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Tom Odell

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UK wunderkind, Tom Odell, heads down to Southbound happening Friday-Saturday, January 3-4, at Sir Stewart Bovell Park, Busselton. AUGUSTUS WELBY reports.

Since coming into focus in late 2012, England’s Tom Odell has generated hyperbolic polarity amongst the music press. 

The 22-year-old Odell received the Critic’s Choice award at this year’s BRIT Awards, however the characteristically flippant NME gave his debut LP, Long Way Down, a 0/10 rating. 

Getting exposed to such wayward attitudes could easily unsettle Odell’s artistic self-appraisal but he stresses that this year’s ups and downs won’t skew his essential compositional motives.

“The most important thing for me is to write songs for myself because really that’s the only listener that you can please,” he says. “I think your instincts are one of the most important things and not to think about what people are going to like and what they’re not going to like. That just ends in an awful headfuck situation.”

Having the ability to abstract oneself from the impositions of circumstance is a hugely advantageous skill for anyone creatively inclined. Odell’s current listening habits reveal that rather than focussing on what’s hot right now he gathers inspiration from broad reaches of the music spectrum.

“I’m obsessed with Nina Simone. I’ve been listening to a lot of Etta James, a lot of Sun House. There’s this guy Cass McCombs, my friend got me into him, there’s albums of his I love. I’ve been listening to that band Girls who split up about two years ago – really into them at the moment.”

Nina Simone and Girls might appear to be disparate influences but both artists share an emotionally driven core and Odell admits to a strong affection for music that vibrates with feeling.

“I think I’m just drawn to music that moves. I’ve never been particularly interested in acid-house or anything. I like stuff that moves you emotionally and you can connect with it. The raw soul,” he explains.

Odell’s debut album, Long Way Down, wears a smorgasbord of influences on its sleeve, owing debt to such exemplars of commercial pop-rock as Arcade Fire, Elton John and Coldplay. Odell indicates that rather than adhering to a habitual songwriting method he’s learned how crucial it is to pursue creative challenges.

“I very easily write piano ballads because I’m a piano player. I had to push myself to write a song like Hold Me, it’s not a song that naturally came. It’s about not thinking too much but also just opening up a bit. There was a point where all my songs started with a piano riff, but you break out of those things.”

Long Way Down’s favourable public reception threw Odell a lengthy global touring schedule and he says that getting to live the lifestyle of a 24/7 musician will inevitably influence his next album.

“We’re touring the world at the moment and you learn a lot from that – the bits you don’t have to play, don’t have to sing. It will definitely have an effect, unconscious or consciously. I’ve learnt more about music in the past year than I ever have in my entire life.”

The Long Way Down world tour continues into Australia this December including appearances at the Falls Festivals and the Corner Hotel. The same group of musicians that played on the record join Odell on stage and he’s emphatic that the live show isn’t a generic singer-songwriter display.

“A big part of it is about the band and how the songs work with the band and I. I think people would come to the shows and be quite surprised about how energetic and live it is.”

Following up a successful debut record is always a daunting prospect but Odell doesn’t feel too anxious about album number two.

“I don’t feel any pressure. If it takes me five years to make an album it doesn’t really bother me. It’d be awful to make an album just because you’ve got to make one. No one has to make one.”

Despite this reasoned response Odell seems intent on following up Long Way Down as soon as possible.

“I’ve been writing quite a bit and I’m already talking to a few producers about working with them. I’ve learnt so much about recording and songwriting that I’m excited to get into it.”

Tom Odell plays Southbound Friday-Saturday, January 3-4, at Sir Stewart Bovell Park, Busselton.

Get your tickets here.