With an unmistakably husky voice, hip hop-inspired beats, and a soulful undertone, UK's Tom Walker landed high on Ones To Watch's radar as soon as we saw him perform live. Naturally, we felt the need to share that magic with the rest of you, so we invited Walker to perform a solo acoustic rendition of his standout single, "Leave a Light On," on our office rooftop.
Born in Scotland and raised in Manchester, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Tom Walker is certainly one of the fastest growing names in 2018. He released his debut EP, Blessings, in 2017, and we can anticipate a debut album later this year. "Leave a Light On" soared to Platinum in multiple countries, joined the top 15 most Shazamed songs, and has racked up nearly 75 million streams on Spotify alone. Produced by Steve Mac, Producer of the Year at 2018′s Brit Awards, Tom Walker just unveiled the music video for "Leave a Light On." Watch below:
Get to know Tom Walker, from his days of flyering the streets of London, to landing a record deal with Sony's Epic Records, to currently preparing to release his debut full-length – What A Time To Be Alive is truly the only way to describe it.
OTW: You've tried a couple of odd jobs before getting into music. How did that lead to the moment where you decided that it was time to pursue music professionally?
I was always trying to pursue music professionally; I just needed to pay more rent so I had some random jobs. I was in London, and I was leafleting for around 6 months, which is just like handing out leaflets everyday on the streets. That was just the worst, the most terrible job, but it was quite well paid. You wouldn't think it would be but it actually was because I don't think anyone else wants to do it. It wasn't amazingly paid but it was enough where I could do four days a week and have three days to do music. Then I was a chef for a while but that meant working 6 days a week. I worked for a photobooth company. That was hilarious. I kinda just always wanted to do [music]. It wasn't like I did this job, and then I decided I hated it, then I went to do music full time. Since I was like 12, I wanted to do music full time. I was just going to do whatever I could to make it up.
OTW: Did something in particular happen that led you to pursue music full time?
Well I spent a number of years doing the whole gig cycle around London and UK in my spare time, but I guess it was when I met my manager, Simon. He started putting me in writing sessions at first. I started working with a couple of people, and we started getting it really well. Six months went by and all of a sudden, I had a record deal. I got an advance, so I didn't have to work anymore so I just did music full time.
OTW: Can you expand a little bit more on the making of your latest single: "Leave a Light On"?
I wrote it with a guy called Steve Mac, and he's done so much cool stuff. He wrote "Shape of You" with Ed Sheeran, and he's in 3 or 4 songs on the UK's top 40 right now. He was incredible. It was first time I ever met him, and we just sat down and bashed that song out in like 5 hours. One of my friends had been going through a rough period and lost his way a little bit. We had to have a word and talk it out, but that was like two years so it's all good now.
OTW: Did the song save him?
No no. I went out, and I started playing the song, and it was a long time after I've been playing that I actually told him. Thank god he was happy and not offended. I think some people might have taken it the wrong way, but it was just a point in time which I've framed into one day and one song.
OTW: Your next single is "Angels?"
Yeah, who told you that!? [laughing]
OTW: When is that coming out?
That's coming out in May. With "Leave a Light On," we expected it to do well but it has way exceeded everyone's expectations. It's in the top 10 in Germany at the moment. It was the #1 Shazammed song in like four different countries for a week.
OTW: Then the album comes out shortly after that?
September. I'm just in the middle of recording, and it's going to have like 16 tracks on. It's called What A Time To Be Alive cause… what a time to be alive.
OTW: Is that a reflection of your own journey?
The stuff that's going on in America, the stuff that's going on in England, politics, the world. I feel like we've leapt forward with technology and advanced, but there's so many stupid things that we do like not care about the planet. I'm not going to go on like an eco-warrior, but it's just going to reflect a few little things very subtlety. I thought that I could tie it and reflect where we are in the world right now.
OTW: Okay so, back to "Angels." Another fact that I learned is that you invited your father into the studio to listen to it ,and he got you into music in the first place, right? Tell us about that experience.
That was amazing. He knew that I was doing okay, but I invited him down to my first ever big string arrangement session. There were around 30 string players in the room for "Angels" and he's never seen or witnessed anything like that. So, I think he was a bit taken back by what I was doing in the song and stuff. It was really nice to see. My mom and my dad came down so both my parents were there. My dad's totally into music, and I grew up going to a lot of concerts with him at the M.E.N arena in Manchester. We went to Foo Fighters, AC/DC, MUSE, Underworld, Prodigy, you name it. We've gone to see classical concerts, Albert Hall, and all sorts of stuff. He really paved the way for me, introduced me to so many different genres and styles of music. I think that's why I got so into music.
OTW: What a time to be alive.
OTW: What do you feel like is your strongest point? What makes people gravitate towards your music? Is it seeing you live? Is it the songwriting? A mixture of everything?
I would say it's the songs. I always think a good song relates to people. I'm quite selfish in the way that I write to make myself feel better, but I've had a lot of people come to me and message me and tell me that my music has made them feel personally better and they can relate to what I'm going through. That's just super cool. Super fucking awesome. There's a girl that told me that one of my songs helped her get over her fear of flying. I was like, "I don't know how you made that connection but that's awesome."
OTW: Do you have any other insights into the themes and the sounds that are going to be on your debut full length?
It's going to be a real mix of stuff. I'm not held down to one style or one genre. There's a really slow jam on there called "The Show" that I recorded recently, which is about a night where I was at a nightclub in London. I was in queue outside the door, and it was taking forever to get in. I just was like "No, I'm not doing this." So I went down to the shop, bought a couple of beers and walked around London for like 3 hours on my own. I realized that the whole of London on like on a Friday night at like 2am. The whole of London is just like a show. There's just stuff happening everywhere. People kicking off fights, people hugging in the streets, people going out, homeless guys struggling, rich people having a great time. It's just everything in front of you so I just wrote a whole song about that. That's one of my favorite ones that are going on the album. It's going to be the last track.
OTW: It would be cool if you did a video for that.
Yeah, I'm in the middle of convincing the label. It sounds so good! I did it with Jim Abbiss, and he's such a great producer. We did it at RAK studios in London, which is one of the coolest most amazing places to record. It's got like this super old API desk which makes everything sound lush. It's going to be wicked. There's a mix of things in the album. Some of it's rock, some of it is hip hop influenced. It's got everything.
OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?
There's a girl in the UK called Maisie Peters. She's really cool. There's also a guy named Sam Fender who I think is going to do really well. I think that's it for people that I've personally seen in concert in the last 3 months.