Jack Savoretti: ‘If there’s one thing that ties us together as Europeans it’s culture’

Jack Savoretti’s children might be trying to interrupt our afternoon Zoom call but the singer-songwriter appears impressively unruffled as he sits discussing his new album, Europiana.

Jack Savoretti. Picture: Chris Floyd

The follow-up to his 2019 UK chart-topper Singing to Strangers, it’s cut from a different cloth to his moodier, more introspective work with which he began his career.

As its title suggests, the album is a summery dip into funky Euro-pop filtered through the soundtrack of his youth.

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“I don’t think I would have written an album like this had the last year we’ve had not happened,” the 37-year-old says, explaining that at the start of lockdown he had sat down with piano and guitars writings songs about “anxiety and loneliness and fear for the future” then quickly realising it wasn’t the kind of music he wanted to play “whenever this day turns”, so changed his whole approach.

“With my children at home, I wanted to turn it into a game, into fun, and not have them fear what was going on,” he says. “So we tried to make it as fun as possible, introducing these things into my house. Once a week we would have a party with a theme trying to lift their spirits, and I started making music for that reason exactly.

“I started listening to music that my parents listened to, that reminded me of summer holidays, because we couldn’t go on one, just to make them feel like they were travelling. A bit of escapism. We were listening to a lot of Spanish, French, Italian, German and Swedish music, music that I grew up listening to, from Julio Iglesias to Gipsy Kings, Giorgio Moroder to Diana Ross, Phoenix, Daft Punk, all this kind of stuff, and I started thinking to myself how much I love that music, how much it is a part of me. I started wanting to write an album that celebrates European music of the last 50 years.”

Although Brexit wasn’t a direct influence, Savoretti says he couldn’t help noticing how much people had talked about it “so divisively” over the three or four years. “I have friends that voted Remain, I have friends that voted Leave and the thing that always got to me, that really broke my heart if I’m honest, was we talked about political differences and financial differences but we never talked about what we had in common. If there’s one thing that ties us together as Europeans it’s culture. Our culture is very intertwined, it’s very linked, and until you leave Europe you don’t realise how much, and until you leave Europe, you don’t realise how much. But when you’re in Europe we have an incredible unity when it comes to culture, we appreciate the same sort of things when it comes to art and music, and I wanted to celebrate what we have in common rather than what divides us.

“This isn’t a political album, it’s definitely not a financial reason, but it is a celebration of how culturally united we are in Europe.”

Europiana continues Savoretti quest to be more outward-looking. He says he felt emboldened by the success of Singing to Strangers. “I definitely feel like I went into a place where I suddenly had to put on a nice shirt and put on a nice jacket,” he says. “When you start out you show up in jeans and a T-shirt. The older you get you start realising I should show some respect to this, and I definitely feel that with my audiences. Don’t just keep regurgitating the same thing because you can, don’t show up in jeans and a T-shirt if they’re by you for dinner, make an effort, and that’s kind of how I feel musically.

“With every album you can sort of see, if you go back, I’m making more and more of an effort to show respect. Not to be something I’m not, but just to show respect. Even when I put on a suit it’s still me, I’m the same guy in a jeans and T-shirt, but I’ve chosen to wear and suit to show you that I respect the sense of occasion, and that’s what I’m trying to do with the music. I think to a certain degree it comes with a bit more confidence too.”

Lead single Who’s Hurting Who features Nile Rodgers. Savoretti says it was “amazing” to work with the guitarist and producer, famed not only for his work with Chic but also David Bowie, Madonna and Diana Ross. “There is a familiarity to Nile because we’ve all grown up with his music, so when you see him it’s like seeing an old friend,” says Savoretti. “That can be the case with many people that have been around and we’ve all grown up with, but there’s two types of people – those that can make you realise very quickly that you don’t know me and I don’t know you, they’re standoffish, and there are those who play along, and Nile is one of those wonderful people who makes you feel like he’s known you for ages.

“It’s very clever, it’s very sweet, it’s very kind. He just goes along with it and so he makes you feel like an old friend, and that’s lovely, especially in the professional landscape. Working with him still blows my mind, every now and then I hear my song on the radio in the last two weeks and that’s what I keep telling my kids, ‘That’s Nile f***ing Rodgers’. I’m more excited about that than I me about me being on it, I still can’t quite get my head around it.”

Savoretti says he approached Rodgers to be a part of this project “because he had such an impact on changing European music”. “Until the 60s, European music, as music as it was getting influenced by rock ’n’ roll and all that, it stayed very true to its tradition of songwriting, nostalgia, melancholy and melody. When disco and funk and soul music crossed the ocean, and collided with this European tradition of making music, I think magic happened. That’s how you got Abba, Julio Iglesias, Giorgio Moroder. Still to this day that’s how you got Phoenix and Daft Punk. It was very much thanks to Nile Rodgers that happened. Something that was so underground until a couple of years before suddenly became this very European sound, but there were songs over it.

“Whereas the Americans had a tradition of blues and repetition and rock ’n’ roll, the Europeans added storytelling and melody over disco music – Abba is the perfect example for that – and that became a very European sound. Serge Gainsbourg started doing disco music, started having the guitar and funky basslines. I think that European sound of the 70s and 80s doesn’t always get that accolade it deserves, so I’m just trying to celebrate that with this record. I don’t want to pay homage to it because it’s still relevant; I want to perpetuate it rather than imitate it. You hear it in Dua Lipa’s album, you hear it in The Weeknd, Michael Kiwanuka’s album is totally Europiana, it’s filled with European sounds, that’s very much because his producer Danger Mouse is so influenced by Ennio Morricone, with these dirty basslines and dirty funk. I’m tipping the hat to that.”

Savoretti also managed to persuade another of his youthful idols, John Oates, to play on the song When You’re Lonely. Hall and Oates were, he says, “a big influence on European music too – they kind of justified the European way of making music because they were doing the same thing, some people call it yacht rock”.

“I was always describing to the band ‘we’re making a yacht rock album, but the yacht has to be in the Mediterranean, it’s not an American yacht, it’s European’,” he says, going on to explain that he summoned the courage to message Oates via Instagram after having “a little bit too much to drink one night”. To his surprise, the 73-year-old replied.

“To be fair, I was doing a cover a day during lockdown and I had done Rich Girl and he had commented,” Savoretti recalls. “He gave me his phone number, I called him and told him how much I adore him, he is such an influence on this record. I had one song in particular when we wrote it and were recording it in my head I was pretending to be John Oates, so I said ‘would you validate this fantasy of mine and make it real?’ and yes, he did. He was awesome.

“The sweetest thing was he said, ‘I’ll do some BVs (backing vocals) and do you mind if I put some guitar down too?’ I said to him, ‘You can play the frickin’ triangle if you want, just do it all over the song’, which he did and he’s been just a delight to work with, so cool. He was stuck in Nashville and said, ‘Listen, man, I’ve got nothing to do, so shoot it over. Anything to help kill the time.’ He was divine.”

Europiana is out on Friday June 25. Jack Savoretti plays at Sheffield City Hall on April 2, 2022 and Hull Bonus Arena on April 8. www.jacksavoretti.com