When Newton Faulkner released ‘Dream Catch Me’ back in 2007, it became a massive hit, permanently stuck in the country’s head throughout a summer. His cover of Massive Attack’ Teardrop only helped cement his place as one of Britain’s favourite singer/songwriter’s at the time.
The album went on to be an enormous smash hit, going double platinum in the UK and gold in Australia. After a top-three success with the follow-up, Newton Faulkner took some time out of the studio and went on tour.
But now he’s returned with new album Write It On Your Skin and we caught up with him about the release of the new album, why working with family’s great and singing in his dressing gown.
So what can we expect from the new album?
It’s a slightly different animal. I think there’s two main things that changed. One is that I’ve just settled in to what I do and I’ve found my place in the industry. It’s weird, you do a couple of albums and you learn different things from both of them. I probably learnt more from the second than the first in a lot of ways.
It’s weird listening back to this one. It’s quite bizarre to me to hear how effortless it sounds. There’s obviously a huge amount of work that goes into it, but I was much harder on it in terms of the writing making sure structures were in place. But in terms of the performances, because I’d recorded a lot of it at home, I mean I did an awful lot of it in my pants! I did a lot of the guitar and the vocal is either in my pants or my dressing gown or just late at night when everyone’s asleep, but I can’t sleep and just need something to do.
I think that’s given it a much more relaxed vibe, it’s very not clinical. You can hear all sorts of things going on in the background; we weren’t in fully soundproofed studios. You can hear cars driving by almost. It’s got a nice, loose vibe about it.
The other thing that I think is different just in terms of my approach is that the second album I did just to be recorded, because I was following up on the recorded success of the first one.
But between the second and the third, I’ve been gigging relentlessly and I think that’s where I belong. So, I wrote this stuff to be played live and ironically it’s made a much better record.
So you’re brother worked with you a lot on this album, were there any sibling squabbles in the studio?
He’s worked on all of them, but not to this extent. We worked on nearly every track together. But there weren’t any proper ones. Maybe a couple of digs, but nothing neither of us couldn’t handle. One of the reasons it works for us is that you can be completely honest in terms of ideas.
Sometimes when you are in a writing session and it’s the first time you meet, it takes a little while to build up the confidence to say “That is a s*** idea.” You just can’t do it. You have to be really diplomatic and beat around the bush. But honestly, with my brother there’s no holding back. You don’t need to be polite, you don’t need to professional.
You can just be like “Oh my God, that literally makes me hate you. I can’t believe you said that, that is the worst thing I’ve ever heard.” There’s no airs and graces about it, you can just dig in, it pushes the whole thing forward.
You recorded part of this album in LA, how was that different than before?
It was really chilled out, it was really fun. I wasn’t really submerged in LA culture, because I never went to a studio in LA, so I never dealt with studio engineers and owners, and there weren’t other musicians coming in and out.
It was very much just me and Sam Farrar in his garage. So it didn’t feel very alien at all. The only thing that felt weird was that when you opened the room with no windows it was sunny.
So how have people reacted to the new stuff and do you go about balancing that and the older hits?
I’ve been really, really surprised by how much new stuff people have let me play.
I wrote a dream set list before the first tour after most of the material was in, and it was quite bold, I’ve pretty much put the whole album on the set list. Then I kind of assumed I’d have to put in more old stuff and I was basically trying to push people’s limits.
Because it’s just me on stage, I don’t need a very definite plan; I can actually hop around as much as I want. I just have to whisper stuff to the guy who controls some of the foot stuff, because that’s obviously different sounds for each bit, so the only person I have to let know what’s going on is him. And it takes him like two seconds to switch, so it’s pretty easy.
So I wrote this dream playlist that I thought I’d have to change as I went along but the gig went so well, and the tour. And the tour after that and that was pretty much the same songs, so that’s nearly all the new stuff.
Were you surprised at all by just how big Hand Built By Robots became?
Completely, I don’t think I understand that to this day. I was in America when it went mental and I came back and did gig and everyone knew the words! I was like “What, these are my words, give ’em back, what is this?” I missed the peak of it. It’s been a very, very strange ride.
So, I’ve got to ask, where did the whole thing about playing Spongebob Squarepants theme come from?
I was supporting Paulo Nutini at the Metro in London; it was quite a small gig. For both of us, it was properly early on. It was packed, and we’d just won the football, and everyone was insanely drunk and it was a full moon, so I don’t know if that adds extra craziness. It was a particularly mental audience. It was a cross between entertaining people and crowd control, it was weird.
What happened was I was going to Teardrop and was saying that I’d looked at lots of things, even the Spongebob theme tune, and then this small group of them started chanting “play it, play it” and I was like, “No, I don’t even know how to play it.” Then more of them started chanting too, and then all of them and then they started getting angrier because I wasn’t.
So I said “Ok”, but I had to figure out how to play it. So I turned around for a couple of seconds, worked out the first two chord changes, made mental guesses as to what the next chord change was and just started. And people went completely mental. They were singling along the loudest I’d ever heard them sing along to anything, it’s ridiculous.
Then that was on YouTube and MySpace and people were talking about it saying “Thanks for doing that, it was really funny.” And then next gig, before I was even on stage, I could hear people shouting Spongebob. It was ridiculous.
You’re albums are always so positive, how do you keep your albums so happy?
I don’t know, I think I’m naturally pretty happy. I feel like I had to balance out the positivity on this one, and the way I’ve gone around doing it, which seems to be running theme album is that how things are globally and economically and a lot of people aren’t having a good time and there’s a lot of stressful things that are going on in a lot of places.
I do look at it as kind of a responsibility in terms of everything I do I kind of imagine people taking completely seriously and word for word, so I’m careful with what I put out. With this album I realised I been using a kind of device to make it positive but not patronising or too one dimensional. The thing that kept cropping up was ‘that I know things aren’t great now, but they’re going to get better’.
And that’s where the whole album is coming from in a lot of ways. Even Pick Up Your Broken Heart is ‘I know right now you feel terrible, but you’ll be fine’
Do you think that’s an underused type of song then, as quite a lot of music’s pretty dour and insular?
I think honestly as a species we’re pretty serious and insular but I think I’ve always been pretty open. Musically I definitely am, I mean at the live show there’s no barrier up, I’m in no way protected from what the crowd say or do. I can hear everything and I respond and I’m very much just there without any protection.
Since making the last album, you’ve had a son (One year old Beau). How are you finding fatherhood?
I love it, I absolutely love it. I’m having the best time, he’s amazing. And Zoe’s (his partner) doing an incredible job as well and it’s hard because my job is weird. It has weird hours and I’m away for chunks of time so it’s quite a tricky balance, but she’s doing an incredible job and I love it to bits.
So when did you find out that you could pull of the dread locks look so well?
I was 14, I had no idea that it was going to work. To begin with it really didn’t. I told people I was going to get dreads and then I came back looking like Shirley Temple, it was disastrous. But then I’ve had them for years and years, and I just can’t imagine not having them now.
And finally, what’s next for you after all of this?
Obviously I’ve got wait and see how this album goes and what it does to things, then I guess, straight on to the next one. I have really good ideas about what I want the next one to be, and I’ve got songs that didn’t go on this one which I know I want on the next that are already leaning it in a different direction. So that could be really interesting and fun.
Newton Faulkner – Write It On Your Skin is available from today.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith