This past year has been a bit of a whirlwind for Tom Walker. Whether it’s winning Best Breakthrough Act at the Brits, scoring a hit with ‘Leave A Light On’, or his debut album, ‘What a Time to Be Alive’, landing atop of the UK album chart, it’s obvious that he’s come a long way since his days as a photo booth attendant at weddings and office parties. Tom talks to NME about adjusting to his newfound fame, not being a fan of streaming and his hat being more famous than he is… almost.
How’s fame treating you?
“I was in a chippy the other night and a guy recognised me, and he just started screaming ‘Leave a light on’ in my face – which was interesting. Then all of a sudden, I’m behind the counter taking pictures with the two guys in the chippy – who have never heard of me – but they wanted a picture because some other guy did. I was just like, ‘Well this is a bit random, isn’t it? I’m just in a chippy taking pictures behind the chip shop desk.’”
But, here’s the all-important question: did you get your fish and chips for free?
“I didn’t, they even charged me for the chicken. I took some pictures with nine people and then they were like, ‘That’ll be £6.70, please.’ And then after all that the chippy was crap as well; I threw it away. They’d run out of curry sauce too, and the guy who was in there screaming ‘Leave a light on’ in my face just kicked off so bad. Honestly, he was so upset. He was shouting, ‘I’ve been coming here for 32 years and having a battered sausage with chips and curry sauce and you’re all telling me you’ve got no curry sauce?’ It was absolutely hilarious.”
What’ve been your biggest ‘wow’ moments so far?
“I met Ed Sheeran. I started writing because of the Arctic Monkeys, and because of Ed Sheeran’s ‘No.5 Collaborations Project’, that he did with Devlin and Mikill Pane and all that. It was the first time I’d heard that kind of folky songwriter stuff with an acoustic guitar and a rapper. I’d never heard that before and that inspired me to think about music differently. So I met Ed Sheeran and he was so lovely and such a nice guy – it was only for like 15 minutes in the studio, but he seemed to know who I was, which for me was fucking mental. He was just so lovely and he gave me a ton of advice.”
What about one of the stupidest things you’ve been asked since the fame?
“I was telling some journalist a story about what one of my songs is about and then they reported that I was basically a drug addict, which is not true in any sense. And I was reading the article thinking, ‘You absolute dickheads,’ and my mum called me saying: ‘Tom, have you got a drug problem that we don’t know about?’ I was just like, this is so fucking bang out of order. As I was telling them the story they were recording it on a voice memo, so I was said, ‘Go back and listen to it and tell me that I said that.’ And he did, and then they had to apologise. I thought, ‘You’ve done that just to fucking have a dig at me.’ I was not happy about it, because when you have your mum calling and asking if you’ve got a drug problem because she’s seen it in news article, that’s not cool.”
You mentioned Arctic Monkeys were a big inspiration. What did you think of ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’?
“I thought it was crap. I tried to get into it so badly, like really tried. I sat down and listened to it something like six times, but you know what? It’s just not for me. Maybe it’s a stroke of absolute genius, but personally I didn’t think so, I thought it was boring. I wanted to love it so much, I really did. But when you have to try to like something, you should probably just not. I was upset that I didn’t like it.”
Your debut album, ‘What A Time To Be Alive’, was released a few months ago. Have you started on any new music yet?
“I just had seven days writing; it’s the first writing I’ve done since December. I did six songs in seven days.”
Is it for anything specific?
“No, I’m just getting back on the horse.”
Are you finding it harder to create because you feel you have to chase the same level of success you’ve had as of late?
“I’m not chasing anything; I’m just making music. I love doing that all day. I’m not doing it for anybody else other than me.”
Are you someone who constantly checks on their streaming figures?
“I try not to look at streaming numbers. It annoys me that streaming services have made music a competition between other artists. ‘You’ve not got good enough numbers on social media and not enough numbers on streaming’ – music’s not a competition. If something is good then it’s good and it just annoys me that everything has a number to put next to it now. When I was growing up and listening to tunes, yeah, they had the album chart and they had the UK chart, but when you bought a CD you’d have no idea how many people listened to it or where they were in the world or whatever, you just listened to it because you thought it was mint. It wasn’t like, ‘This song’s got a billion streams, go listen to it.’”
Are you still able to run your own social media channels or are you too busy?
“Yeah, I am, but there are people helping me do it. I’ve got a team of people helping me do it.”
Do you pay much attention to what people are saying about you?
“Well, not constantly because I wouldn’t have a life. Honestly, social media is great for getting your music out there, getting your point across and doing stuff, but to spend every day reading through every comment on social media is not a life. I’m living in the real world; I don’t need to be looking at a screen constantly, all day. I appreciate everybody on social media who likes and comments and all that stuff, but c’mon, a lot of people are too engrossed in it, they’re too obsessed with it.”
On Twitter, it seems as if fans are just constantly talking about your hat.
“I know, I’m becoming James Bay! He took his hat off and people were outraged: ‘He’s taken his hat off! I’m not going to listen to his album.’”
So is the hat coming off for the second album?
“I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it. I just can’t be arsed. I just shaved all my hair off and just got a hat, basically. It’s so easy to wake up in the morning and just put a hat on. I don’t even need to shower – fantastic.”