Tom Walker: I'm enjoying the success but it's a double-edged sword... touring is really tough
Tom Walker has had an incredible few months. After rising to fame last year following the release of his smash hit single Leave A Light On, he has gone on to win a Brit Award and score a number one album. The Scottish singer-songwriter talks to Lucy Mapstone about his career so far, how it felt to see his debut album top the charts over Bryan Adams, and his dreams for the future
Tom Walker is one of Scotland's biggest emerging stars, but you'd be forgiven for being none the wiser to his heritage when speaking to him. If anything, there is a vague dash of Mancunian in there, but overall, he's quite difficult to place.
"My accent's all over the place," Walker says, laughing.
"I was born in Scotland and then I moved to Manchester, but I've lived in London for the last seven years. And my girlfriend is from Huddersfield, so she's properly northern.
"It depends who I'm speaking to. I speak to my parents in a Scottish accent, or anyone who is Scottish."
Walker's speaking voice might be tricky to pin down, but his singing voice is instantly recognisable, thanks to his breakout smash hit Leave A Light On.
The robust ballad is easily one of the most adored tracks of the past year, and has been a runaway success, reaching the top 10 in several countries, including number seven in the UK.
Walker then went on to win the British breakthrough act Brit Award in February, despite not having even released an album at the time.
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The following month, he dropped debut album What A Time To Be Alive, and it went straight to number one, fending off competition from music heavyweight Bryan Adams, who had to settle for number two.
What A Time To Be Alive has now just been named the best-selling debut album of the year by the Official Charts Company, and is sixth biggest-selling album of the year overall.
It's fair to say Walker has had a pretty incredible few months.
"It was crazy, I was not expecting that," he reflects of the Brit Award, the disbelief still resonant in his voice.
On his album topping the charts, he adds: "That was pretty crazy too. It was Bryan Adams' 14th studio album or something.
"You spend so long working on an album, so when it actually does the thing you set out for it to do, it's so gratifying."
With success that comes as speedily as Walker's did - from being an unknown to becoming a Brit-winning, chart-topping star in the space of a year - comes the inevitable hype, the fame, the glory, and the expectation.
Does he ever doubt himself?
"I don't think people would be proper musicians if they didn't doubt themselves. If you don't question what you're creating, where's the quality control? It's a mixture of both; I'm enjoying the success but always second-guessing."
Walker has, as quickly as his career has taken off, also managed to anchor himself with not just his music, but his image.
With his thick beard, woollen hat and intense gaze - all present on his album cover thanks to artist Craig Alan, who painted 2,000 people to create a portrait of Walker's face - it's unsurprising the 27-year-old has been spotted by fans when out and about over the past few months.
"Everyone's well nice. Most people just want to get a photo, and that's it," he says. "It doesn't happen all the time, but there has been a bit more recently than it was previously."
Another thing that comes with fast fame is a concern over mental health, and its potentially detrimental impact.
The entertainment world is currently awash with discussion about the difficulties of being in the public eye, combined with the dark side of social media and trolling, with more and more stars opening up about dealing with depression and anxiety.
There is also a focus on male mental health, following a number of suicides from male celebrities.
With Leave A Light On, Walker has already established himself as someone who is switched on to the conversation; the song was inspired by a good friend of his who was struggling with addiction.
That sentiment of sharing with and caring for your friends - and shrugging off that tired notion of the stiff British upper lip - is something he says he is lucky to have with his close-knit group.
"I've got enough experience with me and my mates, like... I'm fortunate to have mates that, if something was going on, we could all have a chat about it," he says, when asked if he would feel comfortable opening up about dealing with mental health issues as his success builds.
"I've had experiences from people having quickly deteriorating mental health in my friendship group, and we're all there for each other. It's changed too. It's all right to feel sad now, whereas 10 years ago, if you were a guy and you were upset, it's this whole masculinity thing, about not talking about it and burying it. It's not healthy."
For now, Walker is focused on the positive side of his career triumphs, and is looking forward to performing across the UK.
Well, for the most part.
"It's like a double-edged sword," he confesses. "I really like it, but it's also really tough. There are so many different aspects to the touring thing. I like being on a bus and touring with my band, it's such a wicked job, getting to go and see loads of new people and places.
"I never thought I'd get to go and play my songs to people. It's amazing, but it's hard work, and I don't think people realise it."
Speaking over the phone from Portland while in the middle of a US tour, Walker explains: "Yesterday, we got up at 7am and we drove 10 hours from Canada to somewhere in the US, did a show to 250 people, drove two hours to get to the hotel, and today we've got to drive another 10 hours on our day off. It's a lot."
Apart from those long days on the road, Walker is genuinely loving every moment of his life as he rides the wave following his number one album and Brit gong.
Is it too soon to start thinking about that second album?
He chuckles, and says: "Not really, no. We've only just put the last one out! It has been in the back of my head, though. My plan is to just keep touring this album and see how long it goes on for, and in between touring I'm going to write some songs for a new album, but not really think about a particular direction."
Looking ahead, however, Walker does admit to having a handful of goals, including a scoring a dream collaboration with a fellow Scot, and headlining a venue that means a lot to him.
"I'd love to write a song with Paolo Nutini, because I've loved every one of his albums," says Walker. "He's a good writer and he's got such an interesting voice. That'd be a dream come true. And, because I grew up to see a lot of gigs at the Manchester Arena, I'd love to headline that one day.
"I went to see Muse there, I saw the Foo Fighters and John Mayer there, and loads of bands, so it'd be cool to headline that. That'd be a massive dream."
- What A Time To Be Alive by Tom Walker is out now. Walker kicks off his UK tour in Nottingham on April 23