‘I can’t believe you had Newton Faulkner miming on your show!’
On a sunny day in March we were kindly invited round to Newton Faulkner’s for breakfast and a chat. We arrived clutching a sad looking bag of own-label brioche chocolate-chip rolls thanks to the worst branch of Tesco being the only shop on offer nearby. Newton had very generously offered to make us breakfast, but we couldn’t show up empty handed. Though with our meagre offering, we almost wish we had. After a long look round his impressive home studio we settled down with a much more appetizing spread of warm croissants and plates of ‘full Australian’ (which, despite the exciting name, Newton explained is ‘just avocado on toast’)
As we dive into our breakfast the awkward situation arises of trying to eat whilst talking neatly brought up the subject of pressure…
N: Yeah, pressure is a weird one time-wise. I remember there was one gig I was doing where I’d come off – it probably one of the first times I’d ever needed a wee on stage, which didn’t kick in until six years of relentless gigging, but I think I’d got relaxed enough to think about what I was going to have for my dinner and that I could kind of do with a wee! So I ran straight off and straight to the loo which was underneath the crowd. I don’t like planned encores - it’s basically enforced clapping, which I don’t think is very fair, so I hadn’t planned for it at all! So I was underneath and they were stamping and it was the longest wee I had ever done in my entire life. I have no idea how long it actually was but I’ve never felt more pressure!
M: So does that mean you often need a wee now?
N: Not often! I think I turned off all my receptors before and there was nothing but gig. And then eventually I could turn on a few things like, ‘oh, that’s a nice dress’ or ‘I like his shoes’ which I think made it better. It definitely makes it more interactive if you’re not just on transmit. I mean obviously there is an element of that because you are there to do stuff for people, but I think if you can react and take things in it adds a whole new dimension to things. You can make up songs about stuff. You can really go for it.
M: Yeah, I bet. So do you take a lot of inspiration for your songs when you’re touring?
N: Yeah, I write a lot on tour. One of my favourite times to write is soundcheck. It takes all the question marks out. Like when I’m here sat in front of my computer and goofing around with headphones on and I’m really getting into it, I don’t really know what it sounds or feels like until I play it in a venue. Just the amount of sub you’re playing with at a gig is completely different to any other situation – you can’t get it through headphones. I’ve got a massive sub underneath my desk to try and get close to it but it’s not going to shake the whole room which is what you get at a gig, that crazy noise that’s just so powerful. So when I’m set up to soundcheck I tend to rush through all the things that I have to do for the sound guy and then as soon as he says he’s happy I put aside at least half an hour to just mess around. You just don’t have to use your imagination as much, it’s actually in the situation you’re used to playing in. You can tell how a crowd would react to something. It’s really fun.
M: What sort of venues make that easiest to do? I saw you a year or so ago at Union Chapel and that’s the sort of place that you could just stand there all day and play your guitar and sing, right?
N: It’s beautiful! Yeah, I took quite a lot of equipment to that and I don’t think I used most of it.
M: You must get some really accomplished guitarists trying to imitate what you do. Do they write to you and ask questions?
N: Oh yeah, I get asked at least one tuning a day. That’s the hardest thing to work out, so I get asked a lot about that. It’s weird. I think everything else I do (this is the conclusion I’ve come to recently), has been too subtle for people to really get hold of. When I did all the press for the ‘Best Of’ that’s just come out, there were still people who were saying, ‘so you’re a surfer and a looper, what’s it like being a surfing looper’. And I’m like, who have you been talking to?! I’ve never surfed in my entire life and I’ve used a looping pedal like a handful of times! It’s not something I do. It’s just not an important part of my sound. To be honest I don’t really like it. Watching someone do it really well is amazing, but I don’t like the way it feels, how constricting it is. There’re so many things you can’t do because you’re playing to this loop. I think there’s a lot of confusion with what I do. I think the thing that really hit me is the bass player from Reef, who I’ve played with hundreds and hundreds of times, and have seen me play live, once watched what I was doing from diagonally behind me and came up to me afterwards and was like, ‘dude, I have no idea how you’re doing that, it’s mental’. And I was like, ‘why are you saying this now’, and he goes, ‘oh I had no idea before’. And I was like, I’ve wasted my life. I’ve wasted so much time!
M: Because people are always thinking there must be something going on?
N: I’ve had people thinking there’s backing tracks. I mean, I did the Jeremy Vine show recently and there were some comments on that being like, I can’t believe you had Newton Faulkner miming on your show! And that’s because they were drum sounds that were coming from my feet. Also it sounded good because it’s my job to make it sound good (laughing) - it’s like a surprise!
To hear the full chat, download the Mainly Music podcast here.