“This album could have easily been very beige…” - hmv.com talks to Jack Savoretti
The last four years have seen singer-songwriter Jack Savoretti go from folky curiosity to big-selling pop star.
2015’s Written In Scars and its quick follow-up in 2016, Sleep No More, both sold more than 100,000 copies and took the singer from tiny venues into large theatres and arenas.
Now though, it’s time to step it up. His new album, Singing To Strangers, saw him head to Rome to record in the studio owned by legendary composer Ennio Morricone.
Overseen by regular collaborator Cam Blackwood, who has stewarded George Ezra and London Grammar’s biggest hits, the album also features a set of lyrics composed by one Bob Dylan.
As the album arrives in hmv stores all over the country, we spoke to Savoretti about how he made it…
When did you start working on the songs for this album? Did you take much time off after you finished touring Sleep No More?
“Sleep No More and Written In Scars were pretty much done back to back and they had me on the road for about four years, so I did look to take some time out. I moved out of London to the countryside and I bought this rickety old piano, just for fun. And that was the end of the break! Pretty much straight away I was writing again and almost every single one of the songs on this album started at this piano.”
Did you have a goal in mind about how you wanted this album to move on from what you’ve done in the past?
“It’s the first time actually that I’ve had a vision and a clear picture about what I wanted the album to be. Before I’ve written a bunch of songs, we’ve gone in to record them and whatever has happened has happened. I wanted to make something cinematic. I got back in touch with my roots, my Italian heritage, and I was listening to the music that I’d heard my father play and my grandfather play. I wanted to tap into the romantic element of music, I think that’s been lost.”
Would you say this is a romantic record?
“When I talk about romance, I don’t mean ‘Baby, I love you’. There are plenty of love songs on the radio. I don’t think many of them are very romantic. I wanted to create a mood and set an atmosphere.”
When did Rome come into the picture?
“I really wanted to get out of London. I’ve made all my albums in London and as soon as you get going you get people coming into the studio, it becomes about the business side very quickly and I wanted to be out of reach from all that. I thought about Paris, but then the opportunity to work in Rome came up."
"Ennio Morricone is one of my favourite composers and I was very keen to go to his studio. Fortunately, they were very keen on having us too. We were there for 10 days in July and August and it was the perfect fit. The studio is filled with all these old pianos and drums and it was the sounds I’d use to write the album.”
Was the great man there?
“No, he wasn’t. Hopefully, I’ll get to meet him one day, but he wasn’t there.”
You did the album with Cam Blackwood, what did he bring to the process?
“I don’t think I would have been able to get away with making a record like this if it wasn’t for Cam. It seemed like a crazy idea. The last two albums did quite well, and, me suggesting that I wanted to change it up and go to Rome to make an album with loads of strings on it, probably wouldn’t have gone down very well. But he was completely on board."
"He embraced it, he totally understood what I wanted to do and how I wanted to make music. He was the driving force, every time I would feel down or worry that I was pushing things too far, he would push me to go further. This album could have easily been very beige. Very middle of the road. But he pushed me and he’s been incredibly inspiring.”
There’s also a track with lyrics from one Bob Dylan, how did that come about?
“It came from my American management. I was trying to organise a writing session, which didn’t work out. But weirdly, they had a suitcase full of lyrics that Bob had written during the 1990s that he hadn’t used. Did I want to take a look? Two days later I got an email with two poems signed Bob. One of them was ‘Touchy Situation’ and it really leapt out at me. I tried to put it on guitar, but I kept sounding like a Bob Dylan song, so I went back to the piano and made it my own.”
That must have been quite daunting…
“It was intimidating. When I got the call, I was just excited. Then I told my wife and I saw her face change and it really panicked me. That look was pure ‘Don’t mess this up’ and then the weight of it hit me. When I first tried to do it, on the guitar, I got very frustrated. It sounded like a bad cover. I had to make it my own, otherwise, it wouldn’t make the record and that would be a huge missed opportunity."
"I left it for a while and then came back and approached it as if they were my words. We had to send over to Dylan and his people to approve and they came straight back and said yes. That was very gratifying.”
You’ve described it as a romantic record, is that reflected in the lyrics?
“Romance isn’t just about love, it’s much more of a mood. Romance is a mood, a setting, love is a feeling. It’s not an album filled with love songs, for me, it’s more of a film. There’s a central character, an entertainer, who is falling in love and finding out that that’s where he wants to be and not on tour. He questions what he does and then he goes home to love. It’s not a concept album, but I think it’s the closest I’ll ever come to one.”
When did you decide that Singing To Strangers was the right title?
“I decided that before I wrote a single song. It was a running theme. Then I wrote the song, it’s the song that tells you what the album means. It’s the central character explaining to the crowd who he is. It’s putting a spotlight on the main character.”
Is that the way you usually work? Is the title there at the start?
“Never done it. Normally the title is the last thing I do. But it’s what I do. I sing to strangers. I wanted to write about how silly that is, how wonderful that is, and sometimes, how bizarre that is.”
You’re on tour throughout the summer and you’ve graduated into some big places. You’ve got Wembley Arena. How are you preparing for all that?
“I’ve started putting the set together now and it’s very exciting. We’re going to do most of the new record and we’ve got six records to pick from and I’m finding leaving songs out to be very hard. I don’t want my dear old friends to not come to the biggest party I’ve ever put on. It’s been quite emotional. I’m not going to lie, the idea of Wembley is terrifying, but I’m also very proud."
"I’ve been doing this for a long time and I feel like it’s grown organically. It’s people bringing friends and recommending my music to me. I don’t feel like anybody is there for one song. I love that.”
Jack Savoretti’s new album Singing To Strangers is out now in hmv stores.