‘I don’t know why, but, when I’m on my own, or having a party in my house or something, I always go back to music from the ’60s and ’70s. That seems to be where my heart lies,’ says Scottish singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini, speaking on the phone from Cape Town, South Africa, where he is currently on tour with his latest album Caustic Love.
The 28-year-old is surprisingly honest and reflective on his decade-long career. ‘I’ve been on tour and away from home pretty much since I was 16,’ he says. ‘By the end of the second album [Sunny Side Up], I felt like I had the right to
Nutini, who performed at The Irish Village in 2010, will return to these shores on Friday April 10 for a gig at Media City Amphitheatre. ‘It’s the last show of this little run, so my plan is to hang back for a few days and just take it all in. I’m pretty fascinated by Dubai – I’m looking forward to having a few days in the city,’ he says.
Encouraged by his grandfather, Nutini started his music career as a teenager, working his way across the gigging circuit of London pubs before he finally got his big break in 2005. At just 18 years old, the Paisley native was signed to Atlantic Records and released his debut album These Streets, which went to number three in the UK album chart.
Nutini (whose father is Italian and mother Scottish) went on to achieve success with his 2009 album, Sunny Side Up, which went straight to number one and featured the upbeat hits ‘Candy’ and ‘Pencil Full of Lead’. Following this commercial fame, Nutini decided to take some time out, away from the spotlight, and go travelling. ‘I wanted to absorb and reflect on things; to explore different cities and countries. I was trying to find my feet, really, and I took up carpentry. I’ve just been doing therapeutic things; anything that I can enjoy and is an achievement,’ he says.
After five years away from the studio, Nutini released his third and current full-length album Caustic Love in April last year. With songs such as ‘Better Man’, ‘Let Me Down Easy’ and the powerful and soulful, ‘Iron Sky’ on the record, it shows off Nutini’s maturing talent as both a vocalist and a songwriter. ‘It was all pretty straightforward; especially with songs like ‘Better Man’,’ he says. ‘I think I’m quite a romantic kind of guy. There’s that kind of mix on this album – as you feel it, you jot it down. With ‘Better Man’, from the moment I was thinking it, I was writing it, and then I recorded it. It was very quick.’
Other tracks on the album provide a glimpse into Nutini’s personal musical tastes. There’s a reworking of Bettye LaVette’s 1965 soul hit ‘Let Me Down Easy’, while ‘Iron Sky’ includes references to Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator. ‘That stuff I had to revisit,’ he explains. ‘I couldn’t be content with it as quickly as any of the other songs.’ It’s now almost a year since Nutini released Caustic Love and he says it’ll be nice to be finished with it in the summer so he can focus on the next album. ‘Maybe it’ll come out this year, I don’t know,’ he says, sounding like he’s having an internal debate with himself.
In the video to ‘One Day’ from the latest album, Nutini cast British actress Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous fame. ‘I just thought that there was only one person who could do it. I just imagined her as the woman to play that part,’ he says. The video’s story is set around a cabaret singer who is transformed back to her youth through the bodies of other women – by a killer. ‘With her energy and her vibe Joanna has always defied her age a little bit, and I think that’s why she did it. And she has a real beauty that I was fascinated with.’
Nutini reflects on plenty in this album, whether it’s talk of a relationship as seen in ‘Scream (Funk My Life Up)’ or ‘Numpty’. The latter sees Nutini fighting against growing up and the responsibilities that come with it – ‘But all the talk about the ring and the baby, gets me every time’, he sings on the track. He says that he tries to find the positives in any romantic situation. ‘I wouldn’t regard myself as being the most fully functional, so it’s nice because you can kind of, in a way, rejoice about something that is perhaps hanging by a thread, or even something that’s gone.’
But with such songs on the album now almost a year old, is he ready to get back into the studio? ‘I’ll wait a little bit more so that I can really digest it. That’s what happened last time, but I think I’m getting better,’ he says. ‘I don’t know how everybody proceeds. At times, I struggled a little bit to come to terms with it all. I think I was trying to make sense of it when really it doesn’t have to make sense. Maybe it just has to happen.’
In his spare time, Nutini is a keen carpenter. He says he likes the satisfaction he gets by creating something from scratch. Inspired by his grandfather, the singer recalls how he made him a rocking horse when he was a child that he aptly named Rocky. ‘I’ve still got it. And I’ve always thought that if I have a son, nephew or even a daughter, I could do the same thing for them.
I think there’s something really amazing about it, you know? I think there’s quite a serenity in the process of carpentry. Really it’s just taking raw material and making something out of it. With music, you’ve got your thoughts and your stories and you’re trying to make them into a song and put them to music, but with carpentry, you’re using your hands to manipulate the source, not your mind. That’s the bit I like; that’s the contrast for me.’
Having conquered the music charts and with thoughts of a family on his mind, perhaps we will see a new side to the singer in the not so distant future – Paolo Nutini and Sons carpentry certainly has a ring to it, don’t you think?
Dhs295-900. Friday April 10. Media City Amphitheatre, Dubai Media City (04 368 9977).