Interview: Farnell Newton
Trumpeter Farnell Newton, based in Portland, is an artist who wears many hats, playing funk, soul, gospel, hip-hop, jazz, and more. Farnell has played and toured with such legends as Jill Scott, Bootsy Collins, CeeLo Green, Ron Isley, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire and many more.
(Text: Malik Qadr)
On his latest album, Lofijazzsoul, he plays his trumpet with a lo-fi beat soundscape to create organically textured atmospheres on a laid-back groove. A surprising choice worth exploring:
On your latest album, you use lo-fi hip-hop as the bones with the trumpet performing as the flesh. Out of all styles you play, what is it about the lo-fi sound that made you want to create this album?
I love the fact that it relaxes me from all the things that are happening in life, society and more. In a way, it blocks out all the negative. It let me be in a place where I can be at one with whatever I’m focusing on. Giving me a chance to breathe and recharge.
How does the songwriting process go with working with a beatmaker versus working with a band?
With working with a producer we aren’t trying to have anything overly complicated. We approach it with the theme of “Less is More.” If the music doesn’t put you in a place where it takes you on a musical journey or make your head bob from front to back, we start all over.
There are a couple of references to Portland, Oregon on the album–a city not traditionally known for hip hop or jazz, until fairly recently. What sort of muse does that provide for the album?
I truly use my neighborhood, my favorite restaurant, people I see constantly, and the weather as inspiration for all of my music. I live in St. John’s Portland where you can hear trains late at night, airplanes landing, and we get plenty of rain to provide as backing on most of my tracks.
You even created a website for Lofijazzsoul. It looks like you are trying to start a certain milieu. “We hope we can build a strong community together and initiate valuable discussions.” What’s the vision behind that?
I started this website in hopes to have a place where you can find all things jazz, soul and lo-fi. That sometimes get overlooked because it doesn’t fit in all the genres that are created. You have Pitchfork, Okayplayer, Stereo, and many others–but where can you go if you want to find the latest on all things that are in between those genres? You want to catch the latest Rob Araujo, Anomalies, Paul Castelluzo, Kiefer, and more. But where do you go?! Now I have to put in the time, build a team, and make it even greater.
It’s an interesting time for music. Who are some of the new artists you’re excited about the most?
The cross-pollination of hip-hop, soul and jazz is even at an all-time high with artists like Tom Misch, MAC Ayres, Steve Lacy, EyeLoveBrandon, Quickly Quickly, Braxton Cook, H.E.R., Daniel Cesar, Nate Smith, and many others.
As an educator, what is the most important aspect you teach your students to concentrate on?
I stepped away from education after touring with Jill Scott and Bootsy Collins. I take on students only when I truly know they are serious and willing to take the time and effort to get better. Besides that, I am always mentoring musicians in Portland and around the country. In everything from digital distribution, music licensing, writing music, putting a band together–and the best places to eat food in Portland. [Laughs]
What other projects are you working on right now?
I have a jazz record coming out on Posi-tone Records in 2019 featuring Jaleel Shaw, Braxton Cook, Rudy Royston, Ari Hirahara and Boris Kozlov. I am working on tons of projects for a music licensing company I work for. Lastly, I have tons of more Lo-fi hip-hop music coming out featuring A.NAYA, EyeLoveBrandon, Oatmello, Goosetaf and many others.