While recording his new album, Tom Odell had a realisation.
“I feel very passionate about talking about mental health,” he explains during an early morning Zoom session. “And I feel very passionately that it is a problem every person is responsible for.
“It is everybody’s responsibility to try and help fix, because it’s so often passed off as the individual’s problem. I don’t think it’s the individual’s problem. It’s the collective’s problem.”
Speaking from his home just off Victoria Park in east London, the singer-songwriter is recalling how his worldview has evolved since 2018, when he was rushed to hospital while on tour with a panic attack so serious, he believed it to be a stroke.
“I look at the world around us,” he adds. “Never before has life been so convenient, and so connected with the internet, and yet felt so lonely and at times so trivial.”
Odell, who turned 30 in November, has in the last four years dealt with a painful break-up, taken up transcendental meditation, recorded a new album and got engaged.
The album, titled Monsters, is a far cry from the ballads and keening love songs of his early years. Instead, his fourth album is a dense, often unsettling listen, that directly addresses the anxiety that has haunted him, through electro sounds and – here’s the curveball – hip hop-influenced beats.
“I hope you are aware I haven’t made a hip hop album,” he jests.
Odell says looking outside his established sound was not a eureka moment. “For many years, I was quite stubbornly and stoically just a huge champion of Seventies singer-songwriters,” he admits. “That’s what I grew up on. That’s what I was obsessed with since I was 15. I would turn my nose up at songs that I felt weren’t following those rules, and I feel like a big part of this album has been embracing the now.”
Odell is keen to ensure, however, his words are taken with a pinch of salt.
“I hope people see that I’m never preaching,” he explains. “That would be my biggest fear, if I’m being honest. I feel invigorated talking about this stuff. I feel liberated to be able to do that.”
Confronting his anxiety – what he describes as a “monumental struggle” – has also helped him explore other avenues in his songwriting.
Odell felt liberated enough to write a song about school shootings in the US. “It was so important to me through this album that I feel there is a responsibility as an artist, a duty as an artist to observe and to report, to observe what we see without casting judgment. And that gives us artistic licence to write about anything.”
Now settled back in London, life is looking good for Odell. Monsters is garnering some of the best reviews of his career and late last year, he became engaged.
“I love my girlfriend to the moon and back,” he tells me. “I’m very lucky.”
Monsters by Tom Odell is out now