We interviewed singer-songwriter and musician Newton Faulkner to discuss his forthcoming album, fans, stints in the acting world, and his upcoming gig in York supporting Amy Macdonald.
Interview by George Alexander Moss.
So I thought we’d start by talking about your sixth album, which you’re releasing toward the end of the summer – congratulations on that! And with your fourth album Studio Zoo you shared the entire recording process with fans online and that is hands down the coolest thing I’ve heard in making music, that’s really awesome!
I know! It’s an amazing process, and getting peoples feedback every single step of the way was utterly fascinating from a creative point of view. Yeah, it was utterly mental, there were cameras in my house for five weeks! I didn’t want people to think – a lot of people think that people in the studio swan around and I wanted to show how hard you can actually work! That was a small amount of my motivation for doing the hours that I did but, also, I was trying to record the entire album in five weeks! Which people don’t do! There’s a reason people don’t do that, because there really isn’t enough time!
Off the back of that I was wondering if you have any interesting creative quirks with the making of your album this time round. What that process like?
Well yeah, I’m kind of doing that through the pre-order campaign now. Once you’ve pre-ordered the album, then I’m doing a kind of video diary. It’s a level of intrusion, but it’s nowhere near as intrusive as having the cameras on all day. But I think people really enjoy it, I actually did a small, special gig in The Hustle Club in London last night – genuinely about a hundred people, it was all people who had already bought the album. It was really interesting then kind of playing some bits of new ideas. Yeah! To get that response, it’s amazing! Really fun!
It’s really interesting to then see how really involved you are with your fans, and how they have been with you throughout from start to finish instead of just in that smaller window of releasing an album…
Yeah, I know! That’s what attracted me to releasing an album this way, because I’ve done label surfaces, proper major labels, I think this is going to really work for the way that I write and communicate.
Even just with talking about your fans and how they’re with you and through the different things you’ve done – you’ve harnessed other fan types. You starred as Johnny in the award winning American Idiot musical! And I find it really interesting as well that you described the show to press as an ‘anti-musical musical’, which sounds like a whole other dimension of performance. So, what did you take away from that? Do you feel like you grew as a result from that experience?
Yeah! Yeah and that’s opened all kind of bizarre doors as well! Acting land – I’ve been getting into it – subtly! We’ll see what happens! I learnt so much from that, I mean physically I changed, like a full change, I went really thin – I actually genuinely looked like a heroin addict at one point! I think I lost three stone! I lost a lot, and I wasn’t that big to begin with! I went from normal and slightly thin to being really tiny, and also, I hadn’t done any acting work for a fairly long time, so that was a fairly dormant muscle I had to reawaken. Also, in terms of that that kind of showmanship and performance wise there was loads of stuff that I took from it. I think I’ve always been a kind of method singer, everything I sing I put myself in exactly where I was when I wrote it. I go to that exact point in each song, from there, pretty much every time. Which is why I do stuff I’ve written that I can’t – I just crack! I feel like I’m going there, I’m not pretending, or making it up! Genuinely, a horrible thing, I had to document a song because I had to get it out, I had to do it in the studio in a few takes because I could lose it and they’d be picking up after I’d lose it. But then live, that stuff I can do! So it’s kind of reminded me of the importance in having a truly genuine message behind songs, and actually writing stuff that means something. I think people are completely aware of when something is one hundred percent genuine. I’m sort of relying on that. I have kind of got to the point where I don’t need anyone else. I know how to make records. I know how to make the records that I want to make! I don’t want to be told what to do anymore.
That’s fair enough! You’ve earned it to be honest! And fairly recently, you’re been placed in the line-up for the Towersey Festival with KT Tunstall and Foy Vance. So festivals and theatre, is there a different part of yourself you have to engage with or is it all just being in the moment?
For theatre there is really a degree of separation you have to create. If I’m doing a gig I don’t gig as a character, which I did actually used to. I think everyone does to begin with, you create the person you want to perform as. And some people do that their entire careers, there’s definitely nothing wrong with that. And I just realise, a few years in, what am I afraid of? Why am I creating this person, I don’t need to pretend to be something else? And especially seeing other people live, and I think everyone does this as well, you’re like ‘that’s cool I’m taking that, that bit from him, that bit from that guy and maybe a bit of this as well”. I actually saw Bobby McFerrin, and it reminded me that you can just mess around! And if you mess around and its interesting and people get into it, then that’s as valid as anything else. So I mess around a huge amount, I like that bit where you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t know what you’re going to say next, you don’t know what song you’re going to play next. I find that really exciting, I’ve done whole tours where everything is frigid. Not on purpose it’s just developed that way, ‘between this song I get a massive laugh if I say this, then I do that, then you go on to the next song.’ ‘If that happened last night I’ll do that again tonight’, you kind of end up in a really thin place – next time I go out, next tour I’ll make sure I never do that stuff again and kind of mix it up! Now it’s got to the point where I basically don’t really plan what I am going to say between songs at all, and it’s getting stranger and stranger and I have no idea where it’s going. But I can talk for a really long time, which is another weird kind of side thing which is as much as part of the live show than anything else. Having a chat, and just being honest and not filtering anything. One of my favourite things that anybody has ever said came from a guy working the stalls at back of the Isle of Wight festival. I was literally just loading my gear into a van and he came up to me and went ‘when you were playing it felt really intimate, it was like watching someone in the living room chilling out!’ I wasn’t aware it was working quite as well as that, because that was a shit load of people, the total opposite of an intimate gig. But if I can create that feeling, it’s a really interesting thing to be able to do and I really like it!
And of course, another cool bit of news is that you’re supporting Amy McDonald on her shows! Are you excited for that, are you a fan of her music?
Yeah, oh definitely! We kind of both came out at the same time, so I’ve known her for a long time on and off. This is the first time we’ve not played together at a festival – we’ve done a few festivals together over the years – but yeah, I can’t wait. The whole European leg is amazing!
You’re here in York at the Barbican on March 29th with Amy. Any words to get the York folks riled up for the gig?
I’ll be doing stuff off the first album and going right back to the beginning, and I’ll also be doing stuff that won’t have been released yet! Because I am allowed to do that now, and I wasn’t really allowed before. ‘Oh don’t do that live, someone will film it and it will go on the internet’. Whereas now, because of the way we’re doing the whole record I can actually – well I did it recently – I filmed a version of a song that I wrote earlier that day. It’s amazing to be able to do that! But yeah, I’ll be doing brand new stuff we haven’t released yet!