By Laura Ferreiro
Tom Odell is one of those rare singer-songwriters whose music sounds simultaneously timeless and modern. The 22-year-old British musician, who once studied classical piano and recently won the coveted Critics Choice Award at the UK's BRIT Awards, says that he approaches songwriting in a very "unguarded" way and that his lyrics are often deeply personal.
"I tried to break down any guards I had," he says about the process of writing the songs for his new album, Long Way Down. "The album was tricky to make because it's a very personal album and it's very autobiographical," he explains. "I did that so people could relate. That's the amazing power of music. Songs can say so much. That's what fascinates me."
Although Odell started studying classical piano at a young age, he confesses that he was a terrible classical student and always gravitated toward rock music and edgy singer-songwriters. "I was the worst classical musician in the world," he admits. "My teachers told me to learn a piece by Bach and I'd go away and not learn it and learn a Jerry Lee Lewis song instead, or write my own song, but they didn't hear the humor in it.
"I found the joy in writing my own songs and discovered [The Beatles] Sgt. Peppers and Grace by Jeff Buckley, and that's when I really started finding a freedom of expression in music."
Odell's music, which largely consists of piano-driven, soul-searching ballads that reflect on love and loss, combines emotive rock qualities of Coldplay with a male take on the throaty vocals of Adele (who also won the BRIT Critics Choice Award). It also has elements of Buckley and Mumford & Sons thrown in for good measure. While Long Way Down has already topped charts in several countries including his native UK, Odell has already come up against his fair share of haters. Tastemaking British music magazine NME gave the album a rare 0-star rating, calling it "offensively dull piano pop." So how does the young musician deal with such wide-ranging reviews and unabashed criticism? It turns out he got some good advice from Coldplay frontman, Chris Martin, who has encountered several harsh critics throughout his career as well.
"I was lucky enough to meet Chris Martin from Coldplay a couple of months ago," Odell says. "He said to me, 'Don’t let them bring you up too much and don't let them bring you down. Just do the music.' I think that's very important. When you're writing very personal lyrics it's important to be able to distance yourself. It can be amazing when people are nice about it but dangerous when people are horrible about it. So I don't pay too much attention."
Luckily for Odell, it seems he's already garnered a solid fan base on both sides of the pond, and has just returned to the U.S. for his second tour this year. The jaunt kicked off last week in Philadelphia and hit New York's Irving Plaza on September 21. It's scheduled to wrap up at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles on October 9.
"Just to be touring here is such an achievement," he says from a tour stop in Philadelphia. "I didn't think I'd be playing a 700-person venue in New York, so I'm very happy about that." If the new album is any indication, it probably won't be long until Odell is filling even larger rooms.
Watch Odell's "Grow Old With Me" video below.