Tom Odell jumps up from the sofa like an excited child on Christmas day morning throwing himself out of bed. He flashes a boyish smile, his blonde hair fallen lazily across one eye, and positions himself behind a keyboard.
“It’s really cute! It’s meant to go like ‘I’m in love, I’m in love!’” he grins, singing in that effortless style. As his fingers touch the keys, he begins to play a piano melody that he wrote when he was ten years old. It’s a sweet tune; charming, timeless even.
“Piano had been to me something that I did… but it wasn’t like the Holy Grail. Then I wrote this song on the piano. I was really young, I was really impressed that I was able to write a melody and remember it.
“I remember the moment very well.”
Although it’s yet to find a place in a recorded song, the fact that “it was impressive to make something that hadn’t been made before” resonated very well with the musician. Now with two albums up his tailored coat sleeve; 2013’s ‘Long Way Down’ and this year’s ‘Wrong Crowd’, Odell’s strong soul and intricate storytelling displays the very passion that the child discovered that day.
He pops the kettle on, a winter lover waiting for snow, and sits across from me. His eye contact is friendly, he gives more of it than a lot of people, but it’s a curious eye, a thoughtful look.
“Everything is so fast paced now, isn’t it?” Tom asks, an answer readily available. “We live in a time where you can Facetime someone and they could be a thousand miles away or you can order food and have it at your house in fifteen minutes. You can have a taxi that’s outside in just one minute. Everything is just so fast paced and there’s very little things these days that you have to wait for, there’s very little anticipation. Even the idea of a film coming out six months from now, it’s kind of pointless to be talking about because there’s so much that will be in between.”
The latest series for the new album are all connected, and require your attention. Noticing that music is mainly consumed through earphones on the daily commute and as background music to household chores, as a child of the last generation without technology, Odell wanted to “control the environment in which people were listening” to his music. Magnify it with visuals, seek extra meaning.
“The whole story of the videos to this album is something that developed over time.” Says Tom, noting a New Year period where the album was finished but music not yet released. Characters played around in his mind, taunting and begging to be involved.
“I wanted to take it a step further than just me sort of singing and dancing around and pretending to be me but also sort of being somebody else… I liked the idea of really being somebody else in these videos. That character kind of being myself as well.”
Like the album, it’s perhaps easily described as ‘half-biographical’. A collection of stories vesting across lust and heartbreak, a journey of self-destruction and eternal battles. Wonderfully contradictory as rich, red wine vocals spill over cinematic instrumentals that pulse and crescent.
“There’s no escaping that digital sort of fake reality that acts as a side life. It’s almost that idea of a parallel universe that we’ve created ourselves in computers, it’s like we have two lives now.”
The 25 year old’s observation almost flows into the visuals, and in turn the songs. Settings are blinding in their glamour. Bright lights swirl in youthful euphoria, the epitome of beauty, and characters enjoy the bittersweet taste of living.
Beneath the surface there’s a seediness, a mark that smears instead of disappearing when rubbed. The ironic truth hitting them like shot whiskey hitting the throat.
“This guy, this hedonist, this almost masochistic addict…” Tom closes his eyes to describe the character whom he portrays, and explains how the videos follow “the idea that he ruined the one pure thing in his life at the expense of pleasure and at the expense of hedonism. So at the start he’s in this hotel room and she’s telling him that it’s over and he goes into the party, and he can’t help himself and that led into the story of ‘Magnetised’, the next video. The theme was very much like he was racing because he’d realised he’d made a terrible mistake.”
The story runs through his body, as he explains with such determination it’s endearing. Centred around a party, a representation of a “form of destruction, and perversion… It was an idea of poison, the very thing that he was always fighting against.” Demonstrated in latest instalment, ‘Here I Am’, Kevin Spacey plays a man racing up flights of stairs repeatedly to get into the party before the door is slammed in his face.
“He’s held at ransom by this thing which is the very thing that destroys him, this party that he keeps trying round and round and round and it eventually does destroy him.”
The final episode has been filmed, reunited with his fictional flame; “it’s like a couple of years on and we’re in a different sort of place now. It’s an interesting one, it doesn’t really resolve but it’s an interesting continuation.”
In conversation, Tom is as observational and honest as his music. He’s clued up, unafraid to speak truthfully about the shitty year we’ve had in politics, and can see Black Mirror as a frightfully close representation of the near future.
Though there’s always “something about music that is incredibly natural and it should feel natural.” Concluding with a sigh of relief, “I don’t think a computer could ever make a piece of music as beautiful as Beethoven’s fifth. I don’t believe that it’s mathematics that created that.
“It was the soul. It was that magic. Maybe I’m just romantic but I don’t believe that could happen.”
There’s an air of romanticism that follows Odell wherever he goes.
On stage he’s enchanting, a young yet wise heartthrob who makes tormented lyricism swagger with urgency that swells and explodes. Delivering every track with such bravura you may well think it’d be the last song he was performing on this Earth.
Explaining that making an album is “like wandering in the dark”, and that “writing is a process that’s an instinctual thing. I have to be very sober and focused and it’s usually in the morning or late at night, but it’s a focused thing, it requires a lot of concentration”. The pain of the lyrics are a stab in the heart; scrawled song craft of jealousy, bitterness, isolation and torture. Odell’s stories of longing can’t totally be disguised by big-band smoothness, or covered by his suave nature.
That’s what makes Tom Odell. The balance. The light in the dark, and dark in the light.
In essence, “It’s an interesting time, fuck knows what’s about to happen next. It feels exciting.”
From the fire of his grand piano slams to the slick glissando that’s flirtatious; you can count every heartbeat of Tom Odell’s music, for this is not an act.
Words by Tanyel Gumushan