Tom Odell has been off the radar for a little while, but now, with his new album Wrong Crowd, he's very much back. After hanging out in New York, he's armed with a new sound, which he'll be touring later on this year. We spoke to Tom about his musical evolution so far, his love of literature, and playing for refugees in Calais.
How has the time in between your last album and this new one been for you?
Once touring for Long Way Down was beginning to die down, I took myself off to New York and rented an apartment there for a while. I got a grand piano and started writing songs for Wrong Crowd. It was a good time, and I think [it was] important that I was visitor in a city. I hardly knew anyone, and it meant I could observe people and start finding inspiration for the album.
After such a hugely successful start to your career, how was that for you, creatively and personally?
It was important for me to do that. I needed to have a bit more of a normal life for a bit, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write this album. It's very important to me that I keep in control of my career, and don’t get caught in the rat race of fame. Personally I needed it as well, otherwise I think I would have gone a bit insane.
Did you find creating a sophomore album as tricky as it is often said it is?
When I made the first album I didn’t have that much confidence in the studio, but after doing so many shows (I think almost 300), I had a lot more belief in myself as an artist. So in actual fact I found myself very inspired to make this album, I knew what I was doing and took more risks.
You have a big love of literature. What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading this book a fan gave me, actually, called ‘In the Café of Lost Youth’ by Modiano. It's great when fans bring books and film recommendations to the shows, as it's so hard sometimes to know what to read or watch next.
Does your musical creativity feed off of the books you love?
Literature is very giving to my creativity. I find I write better songs when I’m reading a lot as it allows me to communicate better with words.
Who in the industry do you find really exciting at the moment?
I really like James Blake’s new album. It's so soulful but feels very unique.
You've worked and written in both London and New York – two cities that artists are often hugely inspired by. How does their influence on you differ?
I think they inspire me in two very different ways. New York for me is a foreign place that I love to be in. I’m a stranger there, and that kind of isolation is good for writing. You can sit in a restaurant or café with a notebook and just write. People like talking to each other there as well, which is nice. London is my home, and I've lived here for 5 years now. I have a lot of friends here, and will go out and see a lot of music and go to art galleries.
You've said that a large theme on the new album is a yearning for innocence. How much of that is a reflection on your life, post-anonymity?
I think a large part of this album is a reflection of my life. I’ve always been the sort of person who stares longingly at the sea... what a cliché!! But it's true.
You've also mentioned that this album is less autobiographical than the first. Was that intentional?
I guess the new album uses storytelling a bit more. In a way it's all still autobiographical, but more in emotion than in the characters. On a few songs I sing [in] the 3rd person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not singing about myself. I guess I just explore a few more writing styles. I was listening a lot to Nebraska by Springsteen when I was writing, and I was quite inspired by that.
Another difference from your first album is the influx in upbeat numbers, and the increase in grandiose musicality, like the string orchestra. Is this the type of music you've always wanted to do?
I think I've always loved big grandiose music. Like Phil Spector or Harry Nilsson. It's always been music I’m drawn to. Music that is dramatic. But I also like more intimate music like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. So, I think this album reflects that a little more. It's a diverse range of styles.
You performed at a refugee camp in Calais earlier this year. Can you tell us about that experience?
It was a deeply moving day. One of such polar opposites. On the one hand, these refugees are living in total squalor, of which you would not wish upon anyone. And it was harrowing to see. But when you meet them, they are some of the warmest, most inspiring people I’ve met. So it was an interesting experience, and I can’t help but feel we need to be doing far, far more to look after them.