Our podcasting duo meet the Anglo-Italian troubadour to hear the story behind that gravelly voice and his breakneck writing-recording process
Joining the Liverpudlian podcasters for their 99th episode is an Anglo-Italian singer-songwriter whose impassioned vocal style and heartfelt confessional lyrical approach have seen him rise to international prominence over the last few years. His most recent album, the heavily autobiographical Sleep No More was released in 2016, debuting at No 6 in UK album charts. Jack Savoretti is viewed a relatively new artist, yet he has spent over a decade in the music business and has five albums to his credit.
Born in London in 1983 to an Italian father and an English mother, Jack moved with his family to Switzerland when he was eight years old, where he attended an international school. He gravitated towards poetry as a teenager and didn’t start writing songs until he was aged 16 – around the same time he took up the guitar – and became influenced by the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Kris Kristofferson.
He released his debut album, Between The Minds, in 2007, and his second LP followed in 2009, but by that time Jack had become dissatisfied with the direction in which his career was heading and pulled out of his record deal. However, his third album Before The Storm represented his strongest work to date. This rather turbulent time also had the positive effect of inspiring much of the material for Jack’s next record, 2015’s Written In Scars, which was his commercial breakthrough, sold in excess of 100,000 copies and peaked at No 7 on the UK Album Chart.
Jack happened to be in Sodajerker territory, performing at the Liverpool Philharmonic and was kind enough to chat with the Simon and Brian backstage just prior to his show…
I think you said at one time that songwriting is the last thing you get to do on tour. Is that still the case?
“More the case. It used to be the only thing I’d do on tour because I had nothing else to do – nobody wanted to talk to me then! Now we find ourselves talking to a lot people, travelling a lot and there’s a lot more to organise – the show is a little bit more complex – so there’s 13 people on the road with us. Back in the day, it used to be just me, maybe a guitarist, maybe someone helping me get around and I kind of got frustrated at some point, because I was trying to bring that old mentality of writing on the road back. That romantic thing you have in your head… When you start out you can’t wait to be on a tour bus writing in the back, but that doesn’t happen! The last place you want to write a song is on a tour bus. You either want to sleep or stare at the wall for a bit. But I’ve stopped even attempting it now, because it was getting frustrating: I’d start things and not really finish them. Then when I’d get home or into the studio – which is where I really like to write – I found the tank was really half empty, because I’d been dribbling these ideas out while I was on the road. When I looked back at them, they didn’t mean to me what it meant while I wrote them. Sometimes that’s the case: you look back on a lyric and it doesn’t mean anything.”
So do you exclusively write when you’re back in the studio or do you ever go into a coffee shop with just a notepad?
“No, it’s got to the point where I need the tools there; I like having an instrument. I miss just writing in a notebook, but now I don’t even write things down. For the last four or five years, ‘if I don’t remember it, it ain’t worth it’ has been my philosophy.”
I’m sure Bob Dylan had a similar attitude.
“Yeah, that’s how I feel about it, too. I don’t know if there’s any technique that I particularly use, but right now the studio is my favourite place, because I love capturing it while we write it. There’s something about how you sing a song the first time you write it that’s hard to recreate, even if it’s not perfect. Your melody might develop and get better on tour, but there’s something about singing something that’s come out of nowhere – I think it’s quite captivating when you hear it. It’s genuine.”
We heard about your process of writing and recording complete songs in a day. Talk us through how that worked?
“It started because of financial reasons. I started going to a lot of writing sessions with friends of mine and realised that they’re pretty amazing producers. I realised that if I asked my friends to produce my records they would ask for money, and I didn’t have any money, but if I went in there for a writing session, there was no money. Not that they got screwed! They all got paid, but they were paid because we used it, not just to do it. I think it’s something a lot of producers realise now anyway: write with the artist and record it, and it gets used you get paid.
“I’m quite old-fashioned in the sense that I like to go in the studio at midday, go for lunch before we touch anything, so we can catch up and get that out of the way. Then have a coffee, get back in the studio and heads down until seven or eight o’clock, and leave with a finished product. That’s our thing: let’s go, let’s play, let’s not sit here procrastinating, pondering over frequencies and sounds and notes, let’s just throw everything at the wall today, and leave everything on the table. Then we’ll come back, look at what we’ve done and see if it’s any good. That’s where we started leaving the room with finished songs – it works. It’s amazing what you can do when you do it. Studios are very easy to just fuss about something for hours and we can all fall into that trap. I’ve spent three hours choosing the right acoustic guitar for a picking sound! Let’s get the heart and soul first, then we can put the make-up on and dress it.”
You open Sleep No More with When We Were Lovers which has a lovely grand chorus. Are you able to tell us how you put that together?
“I wrote that in the attic of my old house we were living in Kensal Rise in London. It was really bizarre because I was in a really happy place, after a very dark time, and I suddenly wrote this really melancholic song about the way we were. It took me a while because I never sit down and say, ‘Today, I’m going to write a song about so and so.’ It’s only when I start doing things like this that I think, ‘What was that about?’ and I break it down. It’s a bit like looking at a photo album. Obviously what I’m going through comes out, but it’s only when I look back that I think, ‘Oh my God, we were really happy then,’ or, ‘Ooh that was a bad time’.
“The think I love about When We Were Lovers is, with time, I realised it wasn’t me reminiscing, it was me saying, ‘We’re not that anymore, but how awesome we are today? Remember when we were crazy and danced in the rain?’ It’s almost like looking back at pictures when you were young and go, ‘God those were the good old days, but what was I wearing?!’ It’s that kind of feeling when I sing that song.”
Would a song like that typically start with you and a guitar, coming up with the melody and maybe filling in the words later?
“No, I remember I was sitting on the floor in the attic room and it had no doors to it. Once we had a baby that was a problem, so my studio turned into an echo chamber for my little girls! In all the demos of that album, you can hear my daughter crying in the background, or making a noise in almost every song. I remember wanting to write a big song, not a folk song. Not an anthem or anything like that, but I wanted to have something with a real drive to it. So I started writing to that ‘duh-derder-duh-derder’ pattern at the beginning, and it was one of those ones that all kind of happened at once – like the good ones do. It sounds cliched but it’s cliched for a reason!”
Thinking of other songs that have a big, propulsive chorus, Catapult really leaps out to us.
“Catapult I did write with an amazing writer and I give him majority of the credit for the dynamics of that song, because he’s a bloody genius – a guy called Jon Green, who I also wrote I Am Yours with. He’s one of those people who is annoyingly wonderful to work with! He just did a gig with me at The Hotel Cafe and he played an entire show with me, on the piano, playing songs he’d never heard before. And he was doing backing vocals halfway through the set! He had come up with this idea of writing something epic and I give him credit for that melody – that’s a big chorus.”
When you push your voice and it becomes that gravelly kind of roar, it sounds fantastic. Did you always have that ability, even when you started out?
“No, I think bad habits pushed me to that. This is going to sound a bit weird, but I like listening to guys that sound like guys when the sing – I like strong, dirty voices. I say that, however Paul Simon is probably my favourite singer-songwriter, so that doesn’t really match. But other than Paul, Kelly Joe Phelps is probably one of my favourite singers and players, Ray LaMontagne obviously is the gospel when it comes to how to sing, and so I’ve always been into that kind of vocal thing. But I think a lot of years on the road without technique didn’t help and created it. If you hear my first two albums, my voice is quite clean. Also I went through a very bad time when I wrote Before The Storm – we had two really dark years when habits got bad, life got bad, technique got bad – and I actually found my own voice. Before I was copying a lot of things, not imitating, but trying to find what’s going on in here.”
Internationally renowned songwriters are queuing up to be interviewed by Sodajerker, who now have over 90 episodes under their belt. Established in 2012 by Liverpudlian songwriting duo, Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor, the Sodajerker On Songwriting podcast has welcomed guests including Paul Simon, Ben Watt, Justin Currie, Willy Russell, Lamont Dozier, Neil Sedaka, Johnny Marr, Ben Folds Five, Billy Bragg, Richard M Sherman, Neil Finn, Suzanne Vega, Jimmy Webb, Rufus Wainwright, KT Tunstall, Dan Gillespie Sells and many more.
To find out more about Sodajerker and their work, or to download their podcasts – including the full 30-minute interview with Jack Savoretti – go to www.sodajerker.com. You can also connect with them on Facebook or Twitter, or download the podcasts from iTunes.