Newton Faulkner, English singer, songwriter and musician, chats with Kevin Cooper about the current state of the music industry, playing the Peace Train Music Festival in Korea, his latest album The Very Best Of Newton Faulkner…So Far and his forthcoming tour of the UK.

Newton Faulkner is an English singer, songwriter and musician, 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, after it topped the Albums Chart. It was promoted by three singles, Dream Catch Me, I Need Something and Teardrop. Dream Catch Me reached number seven in the UK Singles Charts.

Faulkner’s second studio album, Rebuilt by Humans, was released in 2009 and charted at number three on the UK Albums Chart. The first single from the album was If This Is It. This was followed by an EP titled Sketches which preceded the release of his third studio album Write It On Your Skin which was released in 2012 and reached number one.

He has since released Studio Zoo in 2013, Human Love in 2015 and Hit The Ground Running in 2017. His latest album, The Very Best Of Newton Faulkner…So Far was released in March 2019.

In 2016, Faulkner was cast as Johnny in the musical American Idiot, which is based on songs from the band Green Day, and last year he starred as the Sung Thoughts Of The Journalist in the 40th Anniversary musical version of Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds.

Whilst busy with the release of his latest album and preparing for his forthcoming tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Newton good afternoon how are you?

Hi Kevin it’s nice to speak to you again. I’m fine thanks how are you doing?

I’m very well thank you and let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s not a problem, it’s always a pleasure.

And just how is life treating you?

Life at the moment is treating me very well indeed. There is quite a lot going on at the moment. I have a hefty workload as you can imagine building up to the forthcoming tour and the recent release of The Very Best Of Newton Faulkner… So Far, so there is a lot going on in all directions. So what can I say except life is very good and I am really very proud of The Best Of album. It feels like the right time to release the album.

When I released the last album Hit The Ground Running in 2017 I really did feel as though I had finally found what I had been looking for with all of the previous albums. In the past I have been making albums not knowing just what I was doing whilst thinking that I actually did know what I was doing, and then realising that I had no idea, but that is actually okay (laughter).

That is pretty much the methodology that I used for the last six albums. Now I have done that I finally feel as though I can just write and do what I do which is pretty much what I managed to do on the last record. The whole setup was different in the fact that there was no A&R, there were no label meetings, there were no playback meetings, there was none of that stress and pressure; I just sat down and got on with it, and the response to the album was unequalled really.

The last time that you and I spoke was just prior to you going out on tour with Amy Macdonald performing her Under Stars tour. How was the tour, and did you enjoy it?

Yes the tour was great, it really was fun. It helped that I had met most of her band around the place and they are a really good bunch.

I caught you at the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham and I have to say that I thought your version of Bohemian Rhapsody was great.

Thanks man, that’s terrific. I’m glad that you like it.

I recently spoke to Glen Matlock and he told me that the two of you were in Korea at the same time playing at the Peace Train Music Festival right below the border of North Korea. How was that?

It was totally insane (laughter). We were actually playing on the North Korean South Korean border. The festival had been organised by Glastonbury Festival promoter Martin Elbourne in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea. I have to say that we all really did have a lot of fun and I have to say that Korea is a fantastic place, and the people are fantastic.

Is it something that you would do again?

Yes most definitely. It’s fun and exciting whenever you get to go somewhere new and fresh, and that was one of the few occasions that I actually had some time to myself which allowed me to look around the place. I got there and they had flown me out two days before I had to do anything. I asked them if there were any promotional interviews to be done and they said “no, just chill” (laughter). So I took myself off to Seoul and had a look at just what was going on. Korea really is a beautiful country; the countryside was amazing.

Glen was moaning about the buildings, he said that they really did look a little primitive in places.

Yes I know exactly what he was talking about. There really were definitely some places that were run down far more than the others. Well they weren’t really run down, it was just that they weren’t built up (laughter). There were a few shanty towns scattered here and there between the cities but I found it to be the most beautiful place.

Apparently the existing train line, which is currently broken because the border between North and South Korea is in the way, originally went all the way to Moscow and then over to Berlin. What they are hoping in the not too distant future is that it will go directly to London plus it would also link South Korea by train to the rest of the world which can only be a good thing for humanity.

Really, no one told us that whilst we were there. That really would be something amazing. I really do like a sleeper train every now and again. They are expensive but they are fun. It always feels as though you are on a romantic adventure.

I don’t know about romantic (laughter). I once did a twenty-four hour train journey from Sydney to Brisbane over in Australia which sounds fantastic. The only problem was that the train kept stopping every mile or so to let people get on and off (laughter).

(Laughter) yes that would wake you up.

Anyway let’s leave train journeys, romantic or otherwise, to one side for the time being and let’s talk about your latest album The Very Best Of Newton Faulkner… So Far. Have you been happy with the fans reaction to the album?

Yes I am, I am very happy. As I have said this really did feel like the right time to put out a greatest hits album. There is still a hell of a lot of stuff that people haven’t heard, and to be honest I am more intrigued to see their reaction to that than I am to their reaction to the collection of more recognised stuff. For example, there is a whole album of covers which took me a huge amount of time and really was quite challenging. A lot of people think that I am simply taking the piss but then they say “you know that thing that you have been taking the piss out of for years, could you stop taking the piss out of it and make it into a serious cutting-edge record” (laughter).

I always respond with “yes, probably, I’m not sure” (laughter). There are things like You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) the old Dead or Alive track, there are loads of tracks like that which I have recorded just for fun. Fortunately they get such an amazing reaction from the audiences every time that I play them.

Why do you think that those songs receive such a great reaction?

I personally feel that it is all down to the nostalgia thing. People can tap into that and the songs really do something magical. But then going from hearing a song at a gig for twenty seconds to being asked “can you do a full version, and then can you produce it like a real album track”, that to me really is a challenge (laughter). Even to get the vocals to a point where it doesn’t sound as though I am not taking the piss; it really is a challenge. Some of the songs that I thought were going to be really simple, especially the guitar and vocal tracks turned out to be really quite psychedelic production pieces. Something like Pure Imagination which I always thought was going to be a guitar and vocal track, but that ended up somewhere where I never imagined it going.

Do you think that the album gives an accurate account of your career so far?

I feel that it gives an accurate account of one aspect of it. Obviously singles are there to do a certain job, whereas an album will do something different; they are a whole collection. I still very much make albums that you can listen to from start to finish. That’s my mission every time, to build something that has got a journey to it, a shape, a beginning, a middle, and of course an end. It is like a whole thing. Obviously within that there are the tracks that I am really proud of, which aren’t on The Best Of because it is not taking that into account, it’s not what it is there for. I feel that many of the tracks on The Best Of are the fans favourites.

I am really pleased with the three new songs on the album, especially Wish I Could Wake Up which came out just before Christmas which is generating such a lot of interest and opening quite a few doors for me over in Germany quite strangely. There is Don’t Leave Me Waiting which I honestly feel is a really solid pop song, which I am really proud of. There is another one to come which I am really happy with, and I have got a weird feeling at the moment and I think that particular song may very well be a game changer. However, I am not entirely sure, because as you know I am never entirely accurate with my predictions (laughter). I usually think ‘oh no please don’t put that on the record’ and then it goes to number one, and then I’m like ‘okay you were right, again’ (laughter).

You mention the new songs, and I have to say that I absolutely love Wish I Could Wake Up. It made me think back to the 70s and 80s when artists would be fighting to see just who would get the Christmas number one; something which is currently lacking don’t you think?

I totally agree with what you are saying but just to prove a point, who is number one at the moment? Unless you are number one I personally don’t think that anyone else really gives a shit (laughter). Obviously joking aside I would say to anyone who is at number one “well done” because it really is seriously hard to get there and it is still a massive stamp of approval but at the same time people aren’t keeping track of it like they used to. At the same time people are no longer waiting for records to be released.

Back in the day there would be a build-up of anticipation for weeks prior to a record being released so I have to ask you, do you still get excited on release day?

How can I answer that, let me say that it’s different. It is still terrifying which is what makes it exciting but there is no longer the build-up to releases. So much so that people have actually stopped doing it completely. The really big artists are like ‘okay, let’s release a new album, now’ (laughter). I can see why people are doing that, minus the traditional build-up methods because there is so much music that is so easily accessible now; no one is waiting for anything. They don’t have to because they have got the entire universe of music on demand all of the time. I think that if you were still into buying CD’s and there was a CD being released by a band that you particularly liked, then you are going to be excited because you don’t have that many options.

But now, because everything is there all of the time, it is totally different. I personally don’t know if that anticipation is ever going to come back. I think that when people were physically buying records, and we all know that records were, and still are, quite expensive, I think that was why everything became genre driven. In the past you would wear a certain type of clothes and you would buy these records; the records released by your band. You would buy them because you knew that you would like them in advance of buying them. It would be like ‘oh I love that band, and that is why I wear eye shadow’ (laughter).

That led to all of the movements which again is really something that has again disappeared simply because people can listen to everything whenever they want. People aren’t waiting around, and I think that people can now listen to a much wider variety of music than they used to, if they want to. Obviously the whole play listing thing is now totally different and it has most definitely taken the place of radio for some people; it’s now a case of ‘I like this band, I’m in this mood, I will type in this, I will hit go, and then I won’t really listen to it’ (laughter). The amount of changes that have come in since I started is both amazing and frightening.

I honestly believe that Handbuilt By Robots was one of the last albums to sell in real numbers. It was straight after that that I made the second album, which was not even two years later, but by that time the whole industry had completely shifted between those two points. Since then the industry has been constantly shifting and constantly changing. It has now gone thoroughly Wild West and no one has any idea what is going to work, or even what is going to happen next. There are simply no rules nowadays. In fact you don’t even have to make albums any more. You can now record a track one morning, upload it yourself, and say “here’s my new track, I am very happy with this” (laughter).

And then after you have done that for a while you can put it all together as an album just so that it looks a bit neater. I sometimes sit and think to myself is it really worth all of the time and effort that you put into making an album because at the end of the day people are no longer listening to albums in the right order. Everything is automatically shuffled unless you switch it off. I personally put lots of time into the shape of my albums, making sure that each track runs nicely into the next. I try to make sure that the end of the album is quite satisfying and feels like the end of something. I think that almost all of my albums have had an intro of some kind that goes into the first track so you feel as though you are being led somewhere and the whole album is building up to the finish.

Once the album is finished are you able to walk away and leave it alone?

Yes I can, once it is finished then that’s it, it is done. I have always looked at mastering as being the full stop. That is, of course, unless there is something really bad going on (laughter). I always try to look at mastering as being the end of the process. I find it terrifying to imagine that I could listen to something and think ‘oh I could just move that and reload it backup’ (laughter). That to me would mean that nothing is ever finished and I simply couldn’t handle that so I am just pretending that ‘I cannot do that and that simply doesn’t exist’ (laughter).

How many tracks to choose from did you begin with?

I actually can’t remember. I think that I went through my entire back catalogue saying “that should be on and that should be on” and by the time that I had finished I had chosen around fifty tracks. Obviously then other things come into play, things like ‘well actually we would make more money off that album if that certain track is on there so let’s make sure that we put that one onto the final choice’. So to be fair there was a bit of shuffling around in that aspect. Then I would listen to it as a whole just to make sure that everything works. I will listen to see if things stick out in a good way, songs such as Shadow Boxing was always going to stick out because it is a different track sonically from anything else that I have ever done.

However, I feel that it does it in the right way. Another task to consider is picking the right down moment because most of the album is rather upbeat but I need to put in the folkier stuff, making sure that was represented on there, simply because it is a huge part of the live set and a huge part of what I do, light and shade and all that.

Would you personally say that the likes of Spotify are now viewed and accepted as being a necessary evil?

To be honest with you there would be absolutely no point in me taking all of my stuff off Spotify thus denying my fans from hearing my work. The goal now is for as many people to hear your music as possible; that’s why we make music. I no longer think that anyone makes music purely to make money. Everyone wants their work to be heard and to see people respond to it. Everyone wants to cause some kind of emotional response. And if Spotify reaches lots of people and subsequently allows your music to also reach lots of people then that’s great, that is that boxed ticked. You are reaching people, and people can get to your music if they want to. That is a hugely important part as to why people make music at all.

Having said that, the tricky bit is to now make a living out of making music. That is fine if you are in the very top half a percent but that seems to be the same across everything now. All of the money is shared amongst this very small percentage, whilst everyone else has to try to scrape together a living. It really is hard now.

Everything is upside down at the moment. In the past you would tour to promote an album whereas now the album has taken centre stage, and has become far more important than the tour.

Yes that’s right. In fact I was recently looking at a tour poster for Skunk Anansie which is currently being displayed in London, and in huge letters it gave you the date and the venue which is Brixton Academy. And then in much smaller writing it said ‘oh, and there’s an album’ and I was like ‘wow that has happened’ (laughter). That is now what album posters look like. They are telling people to come to the gig and are saying “oh yes there is also an album which you should possibly listen to before you come to the gig, but no pressure” (laughter). Which I agree is totally upside down. Whether that is better or worse I don’t know. Does it really matter, is this really a worthwhile conversation because things have changed, it is not going to go backwards. In fact it all might change again to something completely different.

I feel that the whole music business has become a disposable commodity to the kids of today.

I totally agree with you on that point. However, from my personal point of view I would actually be pleased if the kids were still downloading their music, but it appears that all they want to do is cherry pick a couple of tracks from your album to listen to on the likes of Spotify and when they are bored with those simply move onto something else. The whole concept of ‘I want to listen to this, so I am going to buy this so that I can listen to it whenever I want’ seems to have now gone completely out of the window. Which now means that it is not being bought in any format; so it is going to be very interesting to see exactly what happens next? There are rumblings that vinyl sales have gone up a lot from where they were which was next to nothing, and it is interesting to watch that.

What I am finding is that I can go down to my local supermarket and buy an album on CD for £8 but the very same album on vinyl is going to cost me almost £30 because at the moment the demand for vinyl albums isn’t there as it is for CD’s. It still isn’t a level playing field, not yet.

That’s right and I feel that it is still going to take a little while for the demand to grow enough to allow the manufacturers to lower their costs. At the moment the problem is that new vinyl albums are hugely expensive to make. Who knows just what will happen next, there really is no point in guessing unless you are simply looking to invest.

We will all have to just start buying cassettes once again (laughter).

No (laughter). I even feel that the medium driven stuff has now all gone. We had cassettes, mini discs, compact discs, I just don’t know if there is going to be another thing like that. They have all kind of served their purpose and we are now onto a whole new realm of things. In the future I can see that you won’t even need a device as your music will stream straight to your headphones themselves. They will simply play music, and that will be it (laughter). However, I do very much believe that as many doors close then they open somewhere else which will allow us to take advantage of other things. We currently have the amazing opportunity to be able to connect with millions of people all of the time, which simply wasn’t possible when I started in the business.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

That’s easy, it’s the fact that it is still going (laughter). Everything kicking off was exciting and crazy but the fact that I can still put on a tour, I can still go out in front of people, and people still sing along; that really is a highlight to me. The last album was amazing for me; the live response to all of the new songs I really didn’t see coming. Normally I will try to sneak in a few new songs on the tour whilst trying not to piss the people off (laughter). I will usually slip a couple of new songs into the set list but on the last tour I played almost the whole album and by the end of the tour I was actually being heckled to play more new stuff (laughter). I don’t know if that has ever happened to anyone before. I was like ‘did you actually just say that’ (laughter).

Do you still get a buzz out of touring?

I get a massive buzz out of touring, and let me tell you, the day that stops will be the day that I stop touring. I am pretty honest with what is going on in my life, especially on stage. I am quite a message singer and so I go deep in to where I was when I was writing the song. I try not to play songs and not really think about what I’m playing. I try to do as much story telling as I do singing, together with an element of acting thrown in for good measure. It really is so much fun, and I have to say that if I was allowed to tour more, then I would tour more. In fact I am actually currently trying to expand my touring into other areas a little more. I am trying to open a few more doors over in Germany and Australia.

It’s funny that you should mention acting because the last time that you and I spoke you were in rehearsals about to play Johnny in Green Day’s rock opera American Idiot. How did that go, did you enjoy it?

What can I say, it was great fun whilst at the same time it was brutal. However, I have to say that I learnt a hell of a lot whilst doing it.

Then you moved on to play The Sung Thoughts Of The Journalist, in Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War Of The Worlds, how was that?

(Laughter) well I have to be honest with you and say that was far easier for me than American Idiot simply because there was more singing and less acting.

Is acting something that you would like to get more into?

In some ways yes, although I have to say that I wouldn’t go for millions of auditions. I simply don’t have the time as I have a career with the singing (laughter). But yes, there are things that I would like to do. For example, I would totally love to get into voice acting, which looks like an absolute dream. And also with that I already know just how all of the equipment works. So yes, I would love to get more into that if the opportunity arose, but at this moment in time it is not something that I need. I would love to do it for fun, and see where I could get to. Compared to music, voice acting is a very small industry.

Do you already have thoughts on the new album?

Oh yes, loads. That’s the main reason why we did The Best Of now as the new songs coming through had a slightly different feel to the stuff that I usually write and record. The next album feels like it will be a totally different step for me. I feel like the journey between Hand Built By Robots and Hit The Ground Running was one thing, it felt like I was trying to find something. So it feels like a journey of not knowing what I was doing, to thinking I know what I am doing, to then learning that I don’t know what I am doing, to then completely accepting that I don’t know what I am doing and that’s okay (laughter).

So I have felt like that across all six albums and now I feel that I have found what it was that I was looking for sonically on Hit The Ground Running so I can now move on taking with me all that I have learnt from that and apply it to something else.

On that note Newton let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You take care and I will see you in Birmingham.

Thanks Kevin, it’s been a pleasure as usual. You take care man and I will see you there.