A lot has changed in Tom Walker’s life between the release of his debut EP ‘Blessings’ in 2017 and now. He has had massive breakthrough commercial success, won a Brit Award, released his debut album ‘’What A Time To Be Alive’ and extensively began to tour the world.
Right now he’s sitting across from me backstage at The Tivoli before his final Australian show for this leg of the tour. He’s laughing and joking about his time down under and the whirlwind that this year has become but he opens up about how much he’s missing home and the experiences with his friends and loved ones that he’s become accustomed to.
“It’s awesome to be playing shows in Australia as we’ve never been on this side of the world before and I’m so grateful for that but I think I need to find the right balance in my personal life as it’s starting to take a toll on me” he confesses. But he’s also having a lot of fun at the same time as he quickly backs that comment up about how drunk he got in Japan and ended up doing Karaoke to ACDC in a bar.
Throughout our whole chat, Walker is unapologetically honest and candid as we talk about transparency through songwriting, the representation of love through his music, the strange agendas of critics and his relationship with his gran. Check it out HERE;
TB: Your debut album ‘What A Time To Be Alive’ is a collection of hopeful tracks that have a romantic and heartbreaking sentiment to them. So what was the hardest thing about putting this record together for you?
TW: Honestly, I think the hardest thing was putting together the track listing and the order of it because I had a story and a journey that I wanted to represent through my songwriting but I had to find the right order to do that successfully.
I had so many different attempts in trying to make the perfect track listing. I did like twenty different versions of it. Actually, it was more like forty *laughs*. Choosing the songs initially was really hard too because I had written over 120 songs for this album over the last 27 years of my life. So it was hard to get it in a cohesive order.
TB: ’My Way’ is a song that immediately stood out because of it’s hopeful feel and honesty in acknowledging we have to face hurdles in life to succeed and I feel like it really embodied the heart to the record. So do you mind if we dive into the creative process of this track for a moment?
TW: I was massively into Post Malone at the time when I wrote that song. I wrote it with a writer called Timothy Deal who I’ve known for years as he’s with the same management as me. I actually did my first ever writing session with him! And we also did it with a friend of mine called Fiona Bevan who I’ve done a good bit of writing with over the years. I just wanted to do something completely different. I wanted to be inspired by the kind of beats that Post Malone was doing. So it kinda has that trap feel to it I guess.
But it is what it is. You can’t always have it your way. You’ve just got to take some days by the balls and be like “fuck it, I’m going to do everything I can to make this happen”. You just have to be true to who you are and what you acquire in life.
TB: I can imagine that this song would get a whole new energy to it in the live show?
TW: Yeah, it’s a lot more rocky and harder in the live show! I totally messed it up last night in Sydney though. I made up some new lyrics for it which is something I’ve never done for that song. When you do something so many times, you sometimes just draw a blank and I did that last night. I was like “fuck, where am I in the song right now” and just sang something incoherent.
TB: ’Just You And I’ was a song written about your girlfriend and by the time you re-released this track you guys were engaged. This song has had a life of it’s own with people using it for their wedding song. It must feel like a bit of a full circle moment for you as you hear love stories from other people and hear them celebrating with your song about your personal love and journey?
TW: Yeah! I think a lot of people have been in a similar situation to the lyrics in the song because it looks at how me and missus did long distance for two years and it was a really long time for us. It was a nightmare. But every little moment we had with each other we made the most of it. That really set our relationship up in a good way because we never seem to argue, like ever. Also with me being away touring now a lot and us starting our relationship with not seeing each in long chunks has made it a little easier. It was like the training sessions for tour life *laughs*.
It is lovely though that other people are diving into that song and having their own experiences with it and interpreting it in a way that is unique to them. It’s something you don’t really anticipate when you’re writing songs like this.
TB: In the song ‘Blessings’ you admit that “our lives ain’t like a movie or a Katy Perry song”. And That lyric really striked me because we really do live in a world that likes to glamourise every part of our life and we don’t show enough realism. So with this record, was a goal of yours to show an unfiltered truth to your story?
TW: I guess so! For me at the point of my life I had lived in two houses in the lead up to doing this song. One was with 10 musicians in a house which was just crazy and another was living with six of my friends I had known my whole entire life. But those six guys all had girlfriends coming in and out of the house. So sometimes we would have like over 10 people over at any moment.
I honestly just wanted to glamourise how sometimes it’s so much more fun not having enough money to go to the pub and instead having to stay at home and listen to tunes with your mates because I’ve had so many shit nights in clubs that you’ve spent a lot of money getting into and they seem like so much fun but they’re shit. I’ve had way more great nights in my living room with my mates and I guess that’s what I wanted to capture in that song.
TB: Now I have to know, was there a particular Katy Perry song that was haunting your past?
TW: *laughs* No, not at all! I just think all of her videos and storylines are very far fetched and positive so it was a good comparison to the staged life we always try to reach.
TB: Looking at the record in it’s entirety what would you say is the albums most vulnerable moment for you as a songwriter?
TW: Probably ‘Fade Away’. I wrote that when I was nineteen years old in my bedroom after I had been dumped from my first five year longterm relationship. I was a kid at the time in the terms of my mental capacity of dealing with relationships and hardship. I wrote this really angry song which was a bit unfair to my ex. But I really like it because it’s such a real moment where I was so fucking angry, confused and pissed off. I just feel like that song captures all of those feelings in the moment perfectly.
TB: It’s been 5 months since the album was released. So after hearing the feedback from fans, peers and reading reviews from critics, have you become critical on the way you look at it?
TW: No, not at all! I wrote the record that I wanted to write and I wouldn’t have put it out if I was 100% happy with it. Critics are funny things because I believe you should go and try things yourself before you read a review of it. There are so many movies that I wouldn’t have seen that I loved if I had gone by the IMDB rating *laughs*.
There was one guy that reviewed the album who was going fully in on my character and was like “this man who dresses like a bin man has somehow clustered himself a Brit Award” and I’m just like “fuck you dude, that’s just mean”. He didn’t even particularly tear the album apart. He actually said it in a way that the album would be really successful but that was annoying because he didn’t like it *laughs*.
Tearing people’s characters apart is just not necessary.
TB: There was quite a bit of time between the release of your EP ‘Blessings’ and the release of ‘What A Time To Be Alive’. How would you say that your artistry grew between the EP and the album and do you think that time played a major influence in this?
TW: I guess I was always writing for the album even when I was doing the EP. I’m an album kind of guy but I needed the time to figure out what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it because I don’t think I really knew yet. We re-recorded things a lot leading up to the release because some of the songs like ‘My Way’ we had recorded years before and I felt like the sound had grown up a bit.
TB: The album cover for ‘What A Time To Be Alive’ is literally a piece of art. With 2000 portraits of people that have inspired you on this journey, who would you say may be the most surprising person?
TW: I mean there a whole array of people on there! Darth Vader is even on it! *laughs*. Not every one is a depiction of who helped me put the record together because I don’t even know 2000 people personally, but it was also people and that inspired me or impacted my life in some way.
Put I gave Craig Allen (the artist) 300 photos of people like my band, team, label and family that meant a lot to me and some are depicted better than others. Because what he does is he scales the photos, looks at it and then throws it away and sketches it from memory. So sometimes the drawings don’t look anything like them *laughs*.
TB: You won a Brit award for Best Breakthrough Artist which is a huge deal. And with a world tour and chart topping singles coming with the territory how have you adjusted your life? And how are you making sure you’re finding the right balance in the relationship with your wife and your career as you move forward?
TW: If I’m to be honest with you, I don’t think I’ve got the right balance right now as I’ve been touring so much. I was meant to do a bunch of shit when I got back to the UK but I’ve just cancelled it all because I just want to spend some time with my fiance, family and friends.
It’s a really tough balance. With success comes sacrifice. It’s awesome to be playing shows in Australia as we’ve never been on this side of the world before and I’m so grateful for that but I think I need to find the right balance in my personal life as it’s starting to take a toll on me.
I’ve been saying to people that this record took 27 years to make and that whole time I was just experiencing life and spending time with them with no money and having all of these unique experiences together. Like, if I don’t see these people properly then there wont be a second album *laughs*
TB: One other person who is really special to you is your Gran who you gave a special little shoutout to during your acceptance speech. So what is her take on what has happened to your career in the past couple of years? Does she understand the full trajectory of it?
TW: Yeah! She has like a Chrome Book and goes online and figures out where we are touring and where we are at. Me and her talk a couple of times a month. She gets it but I think she’s just really happy with everything that’s going on. Like, me and her did interviews together in Scotland *laughs*. She’s getting stopped now in the supermarket from people asking “are you Tom’s grandmother?”. It’s so mental if you think about it.
TB: Does she love it though?
TW: Yeah! She pretends she doesn’t but she laps it up mate *laughs*. She’s gone from seeing me play to the kids in primary school to now, so she knows I’ve always wanted to do this. It’s so cool being able to share this with her. I even got to take her to her first ever music festival which was insane.
TB: Experimenting with the likes of Rudimental on ‘Walk Alone’ and Zara Larsson on ‘Now You’re Gone’ was quite surprising because drum and bass and pop is quite different to you’re soulful sound. So what have you learnt about yourself as an artist through collaborating with artists who come from a different artistic background?
TW: I think it’s just good to collaborate with other artists in general. Rudimental are this massive collective and they are insanely talented. We got to go play some shows with them and it was just nice to be able to see them on their second album run of dates and still loving and appreciating every moment.
And Zara is just a super talented singer. Like she is one of those people you do a live session with and then you go home and think “fuck, I need to be better. I’m not good enough. I need to be better and I will be better” *laughs*. Her vocals are just insane. She’s an all singing and all dancing pop star and that’s obviously something very different to me.
I think it’s important to collaborate with people who are really different to you because that’s how you grow as an artist. And it also stands out. I would LOVE to collaborate with Paolo Nutini but I don’t know how it would sound having two gravely voices on the record.
TB: Since the release of the album you’ve spent a lot of your time on the road and playing huge sold out shows to crowds you haven’t reached to before. So from playing these shows and hearing and seeing everyone’s feedback, how has that affected the way you’re approaching and writing new music?
TW: I guess I haven’t even thought about it too much yet. The sound naturally evolves as you’re working on songs and are listening to new things. It’s hard to plan those type of things.
I also haven’t been in a studio session for a while. So I’ve just been working on lyrics and when I eventually go back into the studio I will have some ideas to show my producer and we will go from there.
TB: As I mentioned you have been touring a lot, so what has been one the funniest experience from touring that has happened throughout the last year?
TW: We went out to a Karaoke bar in Japan and we had been out all day drinking as we had a day off after the show in Tokyo the night before, so I got wasted as we were just walking around and going to all of these different bars and Japanese BBQ’s. It was amazing. We finished the night off at 3am at a karaoke bar in the middle of Tokyo and everyone was dressed up in Wizard and Garfield outfits and just screaming ACDC down the microphone. Those are the sort of candid moments that I love looking back at.
TB: Let’s play a little game of rapid fire questions where I’m going to ask you some questions that you just need to answer with the first thing that comes to mind…
TB: My pre-show pump up song is…
TW: ‘Roadie’ from Fat Freddy’s Drop.
TB: The emoji that best describe my album ‘What A Time To Be Alive’ is…
TW: The fireworks emoji. For no other reason other than I just like it *laughs*.
TB: Pineapple on pizza is…
TW: Fine. Not the best. But alright.
TB: Sometimes I wish I could…
TW: Be an astronaut!
TB: When I think of Australia, I think of…
TW: Probably drinking because I’ve been drinking a lot since being here. You guys are very similar to the British. So, well done.