Interview: Tom Odell
Mon, 17 Jun 2013 08:27:18
Tom Odell's got the makings of the next iconic singer and songwriter.
His new U.S. EP, Songs From Another Love sails between plaintive piano catharsis and hauntingly hypnotic hooks, tempering waves of emotion via distinctive delivery. With a dynamic and diverse voice and impressive songwriting prowess, he crafts some of the most thrilling music to flutter out of the UK in decades. It's essential listening for 2013.
Songs From Another Love also lays the groundwork for his forthcoming full-length, Long Way Down, and it serves as a fitting prelude to his upcoming U.S. tour.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Tom Odell opens up about Songs From Another Love as well as Long Way Down, talks influences, movies, and more.
Did you approach Long Way Down and Songs From Another Love with one distinct vision in mind?
I actually did. I had this idea for Long Way Down. I wanted to create something that people felt was very honest. There's a lot of music that uses a lot of technology these days. I wanted to create an album that felt like it had some flaws—not any contrived problems, but sonically and audibly, I wanted the album to be led by the song and the idea of the song. For me, Long Way Down is about the song. I always wanted the lyric to lead everything. Everything was led by the lyric. I went into recording with that in mind. I let the lyric dictate how everything else happens to see where it went. I wasn't really sure because I've never recorded an album before, but I hope people get that from it.
It's important to craft something people want to hear from beginning to end.
That's what I really wanted. In this world of iTunes and Spotify that we live in, people buy singles. They pick the songs they want. Trying to make a record was a strange thing to aspire to, but I really wanted to make an album. My label was very good to me. They put a lot of confidence in me. A lot of labels will test the waters with just a single. For me, I wanted to make a record that people listened to from start to finish. It takes you on a bit of a journey not just in terms of lyrical content but feelings and what you feel when you listen to it. I tried to be as honest as possible with it. I wrote about 100 songs for the album, and I took a lot of time with the tracklisting and song order. I slaved over the song choice to make a record that was true to what was going on at the time and the album.
What's the story behind "Can't Pretend"?
It's funny actually. I wrote it during quite a dark time. It wasn't long after I signed my deal, I had actually split up with my girlfriend. I had a lot of time on my hands because I was trying to finish up writing the album. I'd do this thing where I'd go to my flat in London and I'd lock myself up for a day. I'd buy enough food, drinks, and cigarettes. I'd write as many songs as I could. I'd try different things, see what happens, and experiment. One of those songs happened to be "Can't Pretend". It lived on my phone for a long time. I recorded it on my phone, and I didn't really do anything with it. When I got to the studio, I heard it again and thought, "This sounds really cool. Why don't I try it with a band?" It locked in a little bit more and felt quite compelling. I never intended for that song to be on the album. It felt more like just one feeling than a song. It worked so well live though and in recording that it ended up on the album.
Where did the closer "Sirens" come from?
That one is funny as well. I had that song for a while. It started as a lyric that I wrote when I was living in Brighton on the South Coast of England. It was literally about sirens and living in the city. I lived between a hospital and a police station so there were constant sirens. It explores the idea that when you live in a city, sirens become a sort of subconscious thing that eventually you come to ignore. There was a moment when I heard one, and it had a poignancy I'd never heard before. I tried to get that poignancy into a song. Although we come to ignore sirens in city, they're quite a cry. They represent something that doesn't relate to the songs you come to ignore. Essentially, something bad is happening. Someone is in trouble. For that one person, it means a lot more than it does to you. It's about being in a city. It's about being lonely. It's about trying to understand it. I had the lyric as a song idea, and I finished it off when I moved to London.
What artists shaped you?
I listen to an artist to death for a month, and then I sort of move on. It's never been one artist. There have been some moments in my career that have had an effect on my songwriting. The first time I heard Bob Dylan really changed the way I wrote. Then, there was the first time I heard David Bowie. Arcade Fire really inspired the way I wanted to record my first album. I took a lot of influence from them in understanding how they approach songs. There's an artist called Arthur Russell who was in New York in the eighties. I heard him for the first time when I was living in Brighton. There's a vulnerability in his songwriting that I attached to. Also, I go back to the classics like Elton John and Billy Joel. I'm really inspired by the way they play piano and come up with songs. The way Billy plays the piano really inspired me.
What inspires you outside of music?
I grew up being very involved and curious about art and culture. From a young age, I was very interested in American fiction like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway. I like the romanticism of their writing in that period. I'm very inspired by filmmakers like Woody Allen and Terrence Malick. It's a lot of Americana. I grew up watching America, and I'm fascinated by it.
If you were to compare your album to a movie or a combination of movies, what would it be?
I'm not sure, but I'd like to make a film of my own to it. I love the desperation of that, particularly with Terrence Malick in Badlands and Days of Heaven. There's something I can really relate to there. They're always trying to escape from something.
Have you heard Tom Odell?