Tom Odell is telling me he doesn’t really feel famous when a fan taps him on the shoulder to request a selfie. “I swear I didn’t stage that,” he laughs afterwards.
“The truth is that I don’t think of myself as very well known. I live a pretty normal life. That’s important if you’re a songwriter.”
It is mildly extraordinary Odell (26) is still around. He arrived to not inconsiderable fanfare in 2013 when he featured on the BBC Sound Of shortlist of hotly-tipped new acts.
A rocket was shortly afterwards placed under his name when photos emerged of Odell taking Taylor Swift for drinks in London. For 15 minutes he was a proper, hold-the-front-page-of-the-internet celebrity.
But no sooner had he become a familiar face than the backlash arrived. The NME savaged his debut album to such an extent his dad called the office to complain (which kicked off another cycle of hooting and derision).
He was elsewhere dismissed as the pouty-lipped puppet of a record label eager to woo the Ed Sheeran young female demographic. A short-lived stint in the spotlight appeared assured.
Extraordinarily, this didn’t happen. Rather than wilting under all the attention, Odell put his head down and hit the road. He toured and toured and proved himself a solid live performer.
After that came a respectable second record, 2016’s Wrong Crowd — which even the haters had to admit showcased his chops as an old-school piano man.
“That album took me a long time — a good three years,” he says. “There was a certain amount of nervousness. It’s nice to get past that and to be thinking towards my third one.”
He grew up listening to artists such as Bowie and Prince, and admired how they could release throwaway records — projects that didn’t pretend to be their magnum opus.
With two long-players under his belt, Odell would like to think he is getting to a position where he can be a little more spontaneous in his creative choices. Not everything you do has to be a defining statement.
“I’d like to be in a place where every record didn’t necessarily have to be a grand statement about who I am.
"I’d rather it were a piece of art, I want to make. It’s when you stop defining yourself that you can do something more unique. My favourite records are the ones that sound effortless — even though I’m sure a lot of effort went into them.”
Odell grew up in Chichester, an English seaside town 54 miles from London. His father is a pilot, while his mother teaches. The family lived for several years in New Zealand before moving back to the UK, where Odell attended private school.
He started writing songs in his bedroom aged 13. Two years later, he was playing around London with “influencers” such as Lily Allen attending his gigs.
The Taylor Swift circus threw him for a loop he has admitted. Though understandably reluctant to delve into the subject nowadays, in 2013 he told me that stepping out with the world’s biggest pop star (this was shortly before she started seeing Harry Styles) made him feel like Hugh Grant dating Julia Roberts.
“It was VERY Notting Hill,” he confessed. “It is weird… all those tabloid rumours. I don’t know. I have to be careful what I say. I have said nothing about that, for good reason. Anything I say will be misprinted and misquoted. It will be about her, it won’t be about me. I don’t want to have stuff written about her. I had a really nice evening. Hopefully I’ll see her again some time.”
He looks back at his early adventures in music and winces a bit. He’s immensely proud to have had a successful first album and to carve out a long -term career. At the same time, he was a little wide -eyed and ill-prepared for what was coming.
“I felt like a rabbit in the headlights the whole time. I didn’t really know what it was going to be like. There were a lot of ‘tell me who you are?’ questions. That was something I felt I’d answered on maybe 100 occasions. It was a whirlwind. I’m very grateful not to be in the whirlwind any more.”
Odell returns to Ireland this weekend to headline Indiependence. Having played at the best part of 100 festivals over the past several years, he’s an old hand on the circuit — but still enjoys the opportunity to perform to a new audience.
“I’m sort of past the idea of taking my tent down and staying for the weekend,” he laughs. “I get there early, have a shower, read a book. I love playing those shows — but sometimes you have to ignore that you’re at a festival a bit.”