Tom Odell is playing for keeps
Tom Odell is a hard one to pin down – the newest pop kid on the block, with an Ivor Novello award in his back pocket and the musical world at his feet but with little interest in the impending stardom. Ahead of his Dublin gig, the Songwriter of the Year talks Elton John, Lily Allen and Leo Tolstoy
“I remember driving away from that [initial] meeting and thinking ‘OK, that was probably quite important; I’m pleased I met her’,” he recalls. It was. Allen signed him to her Columbia Records imprint In the Name Of, and things started getting a little crazy. Before his debut album, Long Way Home, had been even released, he had bagged the BRIT Critics’ Choice award and matters were taken out of his hands, to a certain degree.
“The thing is, I don’t think even my label were really expecting me to sell loads of records before it happened,” he says. “And suddenly there was this award, and if I didn’t sell loads of records it would have been seen as a huge failure – but neither of us ever intended on selling millions, and none of us ever thought we’d win that award. So I dunno; I think it was a huge honour to win it, but I wonder what my career would be like now if I hadn’t won it . . .”. He pauses.
“I don’t know what it would be like. I’m not sure what the right road is. I know that you need these things, and it got me a lot more attention and a lot more people started listening to my music – but I think that award is so mainstream that you naturally put yourself in the spotlight to be critiqued in a way that you didn’t necessarily want to be in the first place, if you know what I mean.”
The Ivor Novello, on the other hand, was admittedly “a very big moment.”
“I don’t think it’s good to lose sleep over awards and that sort of thing, but that award was voted for by people I grew up listening to and actually inspired me to songwrite in the first place,” he agrees. “So it did mean an awful lot to me, that award. I guess you constantly aspire to be listened to with that sort of respect and for your music to be taken seriously. I started out writing songs and it was always a dream of mine to be recognised for doing that, so I almost feel undeserving of it. But I’m also hugely proud of that award, at the same time.”
He has struggled a bit with the “celebrity” aspect of being a musician, something he was exposed to after having a casual drink with Taylor Swift led to a frenzy of tabloid speculation (none of it true, he says). He also became the subject of temporary ridicule last year when it was revealed that his dad placed an angry phone call to the NME upon reading their “zero-star” review of his son’s album. Fame, he is learning, comes with a price.
“I’m naturally not someone who goes to these kind of shows, and stuff,” he says, with a glum sigh slightly unbecoming of a 23-year-old with the musical world at his feet. “But I guess it’s part of it, so I have to do it.”
He perks up when the conversation becomes less focused about his career prospects and more about how he goes about making music. He never went to university, he says, although he is a graduate of the Brighton Institute of Modern Music. Because he never read much at school or furthered his academic education after his A-Levels, he has been trying to verse himself in literature over the last few years.