Interview with Newton Faulkner
In the plush surroundings of the Sony Offices in West London, Newton Faulkner sits in a small room with the lights dimmed. His characteristic dreadlocks, friendly demeanour and soft voice are far from what you'd expect from Brit nominated best-selling artist. He is possibly one of the most laid back artists we've met.
Even the fire alarm and subsequent evacuation of the entire building mid interview didn't ruffle him. He stood up, picked up his beloved guitar and we ambled off down Kensington High Street to find a café in order to continue our conversation. With the upcoming release of his second album immanent, Faulkner gave Contactmusic.com an insight into what to expect from the record and told us how it got its unusual name.
The follow up to his chart-topping debut album Handmade By Robots has been aptly named Rebuilt By Humans after an experience Faulkner went through prior to its recording. 'I've got the scars to prove it' he beams, showing off a big scar on his right wrist. Whilst on holiday with his family in France, Faulkner (who ironically decided not to ski for risk of injury) fell and suffered a fracture-dislocation of his hand. Surely that would send any guitarist into a flat panic, and particularly Faulkner, whose unusual finger picking and guitar slapping playing style have made his name. However, the characteristically laid back English troubadour took it all in his stride despite the fact he was due to start recording his second album just days later.
Although the incident did inevitably delay the recording, he took the pragmatic approach and turned it into a positive situation. Unlike the majority of artists who have plenty of time to write and release their debut album but tend to rush out the follow up, Faulkner's situation was exactly the opposite. Having felt his first album was released very quickly, he used the delay on his second album to his advantage. 'It gave me the time to really think about the sound, most of the songs on the album were written in that time'. It seems this extra time allowed an element of experimentation; the new album takes quite a different direction to its predecessor. It incorporates more technology and the use of synths to create an overall more diverse sound. 'We've actually gone further in every direction' he explains '.so some of the songs are bigger and more electronic, but some are just vocals and guitar'. Despite the lo-fi sound of his debut, there are few songs on it that are purely limited to guitar and vocals. Whereas Rebuilt By Humans has a number of tracks in this style and in fact it will include Faulkner's most 'stripped down' track to date, 'One of the songs - Been Thinking About It - was actually recorded live, there was just a mic for the vocals and a mic for the guitar' he says. So in effect, he also used the limitation from his injury as an inspiration for the new record.
Faulkner is known for his love of travel and also uses these experiences as inspiration for his songs. Rebuilt By Humans is no different, and he thinks that the relocation from his parents' house in the country to his flat in central London has been central to the finished sound, again creating something that perhaps we would not expect from him. 'I think this album sounds less rural' he explains, 'waking up to the sound of sirens and traffic is very different to waking up to the sounds of birds and squirrels' he laughs 'it's definitely had an impact on the album'. And with an eclectic list of artists from Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell, through the Rolling Stones to DJ Shadow all influencing his music, it seems that one thing we can expect from Faulkner is the unexpected.
This is something he hopes to achieve with his live show, as a fan of Monty Python and The Mighty Boosh, Faulkner often introduces surreal elements to his show! 'I like that people don't know what to expect, especially people who have not seen me before'. It is doubtful that the people who attended his show at the Royal Albert Hall expected him to 'sing You Spin Me Right Round in a stupid voice' as he put it! But for Faulkner, it was the perfect place to do one of his more unusual covers (previous favourite live covers have also included Sponge Bob Square Pants!). 'There's just something about being ridiculous in a place like that, it relaxes people' he explains. And, although the majority of people in the audience are on his wavelength and these Faulkner nuances generally go down well, some people clearly struggle to understand them. 'There are a few' he grins cheekily before putting on a posh voice 'It's normally the Radio 2 boys who come up and say' 'that was really great but you really don't have to act like that you know, you're good enough'. But Faulkner knows his fans and enjoys his live shows, so is not about to change anything.
Indeed, he seems to have a real talent in reading his audience. He is able to adapt his show from playing grand venues such as The Royall Albert Hall to the acoustic tent at Glastonbury and can enjoy both equally. In fact last year he went from playing to a crowd of 85, 000 at the Isle Of Wight Festival to playing to just six people in a bar in America within the space of a week. 'It was bizarre, it (The Isle Of Wight Festival) was the biggest gig I'd ever played and then I went to the next one which was just like 'Hi guys, what are your names' he laughed. And this interaction with his audience, no matter what its size, is obviously an endearing quality to his fans - a number of his October tour dates have already sold out.
So with a single and his second album being released next month and a UK tour to follow, you might think that he'll need a break and will be kicking back for Christmas but not so, 'I'll just keep going for the next two years now'. He is keen to play shows in Europe and America and feels that playing live is the best way to get his music across. In the past Faulkner has won a large number of fans by opening for other artists, it's something that he is keen to do again ' What would be really good would be to get a support for someone.because then that's access to 3000 fans right there' he says 'that had a huge impact'.
So yes, he might be laid back but he is also clearly a very determined character. To recover from such a severe injury fully and be able to play again and record an album in that time is a remarkable achievement in itself, and one that most people would have thought impossible. But if there's one thing we can say about Newton Faulkner, it's to expect the unexpected and we look forward to doing just that at his live show.