Groundbreaking British singer/songwriter and guitarist Newton Faulkner is currently touring the UK in support of his latest greatest hits album.
Newton Faulkner’s 31 track double album, The Very Best of Newton Faulkner ….So Far includes fan favourites such as “Dream Catch Me”, “Write It On Your Skin” and “Clouds” alongside three all-new compositions. In addition, his renowned cover versions are presented on a second disc including newly recorded live versions that highlight the length and breadth of his musical influences. To celebrate the release of his new album Newton Faulkner is presently on a major headline UK tour. Tickets are on sale now at: https://www.seetickets.com/ and https://www.newtonfaulkner.com/
National Rock Review recently caught up with Newton Faulkner before the tour to talk about his new album, his recent appearance on the War of the Worlds tour, his thoughts on his cover track selection, along with the artists who are currently playing on his stereo.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I just wanted to have a bit of a catch up with you. Obviously, you’ve got a lot of stuff going on at the minute. You’ve got a new album out and you’ve got a tour coming up. So I just wanted to touch base about those things. So first of all, I just want to ask about your new album which is titled The Very Best of Newton Faulkner …. So Far. I just wondered, with a career spanning over a decade did you feel that now was the right time to reflect on your achievements to date?
Well, for me it’s less of, yeah, it’s not kind of looking back, it’s more actually kind of summing it up as kind of one chapter. Because for me from Hand Built By Robots to Hit The Ground Running, it’s been kind of part of the same musical journey. Do you feel that Hit The Ground Running is kind of a conclusion to that journey?
I think it’s quite a common psychological journey I’ve had, which is you start out and you have no idea what you’re doing and you do something quite good because you don’t know what you are doing. Then you start thinking you know what you’re doing, and you do something quite weird because you think you know what you’re doing. Then you realize you don’t know what you’re doing and you are annoyed about the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing. Then you realize you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, but that’s totally okay and then you do something that’s actually good. It’s been that kind of psychological journey.
And also musically I’ve learned totally different things from each album. And they’ve all been experiments in different things. So where kind of Studio Zoo was an experiment with how little you could put on a record and how kind of stripped back. I mean that is, it’s so brutally honest for the album and some people say like it doesn’t sound finished to me because they like things just a little more polished and a little more done. And then the next record we went kind of just the other direction as far as we can go. Like it’s really produced, it’s got more drums on it than anything else I’ve ever done. And it was all kind of me doing stuff but, so I did a lot of the programming. I was programming the synth parts. I was very kind of deeply involved in what was going on. But from both of those things, I learned where I wanted to sit.
And I think with Hit The Ground Running, that was the first time I ever started referencing the first album production wise. I was kind of, it’s been over 10 years because what I was always worried about was making the same album twice, which isn’t what I want to do. It’s not the kind of career I want. I don’t want to do exactly the same thing every time, it would be boring for me and I’m guessing it’d be pretty boring for everyone else as well. So I’ve quite dramatically changed between albums. But I think it’s been heading towards the same place. And I think with Hit The Ground Running I found the sound that I was looking for, and I got the balance right for what I was trying to do before and my brain did the polar opposite of what I thought it would do when I did that.
So when I got to that point, I thought I’d kick back and be like, cool, I’ve found my sound. That’s my sound. I’m just going to make that noise, but instead what I did as soon as I got there, as soon as I started writing the next batch of stuff, I was like this is completely different. It’s got a different vibe. It feels like the beginning of something new. And I think the way that I’m approaching the tour feels like the beginning of something new as well because I can do a lot more than I’ve ever done before. I think kind of multitasking wise I’ve tapped into like another huge layer of sound that I’ve never really had access to and I think yeah, it’s gonna be really fun.
And then also I’m going quite far in both directions because of all the experiments and like how far, and like how much has been on stuff and how little has been on stuff to reflect that live on my own. I’ve got two setups. One that’s all out multitasking where I’m literally playing five instruments at the same time. I don’t know if a lot of people think I loop, I looped very, very little in my career – I don’t loop and I don’t surf. And everyone thinks I do both of those things. But yeah, I mean I do own a loop pedal. I used it twice in a two hour set on the last tour. It’s definitely not, it’s not a big part of what I do, but the multitasking thing where I can play different parts with each foot and play different things with both hands is really interesting and really fun because it can make a huge amount of noise and make a really kind of layered sound. At the same time, you’re completely retaining your freedom to experiment and mess around and you can change parts.
I’ve done gigs where I’ve turned up with all like a really complicated set up where I can make loads of noise. And every time I’ve gone to press it I’ve been like, do you know what, I don’t need this today. Like the room sounds good enough. Like the guitar is really singing. I don’t need to add anything to it. So just literally on the last song, I was like I’m just going to put in some crazy sub bass, on the last song just to freak people out. I’ve done other gigs where I’ve turned up. Actually, there was two back to back. There was one where I did a gig in a church one day and I had like gear set up, but I didn’t touch any of it. I literally just played the guitar and sang because it sounded really nice. I didn’t need to do anything.
The next gig was like a fresher’s ball at three o’clock in the morning and I basically did live remixes of all my own stuff. Like there was a kick drum on everything. I just kept the four on the floor in and yeah, I really experimented with kind of pushing things further. I think I used the Mark 2 pedal more than ever before. I was kind of doing drops and just making stuff up because I’ve got the freedom to do that because it’s just me on my own, so I can really mess around. And that’s what’s exciting for me is being able to improvise a bit and being able to do things that are incredibly technically challenging.
But yeah, I just have a really good time doing it. And I think that’s the two things that I like seeing live, that’s why I go to gigs. I want to see somebody doing something that is challenging to them, and they absolutely love doing. That’s what I like seeing and that’s very much what I kind of strive to do every time I step out, is to a play guitar in a way that is purposely incredibly difficult. And also a lot of the vocal parts like singing something like “Finger Tips”, it’s not an easy thing to sing, you really have to dig deep. You’ve just got to look at the list of covers, I think kind of speaks for itself and tells you how difficult I like to make my own life. Because you can’t do “Bohemian Rhapsody” if you’re thinking let’s just do a nice little acoustic cover.
On this record, you’ve got a whole disk full of covers on there and like you said it crosses such a wide spectrum from, “Bohemian Rhapsody” through to “SpongeBob SquarePants”, “Pure Imagination” and “No Diggity”. You know, when you are doing these sort of covers, do you enjoy pushing yourself in directions that people might not necessarily expect or that takes you out of your own comfort zone?
Yeah. Well I mean the most interesting thing about the covers for me, a lot of the guitar arrangements and a lot of the kind of vocal principles existed for loads of them. What made it genuinely challenging – was actually the production was the most interesting bit for me of those. Because like I can play and sing like an interesting version of “Pure Imagination”. But if you’re trying to make a record and you’re trying to add other things and you’ve got to think it’s been covered a lot. I mean I was doing it maybe like literally 14 years ago. So I feel like I’m still allowed to, but I wanted to do something with it that I hadn’t heard anyone do and I did make it, I think I made it slightly stranger than anyone got, I went more kind of seventies funk than anyone else.
I think I probably learned more about production doing the covers than I have making my own albums because it was very different principles. It’s a bit like writing songs for other people or writing songs for a film is you’re working a) with material that isn’t purely yours. And it’s just any kind of shift in parameters suddenly makes it really interesting. I think producing covers is just really fun cause I’m like, okay, so “Pure Imagination”, the original had like strings on it, so definitely not allowed any strings. And then you start putting things together and I think we found some really fascinating noises and there’s so many strange layers on “Pure Imagination”. In particular, that’s probably still my favourite one to listen to on headphones because it’s so odd and landscapy and Psychedelia Smith.
Like we’ve mentioned, you have recorded quite a wide spectrum of cover tracks. Is there any song which you feel that you should never cover? And if so for what reason?
Oh, that’s a very interesting question. Hmmm – never cover? Well, I think there’s always ways of doing things and making them interesting. I mean like one of the trickiest ones really, and I think it’s the one that is closest to the original – it was “May You Never”, and like the kind of classic seventies kind of Americana folk thing. When you look at that kind of Crosby, Stills and Nash and kind of John Martyn, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell kind of all of those things, which had a huge influence on me. Yeah, I don’t know if I would do more of those because I mean they’re the things that made me do what I do now. So if it did it, I do it in a way that is relatively close to the original.
So I mean, Joni Mitchell, I absolutely love, she’s an incredible writer/player/singer. I think something like “Clouds” is actually, I think one of the greatest songs of all time to me, but I don’t know if I’d cover it unless I could think of a way of changing it. She’s done two completely different versions of it anyway. There’s the kind of early kind of jangly guitar version and the later orchestral version. So I don’t know what else there is to do with it even though it’s one of my favourite songs.
Well, that’s fair enough. Going back to the album obviously you’ve got a new single on there as well – “Don’t Leave Me Waiting”, which was released recently.
Yeah, well there’s three new ones on there. There’s “Wish I Could Wake Up”, which came out just before Christmas as kind of like a taster vibe. It was just kind of Beach Boysy and it was quite strange. It’s like a cross between kind of the Beach Boys and America – “Horse With No Name”.
Yeah, “Don’t Leave Me Waiting”, it’s quite a big kind of modern soul thing, but like, I love the production on it and this bass sound that is just so cool, it’s a really weird wobbly one that sits right in the middle. And yeah, I love it as a song. It’s so much fun. We’re playing it live a lot over the last few weeks and it’s really fun.
Then the other one after that, which is “Take What You Want”. I wrote it completely on my own, which I do quite a lot. But in terms of kind of singles – singles I usually do co-writes just because that’s people trying to make me – there’s people thinking commercially while I’m thinking artistically. So you end up somewhere in the middle. But this one, yeah, this one I kind of sat and wrote kind of in one go. And I loved writing it, it was written in such an organic way. And I think you can really feel that. It just feels, it doesn’t feel very written, it feels like it just happened, which is kind of what happened. So it makes sense. But I love it as a song. I’m really intrigued to see what it does, because I very rarely allow myself to do anything that simple. And people have responded to other people that have heard it, which is relatively few, but they’ve responded really well, which is interesting.
You’ve got six albums behind you now, it must have been difficult choosing the tracks to put on a greatest hits album. I mean it must be like choosing between your favourite children. How did you approach this difficult task?
Well, it was. Like my original list was like 72 tracks, and I was like it can’t have 72 tracks – that’s just stupid. So then we sat whittling it down. I mean, the thing that became important to me was that each area and each kind of type of track that I’d done was represented in some way. So of the kind of more traditional kind of folky ones you’ve got “Against The Grain” on there, which is one of the best of that kind of vibe. I mean there’s a lot of – it’s a hard choice and then totally the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got something like “Shadow Boxing”, which was produced by Empire Of The Sun is like a full on screaming synth fest. So it was kind of trying to make sure we ticked each box.
You’re going to be going out on a headline tour across the UK throughout April. You’re going to be back up in this neck of the woods again at the Sage Gateshead. I just wondered in terms of your live shows, do you have a particular favourite song to perform live. And if so, which song and why?
My favourite one at the moment and I’m kind of rehearsing, haven’t really finished rehearsing. Yeah, I think there’s still stuff I haven’t worked out what I’m going to do with, but my favourite thing at the moment is “Up Up And Away” because I did not think it was a track that I would ever be able to do justice to on my own.
When I toured that album I had a three-piece band and for that song, everybody had to work stupidly hard for it to work. And now I’ve finally kind of found an arrangement that I think gets across, I mean it sounds pretty much just likes the track. Like kind of your brain is filling in all the gaps. But it’s physically hard work. The guitar part and kind of getting the guitar sound for that track right was hard because it’s got to cover a lot of ground. And then I’ve got Mellotron flute chords underneath my feet, so that’s my right foot is playing these four chords kind of as I’m playing the guitar and then the snare parts coming from my left for the kick drums coming from my wrist along with the other percussive sounds which are coming from the like around the outside of the guitar and it’s totally crazy. But it sounds really good. I’m really happy with it.
And then when I played it for literally up to like four hours in one go. Just with the click on just drilling it and drilling it, because it’s one thing doing really complicated stuff, it’s another thing doing really complicated stuff perfectly in time with the groove, because that is the important thing. Like there’s no point in doing it if it doesn’t create like a feeling. So it’s drilling it until physically it’s completely second nature and then you can start focusing on like the groove of it and also being able to sing and concentrate on the singing. Because I don’t think anyone, no one really enjoys listening to someone’s singing on autopilot, because it’s an emotional thing, you’re telling a story and I think you’ve got to engage with the story yourself in order to get that across. And if you’re doing something incredibly complicated, you need to be able to do that without any thought going into it so you can focus on the story of the song.
The last time we saw you here in the North East was at the Metro Radio Arena at the end of last year with War of the Worlds performing as the Sung Thoughts of the Journalist. What was that experience like for you? Because it’s obviously a different change of pace to what you usually do.
Oh yes, it was so crazy. I think it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved in. So many people working on it. Because all my entrances and exits were from stage right. And then when, like the end of rehearsals, I wandered around the other side, and I’d already met like 30 or 40 people working stage left and then I wandered around. It was like, oh my God, there’s another 30 or 40 people over here. Like watching it from the front and seeing like the bridge come down from the top of the O2, and the giant robot with the flames coming out. It was totally mental but really, really fun.
I just wondered, what was the chain of events that led to getting involved with War of the Worlds?
It was literally one email, but it was an email from Jeff Wayne and the first thing I did was ring my dad and said I’ve just got a fucking e-mail from Jeff Wayne. Because my dad played me the record, he had it on cassette. Like it was a big part of my childhood so to be contacted by the guy that wrote it and be like do you fancy spending a couple of weeks just cruising around arenas singing literally like three and a half songs. But yeah, that sounds pretty fun. Definitely, do that.
That’s amazing. You’ve performed in the West End musical American Idiot, along with War of the Words. I just wondered, as I said before, it’s a different kind of a pace to performing than your traditional concert environment. I just wondered, would you consider undertaking similar projects again in the future?
Maybe, I mean there’s very few parts I think that would work with everything else that I do. I feel like the American Idiot thing worked with everything else because it’s a very untraditional musical in a lot of ways including the character I was playing was like a suicidal drug addict. Like it was dark. So that made it kind of interesting. And also musically I’ve always been a huge Green Day fan. Like my first band was a Green Day cover band and yeah like I go way back with that. So it was like, that was fun.
And then, same with War of the Worlds, it was something that I genuinely liked and I think, I don’t know how many parts there are in that world, that I’d be like this feels right. Both of those felt right, but I don’t know how many more there are really, because it’s a very strange thing and there’s loads of lines you can cross for kind of my taste. Like if it gets too musically then I’m like, that’s not right for me as an artist to be in that world. I mean there probably is like a small handful of parts and I’ve auditioned for some stuff. But yeah, like as I’ve been auditioning, I’ve been like it doesn’t feel quite right this one, I think I’m going to back out. Yeah, I mean I’m always up for challenges and if there was a part that I thought it was challenging enough and worked with what I do then yeah, definitely.
In terms of your musical tastes, what do you like to listen to you when you are sort of kicking back at home?
Currently, in the background, I think Pet Sounds is playing on vinyl downstairs. How, like two of the greatest songs ever written are on the same album, it’s just terrifying.
Yeah, so all kinds of things. I mean I listen to a lot of different things for kind of research purposes, there are bands that I’m kind of production groupies of. So someone like The Books who are an American band that if you haven’t heard I highly, highly recommend checking out. It won’t be like anything else you’ve ever listened too. I’d be surprised if it was, but kind of super left, super avant-garde kind of landscape production things. It’s kind of, yeah, I think it’s The books and Cornelius who is a Japanese producer that I’ve worked in the past – an absolute hero of mine.
Then there’s other people that I listen to just for guitar playing. People like kind of Thomas Leeb and Mike Dawes, kind of all these kind of amazing acoustic players who are kind of pushing the boundaries, a bit of the guitar, and in all kinds of fantastic ways. And I’ll listen to that for playing.
And then vocally I think people like Chris Stapleton are amazing in terms of like the way they use their voice and the amount of ground they cover. And I’m listening to stuff, I’m just kind of digging all the time. Like I really like The Lemon Twigs. They’ve done some amazing stuff recently. Same with Flight, I think Flight’s first album was amazing.
Actually, one of my favourite songs of the last few years. I think it’s “High Five” by Sigrid – it’s just an amazing song, it kind of really caught me off guard. It was on like a kind of thing my sister was listening to and it was on like a kind of bubble gum pop playlist and I just kind of had it on in the background. And then that came on and I was like what the fuck is this? This is amazing. Yeah, I wasn’t expecting to like it, but then I was completely like, I think it’s amazing. It’s one of my favourite things in the last few years.
I went through like a huge like kind of world music research phase. I got really into a Tibetan, I think it’s like Tibetan Mongolian band called Hanggai. At some point, I’m definitely going to either fly over there and do a track with them or fly them over. Not quite sure which way we’re going to go yet, but I’m definitely gonna work with them at some point. And then yeah, they’re kind of Asian. And then kind of African wise like Tinariwen are just amazing. Every single track is just cool as shit. Yeah, basically all kinds of stuff. Like kind of modern classical wise, like kind of Arvo Pärt has done some just really simple, really beautiful stuff.
I was just wondering, do you have 2019 mapped out? What’s on the cards for the rest of the year?
Pretty much I know what I’m doing now. Obviously, there’s the tours to do. Then once the tours are done then there is some international stuff. I’ll be probably in Australia near the end of the year. I’ve got some other projects that I’m doing at the moment that I want to finish as well. I know I am just finishing, but I’m halfway through laying out mate. I’ve written a whole other album for a different project and I might start another album that kind of fits in between all the others. So I’m definitely going to be busy.
That’s great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today it’s lovely to speak to you and hopefully I’ll get to catch up with you when you play at the Sage Gateshead.
Newton Faulkner will be returning to the North East for a performance at the Sage Gateshead on Monday 29th April. The versatile artist’s new album The Very Best Of Newton Faulkner … So Far is out now.
Newton Faulkner UK Tour Dates: