During the past year, British singer/songwriter Tom Walker has emerged as talented artist who has a powerful, soulful voice and unique, original songs. Already a rising star in the U.K. and Europe, Walker appears ready to build a larger audience in the U.S. and worldwide with the release of his debut album, What a Time to be Alive (on Relentless/Epic Records).
It was a year ago that Walker broke through with his hit single, “Leave a Light On,” which was a hit throughout Europe, and its video has over 100 million views on YouTube. This hit, along with his 2017 EP called Blessings, has led to a growing awareness of Walker’s potential as an artist. And impressively, Walker was recently named British Breakthrough Act at the prestigious BRIT Awards in London (previous winners include Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa and Sam Smith).
Walker’s new album, What a Time to be Alive, includes “Leave a Light On” plus his new single “Just You and I,” which has already reached the Top 20 on the U.K. chart. The album contains a solid collection of songs that were written or co-written by Walker, such as “The Show,” “Angels,” “Not Giving In” and “Blessings.” Notably, the album also includes a duet with pop star Zara Larsson called “”Now You’re Gone,” and there’s a bonus track, “Walk Alone,” which is a collaboration between Walker and popular U.K. band, Rudimental.
Born in Scotland and raised in Manchester (England), Walker learned to play guitar and write songs at a young age, and he moved to London to attend university at the London Center of Contemporary Music. After he graduated, he eventually signed a label deal with Relentless Records (part of Sony Music in the U.K.), and released his first EP, Blessings.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Tom Walker. He discusses his debut album, and how he wrote his singles “Leave a Light On” and “Just You and I.”
DK: Congratulations on winning the BRIT Award for Breakthrough Act. How does it feel to have won this award?
Tom Walker: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy to be honest with you, considering the talent we were up against. The BRIT Awards is such a huge thing with so many amazing acts. It’s an honor just to be nominated, so to win was divine.
DK: I read that you were born in Scotland and raised in Manchester. Can you talk about your early years, getting into music?
Walker: I lived in Scotland for the first three years of my life, and then I moved to Manchester because my parents relocated for work. An early memory that I had, was my dad taking me to concerts when I was younger…we went to see AC/DC when I was nine years old. That was the first gig I remember going to.
DK: When did you start playing guitar and writing songs?
Here’s the video of Tom Walker’s hit, “Leave a Light On.”
Walker: I started playing guitar shortly after that concert. My dad bought me my first electric guitar, and I absolutely adored it. From there, I saved up and bought a drum kit off my neighbor, I bought a bass off my friend, and then I started playing all these different instruments. A year after that, my dad came home with a recording interface, which he’d bought me because he’d heard me in my bedroom, playing these ideas week after week. So I started recording on that.
Then I started singing, and I started writing songs, and I was kind of producing as well…I’d got Pro Tools and it all stemmed from that.
DK: I read that you used to do busking. Was that when you were a teenager?
Walker: It was when I moved to London, to do a degree in songwriting. I had no money and didn’t really have time to hold down a job, because the studying was taking up most of my time. So when I did have a free moment, me and a friend would go busking in and around London. And we did that for quite a long period of time.
DK: Where did you get your degree in songwriting?
Walker: It was at university—I’ve got a degree from the London Center of Contemporary Music. It was a songwriting degree, but it also went through composition and it had production lessons and syncing music to film. And we did gigs and all sorts of stuff. It was an amazing course.
DK: You signed with Relentless Records & Sony Music, and then you put out an EP called Blessings. Can you talk about getting your record deal and putting out your EP?
Walker: Shortly after I finished university, I spent a year busking and working, and I started writing songs for myself and pitching songs to other people. Then one day, my management said that Sony & Relentless were interested in doing a deal, so we went down and I did a private showcase for them, and they loved it. I had a good instinct about (A&R execs) Shabs Jobanputra (at Relentless), and Chris Briggs who went to Sony and everyone that I met on his team. So it felt like the right thing to do.
DK: On your Blessings EP (from 2017), you have an acoustic version of your song “Just You and I,” and I see you’ve released a new version of this song as your single.
Here’s the video of Tom Walker’s single, “Just You and I.”
Walker: Three years ago, I wrote this song for my girlfriend…we’d been going out for two-and-a-half years at the time. Then we got engaged last August, and to celebrate our engagement and how far we’ve come as a couple, I wanted to re-release it on the album. And we’ve released a new version of the song.
DK: You wrote “Just You and I” by yourself. On your album, did you write other songs by yourself, or did you mostly co-write?
Walker: I like to mix it up. I wrote ‘Just You and I” and “Fade Away” on my own. But when I was getting into the industry, I had the opportunity to work with all these writers and producers that were way above my game. And to become a better writer, I think you have to write with better writers. So I’ve spent the past three years writing with some incredible people for this album.
DK: You wrote “Leave a Light On” with hit songwriter & producer Steve Mac. How did you get together with Steve and write this song?
Walker: Shabs (Jobanputra), who’s the A&R man at Relentless, had worked with Steve on past collaborations, and he got us both into the studio. “Leave a Light On” was the first song that me and Steve did together. I was going through a tough time, because my aunt passed away suddenly at the age of 40, and it was a big shock to all of us. Also, one of my best friends was going through alcohol abuse, which was leading to mental health problems. This all hit me on the same week, and my way of [trying to feel] better was to write a song for my family and friends, saying, “I know we’re going through some pretty shitty times right now, but I’m there for all of you.”
DK: Your album is called What A Time to Be Alive. How did you come up with this title, and what does it means to you?
Walker: Basically, I wanted the album to connect to the EP. In the EP, there’s a lyric (in the song, “Blessing”) that says, “What a time to be alive…Fat Freddy’s on The Drop on Spotify.” And I wanted to take that lyric and make it the album title.
DK: On your album, you sing a duet song with Zara Larsson called, “Now You’re Gone.” How did hook up with her?
Walker: Steve Mac knows Zara, because they did some of the Clean Bandit stuff together. We had written “Now You’re Gone” in the studio, and Zara came in. And Steve asked her if she would have a go singing the track, and she did it, and I absolutely adored it. I just think she’s such an incredible artist…she’s all singing and dancing like a pop star. You know she’s the real deal. So it’s so cool to have her on my debut album.
Here’s the video of Tom Walker’s song, “Angels.”
DK: Also on your album is an extra track that I like called “Walk Alone,” that you did with the band, Rudimental. So how did you hook up with Rudimental?
Walker: You know, it was really funny. Rudimental sent me “Walk Alone” three years ago and asked me to vocal it, and I vocaled it and sent it back. But through whatever happened, I don’t think they received it. So three years later, they sent me the same song and said, “Tom, we’re looking for a vocalist for this.” I said, “Guys, I vocaled this for you three years ago.” So I just them back what I did, and they loved it. Then we went into the studio to record it properly.
It was a song that I didn’t have so much to do with the writing process. This was difficult for me, because I always come to the session with an idea of what I want the song to be about. And to me, the songwriting is such an integral part of it. So [for this song], it was difficult to make it my own. But me and the boys got together and changed a few bits here and there, and I practiced it until it felt right. And it was so cool to work with them. I love the Rudimental boys—their first album was a massive influence…not only on my writing, but production as well.
DK: On your album, besides “Leave a Light On” and “Just You and I,” what are your favorite songs on the album?
Walker: I love “The Show”…that’s one of my favorite tracks. I went out to a club one night, and the cue was like crazy. I said to my friends, “I’m not gonna do this.” And instead of going to the club, I walked around London for four hours on my own, and I wrote this song on my phone. I just felt that London is such an incredible city…I felt like it was putting on a show for me. In the streets, people were pouring out of clubs, hailing taxis by the side of the road, people selling laughing gas outside of clubs, and all this mad stuff. And I put all those little details into the song, like sirens going past and laughing gas canisters going off, and I put all this crazy stuff in the lyrics. It’s one of my favorites because this song feels quite theatrical, and I really enjoy that.
DK: Thank you Tom for doing this interview. Is there anything else that you’d like to mention for this article?
Walker: Yes, I really the artwork for the album…it was hand-painted by an artist called Craig Alan. On the cover, there are 2,000 miniature figurines that end up making up a bigger picture, which is my face. And if you zoom into it, you can see all my friends and the people who inspired the stories for this album…they’re all hand-painted in. I think that’s super cool, having all these amazing people who’ve influenced my album, coming together and being on the album cover.