Hi Newton, we last met when you played the John Peel Centre back in March of 2013, what have you been doing since then?
Making album five, and possibly album four as well.
Were you surprised, all those years ago when built by Robots went double platinum?
Oh God yeah, no one expected that. Every one who worked on it was like “yeah, I really like this, it’s good, sweet, lets put it out and see what happens” Ah, smashes, shit!! It was cool!
And has your wrist fully recovered?
Ah yes, the wrist is absolutely fine. That was just before album two, and album three did very well again, that was another… yeah, that was number one which was awesome. Album four, Studio Zoo, was the big online… really strange process, that we made completely live on the internet.
And did that work the way you wanted it to?
Yeah… I mean it was a big experiment. I didn’t really know… A) I didn’t know if I could make an album that fast, it was such a fast turn around. I think it was five weeks recording, long days an intense process. And I was really pleased with the end product. I kinda came back to it just before I started… no, just after I finished album five, I went back and listened to and it was like “what is this?” Writing-wise I think it has some pretty interesting pieces of music on it. This one is very much… we came up with the concept for what Human Love would sound like as an album quite early on. I’d say before we’d finished Studio Zoo. ’cause I think as soon as we saw where Studio Zoo was going to land, as a very intimate, heartfelt… kinda quite subtle album, we thought as a reaction to that, what we should do next… and also because it had no drums in it. The whole album and not one drum in it!
Well exactly – we went completely the polar opposite, we said right – we’ve done no drums, now lets do ALL the drums, lets go crazy with the drums… so this is a massively drum led album which was so much fun to make.
The title track, Human Love has a kind of mechanical, factory sound to it – is that fair?
Yeah. We kinda based it on a… there was a whole bunch of us in the studio and you have an idea of how you want it to sound and you try and describe it to someone else. So you say, can it sound…. like a big, slightly rusty, robot horse? Can we do that? And there is a person sitting at the computers like… “em… probably!” The production team absolutely nailed that track, I absolutely love the production on that, and there is loads of these real factory noises and rusty dings.
The track that got me was “Up, Up and Away” – not the Jimmy Webb song from 1967, but an original Faulkner number. Tell us about that song…
That was written with Sam & Nick in L.A. We were back and forth to L.A. quite a bit making this album. To begin with we just went out on our own, just me, my brother and my sister – got in touch with the writers that we’d worked with before that we respected and liked. Then we used the tracks we’d written on our own and the tracks we’d co-written with other people to kind of get a record deal again. I’d gotten out of one and had to get into another one. So that was a really interesting way of starting because it was in some ways less pressure because we weren’t… there was no one breathing down our necks to come up with stuff. But in some ways more because we knew what we wanted to do next. I mean we knew the kind of things we’d have to deliver if we wanted to get the people we wanted on board. It was a really hard beginning, but them we signed to BMG – who have been absolutely amazing, I must admit. We have had a really good time, a track like Up Up And Away wouldn’t have made it to an album with the last set-up.
The deluxe version of the album has five additional acoustic tracks on it, repeats of the full (with drums) versions.
Yes, “Far to Fall” surprisingly, because that is like the, probably most intense listening experiences, because it is so full sounding and taking it down to just piano, which is an instrument I don’t really play, was a bit of a challenge because it was all one take.
Is this one of those songs that you wrote in your sleep? I saw a piece you wrote recently where you talked about waking up wondering if you had the where-with-all to create what you had imagined.
That’s more about complicated guitar parts than melodies and songs and stuff. I do have recording devices right next to my bed so if anything does pop into my head I can wake up and hit record “La di doo dah skiddley doo wap” and that’s logged and I can go back to it in the morning. I’m kinda constantly messing around with guitar parts and logging them. But the sleep thing is generally just for learning, for memorising patterns. For writing, I think I’ve only written two songs in my sleep – which considering how much I must have slept is relatively little!
The single which you have released on video, “Get Free”. Did you actually cut your own dreadlocks or did you have stunt dreadlocks for that shoot?
That was my hair. And now its gone. I was going to do it anyway and we needed to make a video and we thought… could we… and then it was would you… and how short would you go? I said I’m willing to go pretty short – it was the most intense video shoot ever, because you just cannot mess about. I think we ended up doing it in just two takes.
You have that wonderful look in your eye before that first cut.
I was terrified at that point. Because after that cut I was committed to shooting the rest of the video in one go. You can’t glue that back on, it was unbelievably intense.
When you play live, typically a two hour set, you put an awful lot of energy into them, they must be both exhausting and exhilarating, yes?
Yeah – I love live, I love the challenge . Compared to making an album where you can sit in a studio and you make something that you think is good, you can take it to other people who might say “I don’t understand what this is, it is really weird” – whereas live is so instant, so straight forward in a way that recording just isn’t. You can’t tell when you have recorded a good song, really. But you can definitely tell when you have done a good gig. t is in the air in the room, an undeniable thing. Up Up And Away – even when we’d finished the demo I was like “THIS! Is awesome!” It was so much fun.
The new album launches on November 20th which also happens to be the day you play in our neck of the woods – at the Open in Norwich.
Yes, its going to be an intense day in Norwich for me! I’ll see you at the gig.
Thank you for your time Newton, all the best for “Human Love”
13th Nov Edinburgh Liquid Rooms
14th Nov Liverpool O2 Academy
15th Nov Sheffield Leadmill
16th Nov Middlesbrough Town Hall
18th Nov Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms
19th Nov Barnstable Factory
20th Nov Norwich Open
22nd Nov Bournemouth Old Fire Station
23rd Nov London Oslo
24th Nov London Oslo