ABOVE: PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAMIL TANNA
“Music is probably one of the most honest things out there—it’s feral,” says Scottish musician Paolo Nutini at the Atlantic Records offices in New York. “Some of my songs I can’t perform because they just immediately throw up all those emotions, ones that I really don’t want to be regurgitating,” he continues. “It’s a weird therapy —it’s the opposite of lying on a couch and getting cleansed. You’re constantly reminding yourself.”
If you’ve ever listened to Nutini’s debut album, 2006’s These Streets, this isn’t a surprising sentiment. Heartbreaking and soulful, These Streets is filled with painful, pleading songs like “Last Request,” which asks a lover for one more night together, and “Rewind,” which opens with the lyrics “picking up the pieces of the wreck you went and left.”
Now 27, Nutini will release his third album, Caustic Love, next week in the States. A follow-up to the funky Sunny Side Up (2009), Caustic Love is rooted in classic R&B grooves and includes a collaboration with Janelle Monaé (“Fashion”) and a sample from the Charlie Chaplin classic The Great Dictator (“Iron Sky”). From September 15 to 29, Nutini will tour North America, playing in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, D.C., and L.A., among others. In the meantime, you can stream the full album exclusively below.
EMMA BROWN: How long have you been in New York?
PAOLO NUTINI: We got here last night, got to the hotel at around 11 pm, got up at 4 am to go do the soundcheck, and then came back at 10 am to do the performance. It was VH1 Big Morning Buzz or something, hosted by Nick Lachey.
BROWN: Oh, that’s what he does now?
NUTINI: It was weird [but] nice. Coming here, I really appreciate any opportunity or platform, really. Over the years it’s always felt like we’ve been on the outside looking in the window—almost getting in, but never quite.
Our first album brought us here and we started to build up pretty well—we came here for six months. Then by the time the second record came here, I don’t think it was as universal; a lot of its charm was maybe more bespoke to back home. Apart from that, I didn’t really want to come over here for that amount of time again. I didn’t understand quite how vast [it is] and how much you need to give to get a little. You can accelerate it, it seems, but I don’t play a lot of games, which makes it even harder. Radio stations want you to drive hundreds of miles to go and play a room where nobody’s fucking listening. And after a couple of those I went, “Well, I’m not going to do that anymore.” I get very sensitive. But this time, hopefully, it all kind of syncs up. It’s been encouraging so far.
I’m ready now. I’ve got more time. I’ve not got as many ties. I’ve been thinking about buying a place in Holland, [but] next year, in the short-term, maybe basing myself here. Get a nice loft.
BROWN: In New York?
NUTINI: Yeah. I couldn’t live in L.A. I’ll end up getting hooked on coconut water or shit like that.
BROWN: They have watermelon water now.
NUTINI: That sounds better than coconut water. I’m not convinced it’s actually coconut water. There’s something wrong with that stuff. It is not in any way nice to drink. I hate it. I love melon! I don’t love melon, that’s a bit… Melon’s my favorite fruit. All kinds. Giving you some real exclusive stuff.
BROWN: You don’t have a preferred variety of melon?
NUTINI: I don’t discriminate when it comes to melon. I’m very open-minded. I really don’t mind; I can’t say I like any one better than the other. You can put them all in! A little melon mix salad, and I’m just in heaven.
BROWN: I hope someone sends you some melons.
NUTINI: I hope so as well. A platter comes in. When life hands you melons. Eat them.
BROWN: In past interviews, you’ve mentioned that you did a few talent shows when you were younger.
NUTINI: Yeah, that’s right. When I was a kid. I never really had luck with the ladies my early years in high school. Then I started singing and I found that helped, so I would go in the talent show every year. It was always some female singer that would go up there and blast out some Celine Dion classic and just blow me away. I got a couple of romances out of it, so I won in my mind, but the judges didn’t think so. When that came along, I got a little bit of identity, which is hard to forge in high school amongst all of these feral personalities that are all just becoming themselves. It was nice, and I suppose it stuck with me.
BROWN: Do you remember the first song you performed?
NUTINI: It would’ve been something really cheesy. Engineered to get laid. It could’ve been the fucking Backstreet Boys or some shit like that. I remember singing Clapton, that song “Wonderful Tonight.” That was a good year. I used to love singing old Sinatra stuff when I was a kid. I remember we had a karaoke machine in my house. A lot of the songs, I never even heard the original, I was just singing them the way I sang them. That was my education. The first time I really sang in front of anybody was one New Year’s Eve on the karaoke machine. Everybody was like, “What?” Nobody really knew. Then I was just singing anything. A lot of Nat King Cole, a lot of Sinatra. I started to get a little bit less corny with it. And that’s that. I’m a sucker for a love song, I must say. I remember singing Elton John’s “Your Song”—I don’t know if you can call that a guilty pleasure, I don’t think it’s that guilty of a pleasure. I used to get a bit of stick for liking Elton John in high school. I never understood that. I think Elton John’s great. Fantastic songwriter.
BROWN: How do you feel about The Lion King soundtrack?
NUTINI: No, that’s when it all went to shit. Don’t get me wrong, I like the songs—”I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” that’s dynamite, and how can you not like “Hakuna Matata”? The best music Disney music is in The Jungle Book.
BROWN: It has some very jazzy songs. I remember the one the monkey sings.
NUTINI: “I Wanna Be Like You”? I used to do that live, years ago. I was a big Louis Prima fan and Louis Prima was the performer of the song. He was the trumpet player as well. They called [the character] King Louis after him. I’m a bit of a sucker for Disney… and melon. I don’t know what kind of picture of myself I’m painting here. And, you know, obviously copious amounts of cocaine in between all of that.
BROWN: A very wholesome picture.
NUTINI: I like to watch a bit of Disney, sprinkle some cocaine on some melon and just sit and eat it. I’m joking, I’m joking. There’s no Disney. [laughs]
BROWN: Just Charlie Chaplin.
NUTINI: Yeah, he’s a big inspiration. I have a lot of ideas, but I can’t facilitate half of them. I know a lot of people that are similar. But a guy like Charlie Chaplin, he had such a capacity for all of his genius and creativity. He was able to write a film, direct a film, produce a film, write the songs, record the songs. Act in the film. It just blew me away. And that film—The Great Dictator—is really my favorite. There’s some scenes in that that forever were stuck in my head and we implemented around that track. Luckily, his family and foundation were really forthcoming and made it really easy for us to use it. We thought it was going to be a really long, drawn-out process that would cost us fortunes.
BROWN: How did you it explain to them?
NUTINI: They were more concerned about the context. We had to be very delicate with the speech, it’s a long speech—it’s longer than the song. We had to be very sympathetic when chopping it up. I was very nervous when we sent it to them. Luckily they were really into it. And they liked the context and thought it would be something he would like, which was very encouraging.
BROWN: His granddaughter is an actress now too. She was on Game of Thrones.
NUTINI: Game of Thrones, it’s something that I’ve not watched. Everybody’s raving about it. I’ve watched a couple of episodes. There was a lot of…
NUTINI: No. Male genitalia flying about. I felt the ratio of dragons to penis was a bit out.
BROWN: There are more dragons later.
NUTINI: I just need to power on through the cock to get to the dragon. Excellent. I’m fascinated by Fargo right now, actually.
BROWN: The TV show? It’s really good, isn’t it.
NUTINI: I fucking love it. It reminds me of The Master and Margarita—I don’t know if you know the book—by Mikhail Bulgakov. It’s all about the devil. It was a dismissed as satire when it was written—it was during Stalinist Russia—and it only really came to light again in the ’60s. That’s what the Stones wrote “Sympathy For the Devil” about. So that really enticed me.
I’m watching Penny Dreadful. Timothy Dalton is a bit of a dark horse. I like all things gothic, that’s why I like Barcelona so much. I’m a fan of all things vampiric, well, as long as they don’t fucking sparkle in the sunshine. I have a really problem with those Twilight films. I was really bemused. My ex was a massive fan of the films. I got tickets to the premiere of the first part of the last book. We went along and watched it, and they’re all running in the sun, shimmering. I thought this is weird. And all of these kids are going, “Oh, that’s nice.” And then she gets pregnant.
BROWN: And it starts eating her from the inside.
NUTINI: From the inside! And all of these kids are fucking horrified, thinking, “What the hell is going on?” It was an interesting juxtaposition from sparkly vampires to this.
BROWN: So when is your gothic concept album coming out then?
NUTINI: For this album, I was in Barcelona for periods of it. And even if wasn’t gothic—I went to a little village in Italy where my family’s from in Tuscany. It’s a little medieval town nestled into the mountains: a lot of cobblestones, a lot of narrow alleyways, steep gradients. And at nighttime it’s very, very quiet. I feel a few of the songs have the atmosphere. There’s this track “One Day” and that was the backdrop to it. But lyrically, I’m not writing about any of this stuff as such. Sometimes you give yourself a guideline and you think, I want to write a song about X or Y. I find it easier to do that though when it’s for somebody else. I remember my sister said to me once, “I’ve got this project for my university course, I have to think about a soundtrack for this new vampire/psycho thing.” I—I was about to say “I sunk my teeth right into it,” but I didn’t mean that. [laughs] I loved that. And then when I try to do that for myself, I just can’t do it. ‘Cause I’m a weirdo. I’m getting weirder as I grow older. I don’t even know if it’s in an interesting way, just in a weird way. I’ve never grown up before. I’m doing it for the first time. It throws you a few curve balls.
BROWN: When did you start growing up?
NUTINI: I found my mind has changed over the last years. Different vulnerabilities—things that I was never vulnerable to before I am now. And vice-versa. Things I was vulnerable to then are like water off a duck’s back. I have a lot less fear. I think I’m getting more determined. It never seemed like there was a point to the whole thing, if that makes sense. It never seemed like there was an aim or a goal or a place to get to—a place where you reach the apex and you go, “That’s it. I’ve achieved what I want.” It’s a trip, it’s a story that I suppose doesn’t have a point, a finite line. It just is what it is and it’s exciting. And I got a bit disillusioned by it all—I felt like I was going round in circles. But that’s what I was saying about the opportunities, it seems like there are more opportunities now. Sometimes you just don’t connect. You just don’t translate. But I find more and more now we seem to be, which is a good thing.