September 23, 2014
Paolo Nutini’s head has been well and truly turned. After spending the best part of the day, in his words “cavorting with a beautiful woman”, he tells me, almost forlornly, that he’s in love. “Of course you are, Paolo,” I can’t help but think. As we ascend the stairs of the Hunger studio, to an office where our interview is to take place, it’s hard to divert his attention away from Amber Anderson, with whom he’s been photographed. You can hardly blame him, I suppose. It must be one of the nicer perks of the job, given that there’s many a red-blooded, heterosexual male in his twenties who’d sell his granny for a few hours in her company.
In the interest of some kind of gender equality, I feel I should counter this generalisation by saying that at least two women I know confided in me that they couldn’t possibly interview Paolo due to having intense crushes on him. Objectification cuts both ways, but manifests itself differently between the sexes, it seems. I must admit I never understood the female interest in him, but upon meeting the guy, the appeal is quickly apparent. Diminutive, but with enough charisma to cause a power outage, it’s fair to say that in the flesh he’s a handsome bloody devil in his own rough-hewn way. But what do I know?
And as for that voice? Not as mellifluous as some Scotsmen but indelibly broad, somewhat scratchy yet lyrical – not completely dissimilar to how he sounds when performing, which is a nice surprise. I’d often wondered if that remarkable voice was in any way contrived. I’m happy to concede it’s not; it’s a pure extension of his own tone and cadences, as all good singers’ voices should be. Despite his vocal ability, he has not always received as much credit as he deserves, especially for such a solid career. Critics are always fair, without being effusive, and sales are undoubtedly strong, especially in an age where people apparently don’t buy albums. Both his previous releases went five times platinum in the UK alone, and his latest album, Caustic Love, looks set to live up to their success. So what gives? He’s relatively well-known, in this country at least (without being tabloid fodder and annoyingly ubiquitous), and on top of that he seems to make the music he wants to make, at his own leisure, while selling shedloads of units to boot. You can’t really argue against that. On top of it all he’s engaging and intelligent company. Fair play to him.
HUNGER: HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU WITH THE OTHER ASPECTS THAT COME WITH DOING WHAT YOU DO? LIKE THE SHOOT YOU’VE JUST DONE, FOR EXAMPLE.
Paolo Nutini: I’ve never been the best at posing for a camera, or even considered myself to be that kind of guy. There’s a lot that I’ll do now though that I never would have done before, like taking my top off. I can see the art in things now, whereas before I’d worry that all my mates would slag me off. I’ve immersed myself more in culture. In the past I had opportunities to be photographed by certain people, but I turned them down. Mario Testino wanted to photograph me once, but I didn’t know who he was. My girlfriend at the time was really into photography and when I told her I wasn’t going to do it, she couldn’t believe it! I just didn’t get it then. But now music and other art forms seem to be running a lot more in tandem. I think there was an element of fear before, not because I was scared of doing these things, but of what people would think. One of the best things that ever happened to me was shedding that mentality.
IT’S BEEN FIVE YEARS SINCE YOUR LAST ALBUM AND YOU MENTIONED THE BRIEF HIATUS. WHAT DID YOU GET UP TO?
For the most part, I just took some time at home and did menial things. I was interested in working with my hands, learning how to fix things that broke around the house instead of having to call someone to do it. I couldn’t drive, so I learned how to drive. I couldn’t really cook, so I learned how to cook. Basically, I was just around. It’s easy to take for granted the life you once had, your friends and family. Sometimes when you’re on a mission, or you have something you’re focused on, it can be easy to take all that for granted. You think it’s always going to be the same. Luckily, everything is still reminiscent of what it was. But there were things that had happened in my friends’ lives, which forced me to switch my focus.
ONCE ALL SOLID GROUND RE-EMERGED, DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU COULD GO AND EXPLORE AGAIN?
Absolutely. Not only that, but I’d been touring in so many great places, but I had no real idea of what they were like. We’d go in, play the show, come out and that was it. So I retraced my footsteps in some of the places I’d enjoyed the most, went and just immersed myself in them without an agenda or time limit. It all led me back to where my family originally come from, a small town in Tuscany, called Barga. It’s a small medieval town untouched by commercialism or consumerism. It’s genuinely like getting in a time machine and going back 60 years. There’s a different drive completely. There’s no “let’s work as much as we can to take as much as we can” attitude. Their focus really is on valuing each day, which was amazing. I went with my family and I thought I’d stay on for a week, but it turned into three months. I got myself a tiny little apartment. I had my guitar, a laptop and a microphone with a basic little recording set-up. It was just something I’d never really done before. I also spent some time in Jamaica, and I read a lot about a poet called Mutabaruka. He explains Rastafarianism in a way that’s quite digestible for someone who’s not from that culture. It’s about the significance of reconnecting with things, making163 things with your hands; what that can do and how it can make you feel. You can’t underestimate it. That was the first time I really started feeling like a man and not a boy.
DID YOU EVER FEEL LIKE YOU WERE BEGINNING TO BECOME TOO MUCH OF A “POP STAR”?
Even I was beginning to piss myself off hearing myself complain! I remember actually stopping myself once, mid-aggressive conversation, because we’d gone to this five-star resort and the jacuzzi was cold. I just thought, “If only my mum could hear me now!” I’m walking around with my fucking first world issues and I thought, “Am I going to write about these problems?” The break I took didn’t feel like a break as such but more a readjustment. I could feel myself on the road to somewhere that I certainly didn’t want to go. I could have become lost or trapped in that and feel sorry for myself, and fuck knows where that could lead you. How much empathy can you get for that kind of thing? Or I could just address it and stop – change. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to paint myself as some kind of spiritual journeyman, because there was a lot of nonsense in between. Sometimes I just wanted to see my friends and do some of the things they were doing – play a bit of Xbox and get high, you know?