After years of slaving away at his music career – and at one stage considering leaving it altogether – UK singer Jack Savoretti is finally starting to make his presence felt via his fourth album ‘Written In Scars’.
It was via a high profile UK TV appearance a couple of months back that the world really started to sit up and take notice of the handsome performer and his catalogue of wonderful earworms.
In Australia recently for a promotional visit, we took the time to have a chat with Jack over a cafe latte the morning after one of his sold out shows in Sydney and Melbourne.
The thing that we were quite taken aback by during your gig last night was how raspy and gravelly your voice is live! Do you have to take special care of it to keep it in top working order?
I don’t think I do and that’s why it’s that gravelly. A lot of people have told me that I have to be careful with how I sing. I’ve actually gone to see people, because people I was working with at one point were worried that I was going to lose it and nobody can understand why it happens and why I don’t lose my voice every night. I have had problems in the past, but that’s just from lifestyle and over-touring. It seems to have gotten more gravelly over time.
How does it feel for you to be on the other side of the world and have two sold out shows? They sold out quite quickly too!
Yeah. It’s really unexpected. We were supposed to come for work, just purely to meet the team and do some promo and everything. We were talking about doing a couple of shows, but the agents said that they wouldn’t be able to promote them, because at that stage we were coming in two weeks. And then somehow, they just decided to go for it and it worked! They were small venues, but what was nice was that the crowd were genuine. That’s what was really cool. The Melbourne crowd in particular was definitely up for it and that’s something that I wasn’t expecting.
We seem to recall that at some stage during the show you mentioned that someone down the front was singing the guitar-line back to you?
Yeah! I was like, ‘wow’! Getting stuck in – you know your stuff. It was cool, but I wasn’t expecting it.
So why do you think it is now that Australians are starting to jump on board the Jack Savoretti train?
I think it helps that the industry is taking notice. I think for the last ten years, we’ve been kind of drip-feeding the music. We haven’t been doing that by choice… it’s just that we’ve been doing a lot of things on our own. So it’s taken a long time, but it’s spreading all over because we’ve been on various TV shows and on various promotional trips… and it has gradually found its way across the world. We’ve noticed that. In America, here.
But it never made it with a nice little package made by a label, distributed to the people properly. So it’s funny to come out here now that we are working with a label that’s doing that, all these people are coming out of the woodworks and saying they’ve been listening to it. But the only reason we’re finding out about it is because now we’re coming here with the nice little package. So it’s kind of a really nice introduction for the people who know the music, and also for us, because we’re finally meeting each other. Whereas before, it was kind of sparse.
Have you found that people had been discovering your music quite organically in the past?
Yeah, exactly. Travelling, word of mouth… Australia has a huge connection with the UK, so people even back and forth bring the music with them. Everybody’s got a different story and that’s what’s cool. Everybody we meet, I always ask, ‘how do you know about us?’ and what I really like is that – not only in the UK or in Europe or the States, but even here – nobody’s there for one song. That’s what’s really nice. Everybody’s singing all of the songs. It hasn’t been because of one song; it’s been because of a body of work, which is for me, really nice.
Was there a specific part along that timeline that you felt things really start to shift for you?
I think the Graham Norton show definitely had a huge impact in the sense that it kind of gave us a stamp of legitimacy from a commercial point of view. I think musically, we were doing this whatever the weather. We’d all decided that this is what we were going to do and this is our life. But that show certainly popped and the mainstream started paying attention. Not necessarily just the public, but the people in media who were saying that they’d known about this, they’d heard it and some of them even had the record and liked it, but not had the possibility themselves of pushing it. Whereas Graham’s show gave them the green light in many respects to do so. And we’ve seen the shift.
And do you think that kind of exposure is something that you feel would have been able to happen with your prior albums? Or is ‘Written In Scars’ the body of work that’s afforded you the chance to move forward in that way?
It’s hard to say. Obviously I can only base it on what I’ve seen, so this record obviously has something that the others didn’t. But then again, I think it’s all a matter of timing and the planets aligning. This happened to be the record that we were talking about when those planets lined up. But you just never know. It could easily have happened – I believe it could have happened with those previous albums, because the same amount of love went into every record. But there’s something to be said about it happening with this one. So there must be something about ‘Written In Scars’.
You were talking before about getting that stamp of legitimacy… We were going to ask, given that this is your first album with a major label, do you feel that being signed to a major has given you a greater sense of legitimacy as an artist?
A hundred percent. A hundred percent. It gives me a lot more legitimacy, because they can make phone calls that I couldn’t make. So that in itself already opens up a lot of opportunity. There’s leverage to it, because they’ve got a lot of other artists that people want, so they can put forward to do things that otherwise you never would get put forward to do. But I genuinely also did benefit from the experience of some of the people who came in from the label.
We were in a lucky position in that we weren’t starting out, so we didn’t need someone to come in and tell us how to do everything, because it was already working without the label. When the label came in, I didn’t necessarily need the label and the label sure as hell didn’t need me, so it wasn’t this sort of dependency – it was very much a case of ‘we’re doing this, you guys are doing your thing, but if we do it together, maybe we’ve got something that could be a bit stronger’. And that’s kind of the relationship that’s grown, so it works.
So let’s talk about ‘Written In Scars’… why do you think this album in particular has connected with your public so much?
I think I worked with some really good people on it.
Our very own Sam Dixon (formerly from Adelaide)…?
Sam was a very big, big, big, big piece to this puzzle.
Has he been surprised by your growing success here?
Erm… He’s been a big believer in the album working here from the moment we met. He’s been very supportive, hooking us up with the right people out here. I’m sure he’s been supportive with spreading the word as well. His aunt and uncle were at the show. But he’s got this gift of taste, which is – funnily enough – the hardest thing to find in the music industry… Those people that connect with you on a level as simple as taste.
We wanted to make the same kind of music, and combined with the fact that he has tremendous ability to… See, you can have taste, but to actually make it is another thing. And he makes exactly what I want a record to sound like.
So given we were talking about legitimacy before and given your success now, is it hard for you to look back to those days four or five years ago when you wanted to give it all away?
No, on the contrary. It makes me feel that I’m so glad I didn’t give it away. But I still remember exactly why I did want to give it away. And it was for totally legitimate reasons… I was just seeing a side of the industry that was disgusting. It was vicious, it…
It’s still there…!
It’s still there! Exactly! So I still genuinely have those same thoughts and ideas. I didn’t forget or forgive those who did what they did. I remember them very well. And I’m just really glad that I did make that call. That I did say ‘enough is enough’ and if I am going to do this, it ain’t going to be with people like this anymore. Because that wasn’t what I signed up for.
And I’m really proud to a certain point, but also just relieved that at that age, I had that sort of youthful arrogance to say, ‘no, I don’t believe this is right and I believe there’s another way’. Maybe now, I’d be a little bit more beaten and I would have just gone with it because I would have thought, ‘well, it’s a job and at least I’ve got that’. But instead I’m now glad I took the step, because it’s definitely paid off.
Obviously your songwriting has been quite inspired by those days. How has your lyrical content evolved over the past five years as a result of your experiences?
Well it’s funny, because I always write about what’s happened. And now, at the same time, songwriting has this amazing, scary gift of being quite like a premonition. Sometimes you write things and think, ‘this is funny, I’m not really going through this’ and then two months later, boom… it slaps you in the face and you’re like, ‘oh shit… I obviously knew that was coming’. Because it taps into your subconscious.
It’s like going to therapy… you say stuff you didn’t realise you were going to. So it’s a bit like that. I’m in the process of making the next record now and there’s definitely a ‘looking forward’ aspect to it. There’s still a bit of looking back, analysing what’s been from the bad times – and the good – but now things have changed personally and I’m more excited about the future than I am angry about the past.
So are we to deduce from that that there’ll be a lot more positivity to the lyrics from here on in…?
I don’t know, because anxiety is just as dark as disappointment, so I don’t know. But it’s definitely hopeful. Definitely hopeful. But unfortunately, I think there’ll always be a touch of darkness, even in my hopefulness.
The sonic makeup of ‘Written In Scars’ sounds a lot lighter than your previous records. We think you’ve said in interviews in the past that this one’s a lot more percussion-driven. Was there a reason to head in that direction?
I just wanted to be out of what I was doing. It’s like as you were saying, I’d made two records, things weren’t really happening. You know how they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? The other stuff was broken. It wasn’t working. So I wanted to fix it, I wanted to change. And I saw a Paul Simon documentary where he said that’s how he approaches his albums… he starts from rhythm. And that really surprised me, because Paul Simon is one of my heroes in lyrics and melodies. But I was surprised that he said he starts from rhythm.
So I went in with Sam and told him the story and he said, ‘let’s try it’. He’s a bass player. So he’s got rhythm and groove in his DNA and that’s how we’d start. We’d lay down the drum beat, a bassline and just create these really vibey grooves. Rhythm is a great thing, because it gets rid of inhibition. The same way that some people tap their foot or make a fool out of themselves dancing… rhythm can do that. Rhythm can make you make a fool out of yourself.
And it’s the same with songwriting. Once you get that rhythm, you kind of let down your barriers and you’re willing to make a fool out of yourself by saying actually what’s really on your mind. And that happened. It was easier to access how genuine the music was.
We wanted to talk about these Alexander Brown collaborations (‘Jack In A Box’ and ‘Other Side Of Love’) which close out the new version of the album. Is this a genre that you’re hoping to explore a little more in the future?
Gradually. With Alex, it’s a personal thing more than anything.
He’s Danish, yes?
He’s Danish, yes. And he’s a wonderful, wonderful man. That’s kind of how I like to make my calls. I don’t ever really think about genres or styles and even when I work with people, I don’t really think about their title or how experienced or inexperienced they may be. I realise that the best choices are always when it’s based on the actual person. Kind of like, ‘I like you… what can we do together’. And if that’s what they do, that’s what they do.
That’s kind of the way it happened with Alex. I didn’t set out to do an electro-funk track. I met Alex, absolutely adored him and the next thing, we were working together. So I’m open to so many things, not purely electronic. But I am particularly interested in new sounds on albums. I don’t want to be a singer songwriter with a guitar… just a guy on a guitar. That’s not something that I just want to do.
Obviously the guitar, however, is an incredibly important part of your life… What does it mean to you? It’s been with you from an early age. Your mum gave it to you when you were… 15?
Yeah, 15, 16. I was writing small little things and she said that I should put it to music. That’s what the guitar is for me. The guitar is my little key into this little world. But I’m really interested in what’s behind the door. It’s not just about flaunting the key to another place. I want to go see, I want to explore, I want to see how many doors this key can open. But that’s what I think the guitar is… it’s my business card. It’s like my saying, ‘can I come to the party, I’ve brought a bottle’.
That’s one thing we were surprised at – but at the same time NOT surprised at – with your show… you commented that you felt quite vulnerable up there, just you and your guitar. Do you find it difficult to step onto a stage in front of a small audience or a larger audience?
It can be. It really can, because you can smell them. You can hear them. You can sense when they’re not impressed or when they’re not engaged. And it’s tough. It can put you in a panic of overcooking it. But you’ve just got take a breather and do what you do. Time and experience teaches you to let it just be. But you can feel a room a lot easier when it’s small. Bigger rooms…
There’s a perfect number, which is between 1000 and 6000 people, because it’s big enough to feel like you’re really partaking in something special; there’s an energy with that amount of people. But over that and under that, it’s very extreme. Under that is very intimate and tense and over that is quite detached, like festivals. You don’t feel like a part of the crowd at all. You don’t feel that connection – and that’s something I struggle with. It’s a weird one.
So this next album. You’ve said you’ve already started working on it. You’re working with the same people again as on ‘Written In Scars’?
Yeah. A lot of new people, but I’m definitely keeping my core team, because it’s working and really it’s so much fun to make music together. We have a nice relationship. But I want to see how far we can push it and I am trying to work with other people I’ve started to meet along the way. It’s funny… the phone is ringing, people are much more keen now because…
…thankyou Graham Norton…!
Thankyou Graham Norton. People are now listening, so everybody wants to be heard. So they’re trying to jump on board. I’m very grateful for that. It’s nice, because I’m meeting a lot of amazing people who, in the past, I’d have loved to work with too. So we’re just seeing how far we can push it up.
And as far as sonically is concerned… will you push it in a slightly different direction again?
Yeah. I never want to make the same record.
It’s a fine line, isn’t it? The choice between doing the same thing to appease your audience or progressing your sound…?
It is. The change has been very gradual with every record. We haven’t gone from a Bon Iver album to a HAIM album. We haven’t done this huge jump. But we’re definitely… I think there’s a bit more… I use the word ‘confidence’ lightly… but there’s a bit more confidence in the sense that every record we’ve made, we’ve made thinking that nobody’s ever going to hear it. But this one, we do now have the public that we’re very much aware of. And it’s quite nice to write, not with them in mind, but it’s exciting…
I want to give them a little bit more of what they want and what they’ve got, but without them becoming too enslaved by that process. It’s the first time that I’ve ever done a record where people are actually noticing or expecting something. I’m curious to see how we’re going to handle it.
We were going to say… are you frightened of disappointing your audience?
No. Not frightened of it. I mean, I’m very used to disappointing (laughs). So I have thick skin. I’m very used to letting people down and being let down. It’s more about making sure that whatever happens… it’s a bit like that old cliché of leaving everything on the pitch. We’re definitely going for a win. We want to make a fucking good record, pardon my language, but we also know that’s not always going to be possible.
Okay… last question… What’s the best thing about being Jack Savoretti right now?
This isn’t just blowing your trumpet, but being in Australia. This is something that – again with the clichés – we dreamed of. We’ve been high-fiving ourselves every other night here thinking, ‘man, we’re on the other world making music, this is pretty cool’.
Or that could be the jetlag speaking…?
(laughs) It could be the jetlag… the booze, the drugs… everything! But it’s definitely touching. We’ve been touched by this. It’s cool. It’s lovely also to see how the people at home in the UK have reacted. We’ve been touring for ten years, but every now and then you get asked to go somewhere and we get affected by it. We get emotional because of it. And this has definitely been one of those trips. Australia’s cool.
You wait for those things… America, Australia, Asia, Europe, the UK… they’re all so different. And when one of them opens the door to you, it’s touching.
Has there been a territory that’s surprised you the most to have success in?
We’ve had some classics. We went to number one in New Zealand, which was great. But number one in Botswana! I’ve asked the label to make me a t-shirt that says, ‘I’m number one in Botswana’. They still haven’t made it. I’m waiting. But that was definitely a surprise.
Yeah, Botswana!? Random!
It’s kicking off now in South Africa. I don’t know whether there’s a connection between Australia and South Africa, but I think there actually is. Through the surf community. There seems to always be a connection with what you guys listen to. The singer-songwriter type thing… Jack Johnson, Ben Howard, Sugar Man/Rodriguez… Australians and South Africans knew about Rodriguez before the whole world. So there’s definitely something connecting those two markets.
The States we’ve had it good in the past, but now it’s touch and go. And Europe’s seeing a great reaction. But anywhere that ‘gets it’, to be honest, is a bit of a shock. It’s cool.
Jack Savoretti’s album ‘Written In Scars’ is available now.