Backstage at Portsmouth’s Pyramid Centre, Newton Faulkner (real name Sam), his sister Lottie and I sat in a huge lounge style dressing room, surrounded by tables of food and tucked up on a large, battered sofa. Sam asked “Shall we watch a movie?” and suggested grabbing a duvet, hinting to the laid back attitude of life on the road with him. After being supplied with a coffee and instructions to down it from Sam, he remarked:
I’m so well behaved on this tour. Yeah, I went for a run and have been doing boxing training so far today. In two teams: the super hungover team (which Lottie is captain of) and the exercise team. We’ve got a frying pan and everything, yeah because I have to weigh my food and everything now; on a really strict diet.
What does the diet consist of?
Lottie: Boring things!
Sam: No, I’m allowed 85% dark chocolate-
Just a square?
L: She knows the drill!
S: -and loads of exercise as well.
What made you do that? As you’ve never been a large chap?
I was slightly larger than I wanted to be. This is the best I’ve ever felt on tour. I mean, I thought if I did like an hour’s exercise and then tried to do a show I’d be like “yaaaawn hi guys”.
Is the disappearance of the dreads related to the weight loss?
They’re not gone completely, just gone up top.
Was that for American Idiot?
Nah it was completely unrelated, just for my own amusement. It was just time, I’d looked identical for 16 years which is a long time. The hair was definitely more famous than my face, so now people are like oh! Face! He’s got one hiding under there!
L: I always liked it being out, being at the gigs and hearing people go “has he lost weight?” and then someone goes “oh no he’s just had a haircut”. It was fat hair.
S: Well it covered most of my upper body so people won’t have known what size I actually was under it all.
Like ‘Cousin Itt’ just with ginger dreadlocks-
Pretty much for a while, it went down to my waist- longer than my waist at one point.
What do you miss most food-wise on the diet? What’s your big craving?
Probably cheese, cheese and bread – just want a cheese sandwich. I think I had a dream about a cheese sandwich. I was a bagel, yeah I was a cheesy bagel, all melted. Might have been like a brie and cranberry bagel. I did have a dream about taking a bite of a bagel and just going urrrrgghhh, and then I woke up. I mean the diet’s going well, I have enough food and whatever. This is week 3, week 4? So I’ve had to do it because of American Idiot.
Lottie disappears off to sort out things for tonight’s show and another crew member comes in to grab some food. Sam is chatting and welcoming, talking about blueberries, parsnip crisps and “gacky” peanut butter. He suggests a vegetable crisps and hummus wrap as a good lunch to which I mention just discovering dipping crisps in hummus – “it’s the best thing ever!”
Anyway, diet and American Idiot. I’ve done it because I’ve got my top off for the whole show, so just wanted to- yeah no, I’m basically in my pants so I’ve had to put in some time. I mean, I don’t look bad but I just want to feel okay about it and not like, freaking out about it the first few nights like “aaargh”. I mean it’s a, it is, a really serious role. I spent two, over two hours, with the director on Skype going over it scene by scene. Okay, so there’s the gun and then what, in my mouth, alright gun in my mouth while I’m crying, okay cool. What’s next? Heroin? Okay, cool. Will do some heroin then at that time-
How do you do stage heroin?
There’s one of the little needle things-
Like a stage dagger with the bendy blade?
And full make up with track marks, injecting into my hands because I’ve run out of veins – it gets so dark. There’s another scene where I just sit and sing this song, getting more and more upset and going deeper and deeper into massive amounts of despair. I have to just sit there on stage and cry while there’s other people on stage and it’s really weird because my character covers a huge amount of ground. I start off like really cocky and then I dive bomb into massive fucked-up-ness and then come back up again. I’m naturally pretty method, I mean acting wise there are some people who just, who don’t really have to think about it, but I always, I’ve created a whole back story – I know when I was born and I’ve picked a school. I’ve named my mum – I did that this morning – she’s Britney. I mean she’s not in the thing, she’s just “dear Mom” but yeah, I just wanted her to have, I’ve gone through all the history, the entire fictional history with my stepdad to get in really deep. And I might, there’s a couple of people I could ring, in terms of research, about heroin and stuff. They’ll be awkward conversations, because they’re not really going to want to talk about it, but there’s one who if I can get him to talk about it and open up then he will be fascinating.
How did all of that come about then? Did the people at American Idiot approach you?
Everything just pointed to it. There wasn’t a single thing that didn’t match up and say, you shouldn’t do this. I’d been to see some acting agents and realised that there’s a lot more stuff that I can do, I’ve always wanted to be on the stage. Now is probably the time. I was talking to acting agents and they were like right, so you want to do film and TV because it’s what everyone wants to do, because it’s fucking cool and they’re like, what are you willing to do to get there? Because it’s hard to just jump in, in terms of your resume, it’s blank – you’re not going to waltz into it. ‘There’s two things you can do’ and I mean, they didn’t want to say the word musical to me because they thought I might just walk out, erm, ‘but there are two …musicals… things that you could do that would make sense’. They were Once and American Idiot. I think Once has finished at this point, so that’s not, and American Idiot is obviously doing really well and speaking to lots of different acting agents they all said the same things – Once and American Idiot – and then I was like, alright, it seems like that would be a good thing to do.
Then a really old friend, he used to play bass in a band with me, this was when we were like 20, we did loads of Green Day songs in this band as well, and he got in touch saying that he’s in American Idiot and would I, “we’re looking for someone to play Johnny and I think you’d be really good – would you be up for it?” And I was like, “if you’d rang me any other week I’d have said definitely no, but this week it’s a definite yes!” So yeah, since then it’s been a bit of a weird rollercoaster. I did the audition, was massively unprepared for that and also the director had never heard any of my music, so when I turned up and she was like “oh so you do some stuff, have you brought a guitar with you?” And I was like “oh, you wanted me to have a guitar?” No one told me! Properly caught me off guard. She came to see me, came to one of my gigs in London properly a couple of days ago. Really did have to prove myself from the ground up which was really interesting, and I mean also, the American accent is… is not easy-
What region have you gone for?
Californian. So, trying not to go overly surfery – it’s so easy to go massively over the top so I’m just trying find a happy, little pocket where it’s not too crazy. No American actors, all English (Ing-ger-land). And again, I’ve been taking all of this very seriously, I’ve been working with a dialect coach in terms of that, and I mean she’s worked with a lot of amazing people – she’ll be like, don’t worry if you struggle with this because, I mean, some people find it easier if I give a list of others who have struggled so, well, Maggie Smith struggles with this-
No! Maggie Smith wouldn’t struggle with anything…
Apparently so, just this one little bit! And she’s there telling me all about Orlando Bloom – what an odd little conversation. So yeah, really fascinating stuff. I really, really enjoyed the audition, as there was a point where I was screaming, and shouting and swearing, in an American accent and my brain went right into it and it was really fun! I had a great time! I can’t imagine myself not having a really good time with it, and I get to play guitar, which I like doing obviously. Especially alongside this album, is, I love this album, I want people to know about this album because I’m really proud of it. If this is what it takes, I will do it all. I mean the whole game has changed, I was interviewed by someone else the other day who said I don’t really know how to interview you as you just… do music, really well, but don’t really attract any other press, you kind of just do that. So he goes, here’s a fun bit, he goes right I’m going to ask you some silly questions, thinks for a second and then goes- here’s me thinking he’s going to ask who is my favourite Spice Girl?
Who is it, just to clarify?
And then he asked me about whether we should stay in the EU and holy crap! Where are we going with this? A whole ruse to just get me to say something stupid like (silly voice) ‘where do you stand on the tax situation?’
What are your thoughts on the Panama papers?
And I was just thinking you bastard! Which is what I’ve kind of done, not really played any of the press games at all. Just done the music. But if there’s something else artistic that I can do then fantastic, to kind of rejuvenate everything as well because everyone when we were trying to get the first wave of press were like is there another album? And the weirdest thing was that everyone liked the music, loved it, “the single’s awesome”, could we do anything with it? Nope. So it was almost kind of, what else can he do with it? As I’ve been doing this for a very long time-
I saw you, at my very first festival-
When you were 3?
In 2010, which feels like forever ago! So a long time!
Yeah, I mean, this has been the best, it’s been the best reviewed tour I’ve ever done.
What’s made it the best one so far?
Partly the new songs work so well live but also the band and the bass and the drums, you’ve got so many more dynamics to it. Before it was just me and I could get to that point, I had to work seriously hard to get to that point and then stop because there was nowhere else to go with it. Whereas with this, you can bring in drums and so many harmonies and then go back to just being on my own – there’s so much. It took a while to get the set just right but I think we’ve got there.
I’m very excited to watch you play later! Also, I’ve got to say that I’m a huge fan of the yellow vinyl that the album is pressed on.
I bullied people into doing vinyl basically, because I wanted one but no one was going to do just that so I said “well can we do a few thousand?”
Have you got a big record collection then?
Relatively! I’ve got some of it with me and I’ve brought a little deck along, it might not be off the bus yet but it’s somewhere. I do think that vinyl is the best product that music has to offer, not even sonically but in terms of you have the thing, you lift it up, you put it down, and that’s got a certain amount of ceremony to it. And also, in terms of artwork and merits to it, and all that stuff, actually, it means something when it’s that size. In the days of vinyl, you knew who was playing drums on your favourite record because you’d actually looked at the massive thing and gone “ahhh!” Whereas with CDs, who was going to bother reading that? And now you have to be really motivated to go and research these things.
Where do you stand on the Spotify and free music argument? As I know all your stuff is up there-
Yeah, it’s hard. It’s their decision, I mean you can’t, I can’t afford to do that. I mean if I was Beyonce, I’d make a stand and… I have a 5 year old kid to support so I can’t afford to. And also there is this double edged thing where as someone who loves to make music, you want people to hear it. Obviously you want people to pay for it as well so you can earn a living but more than that you want people to hear it. I do love Spotify though as I’ve found some amazing pieces of music on there that I wouldn’t have found any other way, the influenced by list is brilliant, just down into the rabbit hole.
Are you doing many festivals this summer?
I’m doing Forgotten Fields, I’ll be doing American Idiot then duck out on a Sunday for one then back. I don’t know if I can talk too much about some of the slots as I’m not sure if they’ve been announced-
But we’ve got some really juicy times ahead, we’ll have a really good time. I love it!
We wrap things up there as Sam has to head off to soundcheck ahead of his Portsmouth gig that evening – you can read my review of the performance here. He has since completed a UK tour in American Idiot: the musical as Johnny; tickets for the London show are available to buy here.