Meet: Newton Faulkner tells us why he’s bringing his dustbin lid on tour

We caught up with Newton Faulkner, just as he’s about to head out on the road for the stripped back, Feels Like Home Tour 2. There are a couple of false starts as the signal is bad and the call drops out, but with better wifi and WhatsApp to the rescue, we finally got to chat about all things tour, technical and teaching – and how much those things inspire this creative artist.

Faulkner has just returned from New Zealand having completed a few dates there and in Australia. For me, he’s always connected with that part of the world. Dream Catch Me is part of the soundtrack of my life when I lived in Sydney. The double-platinum album Hand Built By Robots was a big hit down there in 2007-8 and it’s still a place Faulkner likes to visit.

“It [the first album] went nuts in Australia, it was crazy! And it was so weird, because I was like “how is it so big somewhere I’ve never been?” and then I got there and…it doesn’t make any sense to me!”

He’s just shared the bill at the Blues Fest Byron Bay festival with the likes of Tom Jones, Katie Melua, The Teskey Brothers and Little Quirks. And it’s clearly a place he loves to visit

“I love it there, it’s great. Blues Fest is so good – it’s such a well curated festival and in such an incredible location”

If you’ve listened to much of Faulkner’s output over the years, you can’t fail to notice the beautiful complexity, rhythm and arrangements that he can produce. But, how does that translate to the stage? I was interested in the reasoning behind this kind of solo tour and how it’s produced.

“I get very carried away with the technology and production and just kind of losing my mind a bit in the robotics of music. The last time I toured, It was three of us, so I had one person on keys and vocals and then the other was drums, samples and vocals. And I played my midi-electric more than I played the acoustics and no-one noticed, but I did think this has gone very far down this route.

“So, I think every few years, it’s really nice to strip it right back to where I came from and go back to my roots…to acoustic instruments. It pushes my playing hugely – and it’s almost like a reset before delving into the next set of material”

It sounds like this is needed, as there’s a new album on the horizon towards the end of the year, and Faulkner elaborates on the process behind this new material.

“There will be multiple releases, which will eventually form an album at some point. It literally covers ground I’ve never even dipped my toes into before, which is really exciting. I must admit, the new material is pretty nuts, by anyone’s standards!”

Sounds complicated, but a lot of fun, I thought! It makes me wonder about the process of getting from record to stage. 

“I don’t know if it’s even possible!” he explains. “I’ve pushed the boundaries of what’s possible on your own before, like really dug in and thought “right, OK, this track’s made up of these elements – is there a way of physically doing these at the same time and if not, what’s the minimum that you can loop to make it work?”

Now, I’m sure we’ve all seen artists intricately using loops to create a sound on stage, and it’s very clever, but it can slow things down. I’m impressed that Faulkner is not so lost in the process that he’s acutely aware of the impact this can have on an audience. 

“I’m a very self-conscious looper!” he laughs. “I don’t want the first minute of a track to be building the track before the vocal comes in. It’s like – get going! Get to the point! But it’s not something I want to spend the whole gig doing”

Is that about a connection with the audience? Building that rapport perhaps? 

Faulkner laughs. “It’s the difference between sound checking for 5 hours and sound checking for 20 minutes!” 

In all seriousness, Faulkner feels there’s a greater connection with the music, the storytelling of the songs when they can be played more organically.

“I find there are limitations in the freedom [using looping] – it’s quite hard when a song gets going. I don’t want to have to sit in where the song started. I want to be able to move around. It’s the vocal, the storytelling that suffers a bit when it gets past a certain level of complication. I don’t think people want to see a whole gig of someone on the edge of going wrong, maximum human concentration! I’ve stripped it back and it’s totally the opposite.”

I love that he is so aware of the impact on the audience, and how he can produce and arrange the live sound to make sure it creates the maximum effect. Previously, Faulkner has felt that the midi-electric, samples and loop mixes have only gone so far. He’s keen to make a more visceral experience for the audience.

“When it’s more complicated, people’s movement is kind of limited. It’s just heads and shoulders really. Then, there’s this very strange thing that happened when I first bought this junk hat”

The “junk hat” is a kind of inverted dustbin lid with chains poked through, fitted to a hi-hat stand that makes a totally different noise alongside the usual Faulkner percussion set up.

“I’ve put the junk hat in place and as soon as I started playing something, the weird dustbin lid and the guitar…it had such an immediate, physical effect on everyone in the room! For some reason, add a dustbin lid and you can get full dancing and I am fascinated by the science of this! I’ve tried so many things over the years, but dustbin lids just make people dance and I don’t know why!”

Also on this tour, Faulkner is offering exclusive guitar workshop sessions. He’s got a lot on his plate already, I suggest, what with the album and the tour, and a young family (he and his wife have two children, one of whom is just 9 months old!). Why, then, would you want to add another element to the mix?

“Stripping it back to acoustic guitars makes me play better. But one of the other things that makes me play better is teaching other people my stuff,” he explains.

“It is, weirdly, kind of educational for me. I don’t think about it – a lot of the things I do just happen. When someone asks “how are you doing that?” or “where is that coming from?”, I’m like “no fucking idea! Let’s find out together!”

I won’t mention the track that Faulkner is going to use for the workshops this time (other than it’s a belter), but it’s a phenomenal opportunity to work alongside a platinum selling artist for a while to learn and improve your playing. There can’t be many artists out there who are prepared to set that time aside to inspire their fans to be better players. 

And that epitomises Faulkner’s passion for his art. He is a songwriter that loves to push the boundaries of what’s possible with instrumentation and arrangement. There’s a genuine energy about how he is putting his show together, with the experience of the crowd at the forefront of his mind. The warmth and the connection he will bring, really will make it feel like home.

The tour kicked off in Guildford tonight, and continues all over the UK:

26.04 – Clitheroe, The Grand
27.04 – Liverpool, Hangar 34
28.04 – Lincoln, Drill Hall
30.04 – Farsley, Old Woollen
02.05 – Stockton, ARC
03.05 – Carlisle, Old Fire Station
04.05 – Galashiels, MacArts
05.05 – Bury, The Met
09.05 – Southend, Chimneys
10.05 – Cambridge, The Junction
12.05 – Shoreham-By-Sea, Ropetackle Arts Centre
14.05 – Shrewsbury, Theatre Severn
15.05 – Newbury, Arlington Arts Centre
17.05 – Southampton, 1865
18.05 – Exeter, Phoenix
19.05 – Bath, Komedia
21.05 – Buxton, Opera House
22.05 – Southport, The Atkinson
29.05 – Grimsby, Docks Academy
30.05 – Harrogate Theatre
01.06 – Holmfirth Picturedrome
19.07 – Castleton, The Devil’s Arse

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