‘The Truth Within Themselves’: In Conversation with Tom Odell

Molly Bolding 24 February 2019
Image Credit: The Cambridge Union

Tom Odell is a 28 year old singer-songwriter from West Sussex, who studied at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute before launching his indie pop solo career with his EP Songs From Another Love in 2012. His latest album, Jubilee Road, was released in October last year, and is named after and inspired by the street where Tom has been living in London since 2010.

Seated on a plush leather sofa in the Kennedy Room at the Union, Tom reclined as he sipped from a cup of black coffee. With just ten minutes to talk, I wanted to get his opinion on some of the inspirations for his music and his experience in the industry. We began by discussing a statement from his record label’s head, Lily Allen, who described his often electric onstage performances as Bowie-esque – testament to both Tom’s talent and Bowie’s legendary status.

Tom Odell and the author. Image Credit: Rose McLelland

“He’s a massive hero of mine, but I wouldn’t say [that] I identify with that statement – I don’t know about that. The thing about comparisons is [that] they’re flattering but it doesn’t really sit with me because, number one, no-one’s ever going to be David Bowie, and number two, it’s definitely not going to be me,” he declared, “and number three, I don’t really want – and this sounds facetious but it’s not, I say only because – I have never really wanted to be someone else. I think actually, weirdly, the biggest ambition of any artist, really, in music or whatever – visual artist or a filmmaker – the number one goal above all is to try and find your own voice. I think that’s what every artist is constantly trying to do, and if you think about it the most successful artists are the ones that manage to do that: the Picassos, the Bowies…it’s the truth within themselves.”

Off the back of this profundity, we touched on the the changing nature of the music industry; after Tom’s musing that he was still buying CDs until just a few years ago.

“I bought CDs until I was about 21, 22…but I don’t buy them now. I occasionally buy vinyl…I mostly stream…I think it’s all sort of the equivalent of buying a Polaroid camera. That’s very simple, but [what I mean is] that I don’t think its particularly relevant to how most people listen to music. But I think it’s great, I want to sell vinyl – I love it myself, I love going to a shop – but I just can’t see it becoming bigger than that. What’s interesting is that people do still want physicality – but actually, do they?,” he asked skeptically, “if you’ve got the film Titanic on Netflix, do you then go out and buy the DVD?”

There is a curious contradiction in Tom’s life: he has played to tens of thousands of people – many of them students – and has spoken at events like these at the Cambridge Union a number of times, situated on university campuses, yet he never actually attended a university himself. I was curious if he had any words of advice for his younger self, given some perspective by his convoluted journey to indie fame. What would he say?

“Go to university”, he smirks. But after a moment of reflection, “I’d say don’t worry so much. Chill out. Relax. Don’t worry. Things have a habit of working themselves out…I think don’t rush. Maybe be a bit more careful…The biggest thing I’d say is don’t rush. I was always in a rush – I’m not now – but I was always in a rush to live life and move on – you don’t need to rush things.”

Lastly, we talked about his favourite venues and gigs, and Tom’s passion for his times on stage really shone through.

“There’s been a few [that stand out] – there was a time about six years ago, when I played in New York for the first time, and that was the first time that I’d played in America, and I just remember being so blown away by it. Another time I played Glastonbury the day that my album went to number one, and that was quite cool. But actually the second time I played Glastonbury was really good – Glastonbury’s an amazing place.”

He admitted a fondness for larger crowds, owing in part to the reality that “the big ones pay the bills”. “I think I’d like to say I prefer the smaller ones, but there’s quite a thrill to playing to lots of people…it’s different. For example, the last show I played on Monday night, was in front of 3,000 people, in Istanbul. Then the show on Friday is a charity gig in London, in front of 200 people. And the two shows will be completely different.”


Check out Tom’s third and latest album Jubilee Road on Spotify or here!