Back in March, British singer-songwriter Tom Odell serenaded Hong Kong fans at a stripped-down, acoustic set – his first solo concert in the 852.
Minutes before the concert began, the Magnetised singer sat down with Young Post to chat about the challenges of songwriting, and how he keeps things fun on tour. Odell has, at 28, already sold more than 1.8 million records, and won numerous awards, including the 2014 Ivor Novello Songwriter of the Year award.
Unlike most major label artists, Odell doesn’t have a team of songwriters working around the clock to craft catchy pop tunes for him – all of his albums to date are mostly self-penned tunes. Brushing away blond hair that is constantly falling into his eyes, he tells us that his nostalgic, melancholic sound has been years in the making.
“I wrote my first song at 12, but didn’t write a song that ended up on my first album [Long Way Down] until I was 20,” says the singer. Despite having written indie-pop anthems such as Another Love and Wrong Crowd, the singer confesses that he still struggles with coming up with the right lyrics. “I had serious writer’s block when I first signed a record deal,” he says.
“For me, there are two types of writer’s block: one of them stops you from accessing your truth and keeps you from creating something deep and meaningful; the other is when you’re unable to craft the final bits of a song – the skeleton is there but the decorations are missing.”
Odell believes songwriting is unlike other jobs, as writers have to tap into their own well of emotions. “Music is more about passion than expertise,” he says. “It requires far more emotional sacrifice [than other jobs] because you’re drawing so much from your personal life.”
The discipline that songwriting requires, he adds, means that it isn’t a job for everyone. “As [American singer-songwriter] Billy Joel once said, songwriting is one of the most painful things you can do – but sometimes you just have to sit down and do it.” Odell has been on a cycle of recording and touring for years now, but he tells us that he still manages to keep things fresh.
To cope with a long and hectic touring schedule, he’s developed his own daily routine – which includes meditating twice a day and taking lots of walks. His nature getaways are well-documented in his Instagram feed: from skiing in the Austrian alps to visiting a Zen garden in Shanghai.
“On tour, there’s never enough time in the day to do everything I want to do – you want to go out and do a bit of sightseeing but you never have quite enough time; there’s soundcheck and interviews, I also have to sleep a lot, otherwise I’ll lose my voice,” he explains. “It’s hard, because I’m not always in a good mood before a show, and it can get quite lonely – but no job is perfect.”
For many young aspiring musicians, the goal is to get noticed, but Odell recommends wannabe singers worry less about that and to focus instead on the music itself.
“Nine times out of 10, good music gets heard,” he says. “There are a million things that determine whether a song becomes a hit, but if you make something you genuinely like, people will hear it.”
Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge