When Tom Odell debuted on Later..With Jools Holland late last month people sat up and took notice. The floppy haired kid from Chichester evoked Jeff Buckley like emotion and pounded the piano keys like a young Chris Martin according to onlookers. Now, less than a month later, Tom has won the Critics’ Choice Award at next year’s BRIT Awards and is a contender for the BBC Sound of 2013. We get to know the 22-year-old musical prodigy a bit better.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN MUSIC?
I started writing songs in my early teens, I’m not really sure why, but it seemed like the right thing to do. But I always kept it secret, even from my family. It’s not such a secret any more I guess!
YOU’RE CLASSICALLY TRAINED – WERE YOU ALWAYS AWARE THAT MUSIC WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
My first few piano teachers all gave up on me, because I would never learn the Chopin piece they told me to. I would come back having learnt a Jerry Lee Lewis song. So I decided to give up on the classical music when I was quite young. I kind of regret it now though, I think I would be a better piano player today if I’d carried on having lessons.
WHO DID YOU GROW UP LISTENING TO?
My dad gave me a copy of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by Elton John when I was quite young. I think it was the first album I listened to as a whole, and it blew me away. Songs like ‘This Song Has No Title’ and ‘Bennie and the Jets’ were kind of the first songs that inspired me to write songs. Then through Elton I listened to artists like Leon Russell and Billy Joel. When I moved away from home, I met a lot of people who introduced me to music I had never heard before. I got really into Cat Power and Beach House.
WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU FOUND OUT THAT YOU HAD WON THE CRITICS’ CHOICE AWARD AT THE BRITS? WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION?
Overwhelmed. I remember watching the Brits when I was a kid, and dreaming of being involved in some ways. And to be have been nominated besides AlunaGeorge and Laura Mvula means a lot to me, as I love their music.
YOU’VE BEEN COMPARED TO JEFF BUCKLEY – HOW DOES THAT FEEL?
There will never be another Jeff Buckley and everybody knows that. He was something else, a mindblowing singer and songwriter. So I’m very happy to be compared to him, as I love his music, but I’m never going to fill any void he left. That void is untouchable.
WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES YOU STAND OUT?
My ability to convince you that Elton John and Billy Joel are fucking cool.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CURRENT MUSIC SCENE?
I think its pretty good but I mean I would say that, as I’ve been given the opportunity to record an album and tour and everything that goes along with it. But I do think people are particularly open to new music at the moment, what with the internet and sites like YouTube and spotify around, they’re big platforms for people to find pretty much any kind of music they want to listen to. I think thats good. But I guess that comes with a problem in that it’s taken money from the record companies, which means they’re investing less in new talent. I have some really talented friends who could make amazing records, but record companies just aren’t interested. It frustrates me. But maybe its always been like that, I don’t know, I’m not that old!
DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE A BACKLASH ANY TIME SOON TO THE DANCE MUSIC CULTURE THAT HAS BECOME SO POPULAR IN THE MAINSTREAM?
I mean if that’s what everyone wants to hear, then why shouldn’t it be popular. It feels like people still want to listen to more conventional songwriting, artists like Ben Howard and Jake Bugg are doing well, I think people still like songs. Or at least I hope so anyway.
WHAT INSPIRES YOUR LYRICS?
My inability to sustain a relationship with someone for longer than six months..
YOUR SONGS ARE HUGELY EMOTIVE, HOW DO YOU CHANNEL THESE EMOTIONS INTO MUSIC?
I just write about things I’ve felt, I don’t really give it too much thought. I find that I write much better songs when I’m being honest, and writing about things that happen to me. It can get a little weird though, when friends or girlfriends work out that a song is about them. But it’s amazing what you can get away with it. Artistic license I think they call it.
DO YOU THINK THAT SONGS THESE DAYS LACK SINCERITY AND EMOTION? IS IT A WORRY FOR MUSIC?
I think all of that X Factor stuff lacks sincerity and emotion, but that’s not really music, it’s a TV show. But also I’m a huge fan of Bob Dylan, and he was always telling the press how none of his music was about himself. Does that make it insincere? Maybe people don’t always need sincerity in music, maybe thats where I’m going wrong!