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There are downsides to being one of the best live acts around, as Newton Faulkner has found while making his third record. Chris Price caught up with him.
Sitting in a room surrounded by “most” of his guitars, Newton Faulkner picks up a Chinese lute he cannot resist playing.
“You sound like a hippy until you start doing this,” he said before launching into a twanging rock-style solo. “That is on the record.”
He counts nine guitars on the wall “and that’s just downstairs” and there is also a harp nearby as he chats in his East London home. The dreadlocked performer is in the process of mixing his third album, Write it on Your Skin, having just released the tantalising Sketches EP this month.
“The new album is definitely different,” said Newton, 27. “It is different to the first two albums. Those two had a real link between. The guy who produced the second album produced the singles on the first one and there was a link in the titles. They felt close and so I let them be close.
“This one has a different producer and I recorded a lot of the stuff at home. In fact, one thing I have avoided completely in my career is a proper studio. I did stuff in my house, stuff in my garage and on a boat in London. It is amazing how little space you need to make a record these days.”
That simple approach is what has remained endearing about Newton since he made commercial radio-loving mums and their daughters wilt into wide-eyed kittens with his 2007 single Dream Catch Me. His debut album Hands Built By Robots went to No1 and spent more than 10 months in the top 40.
He has sold more than one million records but despite his second album, Rebuilt by Humans, reaching No3 – complete with title inspired by the doctors who had to put a metal plate in his wrist after he fell on ice – success in the singles charts has been minimal.
The singer-songwriter accepts it is his scintillating live performances which sets him apart these days, something which festival-goers at last year’s Hop Farm will agree with.
“That was such a good gig,” he said. “Something clicked that day. That was probably the best reviewed gig I have ever done. The only other one that has ever come close was at Isle of Wight Festival.
"I came back again for Prince (who headlined the last day at the Hop Farm last year), which was amazing,” he said before putting on his best Prince voice.
“This is real music. These are real musicians. You have been deprived.” The impression was about a 7/10.
One thing for sure is that Newton’s live reputation has posed him a few problems in the recording process.
He said: “It is a tricky one. There is no point in recording the style of music and guitar playing I am best known for because it is a visual thing. When you see me on stage, you see one hand over here and then another hand trying something over there and it sounds like a whole record live. But when you are recording, it never sounds like a whole record live. You do not have the sheer volume you can get on stage.
“Also there is no way of telling if it is one person playing or not. There could easily be five people each doing very little. The only way around it is to film a live DVD which supports the audio as well. Then you might watch it and listen to it.
“Everyone says live is better. They say the sound is exactly the same live as it is on the record.”
Monitoring his reaction online
Sketches, the EP Newton released earlier this month, is not to much of a giveway for the sound of his new album.
He said: “The album will be stripped back but the EP is completely stripped back.”
One trap he has fallen into though, is monitoring the reaction to his songs online.
“I have been checking on YouTube and it is all good. It is scary to do that, though. I remember when you would do a gig and know that moment would never be heard or seen again. Now that is not the case. Everything you do can appear online within hours.
“The first song I played on this tour was on YouTube before I had finished the gig. That is a worry because I do go out on a limb and push myself to the limit of what I can achieve, which is great when it works but a problem on the occasions when it goes belly up.
“This record has been written to play live. I have 10 new songs which have developed well into my live thing.”
Newton Faulkner performs at Folkestone’s Quarterhouse on Sunday, April 29. Tickets £16. Box office 01303 858500. His third album, Write it on Your Skin, is out on Monday, July 9.
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