When we meet with Tom Odell in his loge before his show at Stockholm club Debaser, he is sipping on a glass of hot water with fresh ginger in it. The last few days have been hectic, he is currently on tour in Europe, and it has taken its toll on his voice. Despite that, the interview turns out to be a chat about life, death, and religion.
Tell me about your background.
– My background is; I started playing the piano when I was very young and making music when I was a bit older than that. I was playing in bands and in pubs and clubs all over the UK when I was a teenager.
How come you started, do you come from a musical background?
– No, none of my family members are very musical. How did I start? I don’t know, I just fell into it. I was very fixated by music. It affected me, I felt moved by it. I just liked making it and I liked the way it made me feel.
What kind of music did you listen to?
– I listened to a lot of Bob Dylan, Elton John, Tom Waits, Jeff Buckley, and Arcade Fire.
Like seventies’, eighties’ music?
– Not only, I was also in to Blur…
Not Spice Girls and Backstreet boys?
– Not so much. I always ignored them but they were huge when I was growing up. My favourite was Ginger Spice. I actually met her the other day.
Was it cool?
– Not really.
They’re kind of old now.
– I know, but they still got it though.
If I try to please others it doesn’t work, did you know that?
From listening to your music I feel like you are a bit precocious, could you agree to that?
– I would find that word slightly offensive actually. It’s what you say about a twelve year old child who is acting older than he is and that asks a lot of questions and is overly talented. It’s like one of those twelve year olds who gets up at every event and starts singing.
That’s not what I meant though, I meant it in a good way, that you seem older than you are.
– Okay, well thank you then I guess. I don’t think I am though, I think I’m just twenty-two. Maybe I look younger than I am. I’m turning twenty-three soon, I feel like I’m getting old!
Don’t start with me!
– What? How old are you?
– That’s not old, only two years older than me.
Exactly. Are you making a new album?
– I’m not working on it right now; I’m on tour so it’s hard to record. But I’m writing a bit. So hopefully there’ll be a new album soon. But I’m not going rush it; I’m under the mentality it’s not good to force it out. It has to be for a reason, you know.
How do you think your music is special compared to others?
– That’s a difficult question. It’s not really for me to say. I just make it and I can’t say it’s any more special than anyone else’s music. But I put my heart and soul into it and try to make the most sincere music I can, and I hope that people can connect to it in some way. But the person I must please the most is myself. If I try to please others it doesn’t work, did you know that?
Yes, so true! So have you been to Scandinavia before?
– I was in Stockholm six months ago. It’s a good place, full of very beautiful people. Makes us British people look very ugly.
Do you think you’ll do this in ten years’ time?
– I think I’ll always make music and I do love touring. I like being in the studio too. There are a lot of different things I want to do. I’d like to perhaps write or do something with film. Be a sea captain, he says laughing. No I’m joking.
– I read quite a lot so it would be fun to write. But I don’t like telling people that because it’s so cliché for a song writer to say that. It makes me feel like I want to vomit.
What do you read?
– Right now I’m reading The Last Exit to Brooklyn. It’s very surreal, written in the 1960’s. I just finished reading this book that’s brilliant, it’s called Stoner by John Williams and it’s about this guy’s life. You should read it if you get the chance. He leads a very insignificant life, it’s a very moving book about his struggles and defeats and losses in life. It’s one of the best descriptions of a man dying that I’ve ever read, I was really fascinated by it.
That’s kind of scary though…
– It’s scary, but everyone is always terrified about everything concerning death, but I think about it quite a lot.
In a good way?
– In a bad way. It’s nice that someone else is thinking about it as well. It wasn’t terrifying. It’s almost comforting reading this. This writer doesn’t know more about dying than you and I do, but still he had a good punt there.
While you’re alive you should just revel on the thought that you are.
Sounds terrifying though, I’m kind of scared of dying.
– Of course, we all are. You should embrace it. Think about this: For billions of years before this point you didn’t exist and for a small 80 years we exist.
Yes, but I can’t remember not existing.
– You won’t remember it again; it’s only the thought of the future that terrifies you. It’s only whilst you’re alive that the thought of not existing seems terrifying. While you’re alive you should just revel on the thought that you are.
That’s easier said than done!
– Yes, but there’s nothing you can do about it.
The problem is that we have brains that think too much.
– We also have very small brains, relatively speaking.
No, we don’t, compared to what?
– Compared to the universe our brains are tiny!
– It depends on what you believe in. Do you believe in God?
I think I do. What about you?
– I’m not very religious. Maybe just love makes the world go round, he says with a big smile.
A perfect ending to a very profound talk for being a backstage rock club interview…
Listen to Tom Odell here.