Amy Macdonald and Newton Faulkner are riding high following their recent joint UK tour. Emily Bielby caught up with them for some Acoustic artist-on-artist banter
Giving artists free reign to interview one another can often produce interesting results, as we can now testify after inviting Amy Macdonald and Newton Faulkner to ask each other all those burning questions they’ve ever wanted to know the answers to. You know, things like what is the best sandwich and who (dead or alive) would be in your dream superband. Yes, this could be one of the most off-the-wall interviews you’ve read so far in Acoustic! But before Amy and Newton ask their questions, we have a few of our own. After all, Amy, a successful singer-songwriter, and Newton, a guitar virtuoso, have toured together recently. We wanted to find out what that was like, to dig into their musical backgrounds, and to discover the defining moments that got them into acoustic guitar.
Had you two touring together been on the cards for a while?
Amy Macdonald: There were a few people proposed by my agent and record label as a support act when we were putting together [the recent] tour, but as soon as I heard Newton was interested I immediately thought he’d be perfect.
Newton Faulkner: I knew Amy from before, and I knew a lot of people in her band. There are quite a few links, such as agents and labels.
The tour was a big success for you. We’re wondering, how does touring today differ from touring when you first started out?
Amy: I started out on my own. My first proper tour was supporting James Taylor’s son, Ben Taylor, throughout the UK. I did the whole tour with my friend Kelly and drove my mum’s clapped out VW Golf. Fast forward to today and I travel with 20 people and we have two buses and a truck!
Wow, big change. Have there been changes with your gear, too? Tell us about the guitars you’re using now
Amy: On tour I use three Taylor DN3e acoustics, and another one to play at home. They’re solid, reliable and my sound crew love the way they sound live.
Newton: I have four Nick Benjamin JOM and they’ve all got weird names and obviously their serial numbers. ‘Old Ben’ is number 44. It’s my first guitar of his and it’s taken such a battering; it looks like a train’s hit it. Then there’s the 123, just because it’s the 123th guitar Nick made. So yeah, I have four standard size ones, some with scratch plates, some with the cheeky scoop thing he does. In fact, the first one I got with the scoop thing is just called The Scoop. Then there’s Barry and Frank – Barry is a baritone and Frank is a bizarre beast that Nick and I kind of designed together to do a number of different things.
What was the first guitar you bought?
Amy: An Ovation, but the first guitar I ever used on tour was a Gibson J-200.
Newton: My first acoustic steel string was an Ovation Celebrity Deluxe – one of the thinner round-back styles. Before that I had a pink Aria Pro II off a granny that used to be in a glam rock band. Another was a guitar I won for being ‘Most Improved Guitarist Of The Year’ in 2001, but my oldest guitar is a 1946 Gibson.
Very nice! What was the first acoustic guitar you played?
Amy: The first guitar I played was an Eko that my dad had in the house for years.
Newton: We obviously had a lot of nylon string guitars lying around the house, so that would have been the first thing I played, but I never forget the time I played a Celebrity Deluxe at Eric Lindsey’s in Reigate. I was there for ages!
Are there any guitars you’ve got your eye on right now?
Amy: I’ve literally just got hold of a Gibson HP 635 W – one of their new High Performance range – and I’m excited to get to grips with it.
Looking back, was there one particular song that inspired you to start playing acoustic guitar? And how old were you when you started playing?
Amy: It was the song ‘Turn’ by Travis. I just loved it so much and was desperate to play along. I started to teach myself when I was 12, after hearing the Travis album The Man Who. I became even more inspired after I saw the band live at T In The Park festival in July 2000. I don’t think I ever decided that I wanted to make a career out of music. I was all set to go to university when I signed a record deal. The rest happened from there.
Newton: I think I was about 14 [when I started playing], which I think is young enough to be vaguely absorbent. But yeah, my dad didn’t make me practice when I was like five or six.
Were your parents musical?
Amy: My parents love music and my dad did have a guitar, but I wouldn’t describe either of them as musicians.
Newton: My parents were into music, but not massively. My dad can play, I think, three things on guitar, one of which I want to steal just so that I can give him a writing credit… Unless, of course, he learnt it from someone else!
How would you describe your guitar style to anyone unfamiliar with it?
Amy: I play quite hard and loud. I use two guitars on stage each night, swapping for each song as I use different capo positions on pretty much every tune. By the end of the set my strings are almost at breaking point. My guitar tech, Bamo, has her work cut out for her when we’re out on the road!
Are there any playing styles or techniques you’d still like to learn?
Amy: Not really. I see the guitar as a tool for writing songs, so long as I can strum a few chords, that’s perfect for me.
Newton: Slide guitar. I’m so bad at it. The gypsy jazz thing I’d love to get down because it’s so much fun.
Finally, have you got any festival appearances lined up for summer?
Amy: Yes, I’ll be appearing at festivals all over Europe, and here in the UK I’ve got quite a few slots lined up, not all of which can be announced yet.
Newton: Yes, LeeStock, Underneath the Stars, and Boomtown [Fair].
Newton takes the hot seat as Amy grills the critically acclaimed singer-songwriter about his pre-show warm-up routines, his new album, and why he performs in his socks.
Amy: When did you start playing the guitar?
Newton: There were always guitars lying around the house, but I properly started playing at the age of 14.
Amy: Is guitar the first instrument you learned?
Newton: No, I think piano was first, then drums, bass and finally guitar.
Amy: Your shows seem technically demanding. Do you have a particular pre-show guitar warm up routine?
Newton: My voice takes the longest to stretch out, but it has to because I try and use all of it. Guitar-wise I just play in the day to warm my hands up. It’s the legs and shins that are the tricky bit – I have to stretch out my shins! Also, I have to stretch out my lungs and connect my brain to my body. Skipping [jump rope] is really good for that.
Amy: What make of guitars are you playing right now?
Newton: They’re handmade by an amazing guitar builder in Lewes, called Nick Benjamin.
Amy: Do your guitars need to be made in a special way to accommodate your unusual playing style?
Newton: Yep! They need to be tougher than most, as they take a real battering.
Amy: You perform in your socks. Do you have a preferred thread count for gigs?
Newton: It’s a delicate balance of Egyptian cotton, bamboo shoots and silk from the silkworms of deepest Madagascar. In other words, no.
Amy: You recently performed in the West End musical American Idiot. How does it differ performing in a musical as opposed to performing your own shows?
Newton: It’s completely different. The trickiest bit for me was that the crowd wasn’t supposed to exist! Also, I wasn’t allowed to make up half of it as I went along either.
Amy: Do you have any plans to do any more acting gigs?
Newton: Hell yeah, it was really fun.
Amy: Would you ever consider writing a musical?
Newton: If I came across the right story, yes, but I haven’t yet.
Amy: We share a love of exercise and fitness. What workouts do you do on tour?
Newton: Yes, the skipping I mentioned earlier. I’ve gone fully calisthenic and a little bit gymnastic recently, so I’ll bring my rings and small parallel bars.
Amy: You haven’t released an album since 2015 [Human Love]. Are you close to finishing your next album?
Newton: Getting there, yeah. I’m about halfway through writing it. The scary thing is that people have already pre-ordered it, which is pretty solid motivation.
Amy: I hear you’re a big cartoon and voice actor fan. Who is your favourite voice actor and what cartoons would I know them from?
Newton: My hero is Billy West, from The Ren & Stimpy Show, and half the voices in Futurama. That guy’s a genius.
Amy: You’ve got great guitar chops. Do you prefer pork chops or lamb chops?
Newton: Pork chops.
Amy: Your fourth album was called Studio Zoo. Were you concerned about the larger meat-eating predators ultimately attacking you during the recording process?
Newton: Actually, if you listen carefully to track six, two minutes and 15 seconds in, you can hear a badger.
Amy: What is your porn star name (your first pet’s name and your mother’s maiden name)?
Newton: He-man Battenberg.
Amy: Oasis or Blur?
Amy: What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Newton: Sushi in Tokyo blew my tiny mind.
Amy: What five people (and they can be alive or dead, fictional or real) would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
Newton: Sandi Toksvig, Meatloaf, Jennifer Connelly (’cos I love her), Bender from Futurama, and Archer from the cartoon Archer.
Amy: A train leaves Glasgow at 9am heading south at 70mph. Another train leaves London at 9am heading north at 85mph. Taking into account the rail replacement service near Birmingham, and stoppages for bad weather, how much do you think I could bench-press?
Newton: Two camels and a weasel?
Newton: So, what’s your favourite cartoon theme tune?
Amy: Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers.
Newton: What was the first record you ever bought?
Amy: Lifted by The Lighthouse Family.
Newton: What’s the most embarrassing album or single you’ve ever bought?
Amy: I recently bought ‘The Birdie Song’ because it’s part of my band’s pre-show warm-up.
Newton: First gig you ever went to?
Amy: Michael Jackson at Wembley stadium. I was four and I still have the t-shirt.
Newton: Last gig you went to?
Amy: I watched you from the side stage last night. Does that count?
Newton: Being on the road isn’t the healthiest of lifestyles. How do you keep fit and look
Amy: I bring my gym kit and try to go out running. I also do HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts in the dressing room. Most of my band and crew are on a massive health kick right now, which makes it a lot easier. We even tour with our own Nutribullet to make healthy snacks and drinks for ourselves.
Newton: What’s your all-time most
Amy: Born In The U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen.
Newton: What’s your favourite film soundtrack?
Amy: Guardians of the Galaxy.
Newton: Last good book you read?
Amy: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I’ve started reading the whole series from the beginning.
Newton: What’s your favourite song that you’ve released so far? It doesn’t have to be a single, just something you’re proud of.
Amy: I’m most proud of ‘Down By The Water’, which is on my new record Under Stars, available in all good record shops now! When I made the demo it had a real magic to it. Then, during the process of making the album, I had to find the courage to stick to my guns about how it should sound. When I hear it now I really appreciate the time and effort it took to make it sound the way I wanted. So it feels very special.
Newton: Where’s your favourite shop for musical instruments?
Amy: Cassell’s Music [based in California]. They have a very strict policy of no ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
Newton: Where’s your favourite bar?
Amy: Bar Bacon on 9th Avenue, New York.
Newton: Who (dead or alive) would be in your ultimate superband?
Amy: Michael Jackson on lead vocals, Bruce Springsteen on guitar and backing vocals, Paul McCartney on bass, Dave Grohl on drums, Elton John on piano, and Amy Macdonald on the shaker.
Newton: In your opinion, which country’s cuisine offers the greatest breakfast?
Amy: Scotland, hands down. It’s the only place in the world where you can get a square sausage.
Newton: Boxers or briefs?
Amy: I’ve always preferred sportsmen
Newton: Of the guitars you own, which is your favourite?
Amy: I have a Gretsch resonator that was given to me by a close friend. They had an artist hand-paint it for me. I’d never bring it out on the road – it means too much.
Newton: What’s your favourite guitar that you don’t own?
Amy: Paul Weller’s vintage Gibson J45. I played it once without asking him. I hope he doesn’t read this!
Newton: What strings do you use?
Amy: I’ve been stealing yours. Cool?
Newton: What ingredients make the
Amy: Bacon, chilli mayonnaise, lettuce, onion and Red Leicester cheese on a big crusty baguette.
Newton: What song do you wish
Amy: ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon.
Look out for the upcoming issue of Acoustic for a full selection of interviews, reviews, news and more in shops or online at www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk.