Jack Savoretti on first all-Italian album Miss Italia and coping with loss through music

On May 17, Jack Savoretti releases his first all-Italian speaking album Miss Italia. Written in the wake of the death of his father, it sees the singer songwriter reconnect with his roots like never before. Headliner sat down with him for a candid chat about family, coping with loss, and the power of Italian music to “make you cry your eyes out without understanding a word”.

You can listen to this interview here or read on in full below. 

“I’m at home in an almost sunny Oxfordshire where it’s a quintessentially British day,” a smiling Jack Savoretti says breezily as he joins us over Zoom on an early May morning. “It goes from freezing to boiling… it’s cardigan weather.”

At the time of our conversation, Savoretti is less than two weeks away from the release of his eighth studio album Miss Italia. Sung entirely in Italian and featuring an eclectic assortment of special guests, including the likes of Natalie Imbruglia, Miles Kane, Carla Morrison, Delilah Montagu and Zucchero, it represents some significant firsts and departures for the artist. The fact it is his first Italian-speaking record being just one of them.

His 2021 album Europiana was in essence a vehicle of escapism. Written and recorded at the height of Covid lockdown restrictions, it was a celebration of everything humanity had been momentarily denied. As he told Headliner ahead of its release, he made a conscious decision to resist the urge to turn inward and reflect on the darkness of the time.

“I wasn’t going to put my family through a year of the unknown and me being a miserable bastard singing about it,” he said at the time. “I decided, I’m going to put the red nose on and jump on the table and open champagne every Friday night. And we’re going to get dressed up and have the most glamorous year of our lives. I was thinking, ‘how are my kids going to remember this’? Everybody will look back one day and think, ‘what did I do in lockdown’? I really embraced it, and it definitely comes across on this record.”

Two and a half years on, the follow-up to Europiana is suggestive of a similar proposition on the surface but is an altogether different beast underneath.

“It’s kind of ironic that an album called Miss Italia, sung in all-Italian is not really about escapism at all,” says Savoretti, as he offers some context to the record. There’s an ease and a warmth in his demeanour throughout our conversation that rarely wavers. He’s articulate and philosophical, happy to speak openly about the influence of his late father and the undeniable impact his loss had on the creation of the album.

“It’s the most introspective album I’ve ever made,” he continues. “My father passed away two and a half years ago and that was really the catalyst for the entire physical need to do this. There was no strategic ‘I should do an Italian album’ thought. It was a genuine, really strong calling after losing my father where I felt the need to re-engage with my Italianity – which is a word I just made up [laughs] – and I wanted to lean into my Italian heritage.

There is a reason you can go to the opera and cry your eyes out without understanding a word. Jack Savoretti

“I also found tremendous comfort in everything that was Italian because my father was my link to that part of my heritage. When I thought of my father I thought of Italy, and when I thought of Italy I thought of my father. So, when I lost him I found him in Italy. I still do find him in Italy. I find him in Italian music, I find him just by being in Italy – people sound like him, smell like him, people dress like him. There is a link, and it keeps him alive. It allows me to process this loss in a really comforting, wonderful way. As a result of that I found myself writing in Italian a lot, so I decided this was the time to write an Italian album.”

Despite living in different countries, Savoretti explains how the influence of his father permeated each and every aspect of his life. Right up until his death, they maintained a tight knit relationship, whether in-person or via FaceTime.

“He shaped me as a man, he shaped me as a musician, he shaped me as a father, he shaped me as a son,” states Savoretti. “He was very influential on me, for the good, the bad, and the ugly, as every father should be. We were very open with each other. We engaged with each other as much as we could. We’d challenge each other, we were supportive of each other, critical of each other. But engagement was never lacking. Even with distance we still managed to engage with each other a lot.

“With this album, I hadn’t intentionally set out to make an Italian album. I started writing before he passed, and the first song, which is the first song on the album, was called Come Posso Raccontare. To sort of explain our relationship, I was sat right here where I am right now at about 3am one night having drank too much after coming back from a party, and I began writing for some reason. And I started writing my first ever Italian song. So, I FaceTimed him and said I’ve just written my first Italian song. And I played it to him. That was our relationship; that was totally normal. And that was before I decided to make an Italian album. That’s the only song he heard that I did in Italian.”

Much of the music Savoretti’s father was passionate about seeped into the fabric of Miss Italia. As Savoretti illustrates, Italian music was his father’s Achilles heel. He loved American music – Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson are both namechecked – but it was the music of his homeland that possessed the power to strip him of his “imposing” veneer. This power, Savoretti explains, was something he was keen to harness,

“What was always amazing to me about Italian music was how it could floor this beast of a man who was my father,” he says with a hint of awe in his tone. “He was quite imposing, in a wonderful way. You would notice his presence. He lived in England during my childhood as an Italian immigrant and when he would listen to Italian music it would floor him. It would emotionally trigger him. I’d see tears in his eyes. Goosebumps on his arms. He’d squeeze his fist on certain parts of songs because he loved it. It impressed me how this music could do that to him. I was always amazed at the power of Italian music and I wanted to draw from that myself.”

I was always amazed at the power of Italian music. Jack Savoretti

At this point in our conversation, the focus shifts to the emotionally charged yet intangible components of Italian music that make it such a potent force.

“Italian music is incredibly emotive, and understanding is just a part of it,” he elaborates. “But it’s all about feeling. There is a reason you can go to the opera and cry your eyes out without understanding a single word. It’s because you feel it. Italian culture is incredibly emotive, it’s visceral. When you taste the food, it is about feeling; when you listen to the music, it’s about feeling; when you talk about art and the architecture, it’s about feeling it and not just seeing it. When you hear Italians talk about the sea it’s as if it is something within them, not just something they get to witness. All of that is exemplified in Italian music.

He continues: “It’s funny because friends of mine who have heard this album who don’t speak a word of Italian say it sounds more like me than my English albums. Or I play it to them, and they get choked up without understanding a word. I can’t really explain it, it just is. There is a presence to the culture that impacts quite intensely. When it’s genuine,” he strongly asserts. “When it’s pastiche-y or imitated it can be ridiculed, but when it’s genuine there is so much history to this culture. And Italian is incredibly expressive as a language. Culture seeps into language, language seeps into culture. It’s a constant revolving door. And that’s wonderful.”

As for the writing process of Miss Italia, Savoretti embarked on a lengthy process of education on how to write lyrically in Italian. Bilingual since early childhood, understanding the language itself wasn’t an issue, but understanding the nuances and dichotomies that exist between English and Italian lyricism meant navigating a steep learning curve.

“I had to really work at it,” he recalls. “I didn’t want it to be an ‘Italian album’, I wanted it to be my new album but this time in Italian. And it took a year and a half to get there. When I started, I was imitating, I was copying. Not intentionally, it was just happening. The themes I was choosing were far-fetched because they were themes that Italian songwriters I love would go to, so it took me a while to write like Jack but just in Italian. I think I got there [pauses]. I don’t think I got there; I know I got there [laughs].

“I went to Italy to write a lot and then I came home and kept writing here, and that’s when the Eureka moment happened. That’s when the two worlds collided. Everything I learned in Italy I brought home and put into practice, and then it came naturally to sit at the piano and start singing in Italian.”

So, what were the key differences between these two contrasting styles?

“There are such different ways of approaching writing in Italian,” he begins. “In English, colloquialism is really appreciated and poetry can be considered a bit cheesy. Being able to use colloquial, everyday language poetically is genius in English. That’s what Bob Dylan does, it’s what Bruce Springsteen does. It’s everyday language used in a way you’re not used to, rather than throwing Shakespearean or overly poetic sentences, which can seem a little bit twee or too much.

This experience left me walking away with my bag of life a little bit fuller. Jack Savoretti

“Italian is the opposite. The more colloquial it is the cheesier it is. It’s cheap if you use everyday language. But if you are more poetic it’s like, wow! It’s super sophisticated. I tried to mix the two. Let’s see how we do [laughs]. I don’t know how it’ll be received. I didn’t realise the importance of this until I started working with friends of mine who are amazing songwriters. They were like, ‘you can’t say that’. I’d say, ‘why not’? And they would say it with one word different, and I really didn’t get what was so different. But with time I understood. There is a fundamental difference with where you put the emphasis on the word, which is the same in English, but in Italian emphasis and purpose changes the meaning dramatically. Because it is such an expressive language that stuff matters. The emphasis is as important as the word itself.”

Part of the learning curve involved Savoretti working through a variety of ideas and themes before striking the right balance.

“I went through a few songs at first, but only a few though,” he grins. “Now I’d bring them back, but I couldn’t have introduced the initial idea with them. They were too advanced for where I was at, which meant I was imitating. They were too Italian, too poetic. I remember my producer being like, ‘are you sure about this song’? I would say, I love it. He was like, ‘I love it too, but you’ve never done this before and if you just show up with that it won’t be taken seriously’. It’s like showing up on a first date in a tuxedo - it’s a little too much [laughs]. You might be overcooking it. But now that we’ve done it I wouldn’t mind putting that tuxedo back on [laughs].”

In recalling the various permutations Miss Italia took in its initial stages of development, he takes a moment to consider and appreciate the fact that eight albums into his career he was still able to test himself in ways both new and profound.

“This one has taught me a whole new way of expressing something I had never felt before,” he says. “I knew what I was feeling was unique. The pain you feel, the overwhelming amount of love and grief you feel when you lose a parent is so unique and I didn’t want to confront it the way I’ve confronted other things in my life. It was so different, so extreme that I couldn’t fathom using the tools I usually use to get through things for something so different.

“I have never had so much fun writing an album [pauses, taking a moment to reflect] not fun, but I’ve never had such a life affirming experience, without sounding incredibly cliché. I felt a physical need to do this, and I haven’t felt like that in a while. It was really cathartic at a time when I needed support and comfort. It did me a lot of good.”

Despite our conversation centring largely on the loss of his father, Savoretti's tone, much like the record itself, is one of celebration rather than melancholy. He is clearly excited to be pushing the boundaries of his craft nearly two decades into his career, and understandably proud to have poured the sense of love and the grief he has experienced over the past two-and-a-half years into a love letter to his father, his heritage, and his musical roots.

“This experience left me walking away with my bag of life a little bit fuller,” he beams, signing off with the same excitement and enthusiasm with which he greeted us. Eager to release it into the world, he can’t wait to see how listeners respond, for better or worse.

“I’ve never been so curious about how an album is going to be received,” he closes. “Usually, we can gauge vaguely what the interest is or if there’s anybody listening! With this one I really don’t’ know. And I’m OK with that, I’m just very curious… this might be the last time we ever talk [laughs}.”

Miss Italia is release on May 17.