- 19 Aug 22
With his string of Irish shows kicking off in Limerick this weekend, Paolo Nutini talks to Hot Press about songwriting, Quentin Tarantino and the ideal Celtic match day.
It’s hard to believe that it’s over eight years since the release of Paolo Nutini’s last album, Caustic Love. Released in July, the long overdue follow-up, Last Night In The Bittersweet, sees the Scottish soulster deliver a timeless record that is his most complete to date.
“I’ve got a blast of energy from it being out there. Or maybe it’s relief, I don’t know,” he laughs.
Clocking in at 72 minutes, Nutini has given us plenty to chew on.
“I was thinking of four sides of a vinyl album, rather than sixteen songs I just happened to have hanging around,” he explains. “What I was really concerned about is that it works as an album.”
And it really does. His blend of rock, soul and country is bound together by his unique voice and honest songwriting.
‘Afterneath’ is a perfectly seductive opening track to pique your interest. We’re met by his soulful cry, a driving bass rhythm and a passage from Quentin Tarantino’s 1993 classic, True Romance. The sample of Patricia Arquette’s memorable speech includes her iconic repetition of the line, “You’re so cool.”
“I knew I wanted to do something with that dialogue and luckily, when we approached Quentin Tarantino, after a little while, we got the green light,” he explains.
Nutini was understandably thrilled with Tanatino’s approval.
“Things like that invigorate you a little bit. You think, ‘This must be ok, you know!?’”
The 35-year-old star previously sampled Charlie Chaplin’s speech from The Great Dictator for his 2014 single, ‘Iron Sky’. So, is Paisley’s pre-eminent singer-songwriter a bit of a film buff?
“I do love a good movie or a good television show,” he nods. “True Romance was one of those films that immediately stuck with me. Not only the script – it really goes into the rawness of being in love with someone. But it’s also just some of the most amazing dialogue and one of the best casts.”
As it happens Last Night In The Bittersweet doesn’t shy away from the highs and lows of being in love. Nutini explores themes of love, loss and heartache through a blend of musical genres. The single ‘Acid Eyes’ has the shimmery, cool essense of Don Henley’s mega-hit ‘Boys Of Summer’. And ‘Petrified In Love’, has all the jangly catchinsess of a Tom Petty or Traveling Wilburys track.
“Whenever I’m writing, I always start simple – on a piano or on the guitar,” Paolo explains. “Or a lot of the time now it’s on the bass, which really led me to that Tom Petty vibe.”
Elsewhere, on the slow-burning epic ‘Everywhere’, Nutini embraces his soul roots, while ‘Radio’ and ‘Shine A Light’ have an anthemic rock feel. The lyrics of ‘Through The Echoes’ are Nutini at his introspective best. By way of contrast, ‘Abigail’ is a simple country-folk song, with a real John Prine quality to it. In a memorable moment. Nutini sings “Lord I wanna get happy before I get old!”
Indeed, the album’s 16 tracks show just how gifted a songwriter Nutini is. Despite being a genre-bending LP, there’s a flow and connection throughout.
“In my head anyway, it kind of retains an atmosphere as it moves along,” says Paolo. “Which I do think is important. It’s nice to feel like you’re watching the one movie, rather than skipping too many channels.”
It’s experimental but in no way alienates his established fans – a good trick if you can pull it off.
Throughout our conversation, Paolo Nutini comes across as an incredibly likable, down to earth guy. Having grown up in Paisley, he was first encouraged to sing by his music-loving grandfather, Giovanni. Nutini left school to work as a roadie before moving to London at 17 to pursue a career in music.
In 2005, he was signed to Atlantic Records by legendary founder Ahmed Ertegun. With three No.1 albums to date, he has amassed 8 million global album sales, 8 million UK single sales, and 1.5 billion global streams. An Ivor Novello winner, Nutini also has collected a staggering 18 Platinum certifications in the UK alone, all the while retaining a lad-next-door character.
He stayed with his parents during lockdown. It is a reflection of his grounded outlook and enjoyment of the simple pleasures in life, including supporting Glasgow Celtic FC. He lights up when I tell him I’ll soon be attending my first Parkhead match – and proceeds to give me a series of top tourist tips!
“Good idea,” he exclaims. “If you want a good Guinness, go to MJ Heraghty’s pub on the southside of Glasgow. You’ve got a few options there, but that’s the one I’ve been heading to recently for my Guinness. If you want something really nice to eat, go to Cafe Gandolfi. They do a take on Scottish food but with a twist.
“It depends what you wanna do,” he adds. “If you wanna have cocktails, you’ve got Vroni’s and if you want to go mental at night, go to the Sub Club and make sure you’ve fucking got a day off the next day.”
I ask Nutini about Scottish independence: his 2014 album Caustic Love was released the same year as the independence referendum took place. Now, with the release of his fourth album in 2022, a vote for Scottish independence may be back on the agenda.
Nutini politely declines to discuss the issue. “I just want the music to come out before I get political,” he says. “I think you might know my answer already.”
I ask if he considers himself a sensitive person.
“It’s hard to not be when my adult life has been spent writing songs, and magnifying emotions and experiences that a lot of people live life to distract themselves from. This is what you’re tuning into constantly for 20 odd years. I don’t see it as a negative thing, For me, it’s a natural way to be.”
This vulnerability is what makes his music connect with so many people. Nutini isn’t afraid to write heartfelt songs. “I’m a helpless romantic,” he sings on the understated but searing ‘Heart Filled Up’, “I could just dream the day away/ Alone and nostalgic, dreaming of yesterday.”
“Not everything on the album is autobiographical,” he says. “There might be a thread from it that is relevant, but there is a lot on there that I’ve drawn from movies I’ve seen, or books I’ve read, or other people in my life. I try to put myself in their shoes. I never do it too literally, because I don’t think anyone would appreciate that kind of intrusion.”
Nutini’s ability to evoke complex emotions is a testament to his skill. He’s one of the leading singer-songwriters of his generation – what’s impressive is that he doesn’t take any of it for granted.
“It’s quite a lucky way to go through life,” he considers. “Even when I’ve not been making music publically or commercially, if I manage to write something or capture some little thing in a creative sense, then I’ll quite happily sail through that day. It doesn’t need to be in a box or on a playlist or on the internet for me.
“And then when it does go out there, it’s not yours anymore, is it? Maybe that’s why I hold onto things for so long. I kind of like the idea of keeping them for me, or maybe it’s just me being a bit of a wuss man, I don’t know (laughs).”
Thankfully, Paolo has shared the songs on what is a beautiful album with us. By the sounds of it, there’s more to come too.
“In terms of performing, who knows?” he says. “I would obviously love the chance for that, it depends how things go. But in terms of writing songs? If it goes too long without me being able to write a song, I think I might just slip into a bit of depression (laughs). It really is what makes sense of life for me – the feeling that I have something vaguely to contribute!”
•Last Night In The Bittersweet is out now. Paolo Nutini plays the Milk Market, Limerick (August 21 & 22); 3Olympia Theatre, Dublin (24); and Custom House Square, Belfast (25).