Fink: I pondered buying flat in early ‘90s Prague

Fin Greenall, photo: Ian Willoughby

UK musician Fink has been coming to Prague for 25 years. He discusses his ties to the city – and why his band tours the former Eastern Bloc so much.

Fin Greenall, photo: Ian Willoughby
Fin Greenall, who goes by the name Fink, has been a regular visitor to the Czech Republic over the past two and a half decades, and last week performed songs from his band’s powerful new LP Resurgam to enthusiastic audiences in Brno and Prague. Ahead of his show at the capital’s Roxy, I spoke to the UK musician about his unusual commitment to playing in the former Eastern Bloc. But my conversation with Greenall began with the new record.

“The starting point for Resurgam was, my diary’s pretty full, I’ve got a lot of plates spinning at the same time, and we wanted to get together on a specific date.

“So we did. We got together and said, We’re going to do this new album, what are we going to do?

“Originally we said we would do singles first and then fill the rest of the record up.

“And just like every other artistic process, we ended up doing the total opposite of that.

“We wrote loads of singles that were cut. And all the album tracks, which were much better, we ended up recording.”

Was Resurgam the first track you did? It sounds like a kind of call to arms.

“It was. We loaded into the studio with Flood. We loaded all our gear in and we had a week at the front of the studio time to get comfortable and get our instruments into place and stuff like that.

“We ran Resurgam, the track, as a practice piece, to feel comfortable.

“Prague made a big impression, because it was so incredibly beautiful and it was so unspoiled.”

“And that’s the version that’s on the record. It’s the first take of Resurgam on the first day.”

What does the word “resurgam” mean? It sounds like some kind of mood-altering drug, a pick-me-up, or something like that.

“Maybe it is, because it has religious overtones – maybe there’s some kind of opiate involved.

“But it means ‘I will rise again’. I got it from a beautiful little thing in a church near where I was born.

“The deal is that when you die, if you’ve got loads of money, you make a big painting with your coat of arms on it and you write ‘resurgam’ on it, as if to say, in the second coming, remember me, this is my painting, come and get me.

“I found this word resonated with me loads. I think it’s optimistic. It’s an active word: I will rise again, not hopefully I’ll rise again, or maybe I’ll be back. But like, I WILL rise again.

“That’s what it feels like every time you start a new record – it’s like a blank page.

“And, you know, it tapped into all of these questions about relevancy and, is anyone listening out there? Sometimes it’s very hard to tell.

Photo: R'COUP'D
“So ‘resurgam’, it just felt like, it doesn’t matter, I’m going to rise again anyway.”

You mentioned Flood, who has produced some of the world’s biggest artists, like U2, Depeche Mode and so on. What did it mean for you to get him on board?

“He has produced Depeche Mode, U2, Nick Cave and PJ Harvey. And I knew about him from the PJ Harvey work.

“But he produced, in the modern age, the second Warpaint album, which to me is my generation’s masterpiece production work. It’s amazing.

“So Flood means something. There’s some intangible quality control thing going on.

“The artists that he’s worked with are difficult: Dave Gahan, Bono, Nick Cave.

“These are difficult artists, so he’s obviously got some special skill set. And he really does have.

“I can’t tell you what it is, but he’s really good at dealing with you on an artistic, musical level.

“He makes you feel comfortable, but at the same time, you want to impress Flood, because it’s Flood.

“So you play better than you’ve ever played, you write better than you’ve ever written, because it’s Flood. He raises you up, he really does.

“He’s super approachable, a super lovely guy, but at the same time, when he tells you to do something, you know he’s probably said that to Nick Cave, so he knows what he’s talking about.”

“We take the profit from the big gigs and we basically pay to play the smaller gigs.”

So how does the new album compare to previous records you’ve put out?

“It’s more minimal, but with more music in it. It’s full of these strange little dichotomies, really.

“Like, they’re the best songs I’ve ever written, but they’re the most economical.

“The vocal performances are much more aggressive and stronger and vulnerable.

“A fan told me last night before the show in Brno that it sounded like a record, as opposed to 10 songs.

“And I think all of my records could be criticised for being a collection of songs as opposed to albums. I admit that. That’s fair enough.

“This one sounds more like a coherent record, and Flood is the reason for that.”

One of the reasons I wanted to speak to you, as well as the fact that you have a new album out and you’re playing in Prague, is that a year or two ago you had a piece in the Guardian that was a kind of guide to Prague and was really excellent. Tell us about your relationship with Prague.

“Thanks. I’ve got a long relationship with Prague. I was in Prague in 1992 and we stayed here for a couple of weeks.

Fink: Fin Greenall, Guy Whittaker, Tim Thornton, photo: RussellGroom, CC BY-SA 3.0
“And it was like THE EAST – very much the East.

“Everything was incredibly cheap. Everything felt old and held together with tape.

“It made a big impression, because it was so incredibly beautiful and it was so unspoiled.

“We went to Budapest as well, straight afterwards, and that was more of a functioning modern city, but Prague was… amber, medieval.

“I just absolutely loved it. I thought about buying a place here.

“Me and my partner at time realised that I could work as a waiter and she could work as a waitress and a year later we could buy a place in the Jewish Quarter. It was that affordable.

“But we didn’t. Shame.

“Then I DJed here a ton of times. I played here a ton of times. I played Meetfactory a load of times.

“But I never saw the city. And then the last time I was here we played at Roxy and we had a day off.

“I got to walk around, 23 years later, and it was unrecognisable to me.

“There are some fantastic things about globalisation, like health and medicine and science.

“But there’s also EasyJet, stag nights and strip bars, which is not something I really expected.

“But one thing I really felt, from the ground up, here in the past four or five years is this groundswell of local culture and local art culture.

“In Belarus it feels like being in Europe’s last totalitarian state.”

“I feel this all over the region. We just toured the Balkans and the Baltics and Scandinavia, and especially in places like Riga and Tallinn, Vilnius, you have this generation that’s gone to uni, gone to London for a couple of years, come back and gone, No, I want to live in Vilnius, this is my city now, and I want coffee houses, I want trendy shops.

“I feel that. I really feel it here.”

Have you had any particular standout experiences in Prague?

“Well, the first time I came here I had a lovely experience trying to buy a loaf of bread.

“You had to go to the supermarket, look at the bread, go to a different counter, get a ticket, go to another counter and pay for the ticket, and then go back to the bread counter and if it was still there, you got to have the bread.

“I thought that was pretty cool.

“Lately my favourite memory of Prague was this bar that’s really near here named Lokál, where you can buy the sausage of the day and have a beer. And I just think that’s as pure…

“I’m a vegetarian now, so I won’t be able to do that, and I’m also teetotal, but, yeah, that brings back very good memories.”

I have the impression that you tour more in Eastern Europe than many UK artists. Why is that?

“Because we’re not lazy.

“I suppose, on the ying side of things, because we love to play for our fans, wherever they are. And our agent said years ago, If you don’t go, you never know.

“So let’s book the Roxy. Two-hundred people might show up, so you won’t come back. Twelve-hundred people might show up, and then Prague’s on the next tour.

“Even on this tour, we’ve opened up three new countries that we haven’t been to before. Just because we want to know whether or not we can play Estonia or Latvia, so we played Riga and Tallinn – and they were great shows.

Fin Greenall, photo: RussellGroom, CC BY-SA 3.0
“On the last tour we played for the first time Sofia and Vilnius and Bucharest.

“The people are the same at the gigs, they just happen to live in these Eastern places.

“We’re also trying to open Minsk in Belarus and Kiev. We had a cracking show in Ukraine.

“And they make it difficult for you: the borders, the visas, you have to build a day off in between, a day to get in and a day to get out, with the borders.

“It’s tough to do it, but I think the more these new, young markets emerge, the more they’ll become on the usual tour trail.

“Everybody does Paris, everyone does London, everyone does Brussels and Munich and yada, yada.

“In five years time everyone will do Vilnius and everyone will do Prague.

“British bands tend to get caught up in the UK and it’s a bit of a trap. Because it’s the busiest market in the world, it’s the noisiest market in the world and it’s not the biggest country in the world.

“So you can do a 50-date tour of the UK and that’s your year kind of done.

“Or you can do five dates in the UK, five in France, five in Germany, five in Austria.

“We’re so lucky that early on in our career Fink had a hit in France and that got us out of the UK. So our UK tour was like 20 dates, and then we’d do Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux and we were an international band.

“And if you’re in Paris, you might as well do Amsterdam, and if you’re in Amsterdam, you might as well do Brussels and if you’re in Brussels, you might as well do Frankfurt and so on.

“We take the profit from the big gigs and we basically pay to play the smaller gigs.

“We have a luxury Nightliner [bus] sat outside and that’s not cheap.

Fink, photo: RussellGroom, CC BY-SA 3.0
“Sometimes we’re playing 300 capacity venues in Novi Sad in Serbia and somebody’s losing money there.

“But next time we play Novi Sad, there’ll be 1,000 people.”

You mentioned playing in Minsk. Belarus is often called Europe’s last totalitarian state. How did it feel being there?

“Like being in Europe’s last totalitarian state.

“When you go to places like Brno and Kiev, you’re expecting I think what Minsk is: very, very industrial, Soviet architecture, it’s grey, it’s cold.

“Everybody’s quite suspicious. You stand out. You’re not normal. There’s undercover policemen at the gigs. The border takes seven hours. You feel it.

“A lot of people are kind of theoretical communists in the West. But go to Belarus and think about living there – I think that’s probably what it was like for most people. It’s pretty bleak.

“Kiev was different, because it’s such a beautiful city.

“The Czech Republic has such a deep history, a very beautiful history, and obviously this area was rich when architecture was quite pretty.

“But in some of these dictatorial states you can feel it in the air.

“When you leave, you feel like, wow, that’s what it’s like.”