Tom Odell is back, and at his most-experimental on harrowing track, “numb”.
Tom Odell is back – and he’s bad! The 2010’s were something of a mixed bag for the singer, a journey of colossal highs following his successful debut in 2013, and, towards the latter years, some tremendous lows too. With anxiety starting take it’s toll, the singer retreated from LA back to his native England in 2018 to recalibrate, documenting the tumultuous time in a series of hits that now form his forthcoming album.
Now 30, the songwriter is combining a natural talent for words with an intense and ever-growing fondness for electronic bedroom pop. Introducing us to these efforts is the experimentally downbeat “numb” – inspired by Mica Levi’s probing soundscapes, mixing layers of synthetic textures with flourishes of traditional acoustics. “I would say there was this period where I was just disconnected,” Odell explains, “I felt bogged down, like I was beginning to lose that sense of lightness.” It’s through that sadness that Odell forged forward, holding his hand over the flame and giving a middle finger to his demons.
To coincide with the release of “numb”, Odell has also announced an exclusive, already sold out Virtual Live performance on the Sidedoor platform on February 27th, with a second live offering also being scheduled for those who missed out the first time on April 10th. Odell will be answering fan Q&As, premiering brand-spanking new tracks, with all the proceeds going to the singer’s amazing band and crew who’ve been unable to work through the pandemic.
Check out our interview with the Ivor Novello winning artist down below…
Hey Tom! How has lockdown and this uncertain time been for you?
It’s been different. Lots of anxiety. Lots of googling covid symptoms. Lots of drinking and reading and Netflix. Also lots of music making. I spent most of my twenties touring. (I turned 30 couple of months ago), and suddenly I was grounded. It made me realise how stimulating travelling is, how much time it takes up, but also maybe how it gives you a false sense of movement. Being still, in one city, in a lockdown, one has to find movement in other ways. The music I was making had to move more, stimulate me more. I think it’s meant I’m listening more intently.
How has it impacted your creativity and music?
I think I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to work through it. I have a cabin at the end of my garden. At the beginning of lockdown it pretty much just had a piano and some speakers in it. Now a year on, having spent pretty much every day in here since, it’s a fully functioning recording studio, with vintage synths and boxes with buttons I never knew how to work before. There’s even a sofa in here now.
Congratulations on your new album, what inspired it?
I started writing it in 2019 on the road. I was dealing with horrendous anxiety. Looking back now, it was almost like I was running from it. I’d get back from a tour, and fly straight to Nashville to work with someone I’d messaged on Instagram. Then I’d go back on tour, then fly to LA to work with someone else. All the time writing frantically. Trying to get everything down as if it was my last chance to do so. Then a few months before the pandemic, the anxiety caught up with me. It grounded me. I came home. With a bunch of songs, but little else. A few months later I started recording it and then the pandemic hit.
It’s a move away from what we’d normally expect from you sonically, what made you want to delve more into this dark pop territory?
I’d been listening to more and more pop music. I was shied away from pop music. But I think it’s gotten so broad in recent years and there’s some fucking wild stuff being made. I remember in like 2015/2016 pop music was dominated by dance music. Now its dominated by so many different genres. You got Rosalia, and Travis Scott and Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande all considered to be in the same genre, yet being from such different spaces. It’s so exciting. I can’t wait for Friday morning when the new songs come out each week, to listen to what’s new. I can’t remember a time in my life I’ve done that before…
What are some of the influences?
Well so much… it’s hard to pinpoint. If I was to take my new single numb specifically… me and Laurie Blundell (co producer) were talking a lot about Mica Levi when we were recording it. The way she takes traditional instruments and uses them in contemporary ways, like her use of strings on the Under The Skin soundtrack, we were super inspired by that. Miles James, who also worked on numb with me, is a connoisseur of the vintage Moog’s and mpc drum machine, both of which feature of heavily on the record. I guess that sound has its roots in Dr Dre’s work, who I know was a big user of the MPC drum machine, so I would say there is obviously big hip hop influence.
You recorded the album in lockdown – how much do you think this affected the sound and lyricism as opposed to if it had been crafted pre-lockdown?
Lyrically, I would say not that much. As a lot of the lyrics were written pre lockdown. But the sound is totally shaped by the lockdown. numb was made by passing the session to each other by dropbox. I’d do a bit of work on it. Then Miles and Laurie would. Then back to me again, and on and on like that.
Has the process been really cathartic?
Yeah for sure. Although I’m passionate about my work. Very passionate. And sometimes that passion can turn into stress quite quickly. I have to self-regulate. Make sure I only do 8 hours or so a day. Otherwise I can become quite obsessive.
And your first single “numb” is out now – what is the song about?
I wrote numb in 2019 at a really low point. I was struggling. Bit depressed. Lacking any real wholesomeness in my life. Things have got a lot better for me since then, and I think the album documents that. But I wanted to start at the beginning.
How does it feel releasing new music when most of the world is in lockdown/everything feels so uncertain – what do you hope your music will bring?
Just writing this, and doing a bit of other promotion for it, it already feels super exhilarating to be engaging with the world again. I’ve been using social media lots more recently and loving it. Feels great to be connecting with people again. Also I’m realising, some of the people on Instagram that follow me, they’ve been fans of mine for a long time now, so you know, it’s like seeing an old friend, we’ve got history. It adds momentary layer of depth to a notoriously superficial world.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to in 2021?
Yes I am. It has been a long winter. There has been so much suffering. Of the kind I’m sure I cannot even begin to imagine. But spring is coming, and I like a lot of people I’mm excited to see the first buds. Feels like we’ve been waiting a lifetime for them.