Text: Susanne van Hooft
Pictures: Bente van der Zalm
British singer songwriter Tom Odell is known for his songs ‘Another Love’, and ‘Grow Old With Me’. After a short period of absence, Tom Odell will release his third album later this year. Last week, Tom Odell released the first song of the album: ‘If You Wanna Love Somebody’. CHAOS Music Magazine met Tom Odell a few weeks ago, on the first day of Vestrock and talked with Tom about the things he deeply loves: making music and listening to the music of others. Also, he told us what album inspired him while making his new album.
We know a new album is coming up. Is there anything you want to share about it?
Tom: Not really, no (laughs), but I’m very excited to come back for a third album and I pinch myself that I got to a position that I am able to make three albums.
We’ll change the subject into songwriting: when do you know that the song you wrote is actually a good one?
Well it’s very hard, but I do not spend too much time thinking about it. This intermission period, when I’ve finished music perhaps coming out soon, can be a weird time. When I’m making the music, I never think about what people are going to think about it. It’s only in this little period before it’s put on the cd or put online, when I can’t do anything about it, I go like: I should have changed that and I should have changed that (laughs). But, I’ve had that feeling before.
You’re almost getting used to it.
Yeah, well, I don’t know if I ever get used to it.
Okay, you don’t want to think about whether other people will like your songs while writing, but when do you know for yourself that a song might become a good one?
I think you just have a feeling, it feels good. Sometimes, I have an idea for a song, it might be a chorus, a melody, or it might be a lyric in my notebook, or it might be the smallest idea. Then I leave it for a bit and then I come back to it, and I go: why am I coming back to this? Why do I want to play this again? Then I work on it a little more, and I might get to that point where it is nearly done. Eventually there is always a point when I go: fuck, I really like this! But for me, actually I think the songs I’m proud of are often quite slow. It’s a sort of meditative experience. I write so many ideas; it’s only the ones that stick in your head are the ones that you work on.
Is your songwriting different now, compared to your songwriting five years ago?
… I don’t know. I guess it always feels different for me. But maybe not, because when I sit and play the piano, it feels the same as it did when I was twelve years old. So I don’t know. Well, I’m not sure.
But, when you were twelve years old, you didn’t know that thousands or millions of people would be listening to your songs.
Yes, I guess to some degree. But, you don’t really think about that. In whichever industry you’re in, if you start thinking about the audience too much, it becomes a little contrived, or premeditated. I think music has to come from somewhere instinctual, and not be masterminded. Like thrown paint on canvas. Maybe I’m just slightly romantic about that.
Your songs are always very personal. What does it feel like to sing a song you wrote, for the first time in front of an audience?
Most of the time it is fine, but sometimes it’s weird. Once you write a song; it is almost like you give it to the world. It is not so much that each time you sing it; you share a bit of your soul. To some degree it becomes no longer yours. It’s a sort of cathartic process. Writing a song, recording it, maybe hearing it on the radio or something, and then performing it live. By the end of the process, it still feels like your own song, but probably less so than when you wrote it. You’ve heard it in so many different environments, and you’ve experienced so many different people’s reactions to it. All of that goes into it as well, and gives it more colour. So, it becomes something slightly different, which is really a nice experience. I think what is so lovely about music, is that it connects people, rather than isolating them. It brings people together and certainly brings me together with the people that listen to it
Still, it must be weird that thousands of people sing, or almost shout, the lyrics that you wrote when you were sad. Isn’t that weird?
I think the first time that happened it was strange, yeah. But now I think it just symbolizes that I’ve written a good one. So it’s like: oh good, and when they don’t do it, you go like: fuck that wasn’t a right one? (laughs loudly)
Which album really changed your life?
There’s a lot of albums that really changed my life. I like the obvious ones, like ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ (Elton John). More specific ones, like Ben Folds Five album ‘Whatever And Ever Amen’. There is a Joan Armatrading album called ‘Whatever’s For Us’, this really inspired this new album. There’s some Randy Newman albums, there’s so many, I can’t really name one.
You sang Randy Newman’s ‘I Think It Is Going To Rain Today’ on your first album; your songs aren’t always cheerful either. Do you like depressive songs?
Do you think it’s depressive? Rather than depressive, I think the song is like the essence of melancholic joy. The thing of being in love is not necessarily like utter joy or utter sadness, but it’s somewhere in between. It’s that moment where you feel things a little bit more. It is like an awareness, it’s feeling something.
The thing I love the most is a good song. I like songs that stand the test of time. I try not to analyse them too much, maybe a little bit. I can’t stop myself sometimes analysing it a little bit, but I just try to enjoy it. And I still can, I still enjoy music. I don’t sit there and write notes. I love listening to music more than anything; it’s my favourite thing to do!