On the basis of two albums, 2013’s “Long Way Down” and the new “Wrong Crowd,” whiskey-throated English keyboardist Tom Odell has amassed a stellar list of contacts: Lily Allen signed him to her ITNO imprint and Kevin Spacey appeared in the Escher-ish video for his new single “Here I Am.” Sir Elton John also heard something special in him early on. “I met him just after my first album came out, and he was incredibly supportive,” says Odell, 25. “When I was making my second album, I was sending him the odd song and he’d give me advice. Then I supported him a few times, so we’re friends now.”
You studied classical piano as a kid. Was it grueling or fun?
Well, at the time, I didn’t massively enjoy it. I was more interested in composing, playing in bands. So I studied until I was 13 or 14, but I’m really glad now that I did it, because it’s given me a knowledge that I needed. Like, for example, when I go tomorrow to rehearse these strings for a couple of things I’m doing coming up, it gives me the ability to talk to these people in an intelligent way, rather than being a complete unknown to classical music.
But you started out doing open-mic nights in Brighton, dragging your keyboard to every gig?
I look back on that with amazement, because that keyboard was pretty heavy, and I used to lug it all over Brighton. But I didn’t think anything of it then. I just wanted to play in front of people, so I set myself a challenge of doing at least three or four gigs a week. And I did that. I never stopped playing, because it was really important to me. And it never felt like a job, even though sometimes it was like, “F–ing hell, there’s only 30 people watching tonight.” All that stuff I did back then? It all pays off now, because I still get a kick out of doing shows. It gets me up in the morning.
What were your worst shows back then?
There were nights where you couldn’t hear yourself through the feedback. But that kind of thing never stops. To make music, you have to be prepared to make a fool of yourself. It’s like what a comedian does onstage, and most of the time, it’s just humiliation when you climb up there and bare your heart and soul to all these strangers. We did this big festival this summer, and the pedal on my piano snapped off. But I’m able to deal with that, because I spent several where things constantly went wrong.
IF YOU GO
Where: Social Hall, 1270 Sutter St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 24
Contact: (415) 777-1715, www.axs.com
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