"I've never written a song that was hypothetical. They're all real and about my life," says Paolo Nutini. It's an approach that has served most of the great singer-songwriters down the years, whether they've escaped from a dull mining town in Minnesota or been brought up - as in Paolo's case - in a chip shop in Paisley, near Glasgow.
At 19, his songs suggest he knows an awful lot about the vicissitudes of life and love. Let's not heap patronising platitudes upon him by calling him 'an old head on young shoulders' or 'mature beyond his years'.
Paolo Nutini isn't really any of those things. Nor is he the latest Bob Dylan or the new Damien Rice. He's simply a sharp, open-hearted, hugely talented young man with a unique gift for expressing in song the typical attitudes and experiences of someone his age. He describes his debut album as nothing more or less than a record of the last two or three years of his life. Songs about leaving home, about missing friends and family, about the highs of being in love and the lows of falling out of love.
Anyone who thinks that a 19 year old doesn't have profound things to say about such universal subjects clearly doesn't remember being that age. In fact, it's arguably the time when you experience such emotions most strongly. "You can feel deeply at any age," Paolo reasons. "You can experience love and pain and hurt and loss and anger - and joy,too." Singing about them came naturally. "I didn't really know what else to
write about," he admits.
Despite the Italian name, the Nutini family have lived in Paisley for at least four generations. Paolo's great- grandfather opened the fish and chip shop in Paisley, which his parents now run, in 1914. He grew up hanging out and later working in the chip shop. But away from the deep-frier there was always plenty of music. His grandfather- commemorated in the elegiac Autumn on his debut album - played him Scottish folk songs by the Corries and sang him operatic arias by Verdi and Puccini. Exposure to '50s rock'n'roll came via his father's love of the Drifters and hidden among an aunt's Wet Wet Wet records he found a Ray Charles album which began his love of classic soul. A local priest used to come and play boogie-woogie on the family piano and he remembers hearing Elton John's Your Song when he was nine or ten and thinking it would be great one day to be able to write a song for somebody like that.
More recent influences include the work of such classic troubadours as John Martyn and Van Morrison and you might hear in his gritty voice a debt to many singers. Although his influences are diverse and mostly classic, he's also entirely of his time. He learnt to perform not - as a previous generation did infront of the bedroom mirror miming with a tennis racket for a guitar, but singing along to a karaoke machine.
"It's true," he laughs. "My aunt had a karaoke machine at her house and I remember one day singing Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me at a family session. Everybody said 'what was that? Up until then nobody had any idea that I could sing.''
He persuaded his parents to buy a karaoke machine and developed his vocal skills singing along to everything from Nat King Cole to Sam Cooke. An older cousin was so impressed by his voice (she was actually baby-sitting him at the time, he reluctantly admits) that she persuaded him to enter a local talent contest. Although he didn't win, all the girls loved it. "After that I used to enter regularly, just to get the girls. That's the only reason I did it because at the time I was really more interested in playing football. Singing was just for a laugh."
It got a little more serious after he made his recorded debut at the age of 15 on a CD produced by his school. When the school staged a live performance at Paisley Town Hall, he was spotted by Brendan Moon, who promptly offered him management and put him in the Glasgow studio used by Texas to work with Jim Duguid (now Paolo's full-time drummer).
He learned to play guitar and began writing more songs but there were false starts along the way. "We were working on various styles but they felt wrong and they werent where I wanted to go," he says. "So we went back to a more classic song-based style and when I pushed my voice I discovered I had this gravely, soulful sound. I began by imitating people and then found my own voice by experimenting. I guess that's how most people start. I was just trying stuff out and didn't care if I fell flat on my face."
When an opportunity arose to go on the road as part of his mates band crew on a support tour of the UK, he quit school and the die was cast. After the tour, Jim moved to London. For a while, Paolo commuted from Glasgow in order to continue working together, but soon tired of the travelling and expense and took the decision to move south. "It was cheaper to get a place of my own, but I hated the idea of moving down to London," he says. The experience is recorded in These Streets, a song which wistfully name checks the places where he grew up and which will strike a chord with anyone who has ever lived in bedsit-land.
In London, he started gigging landing at the Hard Rock Café's acoustic night and was a regular at The Bedford in Balham, where he was spotted and offered a publishing deal.
By this time, several record companies were sniffing around and Paolo eventually signed to Atlantic in 2005, shortly after his 18th birthday. The clincher, he says, was the gold discs by Led Zeppelin and Aretha Franklin on the walls of the company's offices. "I think may be they saw me as a Scottish soul singer," he says. "But that's not what I am because for me soul is not a genre but a feeling. I didn't want to be Americanised. So I said to them 'give me some time because there's more songs to be written."
When he finally felt he had a bunch of songs that added up to an album, he spent six weeks recording them in Liverpool's Parr Street studios with producer Ken Nelson (Coldplay/Gomez). "He's old school and it felt right," Paolo says. "He has his methods and he sets everything up in a very particular fashion which suited the songs."
The result is not what you would call a concept album. But it is one of those records on which every song seems to play an essential part in its contribution to the whole. Many of them, such as Last Request, Rewind and Alloway Grove, were inspired by a turbulent relationship with a girlfriend he has known since school. Jenny Don't Be Hasty is another true story about a girl he met in London. "The last two or three years of my life are in the songs," he says. "Feeling good, feeling down, buying a new pair of shoes, telling a few white lies. It's all there. It's a very personal record, like a diary, really. But hopefully, other people can relate to the feelings."
He's already come a long way from that chip shop in Paisley in a very short time. But you sense the Paolo Nutini story is only just beginning.
Live On Stage:
I was sort of quick to write off Paolo Nutini as someone that doesn't really belong on the Bonnaroo line-up even before knowing very much about him, it was pretty much just from hearing "New Shoes" (which to be honest I had no idea that was his song before doing some reseach for this post). From the few songs I've heard he ain't too bad, but definitely not someone I'll be circling on my schedule. Here he is with "Jenny Don't Be Hasty" (listen for the Franz Ferdinand tease at the beginning of the song)....
Surprsingly I was able to find a show that was up for download (via Dimeadozen)......
Paolo Nutini - 2007-03-21 - Grimeys New & Preloved Music - Nashville, TN
Here he is with the Coldplay-esque "Rewind"....
Few more for you to check out...
New Shoes (UK Version)
Jenny Don't Be Hasty
Got one more thing for you since I'm predicting now that Amy Winehouse's song "Rehab" will be this summer's hip song for everyone to cover. Here's Paolo's pretty damn solid version of it.....
As always head on over to Paolo's official website for more info.
Sunday, May 13, 2007