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Tom Odell: “In A World Largely Defined By Streaming, I’m Not Even Sure What Genre Is”

British singer-songwriter Tom Odell is set to release his latest album Monsters this June. Recorded during lockdown in the UK, Monsters sees Tom exploring the use of sampled sounds and darker, electro-pop tones.

Odell’s hit single ‘Another Love’ has amassed more than 439 million streams on Spotify and 295 million views on YouTube. His debut album Long Way Down was released in 2013 and went to number one on the UK Albums chart. Since then, the musician has released two more studio albums: Wrong Crowd in 2016 and Jubilee Road in 2018.

We caught up with Tom Odell to have a chat about the creation of his new album, his thoughts on genre, and the vegetarian Middle Eastern recipes he’s been learning during lockdown.

Music Feeds: Your new album Monsters is set to be released next month. How did writing and recording under lockdown restrictions influence the creation of the record?

Tom Odell: Well, I’d mostly written it before the lockdown, the pandemic hit, but we started recording it in a studio I think about a month before the pandemic or maybe six weeks before the pandemic. So, we had to stop and I did, you know, a substantial amount of it from a cabin at the end of my garden, and recorded quite a lot of it there. You know, with the two producers I worked with we’d talk on FaceTime every evening and share with each other files. So, yeah, it was hugely influential and in other ways as well, it’s 16 tracks long and, you know, it’s quite a long album ‘cause I had way more time to work on it. In a lot of ways, yeah, it’s hugely influenced by what went on last year.

MF: I saw you mention the record will have darker, electro-pop tones. What inspired this change?

TO: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I’m not sure that like, it was ever a conscious decision to go down that route. I mean, I’ve been listening to a lot of pop music and I think that’s really because of just streaming in general – music streaming. I think, like, over the last few years I’ve been… you know, pop has diversified, there’s so much great music being made within the pop genre. I mean, what even is genre now? That’s another thing. I think, in a world largely defined by streaming, I’m not even sure what genre is. I mean, radio tries to put music into genres but radio is not really the dominant format anymore or the way people listen to music. So, it feels just like a huge melting pot and you know, music from all over the world, from all different genres and backgrounds gets thrown into this one big pot and it’s exciting, it’s amazing. It’s amazing the results it’s producing.

A great example for me is that ROSALIA and Billie Eilish track that came out a few months ago. It’s
just sort of like, the number one song on New Music Friday and it’s like, this is insane that this is called pop. It’s so great, it’s such an amazing period we’re living in where that’s pop music. I
remember when it was just all sort of, dance music.

So, anyway [it was] never really a conscious decision, but as well I’d say that the limitations of working in a small room meant that I couldn’t use my band, so I had to use more sort of, sampled sounds and stuff.

MF: And the lyrics were inspired by artists like Drake and Travis Scott?

TO: Mmm, well, lots of people, yeah. I would say there was certainly a lot of inspiration from hip hop in the sense of like, the rhythm of lyric and melody. Like, the way hip hop uses structure with songwriting. It’s all about the rhythm of the vocal. The most fundamental difference in music that’s put out today than what came out 5-10 years ago – popular music I’m talking about – is the vocal is… so much more is in the vocal. If you listen to like, The Kid LAROI tunes or something like that, the vocal constantly entertains you, it never stops, it’s always there, and within the vocal, you’ve got so much complex rhythm going on, which used to be done by the drumkit or the guitarist, but now it’s all done by the vocal.

We were massively inspired by hip hop when we were making it and thinking about that a lot. I mean, music’s just at such a fascinating point. It’s so exciting – music right now. I really mean that.
I’ve never said that really before, as well. I’ve never really felt that in my career. I’ve been doing this for nine years… ten years. I’ve never looked around me and just felt so inspired by what’s going on.

MF: That’s a really interesting point. I hadn’t actually thought about that but it’s right, about the vocals just doing so much now. Taking over so much responsibility in songs.

TO: Yeah, it’s relentless. The biggest thing is hip hop, I think, that’s inspired that. But also, I think it’s because of people listening environments. For example, on their phone’s speaker. Like, on the tiny speaker on your phone. Only one thing can cut through, really, and the way tracks are mixed there’s one thing cuts through, and so you can’t have too much information.

I mean, nothing I’m saying here is original. This is all discussed a lot throughout music, but like, I think Drake with the chap that produces all his records – OVO, the way those tracks are mixed was
revolutionary. His vocal is…they cut all the frequencies out of all the other instruments apart from the vocal, so when a Drake record comes on, Drake’s vocal is just so dominant. You can’t ignore it and you can’t ignore what he’s saying, and I think that’s so much to the success of why Drake has defined a decade, in a way, of music, I think – is his vocal, the way it’s treated.

MF: That’s a good point, actually. How else did you keep yourself entertained during lockdown? Did you pick up any new hobbies or reality TV show additions?

TO: [Laughs] I mean, as you can probably tell, I’m quite obsessed with music. Yeah, I don’t know. You know, I’ve got a beautiful girlfriend who I’m very much in love with and we did lots of stuff together.

We went on walks, which sounds quite boring but I mean, there’s very little you could do. We got
quite obsessed with sort of like, walking. I couldn’t cook actually, before the lockdown. I learned to cook, which was really nice, to learn to cook. All from this one book, it’s called The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook. I learnt pretty much entirely from this one book; I can do almost every recipe [laughs]. Mostly sort of, Lebanese food… well, I guess it’s entirely Lebanese food, she’s Lebanese, the lady that wrote it. She’s an old lady. I really recommend the book actually, if you can get your hands on it. It’s like, really, really good food. So, I’m great at doing Lebanese food but not much else.

MF: What’s your favourite thing that you learned to make from the recipe book?

TO: Something really easy that’s just like, super quick to do is this aubergine, tomato thing with some rice, it’s really nice. You can add a bit of tofu too as well. I just gave up dairy as well, ‘cause my girlfriend showed me this thing on YouTube called ‘Dairy is F*cking Scary’, which if you want to give up drinking milk, like, watch this thing. It’s awful this thing, it disturbed me. So anyway, we’re trying to give up milk but it’s quite difficult because I love cheese.

MF: Yeah, cheese is what’s doing it for me. I gave up milk a few years back and I went to like, alternative milks but now I’m still stuck on cheese. That’s the one thing I’m trying to limit, but…

TO: Oh my god, and you go to like a coffee shop and you’re like I’ll just have a croissant and it’s like oh, they’ve got butter! And then you’re like f*ck man, croissant as well!

MF: It’s in everything, that’s what’s so difficult about it.

TO: I gave up eating meat like, three years ago, and actually I’d say that was really not that hard at all, it was kind of easy. Definitely giving up smoking is way harder. But I’d say maybe this giving up dairy is worse than giving up smoking [laughs].

MF: Yeah, I think that’s the thing. I don’t eat meat and I’ve been trying to transition out of dairy, but it’s tricky.

TO: Watch ‘Dairy Is F*cking Scary’! I mean, it’s not a nice watch. It’s only five minutes as well, but it’s so disturbing. I definitely haven’t come on this interview to start talking about veganism, but I was quite disturbed by this documentary.

MF: Going back a bit, do you have any plans to head to Australia in support of Monsters?

TO: I’d like to, yeah. I have family in Australia and I’m always looking for excuses to go and see them. So, I’d love to, but it’s tricky isn’t it, right now? It’s so hard to plan anything. I mean, we’ve got a couple of tours booked for next year in the UK and we’re trying to book a European tour but that’s quite difficult. We’re booking an American tour, that’s been a little bit easier, and we’re looking at Australia and New Zealand, but it’s hard. It’s probably the saddest thing about this – is making an album and then not being quite sure what… if I’m gonna be able to do any shows around it.

But yeah, I’d love to come to Australia. I love Australia. I haven’t sort of, done the amount of touring there that I would like. So, yeah, I really would love to come to Australia. I hope we’ll be able to tour.

MF: Yeah, I hope so too. Is it okay if I ask a few rapid-fire questions real quick?

TO: Sure!

MF: Would you rather live in a high-rise in the city or a cabin in the mountains?

TO: Definitely a cabin in the mountains.

MF: Would you rather be too hot or too cold?

TO: Probably too cold.

MF: Pineapple on pizza, yes or no?

TO: Uh, no.

MF: What’s your coffee order?

TO: Black Americano or filter.

MF: What do you have planned for the rest of 2021?

TO: Just to make music. Yeah, make music. I have to say I am, you know, sort of quietly making the most of not touring as well. I have toured a lot. Throughout my twenties, I toured sort of, relentlessly and I am really enjoying writing and recording as much as I am able to do at the moment. So, I must say that’s been a positive of the whole thing for myself – but it’s a silver lining.

Tom Odell’s new album ‘Monsters’ is due out on June 25th. Pre-order here.

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