Interview: Newton Faulkner

Photo by Stevie Kyle

When Newton Faulkner started songwriting, he was told that happy songs are the hardest to create. But that’s exactly why he gravitated towards them. That’s a recurring theme for the upcoming album —Interference (Of Light) — set for release on 20 August; Newton threw out the rule book, doing the stark opposite of easy. The self-imposed challenge paid off as the result is a bright and dynamic record. It is the product of “sitting in a room alone and looking out of the window into a world that didn’t make any sense,” Newton tells The Indiependent, “I think it’s landed in a really good place. I still can’t get my head around the fact that it’s finished.” 

Adapting to the way music is made in the current landscape was a learning curve but the slowed pace of production was actually a blessing in disguise. Recording studios were shut, and so the album was primarily recorded in Newton’s East London home. “I think I’m one of the few people that makes a home studio work. I know a lot of people that tried it, hated it, and had to rent a separate space,” he says.

“What should Newton Faulker do next?” has circled the singer’s mind in recent years and so he decided on one thing for Interference (Of Light): no restrictions. While Newton’s older albums were authentic, there was almost always a voice in his head guiding his decisions. “There are rules that I felt applied to what I could do. I’ve done records where I thought I had no rules before. But I think they were still within this guiding principle of what I should do, and not what feels right. With this record, we had the songs and we did whatever was best for those songs without limitations.” 

There was no rush with the record — compared to past projects taking mere weeks or months to complete — which allowed Newton to hone his skills on various instruments. Starting with the drums (stolen from his son!) he revealed: “I spent ages with a metronome practising. On top of that is the hugely tactical exercise of miking and recording drums and getting that right. And listening back to the record. I am so happy with the drums on ‘Interference’, the last track.” 

As for the bass parts, the sound had to be as genuine as possible. Newton spent three weeks on one bassline to streamline his technique, admitting: “I wanted it to sound like a bass player and not like a guitarist playing bass, as it’s a slightly different mentality”.

Newton believes that his custom guitar, Frank, has its “crowning moment” on ‘It’s Getting Late’ and it is the instrument that takes the album to the next level. He says, “It’s an electric guitar and you’re playing in the way that you play acoustic guitar. So it’s quite a unique instrument. It’s got like a low C on the bottom and the string tension is quite easy to bend.” While Newton previously used the guitar on a few live sets, he doesn’t recall ever recording with it. This is therefore another way of advancing his sound on the latest project.

Interference (Of Light) is a cohesive and conceptual album. Each track is filled with surprising melodies that elevate them, which again is down to the no-holds-barred approach. “There are all these bright vivid colours coming through, especially with the brass and the strings,” says Newton. Collaborating with Troy Miller (who worked with Amy Winehouse and toured with Mark Ronson) on ‘Four Leaf Clover’ was a highlight of production. “He is arguably one of the best drummers in the entire world,” Newton adds. 

The tracks themselves also went through an overhaul. ‘Better Way’ took four months of non-stop focused work to perfect. It had its tempo, key, and drum fill changed multiple times. Similarly, ‘Leave Me Lonely’ did not have a clear concept and Newton wrestled with the execution. “It’s one of my favourite tracks on the record now. It covers different eras of music. Parts of it sound like blink-182, who I listened to when I was 14 and loved to bits.”  

Now which songs will shock fans the most? Aside from the new heavy sound on some, Newton says: “’Interference’ is a different type of song to anything I’ve done before. I think one of the things that influenced it, is probably the soundtrack to Killing Eve. You don’t really question it; it just sounds like a complete vibe.” 

The cinematic nature of the album suddenly makes sense. The tracks have great versatility and would ideally complement the end credits to a series or film. In fact, Newton often keeps this in mind when writing.

‘Killing Time’ is likewise an unexpected addition to the discography. It is relentless in its sound, becoming grander and increasingly dramatic as it progresses. Newton admits: “It grew so much bigger than anticipated. There is a quiet melody that comes in at the end on a glockenspiel that you couldn’t hear in the mix at one point. Now it’s become one of the most important melodies on the entire album”. Again, all these risks paid off. The feel-good and reflective atmosphere of the tracks is a treat.

Newton also believes that his fans will resonate with the songs and recognise how they took into account his past records. “There’s stuff that kind of hints towards the first album. There’s stuff that’s completely off the map. And there’s stuff that kind of dips into album three a little bit. So there’s some familiar territory, but it never stays there,” he considers.

This is an artist who thought of everything, even down to the science. That’s not an exaggeration. Diving into a story about how interference of light is about light reacting to bubbles or oils, Newton comments: “I really got into the science of it and finding these weird phrases, and then trying to take all the stuff about light frequency and apply it to sound as well. It all played into how I approached the album as a whole.” 

If that wasn’t enough proof that the creation of this album is a unique one, Newton curated the tracklist per medium. Whether you listen on vinyl, CD or even streaming, each is a different journey. Through his description of the process, Newton comes across as a bit of a mad scientist: “Vinyl has its own space and its own job. It’s either a maximum focus listen, with headphones so you can really get into it. Or it’s a dinner party; more of an event and you ask friends to pick records, then we’ll have appetizers. And it fills that space as well. So, I have a huge amount of respect for vinyl. With a CD, it’s quite unlikely to go on in a house these days, it’s more likely to be in a car and it’ll run from start to finish. And you can add things that aid the flow of the record, which don’t make sense when it comes to streaming.” 

Combing through old favourites proved useful when designing the vinyl edition. “I feel like a lot of the classic vinyl albums going back through time have one disc and so I listened to quite a few of the ones that I liked and tried to work out why that shape worked in terms of what happened before you turn it over. I took the 17 tracks which I’ve made for streaming and kind of made them fit this shape for the vinyl,” says Newton.

As CDs are played from start to finish, this will tell the full story of the album. The creative scope for the format is generally more freeing as hidden tracks or interludes can enhance the core tracks. There is also no time limit without compromising the quality of sound like on vinyl. As it happens, a jazz number ends up splitting the high production tracks. Newton says: “It’s just this weird little melody that reminds me of old cowboy films, so I recorded that. And then I sang loads of harmonies, stacked it out to the max and made this really short, kind of cyclical choral piece that appears between two songs.”  

During virtual sound mixing sessions, the team used the Audiomovers software, which allowed everyone to tune into a stream and experience any changes made in real-time. Newton reveals: “The longest we did; I think was eight or nine hours. It’s a very strange process but it’s quite good to disconnect yourself. A lot of the time you’re looking at music coming out of a machine. But taking that out of the equation, you zone out. I occasionally turned all my screens off and just sat in the room listening”.

Newton goes on to recount working on Interference (Of Light) around family life. Days would begin as early as 5:30 am and he says, “I do work relatively obsessively once I’m in and so I like having clear times set out where I can focus.” 

His fiancé Gemma — who is a casting director — also works from home, with her own space downstairs. Newton’s son often joined him during recording sessions alongside “Zoom school” and even offered constructive criticism. “He would sometimes sing along in the background and I snuck the recording in before I sent it off to the mixer, hoping no one would ask me to take it out! Also, if you want honesty, small children will always tell you how they feel!” Newton humorously remarks.  

A surprising realisation of the past year came from the absence of live music. Newton says: “Adapting to not having gigs, hit me way harder than I thought it would. I didn’t realize that I completely relied on it. You can feel the energy in the room. And you don’t really get that when you’re putting a record together.”  

Now with shows making a comeback, Newton prepares for an autumn tour for Interference (Of Light): “I can’t wait to do crowd participation. It breaks down that barrier between me and the audience.” When asked what he’s most excited for fans to hear live, the singer confidently decides on the high production tracks, but also quieter intricate numbers like ‘It’s Getting Late’. He says: “I want to bring the multi-instrumental thing into the live shows. I’ve been to gigs where I’ve had a smile on my face for the whole week if not longer. I want to give that feeling to other people.” 

Music is a haven, no more so than in the past year. With emotions heightened, lyrics have become coping mechanisms for many. Newton takes this extremely seriously, signing off with a very empowering message to his listeners: “At the end of the day, music is an ancient way of communication. The origins of storytelling are always emotionally driven. It’s about making the right decisions, not just for you but for the people around you. With the ideas that I put out into the world; I want to have a positive impact. Letting people know that they’re not alone in the pain that they’re feeling will always be a huge part of my music.”

Interference (Of Light) is up for pre-order now.

Interview conducted by Olivia Gacka

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