“The first album was kind of written by mistake, the second album was written to follow up on the recorded success of the first and then between the second and third I’ve just done a million gigs, so the focus for me was very much was leaning live, and every track was written to be played live, which made them better recordings somehow, I don’t know, it makes no sense, not quite sure how that works…”
2007 introduced the world to Newton Faulkner and his magical guitar pop, he had a million-selling, number one hit with his debut album ‘Hand Built By Robots’ with singles ‘Dream Catch Me’ and ‘I Need Something’ overtaking the airwaves for months. His follow up in 2009 ‘Rebuilt By Humans’ gave us ‘If This Is It’ and was just as good and proved he was no one trick pony, but now after three years, some new life experience and relentless touring where he takes on everything solo, comes Newtown Faulkner’s third album, ‘Write It On Your Skin’ and we feel it’s his best effort yet.
Before heading down to Australia for some intimate shows, we chatted with Newton Faulkner about his new album ‘Write It on Your Skin’, his solo live shows, social media and forgetting songs…
You’re heading back to Australia for some intimate shows this time around, what was the idea behind taking your show to these smaller venues?
Yeah, I guess it’s the same thing I do everywhere, I really like building things from the ground up, especially when there’s been a long as a gap as there has been. The first shows I did in England on this tour, they were quite fun, they were called ‘pop up gigs’ and we were running it via Facebook and we basically got people to ask us where they wanted us to play. That was everything from people’s living rooms to weird little churches in the middle of nowhere, and the ones we ended up doing were hilarious. The smallest one was about fifty people, it was tiny, but I really like kind of reintroducing it to a small amount of people and letting them talk to their friends and then coming back and just building it bit by bit.
Is this something you do at each album release by giving everyone a teaser and then come back for the full blown shows?
Yeah, it seems to work and it’s quite useful for me actually, as the first bunch of tiny gigs I did in England were the first time I’d ever played the material, ever, so at that point I was very much just sussing it out. It was great for me as it was before the album was out and what I actually ended up doing was I went back as you can now, I went back and watched every song back on YouTube and then I was actually changing the record to what was working live which was really fun. It was definitely a strange process but it definitely benefited.
What can we expect at the shows this time around?
A little bit of everything. I’ll be doing stuff off the first, stuff off the second, I don’t sit down anymore, I think we only did one tour of Australia where I was doing the sitting down, only on some songs because what I was doing is I was playing stuff with both feet, so I had to sit down, I was actually playing string parts with my feet ha ha. I don’t know how I ended up doing that, but I was playing relatively complicated string arrangements with my feet on like a giant piano, like the scene from ‘Big’ ha ha. It was really complicated, it was partly because the second album was very much written to be recorded as opposed to being written to be played live, and it’s strange for me as every album has had a completely different approach. The first album was kind of written by mistake, the second album was written to follow up on the recorded success of the first and then between the second and third I’ve just done a million gigs, so the focus for me was very much was leaning live, and every track was written to be played live, which made them better recordings somehow, I don’t know, it makes no sense, not quite sure how that works…
In the three years since ‘Rebuilt By Humans’ what inspired the songs for ‘Write It on Your Skin’?
Everything, a lot has gone down in that gap, I don’t feel like that much happened between the first and second album, I did a lot of stuff, like I travelled everywhere, but I was doing the same thing everywhere I went, I did like four things but I did them a lot ha ha. So I didn’t really think that I changed that much, I kind of grew, I got better at all of those four things but not a lot of real life happened, it was all kind of just bizarre promotional trails. For this album, everything from birth to death has transpired in incredibly close proximity, and it’s probably the reason why I broke the naming cycle, and everything that could be different, kind of was.
Was this something you set out to do specifically, to make it different?
Yeah, musically it was going to be different from quite early on, and once you kind of see where that was going, all of the other decisions started falling in to place.
You worked with a number of different cowriters this time around, what was the decision behind doing it this way for record number three?
I’ve always worked with people just because there’s so much to be gained. I’ve worked with my brother since the very beginning, we’re sort of a writing team, but on this album we really kind of solidified that. We always knew we were a writing team and on this album we did pretty much every track together, so there was a massive step forward and we’ve actually started doing sessions for other people as well which is really interesting.
Anyone in particular?
Just a couple of bits coming up, a couple of bizarre, I mean I think what the people are coming to us are people that want to do pop but want to be slightly left ha ha, which is obviously where I kind of set, to the left.
I wanted to ask about the song ‘Clouds’ can you give us a bit of an insight into this one?
I would… but it’s quite a strange thing that happened with that, because there was three of us that wrote it together we wrote it in my house, there was me, my brother and Sam Farrar who ended up producing most of the record as well. We did a solid week of writing, from as soon as we woke up to when we collapsed for a good seven days, and I think it was actually on the Sunday, we woke up and thought let’s have a look at everything we’ve got. We looked, I knew everything we did, so I was like, on Monday we did the really happy one, just do a mini mix of that so that’s ready to go to bounce, Wednesday we did the really depressing but weird one, so let’s bounce that, Thursday that, Friday that, Saturday that and then it was like, “what did we do on Tuesday?” nobody could remember at all. The way I ended up having to find it because nobody could remember the name, nobody could remember the vibe, or anything, it was amazing. I had to find it by the date in the computer and then open it up and hit play and then hidden in there was ‘Clouds.’ It was really weird, and as soon as it started we were like “This is pretty good…” ha ha, but nobody remembers about the actually making of it, it’s hilarious.
Although, you took on most of the production duties, is that your way of truly having the final say on the songs?
I’ve got the studio in my house, so there was obviously some things I could, I never started anything with the intention of it being the finished versions for the album, but there are a couple of things that just slipped through the net to my surprise. I’m getting better at it, which is obviously from my point of view an incredibly useful thing to do because I can save myself thousands of pounds which is nice, it also means I can start the next record tomorrow afternoon, I can start it whenever and do it to a level where I can actually survive to the very end which is amazing.
Even though you’ve just released the album are you already working on new material now?
Yeah what I’ve been doing is because there was so much left over, I found an iTunes playlist in my computer that had nearly seventy things in it ha ha, so that’s seventy ideas that are far enough down the line to be recorded, I don’t know how many of them are finished but they’ve definitely got a verse and a chorus at least. I’ve been going back to those and going ‘How did that not make the record? It’s amazing!” ha ha.
What I loved is the acoustic versions of the tracks you recorded, they take on such a different vibe, what is it about performing this way that you enjoy?
It’s very much what I do live, I’m trying to think how long I’ve been completely solo live, it’s been a really long time, because I had a bass player and a drummer, actually the band came out to Australia a couple of times with me. People at the end of the gigs and all the reviews would say ‘He’s best when he’s completely on his own’ so I kind of sat down as I write and pushed that to the max which is why I ended up playing things with my feet and all kinds of bazaar one man band-ish kind of things which is a huge amount of fun. Recently someone threw a spanner in the works because I was, I think everyone that had been to a lot of gigs said “You need to change one thing” and I said “Ok, what is that one thing?” “You can’t sit down…” and I was like “What? Can’t sit down? Not even for one song? That’s really complicated… OK… Fair enough…” so now I’ve managed to do all the same things standing up which is actually considerably harder ha ha.
So it’s just you heading down here?
Yep, just me, what will I have? I’ll have a kick drum on one side and an octave worth of bass pedals on the other that I use very sparingly but they are very, very useful, it kind of just means I can play the bass line with my foot which you can either use to underpin the stuff you’re doing on guitar, or it means you’ve got both hands free and you can do really fun crowd particpationy things. I’ve had crowds split in to four groups but that’s pushing it, I think three works better ha ha. I think because it’s just me on my own I have a huge amount of freedom, I can stop in the middle of songs and change my mind and I change arrangements literally every morning ha ha so it’s not the same ever. I always tend to do it, and it’s really weird, the bigger or more pressure there is on the show the more likely I am to take a big section of the songs and completely change the way I play it, it’s really weird ha ha. Weird compulsions.
I’ve noticed that you’re very active on the social media side of the job, how important is it for you to connect with your fans this way?
Madly so, it’s amazing for someone like me because I’m kind of in direct contact with the people that are buying my material, I can bounce things off people, I can get feedback on things, in ways that would’ve been completely impossible before. I’m kind of realising the differences between all of them: Facebook is for slightly more thought out ramblings, Twitter can be completely mental, that’s kind of what Twitter is for, kind of like throwing up in to your phone with your brain, Instagram is just for photos taken on your phone and I’ve got a proper camera and all my proper camera stuff goes on to my Tumblr, so it’s really complicated. I really love it, it was completely instrumental in the record doing what it did in the UK, it was very much kind of me and a computer. It’s actually really funny, we got it to number 1 in mid-weeks with just Facebook and Twitter and then once we got it to number 1 in the mid-weeks, the record company were like “Do you want TV advertising?” “YES! NOW PLEASE!” ha ha, it was so funny but we had to get it to that point before they were like “Oh, we should spend some money on this…” we’re going alright…
Lastly, just for some fun, when I hear the album title, I think tattoos, so if you had to pick one song lyric that you would ‘write on your skin’ so to speak what would it be?
That’s so hard… it’s going to be a Tom Waits song I think, just trying to pick which one, as there are millions… I have so many things in my head lyric wise. Either Tom Waits or Randy Newman I think lyrically… I’ll just get their entire back catalogue ha ha ha. That’s the one thing I really like about ‘Write It on Your Skin’ as a phrase, everyone, it brings up so many weird images from sort of cheating in exams to being covered in tattoos.
Catch Newton Faulkner in Australia at the following dates:
Sunday 16th September – The Zoo, Brisbane
www.oztix.com.au 1300 762 545 or Oztix outlets
Monday 17th September – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
www.moshtix.com.au 1300 438 849
Tuesday 18th September – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
www.cornerhotel.com 03 9427 9189
Thursday 20th September – Fowler’s Live, Adelaide
www.moshtix.com.au 1300 438 849 www.venuetix.com.au 08 8225 8888
Saturday 22nd September – Fly By Night, Perth
www.flybynight.org 08 9430 5976
From: London, UK
Band members: Newton Faulkner
Latest release: Write It on Your Skin (out now – Sony Music Australia)