Stood behind me a week on from our interview, a fan wept whilst Tom Odell performed “Constellations” from his new album. It was hard to ignore the soft whimpers and the focused gazes on each fans face throughout the room.
Tom had each and every fan at the amazon intimate gig captivated from the moment he bashfully strode on stage. This feeling was not new to me, Tom’s charm was apparent instantly when I met him.
He sat down with a traditional pot of Earl Grey tea grinning whilst he waited for me to persuade my Dictaphone to work. After his recent tour promoting his new album Wrong Crowd around Europe, Tom looked positive regarding the highly anticipated new album.
With the weather being so beautiful we had chosen to sit outside for the interview at the charming venue, The Union. After some conversation and pleasantries we settled down for the interview.
How did you realise music was the career path you wanted to take?
I started playing the piano when I was 7. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, I started writing songs and from that I carried on writing them. But I never really intended on being a musician. It was always something I just did.
When I was 18 I decided I definitely wanted to get into a position where I could make my own album and I really tried to give it a go however I had no money so I went to work in bars. I worked in various bars around Brighton and Chichester and then started commuting up to London when I was 19 to perform.
Was music a big influence throughout your childhood?
My immediate family weren’t that musical but my grandmother had a piano, which was in her house. Whenever we went over there I would always play it. I asked for piano lessons and from there on out I got really into it. It was very much my own thing. When you’re young teenager and you have your own hobby, which no one’s forced onto you and you just find yourself going to it a lot. It certainly always felt it was my own little thing.
When you realised that music was what you desperately wanted to do, was it an easy transition to get into?
No, I worked really hard at it and did a lot of gigs around Brighton and in London. I worked very hard at the song writing but although I worked very hard at it, it didn’t happen over night. I’d done a lot of gigs since I was 16 so it wasn’t until I was 20/21 that I got signed. Some people have a far longer slog, but I became very motivated and there was this one moment where I realised I really wanted to do it but I had to put my all into it. I spent every waking hour putting my all into songs.
Tell me about the process of making your debut extended play ‘Songs From Another Love’
The EP was songs from the album ‘Long way down’. I had already finished the album by the time I put the EP out. So the EP was more in the way of putting out the first song.
How did all of these acknowledgements come about and represent where you were at in your career?
Burberry had already played another love at one of their fashion shows and I had met Christopher a few times. We talked about doing something together and I really liked how they put music and fashion together. Since then we’ve done lots of things together, I’ve played in LA at their show and they’ve used a few more songs at their shows. The Brit awards were a good step right at the start. I guess it launched my career in some ways.
Reaching No.1 was a good achievement. I was at Glastonbury when I found out and never expected it. It was a lovely moment. I’m not sure whether any of these awards or number ones were searched for, I don’t search for any of these gratifications, it’s all about the music. But they’re certainly a symbol of success I guess and I’m not sure that it was something I was searching for but it was nice to get the number 1.
How did the offer of performing for John Lewis’s Christmas album arise?
They asked me to do it and I really liked the song by John Lennon. I was always a big fan of that. I loved the penguin visuals and it was immediately clear to me they’d done a beautiful piece of work and had done a good job on it. It was very emotive. I love the way picture and music marries and I’ve always been obsessed with that, even with what I’m doing on this album I’m getting very involved in film, music and that marriage and how they go together. It was a nice way to soundtrack the advert, they put a lot of effort in to it.
Strangely in the summer before they asked me to do it, I was running around Victoria Park, which is close to where I live, and that was the park they were shooting the advert. I stopped and asked what they were shooting. They said the new John Lewis advert. Cut to 6 months later and they asked me do it. I felt it was this weird energy and I felt I had to do it, as it had been this strange weird coincidence.
Would you say your songs are extremely emotionally connected to yourself and past experiences?
I think they have to be, I think it’s impossible to write anything emotive without it having some sort of emotion, it has to come from somewhere and if you’re writing that it’s from yourself, it has to be a feeling you’ve had in order to write anything of any poignancy. Anything that’s moving has to have come from what you’ve felt. But the way you write it is “err” for example Springsteen’s ‘On The River’, he writes about his brother and he writes about characters in ‘Nebraska’.
Characters aren’t from the first person so I guess you could argue that he’s writing not about his own direct personal experience but when you listen to the song you know that despite his story telling he’s not on the run in some sort of Bonnie and Clyde fashion. Despite the fact we know he’s not done that you still believe he’s had a sense of that longing for freedom and longing to escape. I think that’s where the emotion is coming from. However he addresses it in the way of a story but I think that whether it’s a protagonist or first or third person you draw from such a big pool of feelings so it’s never without emotion. Occasionally it’s very direct for example a new song of mine called jealousy is a very direct song about a certain situation but once again it’s still with imagination. In order to write anything I put myself in a situation almost like a painting or a film and you imagine every detail, drawn from an experience in order to dramatise it.
Do you find touring strenuous on your relationships?
I think I’m still working it out. It can be but when you make albums and you tour you choose to do this job, in this way it’s a lifestyle choice not a job. If you want to have a routine lifestyle and go back every day and to watch TV, which is what some people desire, and don’t get me wrong I’ve felt myself desire it before but I’ve always been terrified of routine. It was the thing that killed me at school, doing the same thing every day. It’s a double-edged sword though at the cost of it’s difficult to maintain relationships. But I pay a lot of attention into keeping my private life private and my music my music.
How do your influences fall into your music?
It naturally falls in. When I was maybe 13 or 14 and started writing songs I may of heard a song and thought, I’d like to write a song like that, but I very much grew out of that and started developing your own style. I can't ever say I tried to make a song sound like anything else, but I guess subconsciously you do.
Without doing any of discredit to other artists, Nina Simone is a huge inspiration, as I still can’t really believe how good she was. Her piano playing was so articulate and her voice was one of the most soulful you could hear. I think Springsteen for his commitment and the way he serves the art with such integrity. And Radiohead. I grew up as a teenager listening to Radiohead.
How have people reacted to the new album or new songs?
I think good, it was really important to me to do this small tour of Europe and to play these songs in really small venues for the first time. We pretty much played the whole album each night and the reaction was really good.
Where would like to see yourself in one or two years?
I’d like to have made another album in a couple of years, I’m very inspired when writing albums and I’m feeling very energised by it, and I’ve got a lot more to say and I hope in two years I’m still saying it.
Tom’s highly anticipated second album consists of a diverse set of tracks. I was thrilled to hear such soul in the majority of songs whilst admiring how adventurous the new album is. Tom has so far released ‘Magnetised’, ‘Wrong Crowd’ and ‘Constellations’. Both ‘Magnetised’ and ‘Wrong Crowd’ are dynamic with an energetic rhythm and a tenacious base whilst ‘Constellations’ is a delicate ballad. When performed live the songs came to life with a full band and range of vocals.
Just from briefly looking over my shoulder or glancing at the fans around me I could see how the new album has been embraced with open arms. I must admit I haven’t seen Tom perform before, and following such a bold set live I had no idea how he performs when not at the piano. Of course I have watched videos on YouTube but I wanted to see his charisma from being stood with a microphone facing the crowd. Tom performed twice with his piano aside and to my delight he didn’t look lost at all. In fact I was blown away by a strong and defined presence that didn’t have to demand the audiences attention.
The crowd were not only thrilled with the new album but were clearly yearning for two of Tom’s most known tracks from his previous album. Tom obliged and played both ‘Another Love’ and ‘Can’t Pretend’. The room came alive with fans of his previous album screaming the lyrics towards him.
It would be difficult to decide on one or two songs that shine from the new album as it wont do the rest of the album justice, but I will mention both ‘Concrete’ and ‘Still Getting Used to Being On My Own” which have a strong structure and melody. For the majority, the song concrete is calming whilst having both a soulful melody and overlaying of harmonies before building momentum into middle 8 and finishing on with high energy.
Overall the album is extraordinary with each song having a difference and some form of catchy loop. Tom’s performance was just as outstanding as his new album, with myself finding I didn’t have enough hands to count the teary fans.
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