Tom Odell: Behind the Making of “Monsters,” Part 1
On her allegiance to the uncorrupted beauty of song
“When you write a song and you have a good idea,” he says, “you can hear it all in your head; you can hear what it’s going to look like in all its uncorrupted beauty. And then I feel like the production, the recording process, the finishing of the composition, it’s just trying to get back to that original beautiful moment when you wrote it.
Tom Odell talks about writing and directing Monsters, his fourth in a series of powerfully produced and rendered solo albums, starting with Long way down in 2013, which rose to the top of the UK charts.
In 2014, the Chichester, West Sussex, England native received Britain’s top songwriter honor, the Ivor Novello Award for Songwriter of the Year. He joined an impressive list of recipients, including David Bowie, Adele, George Harrison, Elton John, Ed Sheeran and Lennon & McCartney.
In 2016 came his album Bad crowd in 2016, and Jubilee Road in 2018.
Monsters is perhaps his best album to date. It is different from its predecessors for several reasons. He doesn’t apologize for being who he is and isn’t afraid of fashion’s weaknesses with confidence. It is based on the intrepid joy of being loosed. He felt “disconnected”, he said, and “stuck” in the past, as if “losing that feeling of lightness”. With Monsters, Odell returns. He fully embraced the essence of each song before framing it with sounds. And he flies away.
The writing and production was more collaborative than ever, but a unique type of collaboration for him and his co-writers. It wasn’t so much speed as it was depth and conviction. And it worked. The first single is the incredibly raw and melodic “Numb”. [More on that in Part Two.]
“I have co-wrote a lot for Monsters, ” he said. “It’s not the first, but it’s definitely a big step in that direction to become an extremely collaborative album. I’ve worked with a lot of different people to do this in a pretty unique way. I brought ideas to different people and people contributed a little to it.
“Now that sounds weird, and it was weird in a way, but it was more like everyone had contributed a bit. The songs started with people, but a lot of them were started by myself, and then I just ended them with people, basically.
“It was very different from what I usually do. And quite different from what some of these co-writers normally did as well.
“The album was done half in a studio and half in my backyard studio at home. Most of the production was in a room with two guys and at my house. But the writing was done all over the place. I went around the songs, I wrote songs with different people.
The other main distinction is that when he felt a track was weak in any way, he was not adjusting the track to compensate. He adjusted the song.
“I think a lot of songwriters aspire to try and end the day with a finished song,” he said, “what I would say most of the songs on the album were. But they were cut back. , little by little, and verses were written and I would throw this verse and start another. It was done very gradually and slowly; I knew once I had recorded them, that it was then, if I felt the composition was over, I would go back and rewrite.
“I tried to solve all the problems with the composition. I feel like too many times in my career I have tried to solve songwriting issues with production. I would think, Why this song doesn’t work? Oh, that must be the beat of the drum. It must be the vocal. It must be the key.
It also takes confidence and wisdom to avoid negative thoughts that can interfere with the natural joy of making music. Tom’s attitude is considerably sunnier than that of many songwriters who see no redeeming aspect in the trajectory of modern songwriting. They base their hopes on trying to frame their songs in the current style, and losing their uniqueness. While Odell feels free to trust the song, wherever it leads, whatever the fad. Being unique and owning what most distinguishes your song in a unique way is more welcome and possible than ever.
“I’ve studied a lot the way people consume music,” he said, “and how to embrace that rather than fight it. I feel more invigorated than already, to be honest with you. I feel more invigorated than ever. I feel excited through music. I feel excited about what is going on.
“I think what the streaming did was actually have diversified music massively. There’s a kind of generic pop music that’s a bit of the past now. I think people beautify and celebrate their musical peculiarities, rather than making everything generic. I do this all the time. “