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Tom Odell sheds his major label and releases new album 'Best Day of My Life'

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

Tom Odell has found freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEST DAY OF MY LIFE")

TOM ODELL: (Singing) I think today is the best day of my life. Going to rent a bicycle and ride around the city.

ESTRIN: This British musician began releasing his music in 2012, and he quickly rose to success. He's garnered critical acclaim. He's received top music industry awards. And now Tom Odell has tried something new. He's freed himself from working with a major label and has produced a studio album all on his own. It's called "Best Day Of My Life." Tom Odell joins us now from his studio in London. Hi, Tom.

ODELL: Hello. Thanks for having me on.

ESTRIN: So talk about this title track, "Best Day Of My Life." Were you actually having the best day of your life making this album or singing this song? Because I have to say, you sound pretty melancholy.

ODELL: Well, interestingly, the first idea for the song, the main hook was I think today is the worst day of my life. These times are hard to live in. There appears to be so much division and so much judgment, so much pain and suffering that people are going through and also so much inequality. But for some reason, it seemed to have more power, more sadness with the phrase I think today is the best day of my life. You begin to realize that perhaps this isn't the person's best day of my life, and perhaps there's a sort of desperation to that phrase.

ESTRIN: In your track "Sunrise__," we only hear you playing piano, and that's it. And most of this album is just your voice and your piano. Why did you make that choice?

ODELL: I've played the piano since I was 6 or 7 years old. I'm 32 now. Quite a long time. I've made four albums before this one, and the piano has always played a big part of it. I actually read a book just before the album - I started making the album - by Jenny Odell. It's called "How To Do Nothing." It made me reflect on my own role in the attention economy. And everyone is competing for our attention. What that's done to art and to music is that everyone's trying to cram the most amount of information in the shortest possible time. So I wanted to create songs and an album of which created space rather than filling people's space, where our thoughts can move around with more freedom and actually they become healthier thoughts because of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BLOOD WE BLEED")

ODELL: (Singing) I walk back home. You're all alone. The ivy's grown. It's Christmas Eve.

ESTRIN: Let me ask you about your song, "The Blood We Bleed." Sounds like it's a song about a couple. It's Christmas Eve. And there's a lyric, it's your blood. I'm going to bleed. What is this song about?

ODELL: This song is about our tendency to hurt those who we love the most. When we hurt someone we love, we probably hurt ourselves even more. There's a sort of masochism to it. You know how to hurt me. But every time you hurt me, know that it will be a bit of you that I also bleed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BLOOD WE BLEED")

ODELL: (Singing) I have become my father's son you always wanted me to be. I treat you tough. We call it love. But it's my blood you're going to bleed.

We get taught how to love by those who love us first. And it's not just parents, but I think your entire subjective experience - how to love someone, how to hate someone, how to - all of these experiences come to define us.

ESTRIN: This is a song that takes place - a couple on Christmas Eve arguing. We are airing this conversation on Christmas Day. "The Blood We Bleed" - do you consider that a Christmas song?

ODELL: No. I mean, it's not really about Christmas. It's maybe just the setting, you know, is when we return home.

ESTRIN: What kind of Christmas music do you like hearing at this time of year?

ODELL: Wow. Oh, my God, There's so many good Christmas songs. "Fairytale Of New York" is probably up there, "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" as well, because that's the one in "Home Alone."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKIN' AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE")

BRENDA LEE: (Singing) Rockin' around the Christmas tree.

ODELL: He's, like, got all the silhouettes, Macaulay Culkin. And he's pretending that he's having a house party. And you hear Christmas songs. I think mostly they take me back to my childhood. It's impossible to not feel nostalgic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing, inaudible).

ESTRIN: I have to ask you about an old song of yours that has found new life, "Another Love." You released it back in 2012. It's been streamed on Spotify more than a billion times. And this year, it's become an anthem in protest videos against the war in Ukraine. It's become an anthem for women protesting in Iran. How did all that happen?

ODELL: I can't say for sure, but I feel proud that I conceived the song and I feel proud that I wrote it. And the honesty I managed to get down in that song is resonating with people for all sorts of different reasons. And it was powerful, incredibly inspiring.

ESTRIN: Your small role in this, I mean, that's the internet, your song spread. And, I mean, talk about attention economy. This is - this song has gotten so much attention in a good way. And I guess I wonder, is this ultimately what you hope your music can do?

ODELL: As an artist, you know, my biggest hope is that ultimately the art connects with people, of course. But the most powerful thing I can do is to let go of of anything I create and accept and trust in the sort of wisdom of the world and of uncertainty as to what that may be used for or may not be used for. You know, it's at moments like these that the internet feels like a real force for good and something that can unite us rather than divide us. I feel connected to the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMILING ALL THE WAY BACK HOME")

ODELL: (Singing) I don't want to say goodbye. It's been so long since I stayed up late at night with someone that I like. I'm going to be smiling all the way back home.

ESTRIN: Singer-songwriter Tom Odell has just released a new album, Best "Day Of My Life." Thanks, Tom.

ODELL: Thank you, Daniel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.