It’s been over a decade since the release of English singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner‘s debut album, Hand Built by Robots, and with his new album on the horizon, The Best of Newton Faulkner… So Far, The Edge chatted to Newton, aka Sam, about reverse glockenspiels and the decade long journey leading him to this point.
Do you see your new ‘best of’ album as the closing of one chapter and the start of a new chapter with your music?
Yeah, very much so, actually. I think it feels like a logical end of one particular journey. And I think Hand Built by Robots to Hit the Ground Running was all heading towards the same place, and I feel like Hit the Ground Running was that done. I think it took a long time to get to a point where I could make an album out on my own, without labels and picking producers to do key things and having the confidence to do the rest myself. All of that stuff wouldn’t have been possible at any other point, and each album played its part in helping. So, there are things that I learnt from each album that were then used and came together on Hit the Ground Running. So, the production side of Human Love was so big and I really got to know loads of pieces of equipment that I hadn’t used that often before and I learnt loads about drum programming and all kinds of stuff. I got in to that kind of thing.
Which album was the most important on your journey?
I mean, all of them played a massive part. Like, Studio Zoo, I learnt everything that I used for Hit the Ground Running about recording acoustic instruments ‘cos it was so stripped back and so focused in itself that I didn’t have to add anything else to it. So, it was kind of getting as much out of acoustic instruments without going into programming as possible – it’s almost like a direct response to other things. And that’s not everything either because it’s split into loads of different strains. There’s the guitar playing aspect, the singing and vocals aspect, [and with]each album I’ve set myself different challenges. I think there’s stuff on Hit the Ground Running that was definitely the most technically demanding of anything I’ve done before.
Was the challenge for the very first album to make an album?
Pretty much (laughs). ‘Cos that first one, you have no idea what it is that you’re trying to do.
And when you perform songs from the first couple of albums, do you still get the same pleasure and feelings from them?
Yeah, one hundred percent. I think I’m kind of a method singer, so when I’m singing something I really try and remember exactly what it was I was feeling and what I was aiming for at that point and why I wrote it in the first place.
And when you came to making the compilation album, how did you choose the songs that were included?
It was an interesting balance of my favourite songs and things I’m most proud of out of the things that I’ve done and also the things that did the best (laughs). All of my favourites are all the weirdest ones (laughs), so if I was left on my own and [someone said]“do you wanna do a ‘best of’ of all your favourites?”, it would just be a very strange weird collection of things, which would be great fun. I think some people would really appreciate it and some people would be like, “I don’t understand what I’m listening to”. So, I think it was good to leave that bit pretty much up to someone else and see what people came back with.
Are the covers that you play songs that you enjoy or that pose a challenge musically, or a bit of both?
Well, yeah, that’s how I pick all my covers, and the questions that have led to my covers have been quite fun over the years. ‘Teardrop’ came out of the conversation of what shouldn’t you cover under any circumstances.
Yeah, it was like, “what’s sacred?”, “what shouldn’t be touched?” OK, let’s do that, we’ll try and do that. And then what’s physically impossible, which led to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. And it’s just a really fun way of working because it just means that you’re always challenged and then with all the covers on The Very Best Of, there were production challenges. It was like – how can I make this sound like it was recorded in recent times? ‘Cos there are some things that are very old on there, and I didn’t want to do a perfect recreation of, because what’s the point? It already exists. So, it was taking things and adding completely different feels. So with the Jess Glynne track, I made it slower but I also made it double time, so it’s just got a completely different feel to it.
It’s absolutely gorgeous – and ‘Pure Imagination’.
That is my favourite, out of all the ones I did. ‘Cos, as I say, I can make it sound pretty but pretty’s not enough, I need to find more to it, and then we got in to adding the little sprinkles of piano and there’s some quite psychedelic things going on mixed in there, there’s like loads of reverse glockenspiels, crazy shit. So it was mixing all of that in.
Is there a musical instrument that you’ve not managed to use in a song yet?
Nothing yet, anything I can play I get in. There’s tracks that I’d quite like to use just that [instrument]and nothing else. I’d love to get good enough at playing, like, the Asian zither, to just use that and not have to add loads of things I can actually play to it (laughs).
So, in terms of ‘Sitar-Y Thing – Interlude’ from Hand Built by Robots?
It’s a bit of guitar and bit of sitar. But I literally only every played it once.
Oh, wow! Did you enjoy it?
Yeah, but I never got to do it again, ‘cos to be honest, it was never in tune again. Until we did that live 10th anniversary of the first album thing, which was a huge challenge but really fun.
Newton Faulkner’s new album, The Very Best Of Newton Faulkner… So Far, will be released on 8th March, via Battenberg Records. His full UK tour kicks off with a date at O2 Academy Bournemouth on 22nd April and runs through until May. Purchase tickets here.