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Outside Lands 2014 - the Paolo Nutini interview

Paolo Nutini
Paolo Nutini
Photo credit: Shamil Tanna

Watching Paolo Nutini's set at Outside Lands on Sunday made it easy to see why his latest album, Caustic Love, went platinum on debut in the UK. He's undoubtedly one of the the best male singers to have emerged in the past couple of decades, and the band that he keeps company with is off the charts as well. Paolo's OSL set was rescheduled for a later time on the day because Chvrches, the band that was to follow him, had to unfortunately cancel their appearance in the last minute due to transportation concerns. In tribute to Chvrches Paolo and band played "Recover", a Chvrches song, much to the delight of Chvrches fans and his own. The entire performance was captivating, and featured six songs from the new album. It was obvious how much love and attention had been devoted to each of them, and great to watch the songs take off and fly before the Outside Lands audience. I spoke with Paolo Nutini directly following his set.

How has your experience been at Outside Lands?

It was cool; a negative became a positive in the way that I felt sad that Chvrches were stuck and weren't able to make it, but the only cover that we do in our sets is that song by Chvrches. They let us do a couple more songs and one of them was that. Even if it weren't for the fact that they weren't here today, we probably would have put that song in it, knowing that we had two more songs, so there was something a bit surreal about that. I really enjoyed the set. Apparently we were playing to a few people that hadn't heard us, but it was fun!

Everyone was riveted. A lot of people here aren't familiar with songs from the new album because of course it's not yet out in the US.

Yeah, and the older songs were different arrangements, different atmospheres to them. We find that as we're [working] through it in places that aren't so familiar it's been more of a challenge to let them get... a little looser, but people seemed very open, very game.

Definitely, very ready to experience it. I was talking to Dave [Nelson, guitarist] and he was saying how it feels like a fresh start with the new album, a new vibe.

Very much so. I'm certainly happier with this record, on the whole, than I have been with the other two. I've always loved the songs; when you write them they're a part of you, so that's it. I've always been behind them but I think it was how I was able to perform them, and the production; it's the happiest I've been when I looked at the titles, you know? There was a relief to that! (laughter)

And I understand you're psyched because of the Charlie Chaplin credit that you were able to put on the album, for the writing of "Iron Sky".

Yeah, it's cool; it's cool! That won't go anywhere; that will always be on the thing! Dave - he wrote all the guitar parts - he sees his name, his name beside Chaplin's, so it's great!

You're obviously such a big fan of his.

For me, it just blows my mind how he [had] all those ideas, and how he put them all into play. Yeah, massive, massive Chaplin fan! His songs as well; he was a great songwriter.

I didn't know that.

I'm sure that Charlie Chaplin wrote the song "Smile".

Oh, that's a great song. Also, the way you recorded Caustic Love was pretty novel; you went from place to place, almost like recording while on tour.

The thing is we hadn't really decided we were making an album. We were recording, and if there was something that came out of it that we were all happy with, then why not try and let people hear it? But that took a little while. We had two albums of songs, some of which -maybe one or two that made it onto this album, but there [were] two different occasions where we thought we had an album, and these were different from each other even in themselves, never mind the final one. It depends on where you are, how you feel about yourself, where you are in your own life. You can't go out and perform songs that maybe you wrote in a more blissful time, when maybe that's not the reality right now. You've just got to wait for some kind of synergy in that sense; out that came, and that was it. I feel I'm able to perform this now with the conviction that you need to.

The album is just fantastic, and you also have some incredible talent on this album, Janelle Monae for example. I understand that you're a fan of hers as well.

Oh, I love Janelle Monae! We were lucky enough to have her be into the track ["Fashion"]. We never knew what she was gonna do, and it was amazing; it was amazing. And the players we had, like James Gadson, he played and wrote all the signature drum parts on the Bill Withers songs that we all love. He was the drummer on Still Bill, "Ain't No Sunshine", "Use Me", "Lean on Me"; he was that guy and he was unbelievable. The bulk of the album the rhythm section was actually Seb Rochford, who's a Scottish drummer. He's in Polar Bear; he's in tons of things; he's a producer; he's just honestly one of the best drummers. He plays in Polar Bear with Tom Herbert, [who's] in the band The Invisibles as well - great band. They were in Rak's, Studio 1, in Saint John's Wood, London, and the two of them in that room is just... and they gave me a control, and they gave me time, really as much time as I would want to take, to capture the best takes. It was amazing. We had tons and tons of players. It felt like the right time to work with some other musicians and scratch that itch.

You were just talking about the production; you had used some of the time that you took off prior to making this album to do some new or different things, and that included learning more about the production end of things, right?

Yeah. Dani Castelar, he engineers the sessions and he co-produces. His influence can't be undervalued; he's fantastic. his patience and the ideas and the drive that he brought to the whole thing was just invaluable. Dani!

You also just put out a new video for "Iron Sky", which you played at the end of your set. Obviously it has a huge social message; I was watching people's faces when you put on the speech by Charlie Chaplin, and they were really affected by that.

Yeah, they seemed to be pretty buzzed up by it, which is great. It's a long speech in the movie [The Great Dictator], so we had to edit it, and it was very delicate. Luckily people are enjoying our take on it. Daniel Wolfe, the director, he found out I was a fan and he liked the song. He really captures what the song [is about]. I wouldn't know where to start in terms of making a music video and translating those kind of ideas onto film. I really appreciate what he did and the time he took. It's great.

You know, I don't want to draw too much of a comparison, because your music is certainly your own, a reflection of who you are and of the times, but at one point while I was watching you sing I found myself thinking of Otis Redding. You had so much emotion and soul up there, that same kind of intense spirit.

He was a monstrous [talent]. I'd have given a lot to have gotten to see him perform live. Shame he was taken away so young. He was in his twenties, no? I'm sure he was younger than me when he died.

Yeah, 26 I think, right after he'd recorded "The Dock of the Bay". It's crazy that he never saw that released.

It's sad. You know, we're never gonna get another Otis Redding or... they were who they were because of what they'd been through, and what they were going through. I appreciate those records; they're fantastic records.

They were a big part of your upbringing too, right?

Yeah, Stax, Motown, that was what I was primarily drawn to when I went through my parents records and tried everything out. The first thing I wanted to put back on was those records.

So now you're on the road with all of the new songs in tow, and you'll be back in the US once the album is released, luckily for us pretty soon, in September. Then back to the UK and Europe pretty much right up until the holidays.

Yeah, I'm looking forward to playing.

Paolo Nutini will appear at the Fox Theater in Oakland, on September 26th. Show is at 8.

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