If you haven’t seen this guy live yet you REALLY should.
Why did you take the cake out of your name?
It was just a bit too long. I had it for years though, I was Newton Battenburg Faulkner for about two years in total.
It s not so serious
Newton Faulkner’s not so serious is it?
Well it has a kind of ring to it. It could either be some kind of cartoon, or it could be something profound.
Hopefully somewhere between the two!
I think you get to know that once it’s more than just a name. Just on that note, would you ever consider calling your dreadlocks by different bakery goods?
I could consider it. I‘ve got one called Sarah. Where’s Sarah? (rummages in hair)
How did you decide which one that would be?
Well someone else just grabbed it and went “I’m calling this one Sarah”. She was incredibly drunk. In a dressing room somewhere.
It doesn’t look like a Sarah to me.
What would you call it?
I was thinking Wilfred.
Yeah maybe, it’s quite fat
Winston? (video man)
Winston? I like Winston, it’s got good heritage.
You look more like a Winston in yourself than the dreadlock does.
Yeah? Do you think I could be a Winston? Thankyou!
All the historical figures…Winston, Newton….
I always liked the name Logan, just because of the comic books.
Or wolverine! You seem to be at the forefront of an exposure of a new generation of guitarists, do you feel that you are?
I dunno, it’s a tricky one. Because I was taught by Eric Roach, who was one of the real pioneers, and there’s Tommy Emmanuelle, and there was Michael Hangees years ago , in the seventies. So the style’s kind of been around for a while, but it definitely hasn’t been at the front line. Its definitely picking up at the moment…I have a number of friends who teach, and they’re asking me to show them stuff, because they’re saying ‘it seem to be that all kids want to do is hear acoustics these days, and I don’t know how to do it’
So there’s definitely a kind of explosion at the moment, I think it’s wicked!
It’s something much more traditional, and what you seem to be doing is bringing it to the masses. Because unless you are a guitarist, you wouldn’t know what it was. Like when I watch you play, I just have no idea what you are doing and it doesn’t connect to the sounds that are coming out, that are amazing! And it’s just so relaxed. And I think by being in the charts people can learn how to do it, know what it is…
Yeah I think it has bumped it up a bit. It’s good. I hope!
People seem to often have an aversion to things that they treasure, as traditional or niche, reaching the masses. It’s very image based, very cult…
I know exactly what you mean. I haven’t felt any of that yet though. There are still loads of people who come to the gigs; I did a gig at the Union Chapel, a mencap event, and just as I was coming off someone came up to me and said ‘I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that before in my entire life’. So lots of people have never come across it at all, which I’m still amazed at, because I’m so immersed in it that I can’t imagine anyone not knowing that it happened! I’ve been trying to trace its routes a bit more, I think it’s old school routes are definitely in flamenco, they are kind of pioneers of hitting guitars, then it just built up.
Have you heard of a musician called Natty?
He does really similar techniques.
Yeah! He’s doing really well at the moment. I was going to offer him some supports for this tour. but then I looked at his schedule and thought, woah! He really doesn’t need it.
On that line, about the image and music connection, the traditions…that Kate Nash cover you did was so unexpected, but brilliant!
(laughs) Thanks, actually I haven’t played it since. Should try and remember it just in case.
Well like Natty, the lyrical aspect of your music isn’t really what you’d expect because of the image or the traditional guitar techniques, in his lyrics, definitely it’s a lot more on modern culture...and you doing the Kate Nash cover…it’s breaking down the barriers of what is expected. Do you think this is like the next kind of big movement that is going to come across? Breaking more barriers between different things.
Yeah, well I hope so! People area lot more aware of a lot more styles of music than they’ve ever been before. That’s partly down to the internet as well, if you go back to a while ago it was a lot harder to find new and interesting stuff, because it wasn’t there, it was hidden away. And the record companies and the radio completely controlled everything everyone heard. So it was much more like ‘this is what’s cool, right now, this is it, we’re playing it.” Now with the internet and things like Myspace, anyone can put anything up and if it’s good then it will spread. You can find anything in fivev minutes. I mean if someone brought up a style of music that I’d never heard of I’d go ‘right, what’s that lets go have a look, then you find it and are like ‘oh wicked, cool, I quite like that. Which you couldn’t have done before. People are a lot more aware of things which does two things, on one side people are a lot harder to impress- I think before what you could do is mix two styles and people would think ‘Woah I have never heard anything like this before in my life. This is amazing. This is the new shit.’ It would properly sound like nothing’s ever sounded before. But because now I think people are aware of almost everything, it’s much harder to do that, you cant just mix styles because people listen and are like ‘oh that’s nice he’s mixed that and that.’ They are a lot more aware of the processes involved.
It’s like everyone has the knowledge, so people are thinking, as non musicians, that it is almost obvious thing to do; even thought it’s not, and it’s something you’ve got to work at.
Yeah! It’s definitely hard to get right. It’s interesting; I’m trying to think where people are going to go next. I don’t think we’ve had a proper massive musical movement for a while. But then again music the way it is now, popular music, and music for KIDS as well, music for teenagers, is a relatively new thing, still. I mean it didn’t really exist before the forties.
Well a lot of musical culture is based on maybe like seventy years…it’s mental.
Yeah, that’s it! And I think it’s amazing that people are already saying ‘ahh it’s all over, music’s finished, there’s nothing going on anymore.’ It’s like, it hasn’t been around, give it a chance!(laughs)
It’s crazy, I suppose what you’ve got to start doing is bringing in the traditional aspects from hundreds of years ago...obviously people were doing things then…you’ve seen all these different phases in music throughout the years, and do you think now were are getting to a point where people are saying nothing more can happen, and really there is very little that could be done- well obviously everyone is going to think that until it’s thought of….
I’ve been talking to people that were around when movements were going on, and they were saying that at the time it didn’t really feel like it. I think it’s just when you look back and its like woahh all this stuff happened then, but at the time you’re like ‘oh there’s nothing going on here...it’s really boring’.
I think it’s also like you said about the internet, now we can be really aware of what’s going on, but do you think that because we’ve reached that stage, well it feels like we’ve reached that stage- but that could just be all the elements of it coming together- but do you think that it’s in someway just going to intertwine? The movements that we have now, it might just be because they are happening at the present, but they don’t seem to be going anywhere. It just seems to be accumulating.
Well the thing that people got away with for a little while was just doing old stuff- just writing new stuff in a really old style. So now people are just listening to the old stuff, because they are aware that they’ve been doing it. ‘so who’s he, he’s trying to be that guy, so let’s listen to that guy, ahh- this is really good’!
The only thing is that you can see it live though.
Yeah you can go out and actually experience it. But there is still a certain amount of ‘oh he’s just doing that’. It’s interesting, it’s interesting times.
If there was another music style that you’d want to mix with, what would it be?
At the moment I’m kind of listening to bits of everything, I mean I try to not listen to anything that’s that close, so I don’t really listen to any guitary stuff- anymore- I’ve got like the stock stuff that I haven’t listened to for years- the stuff that you always come back to. But I listen to a lot of weird electronica stuff. I’m trying to work out…because a lot of it is based around the same principles, like the massive attack cover, same thing, a beat mixed in, high twinkly thing…but I’m looking at a the slightly more extreme. I’ve been listening to a Scottish Band called Mammal. But it’s Mammal upside down and backwards. It’s a series of numbers; like 777b7b…a series of 7s and bs that spells out mammal upside down and backwards
So that’s like a handstand in the mirror?
I think so yeah, or is it just upside-down? Well I’ve been listening to their stuff and just trying to think my way around it. Like this kind of line here…there’s some low stuff…stuff that could kind of work. Like Cornelius as well, which obviously has guitar stuff too, but just as a percussive album I find it really interesting because there’s loads of little bits, loads going on. But it’s tiny bits, dotted around, so I’m trying to think of how to work some of that in, what kind of fits in what…
Just find the elements of it that you really like and integrate it into your own music.
Yeah, that’s kind of what I’ve been trying to do for a while. I hear something cool and it’s like, ok let’s grab that, put that there, and see what happens.
What made you choose Foundations to cover (by Kate Nash) and not one of the other ones…was it just because that was the single?
What I wanted to do and what I put a lot of time into was I worked out Bohemian Rhapsody, I really wanted to do it and spent non-stop, literally most days, every spare second I got was put in to working it out. I had to get help from a friend called Matthew Mccannen who’s a really good guitarist and kind of proper musicologist brain as well, which is what I needed to work on that, and he helped me out a lot with the arrangement. We pieced it together, and then it was like wicked, can I do it, and I was kind of waiting for the ok, and it came back- No. Because it was too old. The live bands thing is very much about playing something now, and I was looking through and though no one had done that record. And I came back to it again after looking at loads of other stuff.
I like the way you change ‘beer’ to ‘wine’. Nice touch. And the English accent.
(laughs) Yeah I started messing around with it and it became quite fun. I think me favourite bit was the kind of dub bit (sings) ‘You said I must eat so many lemons’ (-beatboxes) And what was the other bit? I did like the ‘You’ve gone and got sick on my trainers’- I really slowed that down. It was a lot of fun.
I think it was probably a lot more memorable for anyone hearing that than if you’d done Bohemian Rhapsody. Although that is a fantastic song, and if done well obviously people are going to think ‘woooaahh’ but like you said, in modern times people are going to be like ‘that guy who did the Kate Nash cover!’
Did it go down well? I didn’t hear any of the responses. I actually had to make a move just after it was recorded.
I don’t know anyone else who saw it…went down well with me though (chortle)
I just didn’t really know how it went.
I think it went good. Especially as that song’s got so much radio coverage…
People are going to recognise it and want to listen even just for that song. Bit of a doorway.
The interview was quite good- I managed to get loads of references in…like just loads of stuff cranked in.
That was a really good show actually. Kid Harpoon was on there too.
Yeah that was good. I’ve played with Kid Harpoon loads of times. Haven’t seen him for ages actually. There was a stage where we were gigging together kind of every other gig…Bloody Kid Harpoon again! Hello!
He does an interesting cover as well, Leonard Cohen’s ‘First We Take Manhatten’. Really unexpected but works really well. So what else would you cover then, or do you think you’d leave it at one?
I dunno, see what happens really.
When something just hits you.
Usually in a concert I do stupid little bits.
The Spongebob theme, Baywatch…
Yeah it’s good fun.
You’re quite a multi-talented instrumentalist…you play keyboards...guitar…
I played sitar on the album as well, that was really fun.
On UFO you play the human Theremin…now after doing that, if given the chance would you ever use a real one?
No I don’t think it would be as fun.
Easier to carry around
I would love to have a go on one actually…
You can make them yourself…must be something to do with foil and something…
Could have one coming out of the end of my guitar…
Selotape it on?!
Yeah, the actually stick could be on a wire to the processor
(does a bit of beats and Theremin remix...with actions)
You could put it on a shoulder pack thing.
Or on a hat?!
(actions move to space above head)
You could have a massive flesh hole that was in fact a Theremin. What other human instruments would you like to try your hand at?
Ohhh... we had some beat boxers on tour for a couple of gigs…a couple of guys, it was really good. There are loads of people who are so good at it’s a dangerous thing to get involved in! There’s a wicked old guy called Earl Okin, he wears spats (looks really impressed at this phenomena) and big red glasses, with proper 50s hair…he goes out in a suit and plays all the festivals. He’s a proper genius actually; writes really proper old school comedy songs. He’s really precise with it as well- so he’ll do a trumpet solo, then a clarinet, and then an oboe. I’d love to get him on support, he’d be perfect!
Or collaborate. Instead of an orchestra backing…
Just get Earl and his spats and bowtie. I will do that! Going to search him on Myspace.
(Sam laughs at his own enthusiasm)
Not in real terms…you don’t have to do this…but a lot of musicians, actors, actresses…they expand their franchise (‘franchise’ said in evil way)
What a horrible word to pull out!
That’s why I said not in real terms…because I wouldn’t associate you with it. But if you could branch out into something else, if you had the opportunity to, what would you like to do?
I don’t know…I had a really interesting chat with a guy about film music, which would be a lot of fun actually, it would be interesting to do. I think it would be quite good as well just to have a chance to work on guitar stuff, without thinking about songs.
Like Seu Jorge.
Yeah! Or go old school, like Rye Coon. He did millions. I swear he stopped caring in the end, it was just like ‘wahh wahhh’ there’s a western. (laughs) But yeah, that would be a lot of fun to do. Interesting. I’d probably do most of it with the guy who helped me out with Bohemian Rhapsody as well, it’s always good to have a musicologist on board!
Yeah you need more elements of it brought in if it’s for a film.
I’d like to go back to acting as well. I did a bit when I was younger.
I heard you went to drama school?
I did yeah, I went there because I liked music and I liked acting, but I didn’t realise that everything was kind of aimed towards musical theatre, which wasn’t what I wanted to do. I just did the music and the acting and ignored everything else.
I went to a couple of art school things and hated it…they took away all the fun and joy out of the arts…
Yeah unless you want to do what they are building you for it’s tricky.
Well yeah, it’s obviously great for a lot of people. Last one then, I’m presuming that your success has felt phenomenal to you.
Oh yeah, definitely. It’s been crazy. I haven’t really taken it in yet- purposefully. I’m actually not going to take it in until the end of this tour, and then I’m actually going to sit back and have a look at what’s happened this year. I purposefully don’t think about it because there’s a lot that’s happened, and I can’t really take it in because I’ve still got to do loads more. And the way that I am at gigs as well- I can’t do it unless I’m completely relaxed and got a lot of head space, because a lot of it is just kind of improvised, really loose, and if I was still thinking ‘ahh what’s happening with that, and what’s this guy doing, what’s happening there…’ it just wouldn’t work. I kind of just have to clear everything.
Maybe it would be a good idea never to let it sink in…
Well it might be worth having a think at some point (chortle)
Is there anything that has matched the amazing feeling of success…depending on how you view it…how important do you think the success is?
I don’t know, all my goals are really long term. The stuff that’s happening now is really amazing, but it’s just a good start, from my point of view, I didn’t think yes, I want a number one album and then I’m just going to stop and I’ll never have to play again.
It’s a lot to live up to, you’ve got to keep meeting your goals now…
Well my goals are that I just want to be gigging when I’m 85, so I’m perfectly happy at the moment!
Have you ever heard of Lazy Lester?
Lazy Lester? No?
He’s this brilliant bluesman in his 80s who travels the world. Well that’s his tagline anyway…(laugh) I saw him in Dorset a couple of years ago.
That’s definitely how I want to be. There’s some amazing footage of Stefan brookelly when he’s really old, and he hobbles up on stage, and he looks really kind of old and a bit awkward, and he kind of struggles to bend down and pick up his things, and gets on his chair and it all looks really awkward…but then someone counts him in and he’s not even 17 again, he’s like 6 again! He’s just straight back in there, and it’s just so fluid. It’s like Yoda, in Star Wars where he fights, that’s the closest thing…
In age and attitude…
Yeah! That’s kind of how I’d like to be. Really weird and a bit hobbly and struggle to get my guitar, and then suddenly go ‘Game on!’ and just go crazy. With big grey trousers.
It must be really strange for people to say this to you, but I can easily imagine that happening. As a musical pioneer, they’re always the ones who are up there all old on stage, hobbling about.
I still have lessons, I’m still learning! I’m learning some flamenco styles…bought a guitar in Spain…it’s reeeallly nice.
You have yours hand made don’t’ you?
Yeah, by Benjamin. A proper genius.
I’m guessing you don’t get through that many then…
Yeah, no I wouldn’t break them.
No smashing them up on stage…
No I’d cry!
You’d start to weep. They are like children. You could name them after bakery goods…
Interview & Words- Ali Hewson