Newton Faulkner likes to do things the hard way. Recently he live-streamed himself recording and producing his fourth album Studio Zoo. The process, which saw the guitar virtuoso filmed 24/7 for five weeks in the summer of 2013 in his east London home studio, was the first of its kind and proved popular with fans eager to find out more about the musician’s unique method.
“It was terrifying,” he tells me over a coffee, flicking one of his waist-length, rust-coloured dreadlocks casually over his shoulder. “I could hide in the bathroom, obviously, and there were no cameras in the kitchen, but people could still hear you. I learnt that the hard way.”
Faulkner burst on to the British music scene in with his debut album Hand Built By Robots, which went to No 1 in the UK album charts. He has since become renowned for using various parts of his guitar’s body to create tantalisingly skilful rhythms which go hand in hand with bright, summery melodies. His unusual guitar-playing technique was born more out of laziness than any desire to be different, he says. “I realised that if you just do stuff that’s really, really weird, you can pretty much bypass learning the normal guitar, everyone is really impressed and it takes half the time,” he says with a grin. “I thought I had invented an entirely new style of music, and for a week I felt like a kind of ginger demi-god.”
Seven years later he has introduced even more body parts to his performance, playing polyrhythms with the kick drum at his feet at the same time as artfully picking at his guitar. His act relies so heavily on the visual experience (he’s quick to tell me that he never uses loops) that he actually had to go into training to strengthen his back for his current UK tour. “Although maybe my hair is just weighing me down”, he says.
Now, with four top 10 albums under his belt (Hand Built By Robots, 2007, Rebuilt by Humans, 2009, Write It On Your Skin, 2012, and Studio Zoo, 2013) Faulkner has entered a new stage in his life: fatherhood.
Naturally, his three-year-old son Beau has his own tiny guitar, handmade by the man who builds Faulkner’s instruments. Faulkner fishes his phone out of his pocket to show a photo of the grinning, gap-toothed toddler, who is providing inspiration for his next album.
“To get him to sleep, I sing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory songs in the style of Nat King Cole,” says Faulkner. “I actually played some at a gig the other day. That would be a very odd concept album, wouldn’t it?”
Family is important to Faulkner. His sister Lottie is his full-time manager, while older brother Toby collaborated with him on his latest album.
“You can say things to your brother and sister that you can’t say to anyone else and they can say things to you,” he says. “It kind of destroys any possibility of growing egos because they get stamped on violently.”
He’s not wrong. It’s impossible not to warm to the laid-back Faulkner and there’s little sign of the celebrity ego which is so often present in the successful. He frequently mimes rhythms, tip-tapping his toes as we talk, and his booming laugh echoes around Shoreditch House’s minimalist cafeteria whenever he makes a joke. Currently in the middle of 23-day UK tour, he is getting used to life on the road again. As we part, he asks Lottie where he can get his clothes dry-cleaned, ready for the trip. “Rock and roll, eh?” he says with a wink.
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