PAOLO NUTINI: Freedom & Time

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Sometimes, it’s best to begin at the beginning, such as the proper pronunciation of Paolo Nutini’s name. He’s this month’s Next Big Thing, and we here at American Songwriter are all over that one. So when given the choices of “Paolo,” “Paulo,” “Paul,” “Mr. Nutini,” “Hey Kid” or “Hey You,” the singer (and he would know) went for the first option during a recent phoner from Nashville. And the winner is: “Pay-Oh-Low.”Sometimes, it’s best to begin at the beginning, such as the proper pronunciation of Paolo Nutini’s name. He’s this month’s Next Big Thing, and we here at American Songwriter are all over that one. So when given the choices of “Paolo,” “Paulo,” “Paul,” “Mr. Nutini,” “Hey Kid” or “Hey You,” the singer (and he would know) went for the first option during a recent phoner from Nashville. And the winner is: “Pay-Oh-Low.”

The girls think he’s hot; everyone else thinks he has a great voice and cool songs. Christmas has arrived 10 months early for the bean counters at Atlantic Records, where Nutini’s debut disc (These Streets), is hotter than free pizza, making a No. 3 entry onto the U.K. charts. “New Shoes,” of which he can now afford Imelda Marcos quantities, is the hit single, and “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty” is the album’s catchy love-lost lullaby.

The pretty boy Nutini is just 20 years old and seems to be taking the whole newly-rich rock star thing quite well. “No, I’m neither…neither rich nor a rock star. As far as the record’s concerned, I just sort of check in every now and again, and I really don’t know what to do with that information. I don’t know how you gauge success from that. All I know is that when people are at your shows, that’s success to me.”

People are indeed coming to his shows, and Nutini has been going to shows as well-opening a pair of gigs for the Rolling Stones at their request. He is just beginning a U.S. tour in March to be followed by a trip Down Under, following The Cinematics, K T Tunstall and Snow Patrol as recent Scots of note.

And Nutini isn’t short for MacNutini. His family is originally from Tuscany in Italy, but they’ve been in Scotland for four generations. The young Paolo has a Scottish brogue so thick he should come with subtitles. He was all set to take over the family fish & chips business in Paisley, Scotland, but relatives (mostly grandpa) changed everything by playing the youngster all sorts of Ben E. King-era Drifters records and other classic American r&b-which makes one wonder what will become of youngsters raised on Jackass, Saw< and death metal?

In any case, the first thing that attracts most ears but Van Gogh’s is Nutini’s voice, sort of this cool, raspy, perfect bluesy voice-the voice of a much older man. “I’m not entirely sure what happened,” says Paolo. “I sang when I was a kid, you know, then my voice changed when I was about 17. It changed from being quite light and soft to having more of a rasp. I’d been on a few tours with some bands and we indulged in some rock and roll clichés, so I think it just might be wear and tear on the voice.”

Definitely feeling musical, Nutini hit the road at the ripe old age of 15 as a roadie for Speedway, the Scottish band, not the insane style of motorcycle racing. He carried the gear and sold t-shirts but also got to open the shows. It worked. By the time he was a geezer of rock at 17, Nutini had signed a deal with The Drifters’ label, Atlantic, and moved to London to write songs and prepare himself for his debut album. And like any good student, he learned how to take good notes.

“Just after I turned 17, I got a publishing deal. That’s what gave me money to move there in the first place, and I was conscious of the fact that my job was writing songs and preparing for this album. The way I used to do it was when something happened to me, whether it was a big thing or a little thing, I wrote it down and got maybe a whole page of notes…then as the situation progressed, I’d eventually pick out the thing I wanted and make it the hook of the song. And I’ve always been fascinated by these guys that are sort of men that know what they want, but wear their hearts on their sleeves.”

Once again, it’s true that bad love makes for good songs. Nutini was dumped by a 23-year-old hottie he met at a bar in London once she found out he was only 18. Ain’t love grand? The hit song about “Jenny” surely is.

And the kid is wise beyond his years, getting to the gist of the matter in a jiffy. “Someone said to me the other day, ‘You must feel so privileged…you’ve probably got unlimited access to pretty much anything you want at 20,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, two things-freedom and time.’ And I think that’s the whole essence of being a 20-year-old kid in this business.”


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