The wild locks have been tamed!” I exclaim slightly too enthusiastically to Newton Faulkner on first speaking to the man, the musician, the glorious ginger god. Of course, the initial topic of conversation I broach pertains to his sumptuous dreadlocked mane, which has very recently been chopped from belly-button length to bob. “This is the most I’ve changed in the last 16 years”, Faulkner says proudly, “I feel like I’ve grown up a little bit.”
In true rebrand style, the new look comes in tandem with a brand new record. Released on the 20th of this month, Human Love is Faulkner’s fifth studio album. Famed for his percussionist guitar prowess and soothing vocals, this latest release feels like a revival of the artist we heard and loved in debut album Hand Built By Robots. A departure from the slightly boring, ballad-heavy Studio Zoo to uplifting, infectious melodies was a conscious decision of his. “I kind of wrote it for festivals”, Faulkner explains, “The main thing I want people to think when they’re listening to it is ‘AH I can’t wait to see this live’.
“This is the most I’ve changed in the last 16 years, I feel like I’ve grown up a little bit.”
Not only is Human Love a step up, it’s a step away from the musician’s previous record label. Released from the shackles of a four-album Sony deal, the 30-year-old talks of gaining, “a huge amount of freedom and validation”, in making this album independently. With the first track fittingly named ‘Get Free’, the Surrey born musician tripped to LA with his brother and sister in search of co-writers and collaborators, referring to the entire process as “a clean slate”. The liberation Faulkner feels since the Sony split is palpable. “The last two albums were quite hard work,” he admits, “It was that classic thing of the guy who signed me left and when that happens no-one feels like they have ownership of you as an artist. It’s a hard but very common thing in the industry.”
After getting to the stage where he was too tentative to even send demos to Sony for fear of them being rejected, the newfound lack of censorship has birthed fresh methods of experimentation for the artist. “I was like, let’s do literally whatever we want”, he tells me, before revealing that themed writing weeks led to the creation of an entire rock album.
Did any such experimentation make it into the final edit, I ask? He draws attention to a resounding world music influence, with African and Asian rhythms permeating the songs. What’s more, the tenth track ‘Shadow Boxing’ even has an electronica feel – something at “the other end of the spectrum” from where Faulkner’s been in the past – courtesy of a certain collab with Australian electronic duo Empire of the Sun. Dubstep next then? I joke. “No”, Newton laughs, “there are a distinct lack of wop wops”.
Newton Faulkner is a man that expects a lot from himself and not too much at all from anyone else
Even with a wop wop deficiency, Faulkner’s level of productivity is impressive. Five albums within the past ten years is a real feat. He’s blogged for The Huffington Post about his dependence on visualisation when co-ordinating a solo arrangement, as well as the undeniable power of a good night’s sleep, but what motivates those nimble fingers of his I wonder (in a non-sexual sense)? “I just love what I do, I can’t not do it,” he replies. “It’s not really a question of whether I do it or not or how hard I work, I generally work as hard as I want to. I really love pushing myself. I make no aspect of it easy. I use my entire range every night pretty much. Playing wise I push myself to the absolute limit of what I can do.”
Attune to multi-tasking with unbelievable efficiency, this is the first time that Faulkner will not one-man-band his tour. Once upon a time, each limb of his seemed to control an instrument but shock, horror, he’s now hired a drummer. It was necessary “to do the album justice”, Faulkner explains with admirable humility.
It’s clear that Newton Faulkner is a man that expects a lot from himself and not too much at all from anyone else. His affable modesty is prevalent even in our short chat. Until I eventually talk to his PR Manager to request a few high quality images of the man himself, that is. “PLEASE MAKE ME LOOK PRETTY!” he interrupts out of the blue. With those luscious locks Newton, your wish is my command.