Since coming into public view in late 2012, England’s Tom Odell has generated a swell of hyperbolic polarity from the music press. Off the back of his debut EP Songs From Another Love,the 22 year-old Odell won the Critics’ Choice at this year’s mainstream-centric BRIT Awards; however when his LP Long Way Down landed in June the characteristically flippant NME rated it 0/10. Nevertheless, the album reached number one in his home country, thus defying the magazine’s taste-dictating powers. Being subjected to such wayward appraisal could easily cause Odell some artistic anxiety but he stresses that these ups and downs won’t skew his essential compositional motives.
“The most important thing for me is to write songs for myself because really that’s the only listener that you can please,” Odell says. “I think your instincts are one of the most important things, and not to think about what people are going to like and what they’re not going to like. That just ends in an awful head-fuck situation. The most important thing is that I write something that moves me.”
Being able to abstract oneself from the impositions of circumstance is a hugely advantageous skill for anyone creatively inclined. Odell’s current listening habits reveal that rather than focusing on what’s hot right now, he gathers inspiration from broad tiers of the music spectrum.
“I’ve really gotten into Nina Simone. I’m obsessed with Nina Simone. I’ve been listening to a lot of Etta James, a lot of Son House. There’s this guy called Cass McCombs; my friend got me into him, there’s albums of his I love. I’ve been listening to that band Girls who split up about two years ago – really into them at the moment.”
The likes of Nina Simone and Girls might appear to be disparate influences, but both artists share an emotionally driven core and Odell admits to a strong affection for music that vibrates with feeling. “I think I’m just drawn to music that moves. I’ve never been particularly interested in acid house or anything. I like stuff that moves you emotionally and you can connect with it. The raw soul.”
Odell’s debut album Long Way Down wears a smorgasbord of influences on its sleeve, owing debt to such exemplars of commercial pop-rock as Arcade Fire, Elton John and Coldplay. Odell says that rather than relying on a habitual songwriting method, he’s learned that it’s crucial to actively pursue creative challenges.
“I very easily write piano ballads, because I’m a piano player. Instead of [Long Way Down] being just an album of piano ballads, it was important to me not to do that. I had to push myself to write a song like ‘Hold Me’; it’s not a song that naturally came. [Songwriting] is about not thinking too much but also just opening up a bit. There was a point where all my songs started with a piano riff, but you break out of those things.”
Long Way Down’s international chart success subsequently threw Odell a lengthy global touring schedule, including a massive sell-out tour of the UK this month. Odell explains that his experiences living the lifestyle of a full-time musician will inevitably have an influence on the next album.
“We’re touring the world at the moment and you learn a lot from that – the bits you don’t have to play, don’t have to sing. It will definitely have an effect, unconscious or consciously. I’ve learnt more about music in the past year than I ever have in my entire life. Playing live informs your songwriting, far more than I ever thought. It’s what it’s all about.”
Odell’s world tour continues into Australia this December for the Falls Festivals and a sideshow at the Metro Theatre. The same group of musicians that played on the record join Odell onstage, and he’s emphatic the live show isn’t a generic singer-songwriter display. “A big part of it is about the band and how the songs work with the band and I. I think people would come to the shows and be quite surprised, actually, about how energetic and live it is.”
As for 2014, following up a successful debut record is always a daunting prospect –but Odell doesn’t feel too anxious about starting work on album number two. “I don’t feel any pressure. If it takes me five years to make an album it doesn’t really bother me. It’d be awful to make an album just because you’ve got to make one. No-one has to make one.”
Despite this reasoned response Odell seems intent on following up Long Way Down as soon as possible. “Right now my theory is the best thing to do is create, create, create and not have too much of a cap on it; just create and then criticise. I’ve been writing quite a bit and I’m already talking to a few producers about working with them. I’ve learnt so much about recording and songwriting that I’m excited to get into it.”
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
Tom Odell plays Metro Theatre with Melody Pool on Thursday January 2. Also appearing with London Grammar, !!! (Chk Chk Chk), Johnny Marr, The Cat Empire, Vampire Weekend and more at The Falls Music & Arts Festival, Byron Bay, Marion Bay and Lorne, Saturday December 28 – Friday January 3. Long Way Down out now through Sony Music Australia.