Following the success of his second record ‘Wrong Crowd’ Tom Odell is back with a brilliant new album ‘Jubilee Road’. Written based off of a real life road Odell lived on the English singer songwriter said “This street became this symbol of my first home and to be part of a community, and I hadn’t had that because I had been constantly traveling.”
Consisting largely of observations from the piano seat of his home, Tom Odell brings you into his world and makes you feel like an every day neighbor. The Ivor Novello award winner describes the creation of the album as a period of “searching for magic” something that he believes he achieved saying “I think with this album as far as lyrically there was a sort of magic realism to it.”
Tom Odell sat down with GIGsoup before his show in Salt Lake City and discussed more of the ‘Jubilee Road’ album, his relationship with the piano, how he began sharing his music, and more.
Hi I’m with Tom Odell here in Salt Lake City. Tom you’re on the Jubilee Road Tour and now it has had some time, is this the second stage of touring for the album?
Tom Odell: So we started in September of last year with a little two week really short tour of America. After that we went and did a four week tour of the UK, a month of Europe, a short break, and then another six weeks in Europe. Then it went to Asia, and we started in America about two and a half weeks ago. We finish in a week and a half and that is kind of it for shows, but we are doing festivals all summer and then I finish in September.
Oh wow, a year of…
A year of solid touring.
And so now as The ‘Jubilee Road’ album has had some time, what has the reaction been like on this tour?
Well it is funny, I think it’s interesting like after it seems to me there is a real lag when you put out an album. Having put out three now I’ve realized that I only really saw a reaction to the first album like a couple of years after. I started to realize which songs worked and which songs didn’t work. The same happened with the second album. In some ways this feels like we seem to be playing a lot of songs from the second album on this tour. It’s quite second album heavy on setlist, not by that much, but like a considerable amount. I think we have done at least five or six songs from the second album every night.
But we are also doing songs from the new album as well of course. But what’s my point? I’m trying to say that it takes a bit of time to work out what the reaction is and it’s quite nice that I have realized now for the second album which songs people are really into and which ones they aren’t. Which ones also we as a band have a joy playing, which songs have stood the test of time. But it all also depends on my mood as well, the bands mood and what we are into at the time. Like we will start playing certain songs from the first record like certain b sides from the first record according to what we are listening to at the moment, and where we want the direction to go in. It’s nice to have a big body of work.
So does your setlist change much from show to show?
Yeah to some degree. Sometimes the bigger shows have a bit more of a structure to them because there’s a pressure there. I do change set lists every night, we never do a setlist twice.
I listened to ‘Jubilee Road’ all day today. The best way I could describe the record is like thisrich and beautiful dream. What can you say about the creation process of ‘Jubilee Road’, and where the album got that richness?
That’s very kind of you, I’m pleased you think that. I guess like searching for you are searching for magic aren’t you? It’s not like… well yeah you are searching for magic, or I certainly am with music. You are searching for that magic thing that the moment that puts the hair on the back of your neck up.
I think with this album as far as lyrically there was a sort of magic realism to it. In the sense that magic realism is a whole genre of literature but I think with songs like ‘Son of an Only Child’, ‘Jubilee Road’, and ‘China Dolls’ like they are not like narratives I’m writing. It’s like quite lucid and and elusive, and I wrote it in those manners. It wasn’t like there is a start, a middle, and an end, it was more you are eluding to sort of this greater idea and what quite that greater idea is could be interpreted differently. I think that the mistake then some song writers make is when trying to achieve that is it then becomes quite vague. But it was very important to me that it didn’t become vague. I wanted the ideas to be clear but with this magic that you can’t quite pinpoint.
I think the Album was very inspired by people like Elvis Costello, and like Bernie Taupin, and Elton John, it’s actually quite an English kind of thing. Whereas I listen to so much Americana, and so much American music I think that slightly magical, elusive lyric vibe is quite English. It’s like David Bowie had that in heaps, I think there is not that many American artists with that, like maybe Tom Petty has that. But I don’t think Bruce Springsteen has it, like Bruce Springsteen is one of my favorite artists of all time but his is real, there is a story there, it’s tangible. Where Bowie is singing like ‘Space Oddity’ there is a real difference and I think that that is one of the great divides in UK and American songwriting.
So you wrote the record and it is largely from observations you had in a new home and is based on the road that you lived on. So these are all different things you viewed from the window at your piano seat. So what was it about this home that inspired you to put it into song?
Well it was this little terrace on a street of terraced housing, which is very synonymous with London particularly East London. I lived in a little house there and compared to America it’s small, like everything is small because its London and Europe. But there is something magical about that you know, everyone is living on top of each other. It’s unique like the floorboards creek, and you can hear the neighbors through the walls, this street I lived on had so much character. This street became this symbol of my first home and to be part of a community, and I hadn’t had that because I had been constantly traveling.
That immediately conjured up these ideas of like hang on a minute, because of my music and because I’ve sold a few records I’ve been able to afford to buy a home when none of my friends have you know? There was instantly like these interesting ideas of friction that was there and that produced a lot of interesting sort of songs. But also I think there is more out, I have more context on it now because I am writing the next one and I think of it like this warm fuzzy album that doesn’t have that big of ambitions, it’s a home. It’s a detail, I was reading a lot of John Updike as well when I was writing it. I loved that like attention to detail and it was amazing.
And so your second album ‘Wrong Crowd’ you were expressing a lot of yearning to find home and belonging, how did this search lead you to the community and comfort you found on ‘Jubilee Road’?
Well I think Wrong Crowd was written in such sort of like transient environments like it was written in studios, apartments, and never really in one place. I mean probably every single song was written somewhere different, and I just didn’t want to do that again. So the desire was to bring writing to home. So all of the songs were written there and maybe a few of them were developed elsewhere. I remember writing bits of ‘If You Wanna Love Somebody’ in Italy or something. But ultimately they were all written in this little cupboard, well part in the living room, part in the cupboard there.
A lot of it was inspired at the seat of your piano which I loved to read about in other interviews and the way that you talked about that was really interesting. I wanted to know how you would describe your relationship with the piano?
Um well I’m like obsessed with the piano. I love it! And I’m… it’s sort of like I just fall short of having that weird if you’ve ever read about that sexual object thing (laughs) Have you ever read about that?
I can’t say I have (laughs).
Look it up, it’s great. There is a documentary about it. Like people actually fall in love, they get married to like objects. In fact someone got married to the Eiffel Tower. But I don’t have that, I have no sexual desires towards the piano. But I fall just short of that. I love it so much. It really is like this place of calm and shelter from the storm I would say. I love it and I… it will forever be a big part of what I do with my music. It’s funny because the other night I played on stage, I’ve written this new song it’s called ‘Tears Are Never Dry’ and I actually wrote it on the guitar because I didn’t always have access to the piano. We did it on stage and I played the guitar and it’s like I cant express myself… even with singing I cant really express myself. The expression comes from playing the piano.
And have you always found that expression with the piano? When did you start playing?
Yeah since I was ten or eleven I’d say. I started playing when I was seven but the first three years were hard and you don’t really get that much satisfaction out of it. But I remember there was this point maybe I was a bit older like eleven or twelve and I just got it and then it was like from then it has always just been joy. But I have gotten a lot better, I’ve gotten a lot better at the piano. I’ve done over a thousand shows over the year and that’s made me a lot better. I feel this like it is my mother tongue, like it is the language I speak the most clearly and I can say things with the piano that I would never be able to say, or express, or articulate in words.
You started writing your own music at thirteen I read, but you kept it a secret and didn’t tell anyone because it seemed uncool at the time. When did that change for you that you were able to share?
And it stuck. It’s online and now people pull from that (laughs)
I think secret is really too strong of word. I think the point I was trying to make was rather than keeping it secret I just didn’t tell anyone about it. Like if people asked I’d tell them about it but like it wasn’t you know when you find something truly special and meaningful to you the desire to boast or tell your friends I actually tend to find dissipates. Like it is when you are not quite sure about something you go to your friends. You are kind of judging their reaction, you need validation from other people on whether or not it’s right. Rather than when you find somethings that’s truly deeply meaningful for me personally I don’t want to tell people. It’s such like a deep inner satisfaction that I almost don’t want anybody to judge me on.
So it was a teacher that happened to walk passed a door when I was in school in like this sort of piano practice room, where I was playing some of my songs. He was a great teacher and then every week I would go and play him new songs. He was quite monumental like he played a big part.
And when did it start getting to more people?
Yeah no I still didn’t really play it to anyone. It wasn’t until I was about seventeen or eighteen until I started playing to people. I was in a lot of bands actually. I played piano but never sung. I played piano in bands at like fifteen. I think I probably wrote a lot of the songs as well then but someone else would sing them.
That’s really great. One thing I really admire from reading about you and your work is how special and meaningful it is to you and earlier you said how Jubilee Road is a warm fuzzy record that doesn’t have that big of aspirations. It all seems to really be about the love of the music and creating something special.
Yeah what it all comes down to is the fact that I can’t live with myself if the song doesn’t give me that feeling that I got when I was twelve and so I have to just wait and achieve and be the best I can be always pleasing that thirteen year old. And as soon as I ever have been in a situation where I’m like I could do this and maybe it would make me more successful I just couldn’t live with myself. Unfortunately there is a bit of the music industry that those who play the game do have more songs on the charts and stuff. But I’m quite satisfied in being able to sing my songs, and make more albums. My ambitions are relatively modest I’d say.
Wow I love that. Random question now – Does Tom Odell do karaoke?
Um I’m not a massive fan of karaoke, I have done it. I have done it in various cities around the world. I did it in Tokyo. Yeah karaoke doesn’t bother me, I’m not like interested in it. I find that I tend to stay away from like that forced fun (laughs). I think it is like the Englishman in me like the “Okay, now you’re going to have fun!” But I quite like the idea of karaoke, I think I enjoy watching it more than I enjoy doing it myself. I like when it brings out… I was actually at this mad karaoke bar in LA and there was this old Asian guy that must have been in his late seventies or something. He was just like I mean his characteristics did not fit that of this bar. Like not to stereotype but this man you do not expect to see in a karaoke bar at one in the morning. He got up and sang ‘My way’ by Sinatra and it was just mindblowingly good and he just walked off after. So I like that sort of thing where you take it to where anyone can be a star and I like that to some degree. It’s an interesting concept.
See that is one of the best parts, I joke because I love karaoke. I’m not a good singer but I sing in my car, and I sing on a karaoke stage. So I ask in every interview what would be your go-to karaoke song. What would be Tom Odell’s song?
I would go for something Sinatra or like yeah… I’m getting like all of these flashbacks of all the times I have done karaoke all over. So I remember this karaoke bar in Nashville and we were in a room full of vets. It was kind of a bizarre night, I actually played them all in pool and I beat them all. And they were like really, I’ve never felt this sort of glow of admiration.
(Laughs) So you can be on stage in front of a thousand people and it isn’t the same as beating some veterans in pool?
Yes this was like a thousand times more intense how much they admired me for beating them at pool.
(Laughs) Amazing. And so you were discovered by Lily Allen which I found really interesting. She compared seeing you live to seeing David Bowie, how old were you at the time, and what did something like that mean to you?
Yes! I was young, I was like twenty or twenty one. Yeah it was great! Lily she really like at the time I was really just beginning to play a lot of shows in London at the time, there was a few labels that would stick around and she is the one that put the money on the table and yeah she signed me.
When has been a time with music that you said to yourself like “Wow, I can’t believe I’m here.”?
I think it’s important when I played Madison Square Garden with Billy Joel that I now look back on. At the time I was so busy and we were flying around the world, just around and around and around. It was like this blur. But if I look back at that time I see how significant his career has been for mine, and also how significant those shows are at Madison Square Garden. I think I will look back on that one day and that is the man that his music was so meaningful to me. I don’t know there just feels something significant about that and it feels meaningful to me, the way he sees music is meaningful to me.
But I think there has been a lot of things like I won an Ivor Novello so that meant a lot to me, that’s a big deal in the UK. But the times I’m always most blown away is like if I’m playing London and like five or six thousand people turn out and you still sort of pinch yourself. I always have this thing where I don’t believe that they’re going to turn up, and then they are there.
I think the biggest thing I’ve taken from the whole thing and I think I say this with a little bit of hesitation, but the biggest thing I’ve taken from the whole things is I grew up in the suburbs of town and there was so much I believed was impossible. But you realize that although there is powerful people we are all just these vulnerable humans, and that within that anything is possible. Anything you want to do is possible. I think that is what I’ve learned from my experiences is that you just do it and then things happen. But so much I remember the start of my career when I was dreaming of being a musician I saw all these road blocks and these walls that were sort of put there by myself.
Like I dreamed of doing music, definitely dreamed of it. I used to dream of it when I was young. I used to be in love with this girl in my school when I was like fifteen, and I remember dreaming like “one day, one day she will be in the crowd” and that happened.
That’s what I was going to ask (laugh)
Yeah (laughs) it happened. Like I dreamed of it and I didn’t think it was possible but I did dream.
So as you wrap up touring, and festivals what is next for Tom Odell?
I’m very busy actually all the way until September actually. I’m writing this next album which is taking a lot of my time. I’m also doing this documentary for the BBC which is all about the piano and I’m interviewing some incredible people for it. I’m really excited about that. I have been doing the interviews for that and it is totally shoe on the other foot, like I have done hundreds of interviews in the last few years but now I’m the one asking the questions. Like I’m doing what you’re doing and it is a totally different experience.
Well Tom thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down with me.