Newton unveils the album he made at home in front of a global army of fans
It started with the vague aim of getting some grainy black and white CCTV footage from the recording studio to put out on the web. But before he had time to consider all the implications, Newton Faulkner found himself making his latest album in the live and interactive company of fans from across the world.
With four cameras capturing his every chord and coffee, triumph and headache, the singer songwriter and guitar virtuoso was under surveillance at his home studio in East London, with live streaming and input from viewers, 24 hours a day for five weeks early in the year.
A couple of days into the project, it dawned on the dreadlocked troubadour from the Home Counties – who cut his teeth in small Cornish venues – that he was making a little piece of recording history. No other artist had ever laid their creative process – and their intimate environment so bare in a real-life experience akin to the movie The Truman Show. Bearing that in mind, the title of his fourth album – Studio Zoo (coming out on Monday) – makes complete sense. Newton now knows what it feels like to be watched as if he is some exotic creature from another continent.
"It was completely mental," confirms Newton, who is doing a couple of low-key in-store LP signing gigs next week. "It began as just a small idea, and it just grew and grew. I'd though it would be a problem to stream the audio ahead of the release, but the record label said go ahead. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made as a way of bringing together all the elements of what I do."
Newton has made some heavyweight achievements in his 28 years. From regularly hopping on a train down to Cornwall to busk and play informal shows eight years ago, he has just finished a sell-out world tour which took him to Australia and the Far East. He can now be ranked as a Brit-nominated, multi-platinum, double number one-scoring artist. Last summer's Write It On Your Skin topped the charts on release; his 2007 debut Hand Built by Robots also hit the pole position, with 2009's Rebuilt By Humans reaching number three. But these dry facts belie the fact that he's an affable, quirky and un-starry soul with many sides to his work and character.
"The songs you've heard on the radio are quite shiny, folky pop; then there's the rest of the albums, which are usually a bit weirder," he explains. "Then there's the way I look, which isn't always what people expect when they've only heard my music; my gigs are a completely different thing again – I tend to do quite a bit of talking.
"Having cameras around and people seeing exactly what I do and how much energy I use bridged the gap between my live shows and the recording process. I was terrified until I started working and I could focus on getting the recording done; then when it stopped I didn't know what to do with myself."
The only element missing from the mix was his role as proud dad to toddler son Beau, aged two-and-a-half; Newton isn't going to put him in front of the camera until he's old enough to make that decision himself.
So, it was pretty much a one-man-band affair in the studio, with no producer or engineer, just Newton, a bunch of guitars, and a few special guests, including Ted Dwane of Mumford and Sons playing some bass and The X Factor's Janet Devlin.
"Being in a room just by myself and knowing there were people out there watching, even a vocal take became a performance," he says.
"And there was instant feedback too. If I was wondering aloud whether to use a shaker on a track I would get Twitter or Facebook message saying 'No shaker – just guitar on this one'. Several times I had people telling me to sleep. One guy said 'Go to bed, dude; I don't want to see you die'."
When his British fans went to sleep, the Australian or Egyptian ones would kick in.
"It really was a global thing," adds Newton, who is absolutely delighted with the results.
"I think it's the best album I have done. Particularly as a singer, I am more comfortable than ever before."
Newton Faulkner will being playing a few songs and signing copies of his new album, Studio Zoo, at two Devon record shops on Wednesday, August 28 – Solo in Barnstaple at noon and Phoenix in Newton Abbot at 5.30pm.