In an interview with folk-pop troubadour Newton Faulkner, Will Deasy is devastated to discover that the once ginger-dreadlocked fellow is now dreadlock-less. On the bright side, however, Faulkner reveals to Epigram that he’s at work on a new album to go with his new look. Say goodbye to Newton Folk-ner and hello to Newton, er, Soul-ner… (It doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it..)
Newton Faulkner first burst on to the UK music scene in 2007 with his number 1 album Hand Built By Robots, and has since delivered 4 top 10 UK albums. Although the infamous dreadlocks have now vanished, his USP remains his prodigious percussive guitar skills; slapping, striking and scraping various parts of the guitar to create a whole new world of possibilities for the most prominent instrument in popular music. Today, he is still recording, performing and practising relentlessly, and informs me of two exciting new projects currently in the works: one a new album and the other the music for a film.
“It’s the polar opposite to my stuff!”, Faulkner exclaims with his brilliant, booming laugh. “It’s the last film you’d expect me to do the music for.” Although he apologetically explains that he isn’t allowed to talk about the film, he does allude to its ‘dirty rock vibe”, a totally new musical experiment considering his largely acoustic past. He also describes the challenges of focusing more on production and his vocals: “Vocally and production-wise, it’s been quite a big step up. I’ve been trying to do stuff with my voice which is as technical as the stuff I do with my guitar… it’s been something I’ve set out to do from the beginning”. He even self-effacingly explains: “I didn’t really start thinking of myself as a proper singer until the third album! It’s only now that I’m happy to do stuff with my voice that is a real challenge” – quite surprising considering the vocal mastery he displays on his previous records.
Newton was recently involved in a UK tour of hit Broadway show American Idiot, playing the lead role of Johnny in the musical adaptation of the acclaimed Green Day album of the same name. I was lucky enough to see Faulkner’s stellar performance last year, so asked how it affected his upcoming projects: “My voice had such a work out over the past few years because of the show. I’ve been singing in a different way to the way that I sing normally, and created different vocal characters. I’ve learned how to use my voice in more interesting ways.”
Although still in its early stage, Faulkner excitedly announces plans for his upcoming album. “It’s way more ‘soul-y’ than anything I’ve done before, and has a lot of space to it. There’s moments of complete silence!”. He confesses he is “fascinated by musical space at the moment” and explains the record will “be a lot simpler.” He attributes this, in part, to his live shows, many of which have featured just him and his guitar. With regard to a potential release date, “there’s a loose schedule in there, but I’m not going to release it if it’s not ready. I definitely want to get it right!”. With the rise and popularity of soulful singers in the music scene today, such as Laura Mvula and Rag’n’bone Man, turning to this style seems like a clever move for a musician with such a versatile talent.
In every album and performance, Faulkner displays his unique percussive guitar sound. “It’s a whole school of playing”, he explains, listing off numerous influences such as Michael Hedges, Preston Reed and “huge chunks” of Eric Roache, who was his teacher. “I’ve never claimed it to be my own, although it has my own spin on it”. However, his last tour was “a bit of gear change” for Faulkner as he began experimenting with live drums, loop pedals and his own custom electric guitar. “Being able to do things like guitar solos, which I’d never had the opportunity to do before, was so much fun. It was the scariest bit of the set by a long way as it’s the weakest part of my playing,” he humbly admits.
Just by speaking to Faulkner, you get the sense that he is totally immersed in every aspect of musical life and is constantly finding ways of experimenting with and developing his music: “The last record was very much world music influenced, a lot of Chinese music actually. I just got bored of the same beats that everyone was using, so I thought let’s find some interesting and weird things”. He has a fairly nonchalant approach to recording, explaining simply “as soon as I feel like doing something, I do it! I don’t think too far ahead. If I find a sound that has a unique style or groove I’ll work out exactly what it is and ask, ‘how can I put my own spin on it?’ ”
Although Faulkner is well-known in Britain for his memorable melodies and captivating live performances, his feet have always been planted firmly on the ground. “You have to not care that much!” he laughs as I ask him the secret to longevity in his ever-expanding career. “You have to do it because you like doing it. You can’t do it for any other reason and that goes for all creative pursuits. I don’t make an album because I think, ‘I’m going to run out of money’, I do it because I have to make one: its intrinsically what I do as a human being.”
Finally, I jokingly express my disappointment at the removal of his infamous ginger dreadlocks. “I looked identical for years!” he responds animatedly. “I just thought it was time for a change, and doing it in real time for a music video was probably the most stressful way of doing it!”. Although trivial, it only served to show Faulkner’s unwavering desire to commit himself wholly to his wonderful work.
What did you make of Will Deasy’s conversation with Newton? Let us know in the comments below or via social media.