Interview: Tom Odell

Interview: Tom Odell

BIMM Brighton alumnus Tom Odell recently came back for a masterclass and while he was here he found time to talk to Amelia Bronger about his journey from the lecture theatre to the top of the charts. 

How is it to be back in Brighton, do you spend time here when you’re not touring?  

It’s great, yeah! No, I haven’t been back that much.

How did you find BIMM while you were here? 

I was here for one year and then I spent another six months working here in a bar and living at home in Chichester. I started driving up to London and trying to get gigs there. I did that for about a year and then I got a publishing deal. 

Was that because you weren’t really into the songwriting course anymore or because you were just so driven to make it on your own?

Yeah, I felt sort of ready to really go for it. In hindsight I’m not really sure I was.

Did you expect your first album [Long Way Down] to do as well as it did?

It was great, but a lot of work. You don’t have much philosophical thought about what is happening to you. I think when it finished I did, you can reflect then.

Was it easier with [second album] Wrong Crowd?

Yeah, because I knew what to expect a bit more. I felt a bit more poised going into TV shows. It’s easier to talk about it all now.

What would be the best piece of advice you’ve received up to this point?

When I met Elton John he told me to just dream big.

Was meeting Elton the moment you realised that dreaming big had got you there?

No, I don’t think you ever do. Being a musician… You know I haven’t sold millions and millions of albums. It’s a fairly modest success but it’s like anything.

You’re doing the UK tour now. Is there anywhere you’re looking forward to playing particularly?

Well I’m really looking forward to tonight [at the Brighton Centre]. A lot of my friends are in London, a lot of old family and that kind of thing. It’s nice that they’re coming; I’m really excited. I used to cycle past that place and I was always dreaming of playing in there. 

Did you ever see anyone there?

Yeah you know what’s weird, 10 years ago today I went to see Razorlight there. It’s to the day that Andy [Burrows, drummer in Razorlight and now part of Tom’s band] is playing with me there tonight at the show. I met him when I first moved up to London, so I was about 20. We bonded over our love of Elton John. He’s one of my dearest friends, I’m Godfather to his daughter.

Where do you want to be in three years time?

I really want to do an album and put it out next year. That’s what I want to do.

Do you think any of the songs you wrote for Wrong Crowd will make it on to the next album?

Yeah, I think they might yeah, definitely.

A class act

Oliver Barker gives an overview of what Tom told BIMM students at his masterclass.

One of the most successful BIMM alumni is undoubtedly Tom Odell, who, after a whirlwind six ‘weird but great’ years of chart success recently retuned to the Brighton campus to give a masterclass 

He spoke to an audience of students ahead of his show that evening in the Brighton Centre, a venue that is particularly poignant for him: “I used to cycle past the Brighton Centre and dream of playing there.” 

He also recalled hauling his piano around to open mic nights, reminding the audience of the toil involved in developing and progressing as an artist.  

Tom then steered the conversation onto his newest record, Wrong Crowd, talking of the progression from his first album and how he feels his maturity and confidence have played a role in shaping the sound of the new record

He went on to state that “confidence from growing up and doing the amount of shows I’ve done” had forced this change on him, yet he still found writing songs no easier after all these years, adding that he wrote “close to one hundred songs for this record”, the majority of which, of course, didn’t make the final cut. He said: “It’s not until you play the songs live that you fully connect with your new material” and that “with every performance you learn something new about the songs you’ve written. I wish I could go back and redo the second album because you learn so much about the songs.”

Questions from the audience followed, touching on how to develop as an artist, acquire opportunities and gain confidence. The question about confidence was put to Tom by a student, who, clearly overwhelmed by being merely in his presence, was reduced to tears while recounting the time she had previously been brought to tears at one of his shows. 

Tom responded with a hug, which was warmly received and met with applause from the audience.

After just over an hour, he was whisked away to soundcheck, leaving only a signature on a wall and further enthusiastic applause in his wake, such is the hectic schedule of a major music act. 


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