Close friends get to call this folk-rocking troubadour Sam Newton Battenberg Faulkner, and while Buzz’s Carl Marsh can’t quite claim that status, he had a perfectly pleasant chat with the man you and I call Newton Faulkner ahead of his three Welsh dates in October.
You’d already done some socially distanced gigs before this back to normal, non-socially distanced tour. Were they weird?
Yeah, as you get very two different approaches to the conversation. Anyone that hasn’t done one is like, “oh, it must have been so amazing to play again… wasn’t it?” You’re like, “well yeah, -ish”.
Obviously, it was incredible to be physically playing again; I’m glad I did it, and I gained a lot from it. Just playing the material in front of people made me realise what it was because it’s the only tangible bit of my job, really. After all, when you play a song in a room, people respond to it.
It’s that two-way thing between you and the audience.
You’re very aware that this is a good thing that’s happened. Whereas when you’re making stuff in the studio, even listening back to it, I’m like, “oh I really like this!” “I hate it, this is awful! “This is the best thing I’ve ever done…” It’s your situation, and mental health of what’s going on at that point, that dramatically changes how you feel about what you’re listening to. Whereas with a gig, you get carried along on a wave, and it’s less about everyone’s individual thing – a shared experience.
So in that sense, it was amazing. Obviously, the crowds felt very exposed as they had a complete lack of anonymity, which is one thing that I think people generally get quite a lot out of when you feel part of a thing. I can’t wait to actually do a normal, sweaty gig, because that’s where the fun is.
How small were your earlier socially distanced gigs?
The smallest one was 60 people. It’s probably one of the only gigs I’ve ever done where I’ve looked every member of the audience directly in the eye at some point!
Your new album Interference (Of Light) seems to have taken you longer than usual to create; previous ones came at roughly two-year intervals.
I spent a long, long time making this one, longer than I’ve ever done before, especially on individual tracks – and I learned a lot in that space and in that time. I’ve really worked out how I want to do things.
I found my sound on [2017’s] Hit The Ground Running, but found it in its rawest form, the core of the sound. And ever since then, it’s been kind of expanding out of it. Hit The Ground Running was an album I was trying to make since the first one [Hand Built By Robots, 2007]. And I went too far in one direction, then too far in another: Studio Zoo  was totally acoustic, very stripped-back and emotionally intense. Human Love  was the polar opposite – crazy loud drums, very much a release.
But I felt, listening back, it probably goes too far down the production route, and there’s maybe not enough actual playing on it. And then with the new one, it was a totally different approach anyway, because of a lack of time constraints.
So you used lockdown time to your advantage to create a record at your own pace, and experiment with new things?
If I needed drums on a track in the past, there wouldn’t be a lot of time. I’d ask people, “OK, we’ve got this, this and this to go on this track, when does it need finishing by?” And they’d say, “it should have been finished four weeks ago. So could you get a fucking move on!” This time, I asked them when it needed finishing by and they just said, “it doesn’t really – and we’re not sure why you’re working.” [Laughs]
So, I put time into learning to play drums – I’m not amazingly good at it, but I did play drums on some of the first album – and having open-ended timeframes. I spent four weeks just playing the drums. Then I needed to learn how to record the drums, as I didn’t know anything about recording drums. It was always an engineer that did that. I learned how to micromanage with all the mixing and recording. Then I learnt how to play the bass like a guitarist – for weeks on end! It was great to do things that I’d never done before.
I’ve only really just got a grasp of how much information I’d accumulated – I was doing a writing session at the end of last week, and I’d got a song produced and almost ready to go straight to radio that very day. There was no way I’d know how to do that three or four years ago.
Newton Faulkner plays De Valence Pavilion, Tenby, Fri 1 Oct. Tickets: £24. Info: here; Patti Pavilion, Swansea, Sat 2 Oct. Tickets: £24 (sold out). Info: here; Tramshed, Cardiff, Sat 23 Oct. Tickets: £25. Info: here
words CARL MARSH photos STEVIE KYLE
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