‘No Bad Days.’ A mantra? Maybe. A mentality? Perhaps. A way of life? Sometimes.
For Tom Odell, the phrase has almost by accident morphed into something maybe much bigger. It’s the title of a year of travelling the world and playing songs, where ‘No Bad Days’ shows have become a place where any bottled up emotion can be unleashed and inner-thoughts are safe to be set free.
“It’s weird, it sort of defines the last year and a half for me.” Tom starts, remembering the moment that he finished his second album, Wrong Crowd, and started to visualise it. From the videos; a beautiful series documenting toxic relationships, to the dramatic yet delicate artwork. An almost tragic collection of very real, very human experiences and battles, the record is full of whirlwind sensations and whiplash reality. And the ‘No Bad Days’ tour let them live in all their glory. Performed, the songs that craved poison without recognising their own beauty, created a place for catharsis and cleansing.
“The interesting thing was that it was never particularly an ethos.” Tom explains, “’No Bad Days’ came from me and George Belford, who directed all the videos. We sat down and we threw words at each other for like three weeks.” he laughs, taking a sip from the brown paper cup of coffee that he’s cradling. “We came up with all of these phrases and one of them was ‘No Bad Days’. It was this idea that this character who lives in the album was in denial that he could ever be sad and I think that a lot of the films and videos that we made were about that very feeling.”
The video for ‘Here I Am’ instantly comes to mind. It sees Kevin Spacey running tirelessly, desperately, up flights of stairs to reach a party, the one we visit in numerous videos at different stages of a lost night, at the top. Yet, the door slams in his face each time. “It was about the idea that he was chasing something that essentially wasn’t there. And he would do it to the point of self-destruction. That’s what the idea of ‘No Bad Days’ was and I think what was interesting about doing a tour called ‘No Bad Days’ was is that that’s what touring feels like.
“That you’re chasing this thing and you’re not quite sure what it is but you chase it every day and every night.”
A strange sense of addiction fuels the tour. Travelling the world and laying his heart on the line each night, “doesn’t seem such a crazy rollercoaster anymore.” Tom breathes a sigh of relief for the lightbulb flick of normality from this tour, saying, “I settled into it in a way that I was able to write, sort of properly write on the road not like before, and to find the time to be able to do that. Whereas on the first album I couldn’t ever write on the road very well because it all just felt so fucking crazy, and it felt mad that I’d just played a concert and I couldn’t wind down from it.
“I’ve gotten to a point where I feel so much calmer on the road and I think that it’s been a really nice revelation that, to be honest with you.”
The shows take that very essence, and in a sense they celebrate the calm after a storm of modern frustration and lust. Even simply being in the crowd of the show is an adrenaline rush like no other. Songs brood and explode on stage, they swell with the passion of the band, and monstrously grow into untamable moments. “They’re a real journey of frustration and of angst, and then intimacy. It’s like a sort of mad kid screaming in his head. That’s what the shows symbolise to me.”
Tom is wearing his signature red checkered shirt, paired with socks and sliders. They’re not the ideal footwear for a walk around a Welsh field, but he suggests one all the same. He’s due on stage in less than an hour, and it’s a headline set at Burning Lantern Fayre. It’s one of the final dates at the tour, which will end with a stint in China, then Germany.
The conversation drifts easily; we talk about Louis, his cat, and how he’s taken a disliking to the new member of the family. “We have a wonderful dog called Bobby, who has come to a few shows, he has little protective ear muffs.” Tom tells me, “He’s getting to grips with songwriting; slowly but surely.” Louis meanwhile, is being considered to appear on ‘It’s Me or the Dog.’
“I think ashamedly that I’m quite distant from the person that is on stage. I feel like I put a suit on and I turn into somebody that I’m not when I’m on stage.” he confesses, and looks a little shy. “I don’t live my life like I do on stage. But I think by actually going through this story of destruction and self-destruction on stage and in the album, and talking about that stuff that I’ve actually become a lot cleaner and more sort of a calmer person off stage. I don’t know why but I do feel that way.” The sentence is sealed with a smile, as though he’s tasting the liberation in his mouth. “I think I do relieve that energy on stage, but whenever we do go on stage there is this amazing tension between the band and I, and we really thrive off it and go for it.”
The smell of damp grass stains the cool summer evening. As we walk, Tom is on look out, pointing out nettles and small holes, changing direction to cover as much of the field as possible. Like the powerful break of the sultry ‘Concrete’, I see him softly inhale the fresh air, thankful for the break from being sat on transport. Another thing that the band and Tom have shared.
‘No Bad Days’ has become an exclusive club of sorts, as suave as his tailored suits, and a place of unity for isolated individuals. Tom has crafted a world that is as glamorous as it is taunting, touching and thought-provoking. For fans, like you and I, it’s been a stable point for escapism; something that receives a warm smile when I tell him. “I think what is so special is that the relationship I do have with [the fans] is like, my fame is so minor is that nobody is particularly interested in my life at home.” He laughs to confess that he once thought he was being arrested in NYC, but instead ending up taking a photo with a cop who had recognised him crossing the road. “It’s more we share books with each other and we share films with each other. It’s a really nice healthy relationship and I’m really, really grateful for them to be there and follow my music.”
Acknowledging that there’s something in the show that people come back for, it’s undeniably the connection. From the chanting choruses of ‘I Know’ that embed into the soul, to the classic dance-moves that take over the body, to the wild riling of audience with a ring-master swing of the arms, to the pianoman himself falling to his knees on his instrument after soaring glissando, a night at the tour is something craved forever after. Memories vivid in the mind but documented wearing a black and white filter.
“I think what’s been really interesting about the whole ‘No Bad Days’ thing is that in some ways that has felt more potent than Wrong Crowd. That’s the thing that I feel has resonated with people and the touring is the thing that I feel like has grown since the first album.” He says, lighting up a cigarette. “That’s what’s fascinating about music now, which direction it’s moving in. It might not be so much about the album anymore. But who am I to fight it? It’s interesting witnessing that changing. How I interact with people and what it is that they’re coming back to see might not necessarily be to hear the songs from the album.”
The songs have changed too. By being released on the stage, they’re given space to grow with the crazed genius of their character. Mixing up the set-list to a special cocktail each night, playing songs live is almost like greeting old friends for Tom – never the same night twice. “I think your relationship does change with [the songs] and particularly with the older songs.” Adding ‘Supposed To Be’, “feels like an interesting bit of naivety and innocence thrown in there.” The carefully concocted mix of lonely ballads and childhood pleas slot into the episodes of lustrous gritty drama. The journey almost cements that throughout first heartbreaks, and third heartbreaks, confused years and rebel phases, you’ll always know your own sentiments and feel every damn beat of your own however much you resist. “Each night songs feel completely different, they always change.”
Tom is as modest as ever, flicking his sandy hair from his eyes when faced with a compliment. He tells me of the places he’s been, gushing over the people he’s met. Coy, yet tempted, he tests the waters of talking about album three. It was written during January, a month of calamity, where “the songs just came out like hot dinners,” Tom recalls, “it was just crazy. I’ve recorded… well it’s almost finished. I think I was really inspired by this whole period that we’d been through, it came quickly and I was really excited about making more music and it felt very clear to me what I wanted to make.” Making scales with his hands, he explains; “It feels done, it feels almost done, and then some days it feels like there’s a little bit more to go and then some days it feels complete.”
If ‘No Bad Days’ were a book, I’m certain each chapter would end with a cliff-hanger. It’d be one where you’d be tempted to flick forward and sneak a peek at the fate of our protagonist. Written in poems and riddles, mixed with some stone cold truths and venomous revelations, ‘No Bad Days’ would be the ultimate journey at the expense of hedonism. It’s a nail biter, a tale that knows you better than you know yourself. An adventure that never really finishes or finds closure. But it’s a book that Tom says, with a sigh of relief, that “feels really good to close.”
Photos by James Newman
Words by Tanyel Gumushan