Newton Faulkner on Owning a Label and Finding His Sound

Music Insight, February 2018

Ten years after releasing his first record, English pop-folk artist Newton Faulkner believes he has found his sound. Describing his latest release, Hit the Ground Running, as a ‘fully updated version’ of his debut album Hand Built by Robots, Faulkner’s newest record is an engaging mix of old and new.

“It’s the first album where I went back, listened to [the first album] and was like ‘Why did people like this so much? What made this good?’ I’d actively avoided going back before, because I didn’t want to make the same album twice.”

“I’ve either gone too far in one direction or another. For me, Studio Zoo was too sparse, and Human Love had too much stuff on it.

“It’s been a matter of going backwards and forwards a lot. Without everything leading up to this point, I wouldn’t have been able to find this.”

Hit the Ground Running recalls Faulkner’s trademark elaborate guitar-work and experimental leanings. The first album released under his own label, Battenberg Records, he described it’s production as a ‘huge step forward in the creative process.’

“It’s my label, it’s the family business, we own everything we do. It’s an incredible feeling. It gives you the freedom to really experiment and do interesting things that you normally wouldn’t be able to. You wouldn’t normally say “Let’s pay to go into a studio and I’m going to bring this weird instrument that I can’t play in.’ I think you can hear the freedom in the album.”

The freedom to experiment led to collaboration with ‘proper grime’ artist Dan Dare, who co-produced ‘The Good Fight,’ and Troy Miller with drums on ‘Fingertips.’ Faulkner described the choice to collaborate as providing a ‘modern timestamp’ on the album.

“They were modernising it, in a way that I don’t naturally. I’m happy to just play guitar or piano and put a vocal on it. I’d say, ‘I’ve got something good, but could you just bring it up to date?”

I don’t like people who try to make the job look harder than it is just because it makes them look clever. I like being honest.

‘Carry You,’ the second to last song on the record, was written and produced by Faulkner himself, and almost didn’t make it.

“‘Carry You’ was definitely accidental. I really didn’t know where that was going to end up. I genuinely thought it was the worst thing I’d ever done.”

“I went in at seven in the morning and sung all the lowest parts of the song, these strange, low, quite monotonous fading Gregorian chanting parts, and thought ‘Okay, that sounds pretty weird at the moment, let’s put the next harmony that I can hear in my head.’

“At that point I almost abandoned it, because I thought it sounded quite bad and a little weird. Then, when I added the third harmony on top of it, suddenly it became one of my most favourite things I’ve ever done! Literally three seconds after very nearly deleting it in its entirety.

“You never know where it’s going to land.”

Inspired by a plastic heart and a gift for his son, the story behind ‘Carry You’ featured in track-by-track commentary released alongside Hit the Ground Running. Another look behind the curtain into the creative process, he admitted “I just don’t like barriers!”

“I don’t like people who try to make the job look harder than it is just because it makes them look clever. I like being honest. I’m not trying to be a mysterious guitar warlock! I very much treat it as a job. It’s an amazing job to have.”

The job has unearthed other musical discoveries, and with a sixth album already in the works, Faulkner is finding inspiration across the globe. Among a mix of African and Asian music, Mongolian folk-rock group Hanggai stood out to Faulkner.

“I’ve watched them get bigger and bigger in China, which has been really fun! They’re doing really well, and I thought to myself, “Oh, I knew it was good!”

There’s ‘no rush’ to his next record, but it promises to be another fascinating offering from Faulkner.

“I’m looking at sending stuff overseas, getting people to play on it and having them send it back. Or me going over and doing it in person, collecting them. It’d be great to branch out into strings and brass more, there’s whole world of crazy noises out there!”

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