Tom Walker Talks “Leave A Light On” & His Debut Album: Interview
Tom Walker has been hailed as One To Watch since dropping his debut EP, Blessings, in 2017. He then made the leap from buzz act to genuine contender with “Leave A Light On.” Produced by Steve Mac (Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” and Liam Payne’s “Strip That Down,” among many other hits), the gritty anthem has been a smash hit in Europe — topping the charts in France and cracking the top 10 in Germany, Italy and Switzerland. The 26-year-old is now making his mark on North America as the song impacts multiple radio formats.
I recently spoke to Tom before a headlining set at a music festival in the UK — one of 35 he’s performing at this year — and asked about the inspiration for his breakout hit as well as its two music videos. The singer/songwriter also gave a little insight into his much-anticipated debut album (it’s coming) and spoke about the importance of making music about the struggle of everyday life. Get to know the rising hitmaker a little better in our Q&A below.
Where are you?
I’m in Newcastle. I’m playing Hit The North festival today. It’s going to be good. We’re playing the last slot on one of the stages, so it should be pretty rowdy considering it’s a bank holiday in England.
I’m sure “Leave A Light On” will be on the setlist. Why did you make a second video?
Well, a couple of reasons. For starters, when we originally did the first video, we did it for England and then the track gained traction in several different territories all around Europe. And now it’s just beginning in America. So we wanted to put out something fresh for the fans to see that was a bit more of a performance-based piece. So, not focused on a storyline, but more for the fans to get to know me and what I’m about.
Do you enjoy that side of things?
I’m not an actor. I didn’t set out to make music videos, I set out to make good music. I enjoy doing it, but it’s definitely more challenging than being in the studio with a producer you have wanted to work with for years. They don’t come naturally. I spent my whole career focusing on the music and then when I got signed that was an aspect of it. You need to put out music videos, but I’ve not really had any practice doing any of that stuff. So I do enjoy it, but it’s definitely more challenging than writing a song.
The new video also makes the subject matter a little clearer with the voiceover at the beginning.
I wanted to get across to the fans what the song was actually about. It’s about a friend of mine who was struggling with addiction, but also everybody I know, myself included, at some point in their lives has struggled with some form of addiction, whether it be drinking too much or eating too much. You know, whatever it is, I think somebody at some point has struggled with addiction. I just wanted to write this song for my family and my friends to let them know that we can talk about it.
Are you surprised that you landed a hit with something so heavy? Most of the songs on the radio are about going to the club.
I’m not being funny, but who wants to hear another song about going to the club? I mean it’s just so overdone. The club’s mint, but if you’ve got a proper job and you’ve got a real life, you get to go to club maybe once or twice a week if you’ve got a really exciting life. You have good days and you have bad days and I think a lot of pop music really highlights the one day a week that’s amazing. I like to highlight the everyday struggle of life.
You worked with Steve Mac on the song. How did you guys connect?
We connected through my A&R over at Relentless Records in the UK. He has worked with Steve on and off for a number of years. He introduced us both. I went into the session a bit… at the time, I didn’t really research who I was going in. I was getting in with more and more important people and it was actually making me more nervous going into a session if I read their Wikipedia page. Because it’s like, “Oh my god, I need to perform today. I need to do really well.” I knew what he was about, but I didn’t research it in depth. During our first session we wrote “Leave a Light On” in five or six hours.
Do you normally churn things out that quick?
Well, the thing that was happening with my mate, I was really trying to get through to him about an issue that he was having and he really wasn’t listening to me. It was really frustrating for me. At the same time, my aunt who was very, very young — she was in her 40s — had passed away. Two of my cousins were left without a mother. It was the worst week ever. I went in with Steve and we just ended up writing the song. It’s just something I needed to write, perhaps selfishly to make me feel better. It was almost like a little therapy session.
Did you only write one song?
No, we wrote another song that is hopefully going to be on the album. I’m also going into the studio with Steve for a couple of more days next week. I’m really looking forward to that. Obviously, he’s one of the biggest producers in the world right now. I mean the guy is massively in demand, so it such an honor to be going back in with him. It’s wicked that he’s up for doing some more writing.
It takes a lot longer to work a song in America. How are you juggling the multiple timelines?
It’s at its peak in Europe at the moment, I would say. It’s just gone gold in Germany and platinum in Switzerland, and loads of crazy stuff. Every time I keep turning up to a different gig in Europe, because we just did the European tour, somebody was surprising me with a plaque telling me that we’ve sold X amount of records. Which is an amazing feeling. We released it a long time ago in England and it did really well.
It got on Radio 1. I think it was either 8 or 10 weeks on the A-list at Radio 1, which is a big deal in the UK, but it also just took off in Europe. Now it’s gaining a little bit of traction in America, but as you said, these things take a very long time in America. I think it’s just a very different way of working music over there.
Do you have your next single lined up?
I can’t tell you how many tunes we’ve got. We’ve literally got five tunes sitting there ready to go. Three of which are singles and two are album tracks, but because “Leave a Light On” is doing it’s thing in several different territories, you don’t want to stop the party for one territory and put something else out. You know, we’re not going to go too much longer because as an artist I’m just ready to put out some music and I have been for a long time now. Everything to me is not about numbers.
It’s about music and it’s really about the core fans who have been there since day one. My priority over the next few months is to get one of those three tunes, that me and the label are really happy with, finished and put it out.
Are you going to put out another EP or an album?
There’s going to be an album next. We’re going to put out a few different singles. But yeah, I am working on the album, but I’m so busy at the moment. I’ve got 150 gigs this year — 35 of which are festivals. So it’s just getting time to get into the studio and trying to make the most of all the opportunities that are coming up at the moment. Which are obviously amazing, but you can’t be everywhere at once and you can’t do everything at once. So, we’re in a bit of a stage of picking and choosing what’s the right thing to do right now.
Apart from Steve, who else are you working with?
Fiona Bevan, who I’ve worked on a bunch of tracks with. She’s worked with a whole hosts of artists in the industry. She is one of my absolute favorites. I’ve been working a lot with Jim Abbiss on the bulk of the album. We’ve recently completed four tracks for the album. I’ve been working with a guy called Mike Spencer, who has worked with everybody from Jamiroquai to Rudimental. And obviously, I’m working with Steve. I feel the album, slowly but surely, is coming together, but people seem to be rushing me for it but I’m in no rush.
I want to make sure that it’s the best album that I can be. You know, you don’t get many chances at these things these days, so I want to make sure it’s absolutely bangin’, before I put it out.
How do you go about picking the tracklist?
It changes everyday. I won’t just sit here and say, “Oh these are the exact tracks,” but we’re playing so many new songs on the road to the fans and they’re reacting on the spot. One day I’m thinking one thing and then the next, I’m thinking another. But, at some point I’m going to have to get the body of work that’s all been completed and recorded and sit down and make an order.
You recently announced American tour dates. Are you excited to come back?
It’s amazing. I love coming to America. We did The Script tour and we ended up doing, I think it was 16 days with them over… I can’t remember how many days. I want to say like 23 days. We drove 6,000 miles across America. And The Script very kindly took our gear in their massive articulated lory. So we were just in like a Chevy Suburban, driving across America, you know from LA to New York and then we finished off in Vegas. It was just one of the most incredible experiences of my life. In the UK you can drive the top to the bottom in like 12 hours. I’d love to spend more time over there and go on holiday.
Good luck with everything! Thanks for your time.
Nice one. Cheers.