Little Fish- Intimate Interview with Paolo Nutini
Interview by Lauren Adams, with David Benaym
At first glance, Paolo Nutini seems like the shy, pensive performer he describes himself to be. Sitting patiently in his label’s (Atlantic Records) office, he peers through his boyish shag and stands to greet us. He’s overwhelmingly handsome in person – even in his unfussy ensemble, wearing jeans, t-shirt, and a cardigan. His star quality is palpable. It only takes him a few moments to warm up and dive, excitedly, into what life has been like since being discovered. Paolo tells us what it’s like partying with his mother in Kid Rock’s hotel room, and what really is in his root beer.
When did you get here?
Um, what day is it today?
I thought it was Wednesday.
Today is Thursday? Shit!
So when did you get here?
Not yesterday, not the day before; Monday?
How was touring in Europe?
France went very well. We did the Taratata show. [Taratata is a major French TV show featuring live artists performing exclusive duets.]
Who did you sing with?
Jehro, I hadn’t ever heard of him before.
Oh, we love him! We just featured on him in our last issue.
Yeah that’s who I was with, he did, “What A Day For A Daydream,” [by the Lovin' Spoonful] it was good, really nice. His band is real good and there was a lovely smell coming from his dressing room. I think his band are all big tokers, so we got on well [he laughs]. Yeah, so that’ a coincidence. He was a nice guy.
So how old are you now, 19?
20. I was 20 on the 9th of January. I still can’t fucking drink here, it’s pathetic. I got ID to buy cigarette papers. I actually had to show my passport to buy a pack of papers, at the shop. Paper is just paper! What do you mean you have to be 18 to buy paper?
Don’t complain, the longer they ask for your ID, the better. Trust me, they don’t ask for my ID anymore.
That means you’re looking more refined, that’s not a bad thing. I’m not scared of getting old, I’m not scared at all, I’m quite looking forward.
Did you like playing at Bowery Ballroom in New York?
Yeah, apart from the fact that they wouldn’t trust the band. They’re all in their late 20s and they wouldn’t give us any beer, cause they thought that I would drink it and I am under the age. At all the other gigs, I’ve been getting a root beer, and pouring out the root beer and filling it with beer.
Well, you are Scottish.
Yeah, you’ve got to find a way somehow [he laughs]. I’ve had to reduce my drinking since I got here.
Where is home right now? Do you feel like you still have a home?
Yeah, I’ll always have a home in Paisley, in Scotland, but I’ve not been there in a bit. It’s a town of about 70,000 people. It’s a lot different. That’s gonna be home, always. You know what? The thing is, I’m just starting to get a little bit: sometimes you feel good and sometimes you don’t.
You mean lonely?
Yeah, lonely, but it doesn’t feel like that. It’s just, something’s wrong, you know? It’s more like something doesn’t feel right rather than lonely.
Did you see it happening?
I just felt it. All of a sudden I wasn’t sleeping. I swear, it’s madness, I mean, really, it’s bizarre, you know? It’s good compared to what my dad is doing in the chip shop, it’s really unglamorous. He works like 12 hours a day everyday and just deals with drunk people wanting fish and chips. So really, what I’m doing is fucking great compared to that.
Does he think that you have an easy life?
No, he knows. At first he did, at first he would say “Ah, my heart bleeds for you, son.”Â And I used to come home tired and he’d get the violin out. Now, he understands it’s mentally, it’s not physically. It’s mentally, that’s where it gets to you.
So do you have an entourage?
No, not yet, but one day you’ll see one turn up.
It’s just around the corner. You’ve been popping up all over the place.
Yeah: Vogue magazine. That was wild, huh?
Did you model for Vogue?
No, we did one photo shoot. I can remember it now, but you don’t think “I’m gonna be in Vogue,” you just think, “what a nice photo shoot.” The next minute it’s in Vogue. Other than that, I just think I’m gonna start wearing black suits more. I never wear black suits. I was just thinking, “I like that.” Sharp! Sharp, man!
Don’t you have a modeling contract?
No, that’s a lie. Basically, they’re called Storm Models, Kate Moss’ agency. They seemed to come to all of the festivals in the summer when I was really drunk, and they would always find me when I was on my last leg, sort of with a glass full of cider, and I was sort of floating there. And they would always come up and go, “Allo”Â and I’d reply, “Hey! Yeah, man!” They’d say, “Yeah we were thinking of maybe getting you and Kimberly Stewart” and I’d go, “Excellent, excellent go for it, go.” And then the next day they’d phone and I’m like, “Nah, I don’t want to model, what are you talking about? I’m not a model.” I’m just not comfortable enough with cameras for that.
You seem pretty natural in all of the pictures we’ve seen.
Well, that’s because I just stand there, the shoots are really drawn out. The photographers just walk about, look about and eventually they get something.
How do you move on stage?
I don’t move a lot. I crouch down a lot, I look a lot at the ground. I don’t look at the audience, I don’t even know why. I’ll look a little bit and I’ll talk in between songs, and look at them when I’m between the songs. But when I’m singing my eyes are mostly closed.
What are you thinking about?
I think about the songs, and what they’re about. I’m also just sort of thinking about what’s going on, on the stage. We’re always doing something a little bit different to see who’s listening.
So you never make eye contact with one specific person in the audience?
No, I don’t do that. I’ll tell you a funny story. When I first started gigging, people were giving me all of these words of advice and they said, “You know a really good way to do it is to find a girl in the audience, pick her out and sing to her, let her be the focus of the song.”Â And I did it once and that was the last time, because later on a guy came up to me and said, “So I seen you looking out and looking at me throughout that song.”Â And I said, “I’m sorry man, I think there was a girl right beside you.”Â And he said, “Aw, it wasn’t me?” I said, “No.”Â And it was the most awkward moment. He said, “So you’re not gay?” And I said, “No.”Â And then the dude walks away, and then comes up again and says, “Sorry to bother you again.” And I remember he shook my hand. He sorta went, “I’m sorry about that, see you later.” Â And then he left his number in my hand! You know, 10 out of 10 for trying, but ever since then I’ve not run the risk again. And, you know, it has to come across natural. I don’t think about it too much, I think people like that.
You have some great stories. You’ve performed with a lot of big names. What has been your greatest experience so far?
I’m getting there, I’ve got some stories. Getting to sing on stage with Ben E. King and Solomon Burke. There has not been a bigger moment than that yet. I’m looking forward to going back to Montreux [International Jazz Festival in France] again this summer, and hopefully getting to play a full set this time. I look forward to taking my dad this time, because it’s very reminiscent of Tuscany, where my family’s from, so my dad would love it. My mom was with me last time. My mom was with me at 4 o’clock in the morning in Kid Rock’s hotel room, partying. In fact, there’s a story for you! Kid Rock, right? We’re all in the hotel, he actually met my mom before, in New York, when she came to the Carnegie Hall gig, and again my mom showed up at the party of his. So this time we all got to his hotel room, this is the night before Montreux. So the night before the festival started, they do this show for all the walkers, so that they can see it, which is fair enough, a great idea. It gets to a point where somebody says, “You know, kids, there are some guys downstairs kickin’ off, we got to go downstairs and kick some ass.” And the big dudes are all revved up, and they said, “Paolo, you coming?” And I was ready to go, and I was just about to walk out the door, and it’s my mom’s hand on my shoulder, and she says, “You’re not going anywhere, son.”Â
Back to reality, huh?
Yeah, things change and there’s always somebody there when things get a little too glamorous, to pull you back. But thank God, you know? You don’t want to turn into one of those prima donnas. I don’t want to be one of those.