Sunday Star Times
January 25, 2015
When an artist takes a notably long break between records, there is always speculation about why.
A breakdown, a trip to rehab – or maybe the talent’s just dried up.
For Paolo Nutini, his five-year break between albums has a simple, less dramatic explanation.
“Well we toured for about two years after the last album, then I thought I had to do a little bit – explore some things, see some things and get out of that routine,” he says, in a thick Scottish accent.
“You can’t get too caught up in any reality, you’ve got to do things you can write about, have interactions, and get inspired.”
The 27-year-old behind Jenny Don’t Be Hasty, Pencil Full of Lead and New Shoes is known for his eclectic style, fresh rhythms and growling, soulful voice, breaking into fame after his first two album releases These Streets and Sunny Side Up.
But Sunny Side Up was released in 2009, and Nutini’s come a long way since.
“Doing it now, I can come at it from a different angle than I did when I was 19 or 21. I definitely feel like the more experience you get, the more of a handle you have on it. It’s just good to be back and having that conversation again, and be back on the road and experiencing that thing, that adventure,” he says.
“I literally just was on the move a lot, on my own in various cities, meeting people in bars, meeting musicians, writing a song, staying up late, smoking cigarettes, going and getting a bit of sun, getting a bit of heat about me and just resetting.”
Which, for a man who says his songwriting is “all observation”, has to make a pretty big difference.
He literally wrote his popular hit New Shoes, after buying some new shoes one day and having that day turn out well. Simple as that.
“I just remember things weren’t going too great and then I got some good news afterwards and I thought it was funny, like, there you go, just gotta buy some new shoes.”
So if a hit like that can come out of something so small, it’s no wonder the latest album Caustic Love is so strong after Nutini’s extended break.
It definitely feels more established and sure, and something has matured in his vocals.
The album sees collaborations with Tchad Blake (Elvis Costello), bassist Pino Palladino (D’Angelo, The Who), drummer James Gadson (Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye) and Janelle Monae. It’s more of a blues/funk/soul offering, though anyone who knows Nutini’s music knows he’s hard to classify by any specific genre.
Lyrically, there are still the songs about love and sex, but there’s also a kind of existential awareness and dialogue.
“I think that especially when you’re moving around, you get a sense of what’s going on, and most of the time you’ve been there before or you’re going there soon. When something goes on that I can relate to I try to put my take on what’s going on. It’s personal as well as being observational.”
Despite being on the music scene since 2006, Nutini hasn’t necessarily garnered as much attention or acclaim as his contemporaries, but Caustic Love seems to be taking off, sending him on world tours including a host of new fans on the US circuit.
“It’s quite an experience coming to America because it’s been very much re-establishing ourselves, but most people that we played to had never heard the music before,” he says.
The Caustic Love tour has been so successful it’s bringing him all the way to New Zealand for the first time ever for two shows – because the first sold out in the first couple of hours.
“I’ve never been lucky enough to come [to New Zealand], I’ve only heard the stories so I’m excited. You know I actually have family there? I have cousins in Auckland I’ve never met, so maybe I can meet them,” he says excitedly.
Not only is he planning on exploring New Zealand and meeting his Kiwi relatives, he’s also planning to have some new songs for fans when he arrives.
“You guys might be the first gigs to hear those new songs. It’s nice to be looking forward and knowing that’s on the horizon, it gives me a buzz.”
Paolo Nutini will play two shows at Auckland’s Powerstation on April 6 and 7. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.