Jack Savoretti is an artist unlike any other. With no one true hit single behind him, Savoretti has slowly built himself as one of the UK’s most beloved songwriters – not because any machine was driving him down people’s throats, but because he toured extensively for years, taking his music to anyone who would listen.
Now, as he gears up to release his sixth album Singing To Strangers, we caught up with Savoretti to chat about the new record, writing with Bob Dylan, and why having a hit single isn’t everything.
Before he releases his new album next week, we caught up with Jack Savoretti to chat about his slow road to international success.
HAPPY: Congrats on getting the new album done! How does it feel having another one in the bank?
JACK: It feels good. This is number six. It actually kind of freaks me out to know this is the sixth one, but it is. Not to sound cliche, but it does kind of feel like the first. That’s because this is the first time I’ve had a clear idea of what I wanted to before I started. That’s been different from all the rest.
HAPPY: Yeah, well you’ve said previously that this is the first album where you have a clear idea of what you wanted it to sound like. What do you attribute this new sense of direction to?
JACK: I think many things. I think fatherhood has definitely turned me into a soft romantic, or a shameless romantic. I think that you can hear that in this album. The presentation of this album, like I said, is shamelessly romantic.
HAPPY: As we mentioned, this is your sixth album. Do you still have any nerves or apprehensions around releasing a record? Or has it all become part of the process?
JACK: No, I never really had that. Because there is no destination or any particular finish line that I’m trying to get to with these albums. They’re cyclical. It’s like a photo album. When I make a photo album, I’m not thinking “this is the last moment of my life,” it’s just another moment. So it doesn’t give me too much stress or anxiety. I guess now, as we circle the release date, I start to realise the potential of what an album can do, and that gives me a bit of a buzz, a bit of anxiety. But that’s good.
HAPPY: Do you worry at all about the reception of the album then?
JACK: Not really, until the day before it comes out. Up until the day it comes out, it’s still mine. Then, when it comes out, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. And I know that’s going to be a liberating feeling. I kind of look forward to it.
HAPPY: Now, I’m sure you’ve been fielding plenty of questions about this, but Bob Dylan did co-write one of the tracks on the new album. Could you walk us through how this came about? Because that’s pretty insane, right?
JACK: It’s totally insane. I feel like the guy who found a bag of cash. It came about in a very unromantic way. I was supposed to be writing with another artist called Steve Earle, who I’m a massive fan of, but that writing session fell through. So his management, who happened to be Bob Dylan’s management, they were apologetic. They said, as a kind of apology, that found some un-used Bob Dylan lyrics. They asked if I’d be interested in looking at some of them. I didn’t think they were ever going to follow through, but they did. They sent through two poems – they weren’t songs, they were poems. One of them was very vague and obscure, which I couldn’t really do much with. But the other one was spot on. It really tapped into what I was feeling and going through at that time.
HAPPY: How did you find that his individual songwriting meshed with your own? Was that a seamless process?
JACK: Well he’s got a very different songwriting style to me. He’s more of a poet than a songwriter. It’s all just beautifully structured, it’s all very vague, it’s all very free-thinking. He doesn’t let himself be confined by the structure of a song, but I kind of like the structure of songs. I enjoy the challenge of that. So it was really interesting to mix the free-thinking style of his writing with my own. It was like coming across a wild horse and trying to get it to carry me.
HAPPY: Did you ever struggle with the pressure of carrying his lyrics? I feel like I’d be pretty terrified…
JACK: I wasn’t… until my wife gave me this look that said “don’t mess this up,” and that’s when I realised the weight of it. That’s when I realised that it could be a disaster. But then I thought “screw it,” if people don’t like it, I’m the guy that gets to write with Bob Dylan. So I got to just enjoy it. No matter what happens, nobody can take away the fact that it happened. I hope it connects with people, but I don’t care if people like it.
HAPPY: Let’s talk about the title of the new album, Singing To Stangers. Is this a reflection on your profession?
JACK: It’s a complete reflection on my profession. At the end of the day, that’s what I do. People can think we’re losers, and people can think we’re Gods, but really, we’re just entertainers. We’re singing to strangers. We’re singing to strangers, hoping they connect. That’s the job of the singer. It’s actually a quote my daughter gave me while she was talking to a friend. She said that I travel the world, singing to strangers. That’s what it is. This whole album is very reflective on that. It’s about what it’s like to be that character. If this was a flm, it’d be about a guy that stands on stage looking for some kind of affirmation.
HAPPY: Do you feel like there’s an intimacy in the concept of ‘singing to strangers’, or there a kind of distance?
JACK: I definitely wouldn’t say it’s distanced. You’ve just got to be respectful. It’s like staring at the ocean. It’s distant, but if you disrespect it, it will eat you alive. If you respect the audience, you get to really fall in love with it. It’s really beautiful. It becomes like liquid, you get to become one with it. If you turn your back on it, or if you take it for granted it will slam you. An audience is exactly the same.
HAPPY: The two albums before this were written in really close succession. But you left a few years before you released this new album. Was it a conscious decision to play things a little slower.
JACK: More than that, I just needed a little time. I had two children, and I’d been on the road for so long. It was pretty gruelling. So I think that I was pretty burnt out. Also, the last two albums were a sequel. I didn’t want to write a trilogy. I don’t like to force anything. It’s a lot like fishing, you’ve got to be patient. When it happens, you know that it happens. I don’t see the point of forcing something. So I took some time off, and waited for something to hit.
HAPPY: A really interesting quote I’ve heard from you, is that the greatest thing that ever happened to you was not having a hit. Could you elaborate on this?
JACK: Yeah well I’ve seen the burden of a hit. I mean, I’ve seen the glory that comes out of having a hit. But I’ve seen a room full people talk for an hour-and-a-half over a great artist, just to cheer for one song. I would be terrified of that happening to me. I’ve also seen artists trapped by the success of one song, and seen them repeat the same formula over and over again. it’s a bit like being typecast. If you have a hit single too soon, that’s kind of who you’re going to be for the rest of your career. I’m really lucky, because I’ve got the liberty of doing whatever I want. Nobody’s really got any expectations. But at the same time, I’ve had to work a lot harder to build my audience. So I think my audience will be a bit more open-minded, rather than waiting for one song.
HAPPY: What do you think it is about your music that has allowed it to be so successful without that one big hit?
JACK: I don’t think it’s about the music, if I’m honest. The music has allowed me to believe, and it allowed my fans to believe, but what’s really got my music out there is the work ethic. We’ve gone out and played it to people. People connect with the music, but the reason they heard it is because we went out and played it.
Singing To Strangers is out March 15th. Pre-order here.