Jade Wright talks to 22-year-old chart-topping singer-songwriter
This time last year Tom Odell was an unknown entity. The 22-year-old had been performing for a few years, all the while quietly working away on his own music.
In January, however, things drastically changed for the West Sussex singer, who has been penning his own tunes since he was 13.
Momentum had been quietly gathering, but it wasn’t until he was announced as the winner of the prestigious Critics’ Choice Award at the BRITs that things really started to change.
He is the first male winner of the award for British acts tipped by critics for mainstream success in the forthcoming year who are yet to release their debut album.
In previous years it has been awarded to Emeli Sandé (2012), Jessie J (2011), Ellie Goulding (2010), Florence and the Machine (2009) and Adele (2008). No pressure then...
“I’ve always had this confidence in the songs,” says Tom.
“I suppose I was unaware of the failures that could happen to me.
“It was only when I got a publishing deal that I really felt that things were changing though, because I knew then that my songs would be heard.”
Having played a plethora of festivals so far this summer (including a televised performance at Glastonbury) and making his second US TV appearance on the Conan O’Brien Show, he’s supporting one of his heroes – Elton John – at this year’s iTunes Festival, which will take place at The Roundhouse in London on September 12.
“It’s an absolute honour to be supporting such an icon,” he says. “I honestly can’t wait.”
After that he’s playing the 02 Academy Liverpool. Tickets sold out as soon as the show was announced.
It’s the last date on his tour, and it may be the last time he plays such an intimate venue.
All the ingredients are there for big success – idealism (he wants the music to do the talking, preferably releasing one album a year) and self confidence (he seems to exist happily in his own musical world).
Plus, there’s the song-writing. Having written his own material since he became a teenager, it was an eventual move to Brighton which launched him on the road to success.
There he would walk into pubs and clubs and ask to perform on the spot.
“I just didn’t stop writing songs for an entire year,” he laughs.
“I used to stroll around Brighton with this massive keyboard and just go to these open mics all around town – and it was so demoralising, but also really good for me.”
His musical taste was expanding to include such diverse pleasures as Hunky Dory-era Bowie, Arctic Monkeys, Cat Power, Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, James Blake, Beach House and of course Elton.
There were films too – he drew inspiration from F Scott Fitzgerald, Kerouac and Hemingway, as well as Woody Allen, Wes Anderson and Hal Ashby.
Brighton was where he found his voice, but it took a move to London and an ad on the notice board of Goldsmiths College to finally galvanise the teenage songwriter into action – he formed a band and by his fourth London gig, he was signed by a management company, a publisher and, subsequently, a record label.
Lucky perhaps, but it was down to the power of the songs, many of which feature on Tom’s debut album.
“I hope the album feels human and real and that there are some flaws – because the flaws help make it what it is,” he says.
“Really, I’d love to live in a time when music felt uncontrived and imperfect and gave people a real sense of elevation,” he says.
“When it’s sad I want it to be really sad. When it’s happy I want it to feel euphoric. I suppose I want the record to express the heightened feelings and emotions we all get in our lives.”
Tom will release his new single Grow Old With Me next month. It’s the latest release from the album, which topped the UK chart and went straight into the top 10 in charts around the globe.
“I can’t wait to sing some of these songs over the next few months,” he says. “It’s surreal for me to see all the songs on Long Way Down, sitting there as if they were always meant to be, songs that were once so personal to me.”
Tom Odell plays the 02 Academy on October 31. For details see www.tomodell.com.