By Kieran Webber
There are somethings in my life I thought i’d never say over the phone, things like “Hello, is this Newton Faulkner?” Which was met with laughter from the man himself. Recently I was lucky enough to have a chat with the illustrious troubadour prior to his recent Exeter show. We spoke for nearly an hour and covered a wide variety of subjects, particularly getting into the music industry and it’s less than nice practises.
We started by talking about his album, a best of which for Newton is “quite strange, as it’s an album but with not as much work.” he continues “although I did do some covers for it, some of those I dug quite deep into.” I asked why he decided now was a good time for a Best of, he explained that Sony had asked him a couple of years ago but he said “No, it feels weird to do that now.” However, after the release of ‘Hit The Ground Running’ he had a change of mind stating that “it felt like the end of a particular musical journey.”
It’s a funny thing to spend that much time creating music and only then closing a chapter, after several chart topping albums and single releases. I queried if he ever felt he would achieve what he has, immediately he responded with “Oh definitely not no!”, continuing “I had no idea what the first album would do, I was just having fun. I still largely am to be honest.”
For Newton it’s more about the challenge, in fact his latest live performances may just be his most challenging yet, at least physically. Newton says “I think before what I did sounded good but no one really knew how I was doing it. The problem is people are used to looping and I don’t do that, I multitask. What I can do is play drum parts with my feet, guitar parts with my hand as well as bass parts with my feet and drum parts with my hand whilst playing guitar and its all live.” The challenge for Newton is making that “obvious” making it more visual for the audience.
Listen to ‘Don’t Leave Me Waiting’ here:
It would appear that he is constantly trying to one up himself when it comes to his music, whilst he explains to me that rehearsals are going well he has a constant urge to “Make it harder.” He sometimes follows it down the rabbit hole to the point where it might be “physically impossible.” However that sometimes pays off, he discovers something new. As is mentioned earlier the main theme for Newton’s work is fun and if “It isn’t fun or doesnt make your head bop then there is absolutely no point in doing it.”
The element of fun in Newtons music is something I am particularly interested in hearing more about, I am always curious how an artist manages to balance their success with fun and if it is at all possible. Newton explains “I don’t want to do anything I don’t want to do just to make money. I have been incredibly lucky to keep my head above water while pretty much never doing anything I don’t want to do.” He goes on; “I think if you’ve done what you think is right and what feels right you actually don’t care.”
This attitude is felt through his tours, even with his status and success he plays in smaller venues across the globe. This is clearly something he does for fun, money is the bonus. Although he does admit he likes to mix up when touring, for example this tour will see him head to larger venues whereas the last one saw him play small venues such as Whiskers in Newquay, Cornwall. For Newton it’s all about the “energy” explaining that he “likes to get in peoples faces time to time.”
It was at this point of the conversation that it started to get really interesting, we moved to the topic of the music industry and how challenging it can be. Through sighed breath Newton starts “I’ve seen a lot of people come and go” continuing “it’s amazing that I am still going.” Although he still carries his famous optimism saying “However, it is somewhat psychological, I think if you can keep doing it and keep enjoying doing it then people will always come and see you.”
Unlike many of his peers Newton is very outspoken about the industry as a whole explaining it as “brutal” and “horrific.” Interestingly he believes it is especially so in England. It was a strong opinion but Faulkner has been in the industry for a long time, he’s worked in a variety of ways as a musician. He’s been signed to major labels, label services and as an independant. It is no doubt that Newton has seen the various angles of being a musician.
It’s a bleak reality that the industry exists to create wealth and sometimes not for the right people. As newton puts it “ultimately people are there just to make money.” However, the industry has changed so much that the people who work within it are just good at selling a product. He explains “they have gotten people from completely different fields who are just good at selling stuff, these people are the heads of labels.” Newton then carries on to make an interesting analogy; “You could get someone who is an amazing seller of baked beans coming in to the top of the label.”
It’s an age old battle between creativity and profit, a lot of the big wigs in charge look at art as numbers or profitability. The artist becomes a product and is designed to generate cash. Some artists are fine with this and play the system as it plays them, others, like Newton are more outspoken. He informs me that “a lot of the income has found its way to a small percentage of people at the top, which is kind of a global phenomenon as well. There was a time where 10% of people in the music industry could make a fairly decent living and now to just do music and not have to have another job, you literally have to be in the top 2%.” He adds, “this isn’t necersericly a negative thing, it’s just the way it is.”
It was very refreshing to hear an artist whom has huge success talk so openly, I found myself being deeply informed. In the past interviews with people have been more of a formulaic thing, with Newton all of a sudden I was dragged into an in depth conversation, one I would have with friends around a table in a pub. Around this point we were half way in to our conversation and things were really starting to heat up.
On the topic of industry changes we began to talk about the consumer, us the listener. Newton believes “the actual way people listen to music has completely changed.” Adding, “my first album was one of the last to sell a decent amount of physical copies.” However after that things changed, streaming sites started popping up and all of a sudden music was being listened to digitally. iTunes, Spotify and streaming was the new way to digest music and follow your favourite artists. The one thing that stands out for Newton though is the “passiveness of playlists” explaining; “You have playlists built around moods.” Newton is right, it is a strange thing to have the mood of the music selected for you, the music becomes faceless. People live in a world where musician is almost worthless, the humans behind the music are unimportant. Me and Newton agree that it’s very strange that people “have a favourite song but don’t even know who wrote it.”
We beg the question “music has become convenient but has it become good?” An interesting thought that is still running through my head today. It’s hard to say, i think it depends on the person and their perception but generally speaking it’s an interesting question.
The rise of music through online platforms and the decline of physical sales has put more power into the musicians hands. Artists can now control and own their own music, plug it through spotify, tour and write as an independant. The issue is however funding that, an artist must now be their own tour manager, PR manager, Social Media Executive and performer. It’s a double edged sword. However, people who are doing this aren’t getting number one spots, or financial success. Newton explains that “it’s just something that hasn’t happened yet, you should be able to put a song on spotify and it should go to number one just because it is good.” He continues “if you made a graph and with stuff that does really well and the stuff that has had millions pumped into it you’d see a clear correlation.”
With this in mind I ask what advice he would give to an artist starting out, to which he says “Take control of the bits you want to take control of, it is very easy to get caught up with waiting for other people to do things.” He adds “If you are good live you can carve yourself a space regardless of radio or press in general. If you are entertaining then people will always come to see you.”
At this point, after nearly an hour of speaking we come to our end. I started my interview with Newton extremely nervous, shaking and sweating profusely. Never in my life did I expect to ring Newton Faulkner and burt out the words “Hello, is this Newton Faulkner?” It was a conversation that I will never forget, it was a fascinating insight into the life of a working musician and of the industry as a whole. Newton really is one of the last truly humble artists around today who really cares about his art. Even if you don’t appreciate his music you cannot help appreciate the person behind it, which is extremely important.