Interview: Newton Faulkner

“I was pretty experimental from the very beginning, always messing around with strange things,” says Newton Faulkner, cutting lumps of ginger root into strips on the table.

We’re sitting in the second-floor bar of the O2 ABC in Glasgow. He’s cutting the ginger up to make tea, which he’ll sip between songs on stage to help his voice - he’s recently been battling some mild illness. Outside, a 300-deep queue is forming down the street and around the corner.

Barriers have been put up by management to keep shop entrances clear, but there’s not much in the way of barriers when Faulkner and I sit down to chat. He’s wandering around in blue socks, eternally smiling, trademark dreadlocks falling about his head lazily as we talk briefly about his distinctive playing style.

Faulkner, as has been well documented, doesn’t so much play his guitar as he does use it, for a variety of purposes. From rapping the side and body for range-spanning percussion to tapping out tunes on oddly-tuned strings, he’s perfected an art which he has truly made his own.

“It works so well doing solo stuff,” he says, “and percussion stuff steps it up a notch live and stops it being a guy strumming and talking about his feelings.”

Talking about his live set-up for the night ahead makes for interesting conversation: his feet are as talented as his hands, hitting out bass drum beats and even playing back-up melodies on an octave’s worth of synth pedals. “I generally use the pedals as bass - so you can play the bass with your foot while playing guitar - which stops it being just an effects pedal. If you’re doing percussive stuff [with the guitar] you can do that while playing bass and I think, sonically, if you’re playing for nearly two hours, which I am most nights, then it’s really handy to have a couple of other sounds.”

His guitars are custom-made by Nick Benjamin - “this one guy in a small room” - whose waiting list currently spirals into 2015. His original ‘Benjamin’ is approaching the tender age of ten years old, and still uses it today despite a replica “with a couple of updates” on the way.

“You have to really play stuff a lot for it to really warm up, and that’s ten years I’ve been completely mercilessly pounding it. It’s a very happy guitar.”

With his love of acoustic guitars, no-nonsense folk - save for a few pop-flavoured hits "if you want to pay the mortgage - and that haircut, I can’t help but ask Faulkner if he’s ever been called a hippy. His response? He can’t be a hippy: he’s just too big a nerd.

“I don’t you think you can be a nerd and a hippy. I’m not quite sure the two co-exist particularly happy. You can’t be a hippy and then love computers and spend all your time downloading new apps and [playing] PlayStation and stuff,” he laughs. “Technology and music go together so well. I’ve just gotten a new laptop, it’s got ProTools 10 on it, which should quadruple my workload because I can record stuff at home and edit on the road!”

Well, when he’s not playing Metal Gear Solid 3 and Resistance on his PlayStation Vita, anyway. “I just love sneaking around in games, which is weird - [being a musician] is a lot of fun but it’s quite a stressful lifestyle, and then to relax I put myself in even more stressful situations!”

Faulkner also has an iPad, which he carries with him on tour, and is a huge fan of Apple’s own GarageBand music app: melodies created using its built-in sampler appear on a handful of tracks on new album Write It On Your Skin. I can’t help but pass my iPad over to him and let him play, and he cracks a smile as he asks if it’s “the new GarageBand with the awesome strings”.

He sings an “ooh” into the iPad, and plays it back as a C chord. “You want to set it to his” he mumbles, tapping a switch and turning the keyboard into a synthesiser. He swipes his fingers along the screen, altering the pitch, dropping down a chord and rising again; shifting the base note of the chord down to B, to A, and back up again. Even when sampled on an iPad, his voice sounds astounding.

I start laughing, my mind wiped by the sight of Newton Faulkner, one of the most bohemian men in music, tapping out synthesised samples on an iPad. He hands the device back, grinning again, and goes back to chopping ginger.