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Guest Column – Reading about a record? Tom Odell on why his new album is also a book

Guest Column – Reading about a record? Tom Odell on why his new album is also a book
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Tom Odell returns with Wrong Crowd on 10 June. Not only is he releasing an album but there’s a book to accompany it. Who wants to read about a record? Cash in or creative endeavour? Odell explains his motivations behind the project in a guest column.

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I finished making my album, Wrong Crowd, around late October of last year. It had been a long journey, an emotional couple of years whilst writing it, and having worked so hard, during the last few months I obsessed over every detail. People don’t buy CD’s anymore, maybe a few vinyls, but in the grand scheme of things, a musician’s work gets downloaded or streamed, no one really reads the album sleeve notes anymore, do they? I wanted to grab people’s attention; i wanted to give them something to look at as they listened; something which allowed them to understand what they were experiencing.

I wanted to create different textures… affecting more than one of the senses. There are few periods in which a recording artist like myself finds himself with absolutely nothing to do, that bit between christmas and new year, week days in between summer festivals, but the longest and surest has to be the stretch of time after you’ve handed your album in. And sure enough, once Wrong Crowd was handed in, I found myself staring into the white space of my very empty iCal. Now, this is painful, because for months I’d been working like the world was ending, and all of sudden it doesn’t. You hand it in, and wait. Wait to hear the plan… But this free time, is a real dilemma because I didn’t want to be near a piano (for fear of writing better songs than on the album, thus producing self doubt) and I didn’t really want to take up golf either. So I decided to go back to New York (where I began writing the album 18 months earlier), and make up the excuse of attending some mastering sessions, ‘Very important to the creative process’ I told the label, to which they nodded nervously and booked me a flight. It was then that I had a major realisation…

So when someone is listening to my music, the luckiest I might get is them to be listening with my video clip on Youtube, or be browsing my website, or on social media. The chances to have the listeners full attention now are few and far between but Hey Ho, rather than living in denial, why don’t I embrace these forms of media. Make my music videos that go on YouTube more like films! Make my social media like album artwork. Instead of t-shirts at gigs why not make a whole book, which contextualises the music they are listening to. George Belfield introduced me to Fraser Muggeridge, a brilliant art designer who agreed to help me create the Wrong Crowd book – 250 pages of images of all the things, people, and moments, which had inspired the record.

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Some people questioned me. “You’re a musician, why not stick to that?” But I tell you, times have changed, and it’s fucking exciting. The vast majority just don’t have time to lay there and listen to an album from start to finish anymore… revising the lyrics from an album sleeve. People are living in a modern age of instant gratification and expect more stimulation. Perhaps being a musician in 2016 is more than just playing and writing. We are multi-media artists – an inspiring change… I’ll take it; but then I’ll watch Bowie and Prince on YouTube and think actually – hasn’t it always been this way? Musicians are creatives and we seek to explain our creations in various ways. We need to get back to the ground rules of creativity – no boundaries.

So I got really excited about this. And I began planning a storyline for a set of films which go along side all the music I release. From the moment George Belfield and i started talking, we had a shared vision for the films. Lets take the listener on a cinematic story from start to end, every song. Lets create a world which people can inhabit when listening to this music. He introduced me to Fraser Muggeridge, the brilliant art designer, and so on and so on and a month out from the album being released we have made five music films to the songs, another currently in the planning, countless tumblrs and gifs and photographs we put on social media every day. We have so many different platforms to use, and this means now, more than ever, we can appeal to all the listeners, with differing tastes and preferences.

You see I’d be watching a lot of films by Fellini. I love how he manages to create these worlds. Surreal and unique, almost unearthly. But they are more worlds, less films. The viewer is transported. And I’d been developing this story in my head whilst writing and recording the Wrong Crowd. When I write songs, I imagine every detail in the scene. Much like a film i guess. For example on Constellations, track four on Wrong Crowd, which I wrote with my dear friend Andy Burrows, the story begins in a crowded dive bar in what I imagined to be in paris or berlin; a conversation between the character and his lover. He’s saying everything’s bad, I know it is, but ‘I promise, its going to be different from now on’. In the verse, we manage to fit; the piano player, the candle on the table, our friends leaving us alone, but everything else that I imagined in my head when writing, well it gets left out. Its brutal, but there just ain’t enough space.

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A song can’t be a list. So therefore the crooked picture on the wall, the 30-something waiter doing the books, the alcohol drenched sticky table, the chair which creeks every time we move, the car headlights passing outside, my lovers beautiful hands ripping up the beer bottle label, well you see it all gets left out. Every single detail bar a precious few. So you have to choose your choices very carefully, the lyric has to speak the most in the fewest words possible.

Visual aids aside. Each lyric, melody, piano part and guitar part was duly scrutinised, much to the frustration of the talented, and far more efficient musicians who helped me make it. Perfectionism can draw a fine line to total insanity, and there were times I feel i definitely walked both sides. So you can imagine, handing it in to my record label was a great weight off my shoulders. Joy! And I am very proud of this album, very proud, and I hope you, the reader, will rest those tired eyes on 10 June and listen to it with open ears.

For more head to Tomodell.com.


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