It’s a Tuesday evening in Hackney and Tom Walker has taken to the stage at the Oslo for his biggest headlining gig in the UK to date.
It’s a big occasion, but despite the excitement of the event, the Manchester-bred singer doesn’t look nervous. As I will soon discover, Walker treats every room he’s in like he’s been friends with everyone in it for years, and the result is an onstage charm so effortless that you don’t even realise you’ve been won over before he plays the first chord on his guitar.
As he starts in on his set, standout songs include his most recent single ‘Heartland’, co-written with producing giant Naughty Boy, and ‘Angels’, to be released as a single later this year. Both are epic, atmospheric offerings – bigger and more arresting than the more stripped-back tracks on his EP Blessings, which came out in May. And yet, both songs are still packed with Walker’s emotional punch, and delivered with soulful vocals that are, if possible, even more powerful in person.
They’re certainly more than a match for the larger venues he’s playing as support for Irish superstars The Script on their US tour this month, and when I sit down for a chat with Walker after the show I’m keen to know how they came about – and find out what else is in the works for the rising star.
Hi Tom! I’ve been wondering – what was the inspiration behind your song “Heartland”?
I kind of went through a bit of a period on tour where I was boozing quite a bit… Like, not really terrible but the temptation was always there ‘cause [there are] loads of free delicious cold beers after you’ve come offstage when you’re on tour. It’s quite easy to get into the habit of having two, and then, you know, having three… So I had to have a little word with myself like, ‘Right. You’re going to lose your voice here. Chill out.’ So that’s what ‘Heartland’ is about really – it’s about trying [not] to give into temptation even though sweet, sweet beer is awesome. [Laughs]
Fair enough! The video for “Heartland”, like a lot of your music videos, has a really strong emotional narrative to it. How did the video come about?
Well, we pitched the video out but Ollie Wolf, the director, out of everything that came back, I got the script and treatment and I just couldn’t stop reading it. I was just like, ‘This is fucking amazing.’ We’d given a little brief along the lines of what I just said, basically – about temptation, and being divided amongst the group – and he came back with that and I just, I couldn’t put it down. We’ve done a lot of videos, and most of them have strong narratives, but that one just gripped me instantly. And we’re doing a full fifteen-minute film of it as well with all the dialogue in it, so that’ll be sick!
Yeah, that sounds amazing! So, you studied songwriting at university…
What’s the most valuable lesson you learned about making music while you were there, in or out of the classroom? You don’t have to put them out of business or anything, but give it a go.
Leave your ego at home if you’re writing with somebody. Always bring biscuits – always bring biscuits to a session.
Always bring biscuits to a [writing] session.
That’s some solid practical advice.
Always turn up with something, even if it’s a pack of 99p digestives – everyone will instantly be like ‘This guy!’ And… Come prepared. Yeah. Like, have a few ideas to start [with] because if you come up with nothing then – I mean, I do it all the time but still, if I’m giving advice here, come with a few things! [Laughs]
What’s been your best experience performing live in your career so far?
One of the most surreal ones was last year – we did British Summertime Festival and I was playing on quite a small stage, and it was just me when I was on my own at the time, and Stevie Wonder was headlining. And it was amazing – they got me my own trailer! This was when I was doing gigs in my own car, my shitty little VW Polo, going about on my own. They got me a trailer with a fully-stocked bar and I got free Ray-Bans all day – it was next-level! And then I got to watch Stevie Wonder do a four-and-a-half-hour set; the guy’s an absolute machine. So I came back from that like, yeah, I’m alright but – [I’ve got a] lot of work to do! [Laughs]
What are your goals for the next year?
The next year… Take over Radio 1! [Laughs] Completely and utterly… Just [to] do a load of cool shows, travel… Europe’s amazing, we’ve done quite a bit in Europe and that’s really cool. We’re just about to go out with The Script tomorrow for two weeks – no, three weeks in the US. I think we’re doing sixteen dates with them, ending in Vegas, so that’ll be sweet. And just [to] have a good time and not let it get too serious, d’you know what I mean? I think it’s really easy, when it’s all starting to go well, to lose your way, but I’ve got a wicked team around me, and we just want to go out and have fun – play shows, write songs… That’s the plan.
Pyramid Stage in two years, though. [Laughs]
We’ll be looking out for that! Finally – what’s the best career advice that you’ve ever been given?
It’s nice to be nice. I met George Ezra once – name drop, casual [laughs] – at New Year, completely by accident and he was really fucking lovely. So, so lovely. And I was just like, ‘If there’s any advice that you could give me, in this industry, what would you give me?’ And he was just like ‘It’s nice to be nice.’ So I always try to pass that on to people.
Watch the video for Tom Walker’s single ‘Heartland’ below, or catch him out touring for the rest of the year – and don’t forget to listen out for upcoming single ‘Angels’. Take it from us, it’s a banger.
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