I was putting out a load of washing while I waited for Paolo Nutini to call... it’s my favourite of the household chores and always sees me getting lost in thought.
Unsurprisingly on this occasion, my mind wandered to the first and last time I’d spoken to the Scottish-Italian singer. It was in 2006 and a 19-year-old Paolo was enjoying the first flourishes of success with his debut album, These Streets.
I’d looked back at the interview when I knew we were going to be talking again, and noticed that in it, he had expressed concerns he wasn’t going to have time to appreciate everything which was happening to him.
In the eight years since, the Paisley-born heir to his Italian dad’s fish and chip shop has travelled the world performing to thousands of fans and released a couple of number one albums - the most recent in April this year. It had a foot in both commercial and critical camps and was met with acclaim.
When his perfectly-timed call came through - I’d just got to the bottom of the basket - I asked whether he has found the time to take it all in. (I said ‘hello’ first.)
“The main thing I’ve found is you’ve just got to do what you can,” he says. “If you see something as an opportunity and you want to do it, then do it. But don’t do it and moan. If it’s a burden, then say ‘no’.” (Having requested this interview, and got it, I’m taking that as a compliment.)
He laughs. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s such a privilege to be able to do this. To wake up in the morning, have the fun that we have and still get a sense of achievement from it... it’s pretty special.”
Which is why Paolo felt the need to step off the industry album-tour-DVD conveyor belt after he’d finished promoting 2010’s Sunny Side Up. “It wasn’t feeling that special then,” he says.
“I’d always planned on taking some time to readjust. There was a lot going on in my personal life. I took a year out, went home and made myself available to do day to day things. I didn’t have a driving licence. I wasn’t much of a cook.
“A couple of my friends had kids and that made me think if I was lucky enough to be a dad one day, what would I know? What can I do? What could I teach them? It wasn’t a long list.” So he set about adding to it.
“I’d heard this Rastafari poet, Mutabaruka, speak about the importance of working with your hands and natural materials. I was still wanting to be creative, but I didn’t want the main outlet to be music. I started to whittle wood and do some cooking. I did some sketching and carpentry.
“Plant a flower, watch it grow. It might sound twee to some people but I found it amazing. I’d never had the time before.”
Having left school to be a roadie for his first manager’s band and then segued straight into his own success at 18, Paolo was aware he’d missed out on some important stuff. “Of course I’d had a lot of fun and there was a lot of wild tours, but I’d never gone on lads holidays with my good friends. I’d never learned what I would have learned. I wanted to be back in my sixth year with my mates.”
God knows what the record company made of their bright young thing sidestepping making a third album to see if he could knock up a coffee table. Did he feel like he was taking a risk by stepping off?
“I never understood how it all happened anyway, so it didn’t feel like I was walking away from something. It was all about what I could gain by taking a break and sorting myself out. There was never a notion of ‘have I got something to lose?’”
Finding himself picking up his guitar at the end of a day in the workshop offered the seeds of Paolo’s third - and many would say most accomplished - album Caustic Love, which has since spawned singles Iron Sky, Let Me Down Easy and Scream (Funk My Life Up).
“I caught myself writing songs and making music as a hobby at the end of the day,” he says. “It was fun again. It was giving me a release rather than getting me down. I knew then there’d be a third album.” To say nothing of his biggest tour yet. Paolo kicks of an arena tour of the UK and Europe at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena on October 24.
He says the scale of the shows is allowing him to flex more creative muscles. “I used to get quite a lot of people commenting on the fact I would close my eyes when I sang certain songs, and maybe criticising me a bit for it. So I thought, what if through the production, I could try and portray the place that I go to in my head? Then if I drift off there, the audience can drift off there with me.”
And one which won’t be decorated with dance routines. “I’m not a dancer. I don’t want have to pretend - running up and down the stage pointing at people and conducting an epic sing-a-long,” he says. “We just want to go and play the songs as best we can and not get caught up in how anyone else might want it to be, or want you to look.”
As you see, I nearly managed to be the first person to interview Paolo and not mention his handsomeness, but now he has gone and done it (sort of). I wonder whether he feels he has been punished for the way he looks by critics over the years.
He laughs. “Hey, there were a lot of times I was airbrushed within an inch of my life and photoshopped to within an inch of my sexuality... I looked like this wistful urchin just sat there. But if that was tangible at all, the good thing I’ve learned is that you can remedy all that stuff in one way - by making the music you want to make and being yourself. It’s that simple.”
- Paolo Nutini plays the Metro Radio Arena on October 24. For tickets, call 0844 493 6666 or visit www.metroradioarena.co.uk