Tom Odell


Tom Odell has never fit the picture people have of him. “There’s been a perception of my music as a ‘major-label creation’,” says the singer-songwriter with a roll of his eyes. In his early career, perhaps because he arrived on the scene armed with a Brits Critics’ Choice Award, an instantly ubiquitous single (‘Another Love’) and a major label deal, critics doubted his authenticity – as if his knack for a good hook was somehow a mark against him. Even last year’s excoriating, beat-driven album Monsters – on which he pushed boundaries, experimented with new sounds, and opened up about his struggles with crippling anxiety – was dismissed by some as an attempt to stay relevant. “I don’t care if people don’t like my music, but anyone who was like, ‘It's a major-label creation,’ I’d be like you have no idea how hard I worked on it.’” says Odell. What’s more, no one ever seemed to know where to put him. “Alternative people think I'm pop, and pop people think I'm alternative...”

So he decided to stop trying to please anyone. He left Sony, let go of external pressures and made the record that felt right in his bones. “I feel so free, so liberated to be an independent artist,” he says. “Honestly there’s a huge amount of relief in this music, of just getting to do exactly what I want to do. I wanted to not cram in as many hooks as I could, not have the chorus at the front of the song, just create an environment where people can sit with the music and breathe.” The result, Best Day Of My Life, he considers to be the best album he’s ever made.

The record is a work of minimalist beauty, comprising just Odell’s voice, a piano and the occasional creak of a stool. Loosely set over the course of a single day, it tackles the emotional peaks and troughs of being alive, exploring family, anxiety, love and despair. “There’s a load of topics on the album that I didn't even intend on writing about,” says Odell – though the musical intention was there from the start. He read a quote from the super-producer Rick Rubin, about the importance of applying rules to yourself, and decided to give it a go. “I've never done an album that was just on the piano, and I thought it would be quite exciting. So the whole album, there’s no other instrument on it. It is just piano and my voice. And that was really incredible to work with those restrictions.”

Odell is a masterful pianist. On each track, the piano is elegant and expansive – hopeful one moment, melancholic the next, always deeply affecting. Odell was inspired by composers Erik Satie and Philip Glass, and he and his songwriting

partner Laurie would put Studio Ghibli films on as they wrote, to channel not only the “beautiful landscapes and vistas” of those animations, but also “the feeling of corruption and sadness”.

This is also Odell’s most personal album to date, taking him to some frank, painful places. On ‘The Blood We Bleed’, a melancholic lullaby that hisses and crackles, he muses: “You treat me tough/ We call it love/ But it’s your blood I’m gonna bleed.” “It’s about relationships with fathers, but also how generations communicate with each other,” explains Odell. “Do you bury the past or do you talk about it? Each of us carry our own personal version of that: how do we forgive and also love at the same time?” He almost didn’t put it on the album. “It does hurt me to listen to that song,” he admits – but he decided not to stand in the way of emotional truth.

‘Just Another Thing We Don’t Talk About’, meanwhile, is about his inherited tendency to suppress his own feelings. “This could be time we work things out/ Say some things that we should say out loud,” he sings over plaintive piano, his own voice layered on top of itself before drifting into harmony. “But if there’s anything that I’ve learnt by now/ It’ll be just another thing that we don’t talk about.” “It’s about the silence, and just burying things,” says Odell. “Even though my job is a singer-songwriter, I still manage to bury loads of stuff.”

The title track is perhaps the most poignant song on the album. “I think today is the best day of my life/ Fuck thinking ‘bout the future all the time,” he sings, his voice echoing and distorting as if you’re hearing it in a dream. “I guess the idea behind that was from my experience of sadness. After you’ve been through a really hard time, there are these incredible peaks of euphoria, these moments of almost uncontrollable joy, which you’re almost suspicious of.”

The video, a hypnotic animation of a woman cycling, is as beautiful and understated as the song itself. It was created by the Chinese line-drawing artist Manshen Lo – perhaps best known for designing the cover of Sally Rooney’s latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You. Lo has made all the album’s videos. “She’s unbelievable,” says Odell. “She’s a wonderful artist and director. I feel very inspired by her work actually. It’s the first time I've worked with illustration or animation.” He gave Lo “total freedom” to do what felt right with his songs. “I've definitely suffered from

slight control freak vibes in the past,” he says with a laugh. “It's been so nice to just relinquish control. I really trust her.”

On ‘Enemy’, Odell tackles his struggles with anxiety. “I lay in bed at night/ Watch you as you try to break my mind,” he sings. As with other songs on the album, he added a flicker of autotune to the vocals – not to perfect them, but to make things that little bit less comfortable. “It just made it a little bit colder, bluer,” he says of the effect. “The album’s obviously very emotionally vulnerable, but I didn’t want it to be sentimental – it’s like a diamond in the rough. You just want to make sure there’s some dirt around it.”

As for the lyrics of that song – he is directly addressing his own brain: “It’s when that thing you used to feel was strong and reliable turns on you,” he explains. “It was just like: ‘You used to be my fucking pal. What happened, man? Where did you go? Why do you turn every thought into something negative?’”

He’s learnt, though, not to fight his own brain. “So much of overcoming anything like that is accepting that you probably aren’t ever gonna overcome it,” he says. “That’s how I ended up stopping having to take beta blockers round with me, or Valium, and ended up happy again, was by stopping beating myself up and accepting who I am. Accepting even the really ugly bits of us is hard to do sometimes.”

That attitude is where the album ends up, with the tender, heartfelt “Smiling All The Way Back Home”. “I went through a really hard couple of years where I really lost my stability,” he says, “and in a way the album is a journey towards letting go. When I get to that last song, I really feel that journey of arriving somewhere better than you were before.”

Odell has been practising transcendental meditation for the past six years, and he finally allowed the effects of it into his music. “There’s a quiet and calm, not the thrashing there is on the previous album,” he says. “With my last album I just wanted to break some shit. It was tearing at the canvas. It’s a really painful album and I found it uncomfortable to listen to – but with this one I think there are some beautiful moments that I’m really proud of and I think I will continue to be proud of it.” And so he should.

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