Newton Faulkner, singer-songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about his musical inspirations, playing Johnny in Green Day’s American Idiot rock opera, his latest album Human Love and his current tour of the UK

Newton Faulkner is an English singer-songwriter 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, having topped the charts in August of that year.  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 in the UK Albums Chart.  The first single from the album was If This Is It.

An EP titled Sketches was released in April 2012, followed by third studio album Write It On Your Skin, which was released in July 2012 and reached number one in the UK Albums Chart.  Faulkner’s fourth album, Studio Zoo, was released in 2013 and reached number ten in the chart.  His fifth studio album, Human Love, was released in November 2015.

Earlier this year, Faulkner was cast as Johnny in the musical American Idiot, which is based on songs from the band Green Day.  He will play the role from 7thMay until the UK tour ends at the Grand Opera House in Belfast on 2nd July 2016.

Whilst currently on tour, he took time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Newton good morning how are you today?

I’m very well indeed Kevin as I hope that you are to?

I’m great thank you for asking and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s ok I’m quite looking forward to this.

And I have to ask, how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at the moment is really good.  This tour is going really well as did the European leg so things are really good.  I truly cannot complain and it has been a really good few months.

You are now five dates into the tour, is all going well?

Yes it is, really well.  I have to say that Europe was the perfect setup for this.  We have a lighting guy out with us on this run who couldn’t be out with us in Europe and he was not happy about that (laughter).  He said that Europe was the strongest start to a tour that he could remember and he couldn’t be out there with us.  He was not amused (laughter).  The problem was that the UK tour dates were not immediately in our heads because there has only been a week between tours.  However I have to say that he has hit the ground running.

You are bringing the tour to Rock City here in Nottingham.  Do you enjoy the vibe that you get?

Yes I do as I have had some great gigs there.  Whenever I see Rock City on my list I think to myself that I have had some really great gigs there.  I really do like touring.

Has the dynamic changed on stage at all now that you are a three-piece?

If I am being honest with you the current setup is amazing, and for a three-piece we can make so much noise.  We have also got complete freedom as we are not using any backing tracks whatsoever on this tour.  Everything that you hear is all played live by the three of us which is great because as I have said, we really do make a great amount of noise (laughter).  Also we are using a load of sounds off the record so we have got access to loads of stuff so we are not feeling penned it which makes it really good fun.

I have to say that I am really enjoying the latest album Human Love.  Were you pleased with it?

That’s really nice of you to say Kevin, thank you I’m so pleased that you are enjoying it.  I must admit that I was really pleased with it.  The fan base absolutely loved it and it is the first time that they have ever said that it is the best thing that I have ever done.  Lots of them even comment that it is better than the first album.  The tricky bit now is getting it outside the fan base which is hard.  It is a real challenge these days because getting your record played on the radio is somewhat like playing Russian roulette, because there are absolutely no guarantees that whatever you do you are going to end up on the radio (laughter).  So yes, it is very interesting playing some fun and games.

Have you been introducing some of the new tracks off the album into the current tour?

Yes we have and we have thankfully found that the majority of the fans are quite happy with the current set list.  We have struck a really good balance between stuff from the previous albums together with the new one.  It is quite a good solid spread.  Having said that what we are finding is that the tracks off the new album are probably the most fun to play live.  The latest album was made for being played live whereas the others weren’t in some ways, because I knew exactly how I wanted this tour to be.  I knew who I wanted to use and I knew what I wanted them to be doing as soon as we started making the record.

So just who did you recruit to play with you on the current tour?

I have used Toby (Calling) who has played the drums on lots of stuff over the years.  Toby and I went to college together so I have known him for a long, long time; about fifteen years now.  I always knew that I wanted him to do it.  Since then I have thought that if Toby is doing that then my brother could do this, this and this and then we could do three-part harmonies.  So I had quite a definite plan for the whole thing.  The whole thing just sounds huge.  I was getting a big sound when it was just me on stage, so now that I have added in another couple of people who are all working as hard, with all of us multi-tasking; well it is quite simply a huge amount of fun.

Something like Passing Planes off the new album would have been impossible for me to have done it on my own.  Plus there is Up Up And Away which we all have to go completely mental on (laughter).

It all sounds as though you are having a little too much fun to me.

(Laughter) is that possible Kevin.

Shouldn’t touring be all about hard work (laughter)?

Of course touring is hard work (laughter) but I simply wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it (laughter).  The reason why I like it so much is that it is technically incredibly challenging, in fact there are bits of the set that are bordering on the impossible which is exactly the way that I like it.  There is a bit of my brain that I think has always gravitated towards the most difficult way of doing things I think, which is weird because I don’t know if people actually understand what it is that I am doing (laughter).  To be honest I don’t expect people to understand because it is weird and nice and complicated.  However I do think that they can feel the tension and know that there is an element of danger happening before their eyes (laughter).

Just picking up on something that you said about radio airplays, why do you think that the music business here in the UK have to pigeon hole everyone?

I know exactly what you are saying Kevin and I personally feel that it all comes out of the BBC’s PR and not the artists PR.  The whole business is now all about converging demographics.  A part of me thinks that I should understand but another part of me is absolutely certain that I don’t really want to (laughter).  If I understood exactly what it was that I had to do then I would do that but I don’t think that I would really mean it.  So you would gain something by it but you would probably lose more by doing that.  It’s rather depressing Kevin because when you get to that point it is no longer about music, it is all about the maths; it is that calculated.  I would much rather do stuff that I like, and not simply make stuff that is safe.

I want to make music that some of the people are going to absolutely hate just so long as some of the other people will absolutely love it.  If that is the case then I’m fine (laughter).  What you don’t want is for everyone to say it’s alright (laughter).  That for me is the worst case scenario.

Where do you take your inspiration from?

Musically, my inspiration comes from all types of stuff, including my rather old vinyl collection (laughter).  In fact I have bought loads of vinyl albums whilst we have been travelling around on this tour.  For example I am currently listening to a brilliant South African classical guitarist called Derek Gripper.  He plays the music of Mali on a classical guitar.  I listen to loads of stuff almost as research.  My parent’s record collection obviously had a massive influence upon me and just how my brain works and that was Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Crosby Stills And Nash and the whole Californian sound.  They didn’t go too heavy and I seem to recall that the heaviest thing in their collection was a Steppenwolf album (laughter).

As I got older I started finding stuff for myself and the first handful of bands which I really got into were Green Day, Radiohead and The Presidents Of The United States Of America.  I always forget just how much I absolutely love them to bits (laughter).  I feel that they have definitely influenced my writing to a certain degree because I have always done some stuff that is slightly stupid and that is definitely from them.  They are incredible musicians as well; they are such good players.  I actually got to meet them at The Sasquatch! Music Festival Launch in Washington State and they were amazing.  I don’t like bands that take themselves too seriously.

When I got into playing I started listening to players such as Nick Harper, John Martyn and on both levels Joni Mitchell.  And then when I actually started making records I started looking more into the production side of things, I found myself listening to things from a production point of view.  From that point of view, for me, I still think that Cornelius who is a Japanese recording artist and producer certainly does it for me.  I have been fortunate to work with him twice now and I absolutely love his production style.  I would call his work Landscape Art and it is absolutely beautiful.  I would love to work with him again to be honest.

I have to keep my ear to the ground so I obviously listen to some of the pop stuff that is out there.  However it is just a little bit to see what is going on (laughter).  I have to own up and say that I think that the last couple of things that Justin Bieber has released have been absolutely amazing.  From a pure pop writing point of view it’s like shit this is really good (laughter).  There is always people out there making amazing music; it is the industry which changes and makes you think that it’s all one way, but the music never changes.  There will always be rock bands rocking out really hard in some dingy bar; there will always be guys crying into the microphone with an acoustic guitar somewhere else, and there will be super-weird bands doing all sorts of stuff all over the place (laughter).  The trick is finding them.

Are you constantly writing?

No I definitely stop and start.  In that respect my writing is quite patchy.  I seem to be on a weird cycle most of the time.  It starts with a listening phase where I am hungry to find new stuff and when I will listen to as much stuff as I can.  Then I harvest it into my brain and then after that I will write a whole batch of stuff, perhaps five or six songs.  Then I usually stop for a while and go back into my guitar technique when I try to improve my playing.  From there I will practice my singing and try to improve my vocals by pushing my voice really hard (laughter).  I have done a lot of work on my voice in order to be able to push it really hard whilst not hurting myself which is surprisingly easy to do.

Obviously with this album I just started thinking about what to do next because I quite like a starting point.  It’s that Brian Eno kind of thing about just one rule will glue the whole thing together.  Otherwise you find yourself simply staring at a blank page especially with the sort of things that I do because there don’t appear to be any rules at all.  But it does seem to be the case that I can do whatever I want (laughter).  The tricky bit is working out exactly what it is that you want to do next (laughter).  Once you have got a theory or a couple of rules then you find that everything simply starts falling into place.

Is it melody first or lyrics first?

I don’t have a system because I almost don’t want a system.  I remember listening to someone who had a system for song writing describe the way that they wrote and it sounded really boring (laughter).  They just did the same thing every time and I was thinking what every time, come on (laughter).  I like pushing myself outside of my comfort zone in as many ways as is possible.

After the huge commercial success of your first album Hand Built By Robots back in 2007 were you ever daunted by the task of following it with your second album?

Not really Kevin, I didn’t have the time as I was so busy (laughter).  With the second album there was quite a fast turnaround as well.  I had been out on the road for two years and I have to say that the first album was a really good starting point.  I have to say that it has got some good stuff on it (laughter).  The success of the first album was almost completely down to luck more than judgement simply because I didn’t know what I was doing (laughter).  I was just blagging my way back then as I still am to a certain degree.  You can never really know music; it is just a constant revolving mystery which is amazing and a wonderful thing to be part of (laughter).

Are you managing to behave yourself on this tour?

This really is a quite different tour for me because at the moment I am managing to remain spectacularly well behaved which is actually really nice (laughter).  I haven’t been hungover once and I honestly don’t think that I will.  I think that I am going to stay on the right side of that on this one.  I will go straight on to other things after this tour so I won’t stop.

On the subject of other things, you are going to be playing Johnny in Green Day’s rock opera American Idiot.  Are you looking forward to that?

Yes most definitely Kevin but I am absolutely terrified (laughter).  But I am definitely looking forward to it.  It’s a whole new shenanigan for me (laughter).

What was the last song that made you cry?

That would have been I’m Still Here by Tom Waits from his album Alice.  It’s only one minute and twenty seconds long, it’s a tiny little thing but beautiful.  That is a song that gets me quite often.  It takes me by surprise.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

To be honest it feels like I am on a constant highlight reel (laughter).  I am just having a really good time.  Joking aside a real highlight is when I get to play at the really big festivals such as Glastonbury and the Isle Of Wight.  Festivals are particular fun.

Festivals or smaller intimate gigs?

I honestly don’t really have a preference.  It’s a bit like the weather, I like a bit of everything (laughter).  I could never just do one, I would always want to play them both.  One of my favourite times was when I was traveling backwards and forwards between the UK and America a lot.  I would play to five people in a bar in San Francisco and then come back to the UK and play in front of ten thousand (laughter).  It involved such different disciplines.  It was really fun.

On that note Newton let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me.  And I am looking forward to seeing you at Rock City.

It’s been an absolute pleasure Kevin.  Take care and I will see you there.