Jack Savoretti is thankful.“This is the first time I’ve made an album with aclear understanding of what I want it to sound like. PreviouslyI’ve thrown it tothe wind: show up in the studio with a song and let’s see what happens...Thistime there was a real discipline to the whole process. We stayed true toit”.
His fourth album Written In Scars (2015) reached the Top Ten a full year afterits release, a performance of Catapult on The Graham Norton Show, well,catapulting the record into the upper reaches of the charts, pushing it tosales of some 150,000.“The luckiest thing that ever happened to me is nothaving a hit,”Savoretti declares,“because it’s never constrained me intohaving to repeat it.”Rather, he’s both liberated and propelled–which iswhat happened immediately after the slow-burn success of WrittenIn Scars.Savoretti wrote, recorded and toured Sleep No More (2016) straight away.
“That kept us on the road again, three to four years. We stopped a year ago–then we got offered this John Legend European support tour. Thatwas anexperience we couldn’t say no to.“It was a very bonding time,”hecontinues.“We were a support band again, and it brought us all back downto earth. It was fun, we were done by nine every night, so we had dinner, afew bottles of wine and it made me decide that I wanted to make an albumwith all these guys on stage.”
You’d expect a guy whose rich new album Singing To Strangers features co-writes with both Bob Dylan and Kylie Minogue to be grateful, but moreinterestingly, the English-Italian singer-songwriter gives thanks to his heritage.Savoretti began digging inles cratesfor the French, Spanish and Italian musicfrom the Fifties and Sixties–and with which, on tour, he regularly entertains hisband.“Back then there was proper European music, and that has alwaysinspired me. You’d have a crooner backed by incredible orchestras, but alsowith these incredible rock’n’roll-era drummers and bass players. And thatgives you Serge Gainsbourg doing Melody Nelson, and Patty Bravo and EnnioMorricone in Italy.”
“I also realised I miss romantic music and so I bought a piano for £50andstarted writing. The piano took me more to that world–and helped me bemore theatrical, melodic and, yeah, romantic. I wrote a song called GoingHome and that was the song that ended the fear of the blank page,because I’d figured out what I wanted to talk about: where I am now. I’vegrown up. That doesn’t meant to say I don’t have demons, or it’s easy, but it’sno longer me against the world. Now it’s me in the world–and how do Imould it to how I want?”
So, to Rome–where else?–and to the studio of Sr. Morricone himself.The producer: Cam Blackwood (George Ezra). The band: Pedro Vito (guitar);Sam Lewis (guitar); Sam Davies (bass); Jesper Lind (drums); NikolaiTorp (keys,piano). The mood: romantic. The dress code: stylish.
“Look at all these pictures of Chet Baker and Miles Davis and thosemusicians,”marvels Savoretti.“They’re not in jeans and T-shirts. No matterhow hot it was, I guarantee they turned up to work in a suit andtie, thenmaybe ended up in shirt sleeves. So, when in Rome, lets think about MarcelloMastroianni and Fellini. Let’s show up, dressed with all that in mind.”
When in Rome, too, don’t go thinking you’re in a studio in New York orLondon. The city of love has its own schedules, routines,“ways”.“If it rains forten minutes, it’s guaranteed you’ll get a power cut–even though it’s thecapital of the fourth largest economy in Europe, that will happen! And sodon’t try and fight it. Just roll with it.“And it changed us. Every evening, beingable to go out for a Negroni and see the sunset outside your studio indowntown Rome and discuss what we did that day...Everybody grew upand got into the world I wanted us to be in.”
It was August 2018, it was inspiring, and it was diabolically hot.“Luckily,Morricone’s studio is the basement of this huge church, so it was cooler. Andthe atmosphere down there was essential, and that was captured inCandlelight, which became the calling card of the album.”
Candlelight–co-written with Joel Potts (Athlete, Ezra) and which opensSinging To Strangers–is an intoxicating, swooning rhapsody of strings, choralharmonies, sinuous bass and guitar, and Savoretti’s woody, heartfelt rasp.It’sfollowed by the elegant sashay of Love Is On The Line, Savoretti skewing hiswriting round string parts scored by Davide Rossi (Coldplay, Goldfrapp)
“The idea was to write over string parts rather than the other way round,”Savoretti explains.“melodically strings can give you the courage to gosomewhere vocally you might not otherwise go. They give it gravitas.”Rossi also helped create What More Can I Do?, a coolly funkycri de coeurwhich Savoretti, unabashed, describes as“the song I’ve always wanted towrite. The main melody was taken by the power of these strings. It was thesame philosophy and approach for Love Is On The Line–and Singing toStrangers.”
The title track,“a very simple song on the guitar”, luxuriates in an echoeyspace, and acts as an interlude, or sorbet, at the heart of an album of sense-tingling richness. And that title, he adds, is a nod to therealpolitikaspect ofhis life as a musician.
“That’s my job: I sing to strangers. That is what I’ve spent most of my life doing.And I think that was my way of validating my career, saying: this is how wegot here. And also to anyone else out there: you want to do this? Go sing tostrangers!”Doing that, of course, requires more intimacy. Singing to friendsand family and fans: they’re already onside, so you can, to some extent, singanything. Strangers need convincing, touching, connection.
That’s a challenge fully met on the album’s two“star”collaborations. TouchySituation is a co-write with Bob Dylan. Savoretti–whose first gig was Dylan in ahalf empty hockey stadium in Zurich in 1999, aged 15–understands that theobvious response to that is:“What the fuck?”Everyone, he laughs,“says that,including me!”
The connection came via Savoretti’s American manager. Dylan’s manager,a contact, had some old Dylan lyrics that had beenOK’dto send toSavoretti, with a view to him writing music to them. Perhaps Dylan had heardSavoretti’s cover of Dylan rarity Nobody’Cept You on Written In Scars (“another fluke, something I found in Jackson Browne’s studio”). Equally,perhaps he hadn’t. Bob moves in mysterious ways.
“So I got these lyrics and I was kinda freaked out by how accurate itwas tohow I’d been thinking. That’s the power of being vague and being good,which Dylan does so well. And it was written in a very Dylan style,whichmeant I was scared. I don’t think he writes choruses. He writes statements.Which is very different to how I write. It’s very poetic, and it’s also very hard.So I had to mix it up a bit.
“As excited as I was, I was terrified. I sat at the piano and my wifewas like:‘Don’t fuck this up... Just sit at the piano and play.”It was good advice. Assoon as he sang the word“touchy”his fingers instinctively stabbed at thekeys.“I thought, let’s musically take this literally.”
From the sublime to the...more sublime. Music’s Too Sad Without You, whichappears on the Deluxe Edition, is the song Savoretti co-wrote and sang withKylie Minogue for her recent Golden album.“She sing-whispers the song andIfell in love with that side of Kylie on her duet with Nick Cave on Where TheWild Roses Grow.”
The latter is Cave’s deathless murder ballad, a form Savoretti also embraceson Dying For Your Love, a song ripped from the unmade soundtrack of animaginary David Lynch movie.
There’s more movie lore, and movie love, in Youth And Love, a gloriousthrowback disco homage to the Oscar-winning Call Me By Your Name.“Oneof the most romantic stories I’ve seen in a long time,”sighs Savoretti,“and afilm that reminded me how wonderful romance is. This director, LucaGuadagnino, has brought back what Roberto Benigni did with Life IsBeautiful. Romance is not just depressing; it’s happy, it’s good. It’s not just abroken rose and blood.
“But also: that film’s setting was the Italy I grew up in, having holidays thereevery year in the Eighties. And to be honest,”concludes Savoretti with a grinas expansive as the glorious mood music of Singing To Strangers,“this entirealbum became an old collage of looking back at all the things thatinfluenced me.”