- Tue, 2006-07-18 09:25
Paolo Nutini is a 19-year-old singer/songwriter from Paisley, Scotland, whose debut single, Last Request, went straight in at number five and whose debut album, These Streets, is out now (July 17) Following a set of acclaimed performances at this year's SXSW festival, O2 Wireless Festival, T in the Park and Radio 1's Big Weekend, plus sold-out headline shows at King Tut's in Glasgow and London's Metro, Paolo heads off on tour in July.
I Like Music caught up with Paolo to chat about making music, Montreaux Jazz Festival, and getting advice from Paul Weller.
“I like music because… its expressive, you can convey whatever you’re thinking through a song. And it’s the best respite for me anyway to do it through music. So I like music because you can express and let your soul out through it.” Paolo Nutini
ILM: Your brilliant single, Last Request, is out now, and went straight in at number 5. And it’s inspired by a turbulent relationship with a girlfriend. Can you give us your own personal description of its whole vibe and also, does this person know it’s inspired by her?
Paolo: Yeah she knows it’s about her, and I’m actually with her at the moment again, as much as I can see her, so in a sense, because I’m never there. But I went with this girl in high school and have known her since we were about 12. And at 16 we went out for about a year and at the end of that we had stuff we wanted to experience and we decided to break after certain things happened. And I did things that she didn’t like and she did things I didn’t like, and although by rights we probably should have hated each other, we decided we were going to break up but there was just one thing on our minds, and that was to have sex one last time before we finished.
And if you know the song Rewind on the record, ‘oh remember at 16, oh the crazy drunken night we had, when i kissed you in the hallway, then i took you straight to bed,’ that was actually how we got together, so we’d already done the deed before we’d even out, and it finished the same way. The song goes on about wanting the moment back rather than the relationship. So it’s basically about sex. [laughs]
ILM: These Streets, your debut album (out July 17) – can you tell me which track you had the most fun writing and laying down in the studio?
Paolo: It was the last track, Alloway Grove, because we got to the change over between the two songs, part one and part two, that was brought back with a bit of Madness thrown in, and we managed to but this reverb feedback thing on without actually playing it, it’s just ever ytime we hit it, it made this eerie clanking sound and we were all starting to get a little bit dozy so we just took it, but it didn’t exactly fit. That’s one of my favourite tracks on the record and was definitely the one we had the most fun on. Million Faces, the string parts that we put in, that was really fun.
ILM: It’s produced by Ken Nelson (Coldplay/Gomez). What did you learn from him?
Paolo: Just his way of working, I think it was a fresh thing for Ken as well and he said that, because usually he comes in and he’s got the band and they play these songs over and over and he usually goes with the band and that was the same case with us, but at that point the guitarist had come in at the start of the writing. And it was different and he wasn’t there when we first started, he came in a couple of weeks in to it, and I think for Ken as well, the fact that we were evolving as a band was different for Ken. He’s worked with Gomez, Kings of Convenience and Coldplay and they were quite tightly knotted by the time they reached the studio So I think it was different for him to work with a band who were evolving as we were. But for all of us it made it that little bit more enjoyable.
Ken was really refreshing. You know a lot of producers I’ve met and worked with and a lot of them thought they were a barrel of knowledge and that they knew how to make a hit record, and Ken held his hand up to says he doesn’t really have a clue, but he knows what he likes to hear, and it’s definitely a team effort, which I don’t think should be a question, and Ken didn’t make it feel like that was a job or a question and was just the way he did it. And I think that was partly the reason we decided to go in with Ken.
ILM: So it was an organic process?
Paolo: Yeah, I’ve never recorded an album before, but for Ken, for a man who’s done what’s Ken’s done and sold as many records, for him to say he felt he was experiencing something new was nice.
ILM: Your music is soulful and well, lovely, and people can relate to what you sing about, especially in songs like These Streets and Rewind. Can you describe the Paulo Nutini songwriting and music-making process?
Paolo: Some songs started from a bass line, some started from having the full lyric and Jim, my drummer, who’s also the first guy I’ve been in the studio with him since 16, sometimes he’d have an idea and I’d put a lyric to it and then the track evolves, there’s no set way to write a song. Sometimes a lyric will go down every five minutes or it’ll be spread over a week and you’re constantly changing and adding. And sometimes it just works straight away, for instance the songs Autumn and Rewind, those were very much just putting down exactly what was going on at the time. What I was feeling about when I was missing my grandfather, what I was feeling when I was wanting the relationship back in Rewind, so it was almost like writing a diary. Songs like White Lies on the record, I’d find myself changing the lyrics over the course of a few days and constantly trying out new things.
I think it’s just, no matter if something seems to work, maybe you’ve got three songs in a week, the key is not to expect three songs from the next week, and just to go with it and treat music like, as you said, an organic thing not something you can really learn or get better or worse at.
If you get stressed…That’s something I learned when I went to the Montreaux Jazz Festival, and you’ve got all these guys who were around in the mid 50s and played on Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles records, saying ‘you don’t want any stress, if things are going too fast, just slow them down, man’. Yeah a lot of dope going around when they were about.
ILM: You’ve played SXSW festival and Radio 1's Big Weekend and Wireless Festival and T in the Park, plus sold-out headline shows at King Tut's and Metro, and are off on tour now. Phew! ……
Paolo: There’s some good news about the new shows. The next King Tuts show has been moved to The Garage which sold out, we put on EBC in Glasgow for October and that’s sold 804 tickets and London Dingwalls has sold out and now is being put on at the Astoria and we’re playing at places like Brighton where we’ve been once, and it’s strange to see, but it’s good.
The way we play live, it is a little bit more raw than the record. It’s a little bit more raucous live. But with the record the whole thing about it was to try to capture the moment and I feel that’s what we’ve done. Live, it’s not got any of the production on the record, we don’t use any live strings or anything so it’s a lot more stripped down and it is a different thing altogether, so it’s good to know that people are sort of latching on to both of them.
ILM: What’s your current favourite song to play live?
Paolo: When we play Jenny Don’t Be Hasty, that’s cool because everyone really dances. It’s between that and when we play Loving You, that’s when you give it your all. Well you give it your all for all of it but that’s like proper end singing with your full strength put in. You get different reactions for different songs, so it’s good to see people dance, but it’s also good to see people waving a lighter and singing along with your songs as well. I just love playing live and now we’ll gradually introduce more songs that might be on our next record. So it’s an exciting prospect for us, touring.
ILM: You’ve been doing these fantastic webcasts, including a few songs and interviews. A great idea. The web seems to be a great place for musicians to connect with their audience in various ways, so how have you enjoyed embracing the web?
Paolo: I watched one back and it was a complete waste of time, the recording was awful and you couldn’t hear or see anything, but the other one we did in the field was great. I think anything that showcases live music is good, there’s no doubt about that.
ILM: And you signed to Atlantic Records shortly after your 18th birthday and are 19 now and I expect you’ve learned quite a lot on your journey so far. What’s your advice to young musicians, just starting out?
Paolo: I would suggest that if you’re wanting to make a record, then try to make a record that’s totally and utterly no strings attached YOUR record and you’ve done it exactly the way that you wanted to do it, then I would suggest you finish it before you sign a record deal.
And then when you do sign your record deal, I think the best piece of advice I’ve ever got, and I’ve got the same piece of advice from Paul Weller and Johnny Borrell, is like, when you get things like your Montreaux Jazz Festivals and your T in the Park, just try to take away as much as you can from those experiences, purely because, there’s not guarantee they’ll happen again and you do that and there is no denying there is a lot of bullshit and politics involved in this job, so you’ve just got to get your head down and steamroll through these things. You know yourself it its something you totally don’t want to do, you’ve just got to stand up and say you don’t want to do that. Now a lot of people may perceive that as arsy or arrogant perhaps, but a lot of people perceive Thom Yorke and even Johnny Borell and Damon album, get a bad rap for being stubborn but, you know, they’ve sold millions of records.
ILM: And at the end of the day, it’s your art. You wouldn’t go up to Monet and say, paint that a bit differently, I need more reverb on the waterlillies.
Paolo: Exactly! And every time you want a conversation about this with anybody, even people within the business, they totally agree and then all of a sudden something will happen that bemuses you completely and goes against the conversation you’ve just had, but you’ve just got to keep headstrong. Especially remember that having a top ten record doesn’t make you a millionaire and it’s never going to happen that way. It’s about the music and not about the money.
Soak it up and open your mouth, don’t let shit go on and worry about it later, you’ve got to be vocal about things.
ILM: What’s the best and worst thing about Paisley, Scotland?
Paolo: The best thing is the people, its amazing the amount of people I’ve grown up with and knew of but never really spoke to and didn’t really think we’d get on and then, no matter how different I was from them, once you spoke to them they’re ace and you’ve got great friendships, , its just the great thing about Paisley the no-bullshit attitude. Everybody is just normal, there’s no sense of snobbery. Don’t get me wrong, everywhere has their exceptions and the arseholes, but in general, I love the people and the attitude of the whole town.
The worst thing, there is the Scottish dodgy parts, it’s rate for violence and crime is not exactly low, but I guess the bigger places get the more that happens. But in general it’s always going to be the one place I’m always going to want to be.
ILM: Can you describe your favourite place on earth?
Paolo: After going to Montreaux it might be one of them, absolutely amazing man, well in the sun, the Jazz Festival is on Lake Montreaux, everything was amazing. And one of my other favourite places is Tuscany, and they’re very similar to each other I though, when you go north, and that’s where my family is from, the Italian side of my family.
And I’ve never been to Jamaica but I’m sure I’d love it. Like Strawberry Hills, I read a lot about one of my favourite singer/songwriters John Martin and when it all got too much he went out there and it sounded like a great experience and maybe there.
ILM: What music is rocking your world right now?
Paolo: I’m kind of lost in the 60s, but unfortunately I grew up in the 90s - it wasn’t quite the same. The 60s seems like my favourite, so I listen to a lot of the old Woodstock roster, and people like The Drifters, Ben E King, Bob Marley, Desmond Decca, Jimmy Cliff a lot of reggae music as well, a bit of Led Zeppelin. New bands-wise, I’ve managed to sneak a copy of the new Razorlight record, which is very good, plus Blondie. Wolfmother record, I’m into that at the moment. There’s some quite good new bands, The Automatic are quite fun, and Gogol Bolderro, the Gypsy Punks, good for that moment in the night when you don’t really give a shit what you listen to, you just want to jump around, they’re brilliant, so various stuff I suppose.