TOM ODELL was quite content being a piano player.
For nearly ten years he has written hits on the instrument, leading to three Top 5 albums, a Brit award and an esteemed Ivor Novello gong.
But for fourth collection Monsters, the platinum-selling singer tried something different. And his new songs are both haunting and vulnerable — recalling James Blake in their layered and electronic sound.
“As soon as I started writing about my anxiety, I felt unshackled and all the fear came out of me,” says Odell.
“I’d been suffering from panic attacks and anxiety for many years, before I finally told anyone about it. And it was beginning to run faster and faster and become very destructive.
“Then I just decided to write about it. And it was amazing.
“The album came from a time which was a struggle for me and I’m pleased that I’ve managed to chip away some of that anxiety into something good.”
‘I HAD TO PAY ATTENTION TO HOW I WAS FEELING’
Odell is very open about his struggles as we chat over Zoom. His camera is off as he’s not feeling that well following his second Covid jab the previous day, which “has knocked me for six”.
He says: “I’ve had the chills and a fever, but I’m feeling better now I’ve had some paracetamol.”
The singer says confronting his mental health problems through his music has been rewarding. Not only has it given this album its focus, but it’s been therapeutic.
“Monster was the first song I wrote,” he says.
“At first, I was thinking about Donald Trump as the monster. Then I realised I was thinking about my anxiety and that I had to address it — it was hugely invigorating because I was finally accepting to myself that I needed to pay attention to the way I was feeling rather than just carry on.”
With a hooky chorus of “You’re just a monster/Just a monster and I’m not scared” it’s already a favourite.
Other noticeable songs include Numb, new single Lose You Again, Me And My Friends, Over You Yet and Noise are tender and sensitive, backed by stunning and expansive production.
His new music marks a comeback for the singer from Chichester, West Sussex.
“I feel really proud of the production actually,” he says. “It works with these delicate stories that I was telling.
“I’ve been writing songs since I was 13. You know, and so you start developing these habits. I needed to tear up the rule book and try something different.”
Odell hopes that by opening up about his struggles on the album he will help others. He is in therapy and has discovered transcendental meditation, which really helps with his anxiety.
He says: “It’s been a very transformative time for me and I felt very liberated addressing the thing that was so disruptive. I’ve learned that I tended to be stoic.
‘I WAS LONELY & DRINKING TOO MUCH’
“Now I’m on a mission, because I didn’t know it was a panic attack when I first had them and I just accepted the way I was feeling. If I had spoken to people about it, I think it wouldn’t have been so intense.
“And so now if just one person reads this and decides to speak up, rather than keeping it secret, it’s a win.”
Odell’s chronic anxiety was only diagnosed when he was rushed to hospital with a serious panic attack in 2018. It was so severe that Odell believed he was suffering a stroke.
Then, his problems reached a head the following September when Odell travelled to LA to start writing his new album.
“I was lonely and drinking too much,” he confesses. “And I couldn’t carry on like that.”
Odell came home and with the help of his parents and girlfriend (now fiancée, model Georgie Somerville) got the care and support he needed.
“I am super grateful I met my girlfriend at a time when I needed to rest and stop,” says Odell. “She’s been incredibly supportive and given me so much structure.
“I am incredibly lucky to have met her because I’m not sure I would have been able to make this album without her.”
In 2013, he won the Brits Critics’ Choice Award and his platinum debut album Long Way Down went straight to No1.
His track Another Love — his first top 10 single — has now had more than 272 million plays on YouTube.
In 2014, he was named songwriter of the year at the Ivor Novello Awards.
“I guess I look back on myself as a 22-year-old and I had to grow up incredibly fast,” says Odell.
“I was ambitious. Very quickly, I was singing at Glastonbury and having a No1, and you need to have an incredibly thick skin to be able to deal with the rollercoaster.
“I definitely overworked and became addicted to work, travelling and the rollercoaster, and that didn’t help.
“One night you’re playing in front of 40,000 people and the next morning you’re opening up a newspaper and reading something negative about yourself. It’s very disorientating.
“People in the public eye are also human beings. I was torn apart by an NME journalist when I put out my first album.
“He said things about me that I wouldn’t say to another living soul on this planet.
“This 45-year-old guy, sat in his pyjamas in his flat writing about some 21-year-old kid who’s just making music. I went back and I read that thing, like, last year and I was shocked.
“Is he criticising me for my music or just trying to sell magazines? But I’m pleased today’s young artists aren’t under the same scrutiny. People are kinder.”
Odell says he has also benefitted from slowing down and not travelling during lockdown.
“I think the pause from travelling has been welcomed. I found the news and the continuous stream of data about Covid particularly triggering, like so many other people, I found it terrifying.”
Odell points the finger at today’s strains on the world and social media.
“There’s so much pressure on all of us today,” he says.
“We’re constantly being fed information and it’s so overwhelming. It’s so easy to become engulfed by how you’re feeling.
“It also concerns me that it seems like we reward material wealth above and beyond anything else (he deals with this and homelessness on the songs Money and Me And My Friends on the new record).
“I’ve been reading about Jeff Bezos making another $1billion during the pandemic. It seems that there’s so much more to life than money.
“So much of the glue that binds us together is not money. The pandemic has taught me the importance of community.
“Getting to know my neighbours in lockdown was stunning and I’m very moved by that. It really kept me going.
“After the England v Germany match, I walked down my street, and everyone’s talking to each other. This beautiful community had suddenly come out. I don’t want to start preaching, but I’m drawn to that.”
‘I WAS SO NERVOUS BUT IT WAS FANTASTIC’
Last week, Odell returned to the live stage with three intimate shows at the Jazz Café in London. How did it feel to get back to performing?
“It was amazing. I absolutely loved it,” he says.
“It felt like I had a job again. I was really nervous about it, but it was fantastic.
“I got to play all my old songs and some of my new ones and I loved it. I so badly want to get back on the road. I really want to do some shows.
“I’m lucky that I was able to make this album in lockdown and super thrilled that maybe we’re going to do shows next year.
“We’ve got a tour on sale for the whole of the UK in February and March, which I am super excited about. Hopefully that will go ahead.
“For now, I’m just proud this album is coming out. I feel brave. Being brave is not about being silent.
“Being brave is actually accepting that you’re vulnerable, and I think that’s been the biggest shift for me with this album.”
- The album Monsters is out on July 9.