Newton Faulkner, an English singer, songwriter and musician chats with Kevin Cooper about playing Johnny in American Idiot, his experience with PledgeMusic, his new album and supporting Amy Macdonald on her forthcoming UK tour.
Newton Faulkner is an English singer, song writer and musician from Reigate, Surrey. He is known for his percussive style of guitar playing. In 2007 Faulkner’s debut studio album Hand Built By Robots was certified double platinum in the UK.
Faulkner’s second studio album, Rebuilt By Humans, so named after an accident to his right wrist, when he said that he had been “put back together again by humans”. His fifth studio album, Human Love, was released in November 2015.
In 2016, Faulkner was cast as Johnny in the musical American Idiot, which is based upon the songs of the band Green Day. He played the role on the UK Tour, and continued in the role when the show returned to the West End at the Arts Theatre in July 2016.
Whilst preparing to tour the UK as Amy Macdonald’s special guest, he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Newton, how are you today?
Hi Kevin I’m very well thanks, how are you?
I’m doing okay thanks, and before we move on let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
That’s okay it’s always a pleasure.
And just how is life treating Newton Faulkner?
Life is good at the moment, crazy busy but crazy busy in a good way. Crazy busy is so much better than any of the alternatives (laughter).
The last time that we spoke you were about to play Johnny in American Idiot so I have to ask you, how did it go?
Yes I remember and I have to say that it was absolutely mental but so much fun (laughter). It was really hard work but so enjoyable.
Is treading the boards something that you would like to do again?
Yes I would, in some form most definitely. The whole experience for me was totally fascinating and a whole new thing for me to be tackling. The scary thing was that I only had a week’s rehearsals before going on tour with the show (laughter).
I have to ask you, at what stage are you at with your latest studio album?
Things are going really well and I have already got the first five tracks in some form or another. And the album is most definitely coming together. What I can tell you is that it has got an identity to itself already. So even if you played the first three songs back to back you would hear yourself saying ‘oh, so it’s going that way’ (laughter). Which to me is really weird because that is not a decision that I ever made. I simply kept writing and I have in fact written quite a lot of stuff for this album already. I released myself from the shackles and I wrote some stuff that was far too heavy, some stuff that was way too depressing, and then out of the stuff that I liked there was this certain quality to it.
Then once I knew what kind of stuff I wanted to write then loads of stuff suddenly came out. The vocals on this record are serious; there is some serious singing to be done (laughter). I have made my life very, very difficult but in a really fun way (laughter). I didn’t really show off my voice on the last record but I genuinely feel that I can do it now. The last record was more about the production really and I really did like it. It was big, loud and tribal but the vocals were produced and double-tracked. It almost felt as if the vocals were part of the production whereas with this record I think that there are going to be a lot more standalone performances.
Do you have a title for the album yet?
No, not yet (laughter). I have had some thoughts regarding the title but nothing is in place as yet.
This will be your first album to be totally funded by your fans. Does that put you under any added pressure?
I have to be honest and say yes it does. It is absolutely terrifying especially as quite a few people have already bought it (laughter). It is terrifying but absolutely brilliant. I am already speaking to the fans about the album which is amazing in the fact that they trust me that much in the first place. And then the whole PledgeMusic pre-order campaign has been amazing; it means that I can leak bits of the album out to the fans and I don’t have to go through anyone at the moment. It allows me to write something and put it straight on to the internet, and note the fans reaction to it (laughter). It’s great because it makes me want to write more material simply because I am not writing it then having to send it off to someone who will criticise it, then send it back to me.
I am really enjoying singing the new songs and so I film myself doing that and post it on the internet for the fans to see and up to yet they are all enjoying it saying ‘that’s awesome; we have never heard you playing stuff like that. We like that’, so I think that’s cool and I go away and write some more stuff like that (laughter). It kind of makes the whole process considerably more fun.
And in my past experience of PledgeMusic it’s fantastic for the fans because they feel so much more a part of the whole process.
Yes they do, they really do. I have always tried to involve the fans with my work and if anything, perhaps I took that too far with Human Love because I was live on the internet for five weeks but now that I am only leaking out small snippets I am finding it to be really fun to do that.
So do you think that the album will be ready for a summer release?
I think so, yes. Everything is running to schedule at the moment and so I am going to try to write the rest of the album whilst I am away touring Europe with Amy Macdonald. I like to write whilst I am out on the road, mainly in sound check. I love writing during the sound check (laughter).
So what made you take the leap from being signed with BMG to now doing it all yourself?
The honest answer to that is that I simply found that I didn’t need anyone (laughter). In some ways I don’t notice that I am on my own and in others it is so much better so I think that it is going to be alright (hysterical laughter).
Does it not frighten you not having that safety net of the record company anymore?
No, not really (laughter). I don’t think that I have ever used the safety net. If the safety net had been there and I haven’t touched it my whole career, then I don’t think that I need it anymore. The major plus for me being on my own is that I can work totally freely; doing whatever I want because there is literally no one that can tell me what to do anymore (laughter).
Is there not a danger that you could potentially drop into bad habits?
Well there is only one way to find out (laughter). It’s a big change in some ways whilst in others it just makes perfect sense.
Working on your own without the backing of a record company together with getting the funding for your work via PledgeMusic, do you see this as the way forward for both artists and the music business?
The record music business has literally changed every single week since I got into it. It is so massively fluctuating; people get power and then they lose power. One minute everything is about radio and then the other it is all about something like Spotify. The business is permanently in a state of constant flux. I make records that you can listen to from start to finish; I simply couldn’t do anything else, and I couldn’t make two singles and then sit back and put the telly on (laughter). That really is not how I think or work. I own a huge amount of vinyl and I love listening to an album from start to finish. Then I will pick up the next one and again, listen to it from start to end.
I am very much an album minded person. If it is obsolete then I am still going to do it (laughter). I love it to bits and I am not going to change simply because it is no longer considered to be totally cool.
I recently interviewed Grant Nichols from Feeder and he said that their fans are wanting them to release their new material on cassette tape.
Really, that’s fantastic and I have to say that I really do like the sound of a cassette tape. There is something quite warm when you listen to a cassette. In terms of mastering and mixing, I once tried to make my album sound as though it had been recorded totally on tape (laughter). At that time I didn’t like the way that mixes were going; everything was massively tinny, massively over compressed and not particularly pleasant to listen to. I didn’t like it so I started to look for something that was the opposite and so I tried tape where you don’t get a hard top end or a crazy bottom end either. In general, tape always feels nice and warm. It sounds a bit woolly but in a nice way so I recorded my album on tape (laughter).
You have briefly mentioned that you are about to go out on tour with Amy Macdonald. Are you looking forward to being back out on the road?
(Laughter) I am looking forward to it massively as I haven’t supported anyone for ages. It’s going to be great in Europe as Amy is massive over there in Germany;, massive. She is so big that she is almost like the Queen in Germany. Amy has been the biggest selling artist in Germany for the past ten years so as you can imagine the European tour is totally amazing. Also I know a lot of Amy’s people from doing other things so when I found out exactly who was in her crew I thought that it would be far too much fun for me to miss out on, so I simply had to agree to it (laughter).
Will you be playing any of the new songs from the forthcoming album?
Yes, I think I will, why not. I don’t have anyone to piss off anymore so why not (hysterical laughter).
Will you be playing any of the UK Festivals this summer?
I have a few lined up but what I will tell you is that I won’t be playing any of the really big festivals this year. The reason for this is that basically I feel that I overdid them; playing them for far too many years. What happens is if that you play them every year the organisers start to realise that you would probably be there even if they didn’t pay you, so you have to remind them that you like being there but you also like being paid (laughter). It’s always good not to do them every now and then and this year is one of those years for me.
You recently openly supported March4Women. What was it that drew you to that particular cause?
To me it is such an obviously good cause which the more you get into makes a huge amount of sense. I just thought that it was the kind of thing that I would like to be involved with. For me it really did make a huge amount of sense the more research I did into it.
When you cut your hair for the Get Free video was it a shock to your system?
It was utterly terrifying, and I have to tell you that I have never been that nervous before because there was no room for error; I couldn’t get it wrong. If I had cut it too short then I couldn’t do it again; it was all down to the one take (laughter). It was constantly going through my mind that every piece of hair that I cut that was the last time that I could cut that hair from being really long to being half the length. So yes it was utterly nerve-wracking and the most terrifying video that I have ever made (laughter). I still haven’t seen a video that I can imagine being that unpleasant to me.
Will you keep it short now?
Yes, I quite like it the way that it is. It really is far more convenient and much better for lots of things. The one thing that I do miss is the blindfold and cushion for when I am on planes and trains but I can always buy myself a blindfold and a cushion, I don’t have to grow them out of my own head (laughter).
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
Oh no, this is quite embarrassing because it is something that I was working on today but it wasn’t my own music which sounds terrible (laughter). I tend to get carried away in the studio because I tend to work for hours and at times I get really tired. I was listening to a track and I thought that it sounded really pretty and it did bring a tear to me eyes. There are records that make me cry every time that I hear them, they never fail. I’m Still Here by Tom Waits off his Alice album which is really short, does something really strange to me. I don’t know why, but it gets to me every time. If it comes up on random play I have to skip it really fast before it takes hold.
On that note Newton let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been a pleasure as always. Have a great time on the tour and I will see you here in Nottingham. Bye for now.
Not a problem Kevin, it’s always a pleasure. You take care and bye for now.