Since the release of his debut album Long Way Down in 2013, Tom Odell has been regarded as a talented singer/songwriter who combines soulful, emotional singing with excellent, piano-based songwriting. Best known in the U.K. and Europe, but with fans worldwide, Odell has continued to build his audience with his second album Wrong Crowd (released in 2016), and now with the release of this third album, Jubilee Road (on RCA Records).
Odell, who performs both solo and with his band, is a modern pop artist who is carrying on the rich tradition of piano-based singer/songwriters such as Elton John and Billy Joel. In particular, Odell is a strong, powerful vocalist who can add passion and energy to his piano-based tracks.
Jubilee Road is perhaps Odell’s most personal and honest album. The album contains 10 songs that were inspired by his observations and experiences, when he lived in a specific neighborhood in East London. The album includes some of his best songs to date, such as the first single “If You Wanna Love Somebody,” the title track and “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Tonight.”
Another highlight is the ballad “Half As Good As You,” that features a superb duet between Odell and rising singer/songwriter, Alice Merton. Odell and Merton’s voices blend very well on this song, which is about a couple who has broken up, but they both yearn to find someone new that has the positive qualities they remember about each other.
Born in the town of Chichester, West Sussex, England. Odell was originally discovered by singer/songwriter Lily Allen and signed to her label (an imprint of Columbia/RCA Records). In 2012, he released his debut EP, Songs from Another Love, and he was subsequently named Critics’ Choice Winner at the 2013 BRIT Awards.
In 2013, Odell released his first full album, Long Way Down, which contained the singles “Another Love,” “Grow Old With Me” and “Hold Me.” The following year, Odell was named Songwriter of the Year at the prestigious Ivor Novello Awards. It was also that year that he had another U.K. hit single, with his cover recording of John Lennon’s song, “Real Love.”
We are pleased to do this Q&A interview with Tom Odell. He discusses the making of his new album Jubilee Road, and how he wrote his songs “If You Wanna Love Somebody,” “Half As Good As You” and the title cut.
Note: This is the second article we’ve done with Odell. In our 2016 article, he talks about the making of his second album, Wrong Crowd.
DK: Can you talk about the making of your album, Jubilee Road? I read that it’s based on a neighborhood you lived in.
Tom Odell: Jubilee Road is based on a real street in East London, although it’s a fictional name. I lived there until a year ago. I began writing songs that were centered around the road, and around the experiences of living on this road. I wrote songs in the living room of this house. I would sit at the piano, and look out upon the street.
Here’s the video of Tom Odell’s single, “If You Wanna Love Somebody.”
The songs were sort of inspired by witnessing the various generations, and the diverse group of people who lived on the road. To some degree, it took me back to my own childhood. [The album] is a nice snapshot of time, of all these different people who were families and couples and single people living on this road together. I was interested in the way their lives squeezed together.
DK: Would you consider Jubilee Road to be more of a concept album, about the neighborhood you lived in?
Odell: Yeah, I would say to a degree. I would call it…all songs from this road. I wasn’t really trying to create a concept…it was just trying to record a snapshot of time. It’s mostly trying to document [my experiences there].
DK: I really like your song, “If You Wanna Love Somebody,” which has a lot of emotion. What inspired you to write this song?
Odell: I think there was a degree of distraction that was going on in my life at that point. It’s an interesting song, in the sense that it’s quite spiritual in a way, to try to clear yourself of distractions and see what’s important.
I think an analogy for this song would be…it’s like when you leave your sunglasses on your head, and you search through your house looking for your sunglasses. Then you realize they were there on your head all along. It’s saying that you can think you’ve lost love to someone, but actually it’s there the whole time…you’re just not seeing it yourself. I think that’s what this song is saying.
I’m always careful about using the word spirituality, but I think this song came from an adventure into that department, in terms of meditation…transcendental meditation. I was certainly experimenting with this, and I still am. I think the sense of it…the spirituality, is one of real positivity with that song.
DK: Another song I like is “Half As Good As You,” which you sing as a duet with Alice Merton. How did you connect with Alice, and how did this song came together?
Odell: I wrote this song awhile ago, and it had been sitting in my sort of chest of songs. I had written a verse and the main chorus. Then I thought how it might fit well with the other songs on Jubilee Road. So I began working on “Half As Good As You” again, and I thought it would be really interesting if we actually heard her side (the female side) as well, rather than just my side. So I thought…Oh, I’d really like it as a duet.
Here’s the video of Tom Odell’s single “Half As Good As You,”
featuring Alice Merton.
I had met Alice Merton a few months before, so I asked if she wanted to come have a go at singing it. She said yes, and it worked really well. I thought it was really refreshing to hear someone else’s voice midway through the album. Alice added so much energy to it, which is really pleasant. It’s been really nice having her sing on it.
DK: When you write songs, would you usually sit down at the piano and try to come up with something? Or do you like to come up with a title or lyrics first?
Odell: I’d say it’s always different. I’m always jotting things down in my notepads…little titles and ideas. That’s more of a word thing, and I’m searching for phrases. At the same time, I’m always recording melodic ideas into my phone, and lyric ideas as well. And then when I sit at the piano, I’ll draw from my notepad ideas and my phone, and see if anything sticks [with the music I’m writing].
With my writing process, I’ll write very intensely. I’ll write for about 10 hours a day for a month or so, and a bunch of songs will come. Increasingly, I write with quite intense bursts, and the rest of the time, it’s more about collecting ideas.
DK: On your recent U.S. tour, you played solo shows, singing & playing piano onstage by yourself. When you come back to the U.S. for your tour next spring, will you be playing solo or with your band?
Odell: I’ll have my band with me next time. I really enjoyed that solo tour—it was the first solo tour I’ve done, and I’d like to do it again someday. But I wanted to come back with the band, because it’s a completely different show. I’m definitely looking forward to coming back with the band.