Cool and uncool: Newton Faulkner on Human Nature
The release of his fifth studio album has heralded a change in direction for Surrey-raised singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner thanks to a recording trip to LA and the addition of a band – though the distinctive sound and the dreads remain, writes Cameron Tharmaratnam
EIGHT years ago, following a number one UK debut album and a Brit nomination,
Newton Faulkner claimed he was never going to be “cutting-edge or cool”.
That album went double platinum, followed by another number one LP, and his most recent release has been critically acclaimed as a return to form, echoing his earliest, best work; so, does he finally think he’s cool?
“I’m definitely not cutting edge” he laughs. “Maybe a little bit cool but then in a couple of years I'll probably be massively uncool, then cool again. I mean, just look at Craig David – he’s well and truly back.”
A man never interested in the glitz and glamour of musical stardom, Faulkner has always epitomised the relaxed, carefree attitude that flows into his music.
The self-proclaimed son of “hippies” hasn’t let fame or success change either him or his music. Despite three top-10 albums and many headline performances, his distinctive percussive playing style has remained true, as have the famous ginger dreadlocks that made ginger trendy before a certain other red-haired musician hit the scene.
But the release of Human Nature, his fifth studio album, saw a significant change for the Surrey-raised performer; the famous dreadlocks have been tamed, no longer belly-button length but tied into a neat bun, and he has a band behind him for the first time.
“We really wanted to do something loud and big and take it that next step further we’ve never gone before. Some of the stuff is really quite heavy with a lot of drums and it is just so much fun.”
The sense of “freedom” gained from finishing his contract with Sony prompted a trip with his brother Toby and sister Charlotte – band mate and manager respectively – to Los Angeles looking for collaborators. By the end they had more than 50 songs to choose from for the new album.
“We didn’t have to answer to anyone and it was great. I mean the trip was monster; we’ve still got loads of stuff that hasn’t been released yet and as artists that’s what we love because there’s just so much room for experimentation.”
In the US he collaborated with Empire of the Sun duo Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes in an experience he says was the “polar opposite way” of how they usually record.
“[Nick] went up and just started singing stuff and that became the start of the song, then me and my brother left not knowing what we’d just done, none of the structure was there and we’d just left them with loads of stuff. We couldn’t even work it out on the cab home. Then about a month later I just got out of bed and saw an email with the track, opened it up and thought ‘Oh s**t, this is awesome!’”
Never one to shy away from creative experimentation, Faulkner chose an interesting approach for the recording of his previous album, Studio Zoo; choosing to live-stream the entire process, warts and all. The method, he says, was a learning curve.
“I wanted to show that there is a way of doing it where you can just sit in a room with a guitar and create, and make it more of an interactive process because that’s what music is about. I just wish we’d given ourselves more time because five weeks is just not enough time to put together an album. I don’t think anyone’s tried it since the 70s.”
On his UK-wide tour, Faulkner will be playing his new album and classic favourites in venues including The Limelight in Belfast. This tour is the first time he has performed with a band, which, he says, really adds another level to the show.
“We can really step things up. It also makes the moments where it’s just the guitar and me on stage far more powerful. We’re also using much more weird instruments for new sounds, I’ll be on a ukulele while one guy is using a mariachi bass guitar as a drum, which sounds amazing”
Now a father himself – his son Beau is four – and with a strong family influence in his team, I ask him, is family now an inspiration for his new work?
“Most definitely. Having a son really influences my life; it changes everything. We have really good jams; he’s really into the drums.”
:: Newton Faulkner plays The Limelight in Belfast on Friday April 8. Tickets £20. Human Love is out now on BMG.