I can relate to around the challenge of making new work and art in the 21st Century for sure.”
With a book by David Greig and direction by Max Webster Cover My Tracks uses theatre and music to tell the story of a songwriter who sets out to write a 21st Century pop masterpiece before vanishing without a trace who is then sought out by an ex-bandmate-and-lover (Jade Anouka). She uses clues in the musician’s songbook to attempts to piece together his life and locate him. “The story is essentially about two characters who save each other; at the start, she saves him from jumping off a balcony by bringing him a bacon sandwich. The thing he uses to save her from the brink at the end is that she has to look after her dog.”
Underscored by live music, it’s this emotional underpinning that turns an entertaining tale of two quirky characters into something deeper and more poignant. Fink mentions the joy in bringing his debut solo album to stage. “It has been wonderful to fall back in love with writing for the sake of writing,” he says. “Being able to step back and write in the voice of such fun characters reminded me of why I love writing. We live in an era of personal authentic expression and in a time very much focussed on the idea of the self. The idea that sometimes what might be the more valuable thing to do is to surrender yourself to a passionate dedication or love someone and maybe that’s more important. In a way, the freedom to occupy another character and to mine something that feels like it has a universal truth and being part of a collaboration to create is something that feels really satisfying.”
Charlie is no stranger to London Theatre, his first flirtation with it was a collaboration with Greig on Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, at The Old Vic in 2015 which was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Family Show. Unsurprisingly, the Lorax returns to The Old Vic in October before touring in Canada and America. How different has that experience been to this one? “Making the Lorax was such a joy and certainly inspired me to make Cover My Tracks”, says Fink. “I think one of the key differences is that Cover My Tracks has a connection to my own album. What works on an album is the songs have a certain level of unity – both in what they are saying but also in the sound of the music. The main difference is its part of the performance. What’s really rewarding with the Lorax is that my work is a cog in a huge machine. It is such a joy to watch people bring it to life!”
Cover My Tracks has a majestic beauty to it and the audience response and reviews perhaps offer proof that people are after something a little different to straightforward gigs and Disney musicals nowadays. Has he been pleased with the response? “Very pleased. As with all these things, a project like this is a long time in the making, he says. “The greatest satisfaction was getting to a point of making something that felt like it was a realisation of something we originally set out to make. There is a lot of things in the realm of gig-theatre, but I feel like we’ve made something truly unique.”
Cover My Tracks is touring– including a performance at Latitude festival; the accompanying album is out now. http://www.charliefink.co/