As I’m sitting down to write this article, Ed Sheeran’s hour and a half long 2012 iTunes festival show is blaring through my speakers, and my Twitter feed has just informed me that his next tour across the USA is almost entirely sold out. In fact, the British singer announced earlier today that his show in New York City at Radio City Music Hall completely sold out in less than ONE minute. I think it’s safe to say that in the short amount of time since the release of his first album ‘+’, there has been a kind of Ed Sheeran Music Revolution. No, really.
In the last three years, Sheeran has made every possible move to ensure that people around the world would be able to hear his music. Between playing free shows, open-mic nights, and releasing several independent EP’s (five, to be exact, and each sold better than the last) he was able to gain himself a significant following before even being signed to a record label. The singer/songwriter officially released his first full-length album ‘+’ in September 2011.
The amount of recognition the 21 year old artist has received in such a short time is not only staggering, but extremely well-deserved. His songs are beautiful, thoughtful, catchy, and his talent is immediately noticeable both on stage and simply through the album itself. It was almost no surprise when Sheeran first came to Montreal in April 2012, opening for Snow Patrol, that he received a very warm welcome from fans. Upon doing a meet and greet after the show, people lined up for several hours just to get a picture with him. Soon after, Sheeran announced a North American tour with a date in Montreal on September 18th 2012. Again, no surprise, the date sold out very quickly and was hosted at one of the bigger venues that the city has to offer, Olympia Theater.
On the day of the concert, I had the opportunity to chat with Ed Sheeran about his music, his career start, and what’s coming up next for him. It was a pleasure, to say the least, as a long time fan of his work myself. When I got to the venue, there were already numerous people from the media waiting for some time to talk to the singer. I think it is pretty safe to say that all of Montreal was excited about his return to the city for one night.
He walked over wearing one of those classic graphic tees that he is so well known for (and which I heard him say somewhere that he could never give up). After quick friendly introductions, we began to talk about his welcome back to Montreal. Although he had literally just arrived in the city, he immediately announced “I loved it here last time. I just want to get some poutine!”
We began talking about the beginning of his career and why he chose to be an artist at such a young age. In fact, Sheeran had begun to write music at the age of 11, and once he finished high school he continued along the music career path. “It was a choice of either doing that, or go to University and getting a job, which I just didn’t want to do! It was two roads I could have gone down, basically” he explained to me.
As for the pursuit of a solo career, I’m always curious to find out why independent artists choose to do so. Ed, quite intelligently, seems to have really thought this one out. “Because I think it’s important to grow and develop as an artist” he said right away. He continued: “There’s just no point in coming out with a band and doing the whole big thing now. I might as well just build it slowly and gradually for the first bit of touring, just me, and then the next album I might introduce some more musicians, the next album more again, and so on.”
So far, choosing the solo path has worked wonders for Ed. Not only is his album chock full of hits, but his choice to start off solo has allowed him to truly expand his knowledge on music, and master particular instruments along the way. “Well, I know how to play guitar well, and I know how to play drums well, but I can [also] play the piano and cello.” He answered when I questioned him on which ones he knew how to play.
From the moment he gets on stage with his acoustic guitar and his loop pedal, until the moment he leaves, the audience just cannot get enough of Ed and his music. If you have ever seen him perform live, you will know exactly what I mean. He is charming, funny, tells thoughtful stories, and at the same time he is looping his instruments into a seamless melody for the current or next song. On the subject of his loop pedal, Ed admitted it was very difficult to learn. “But once you get the hang of it, it’s all about timing.” I always imagined it would be tough to multi-task in this way while thousands of people anxiously wait for him to begin his next song (or, you know, scream crazy things at him on stage) but when I asked, he just laughed and said it really wasn’t so bad. “I have an… Internal metronome!” he told me with a smile.
His live shows are definitely a strong point for Ed, as well as one of the reasons he has become well known in so many countries- not to mention the very reason he was discovered and later signed. The interesting thing about his music in a concert setting is that he is able to alter the original version so that it sounds completely unique live, and yet it does not lose any of the qualities you love from the album. I asked him which songs are his favorites to play at concerts, and without hesitation he answered “U.N.I and You Need Me I Don’t Need You.” The latter is a track he wrote after his ex-label a
sked him to conform to “celebrity” standards in order to gain more fame. Ed refused, and instead wrote You Need Me I Don’t Need You, a song that he sings with such passion at his shows; it is easy to see how much he genuinely loves to play it live. In fact, if you happen to check out the 2012 iTunes Live Festival show I mentioned earlier, he performs a stellar twenty minute version of the track to end his near two-hour set. Suffice to say he carries some strong emotions to the song.
We know he plays great concerts and has a fantastic first record, but what is it exactly that has turned Ed into such a revolutionary musician in North America and the rest of the world-and so quickly? Even he was not quite able to answer the question. “I don’t know what is in the water in Canada, but every other country I’ve toured consistently and it’s happened gradually there for me. I don’t know what’s happened here, I haven’t got a clue, but it’s going really well and I’m not complaining. I’m very overwhelmed with the amount of love I’ve received over here.” Furthermore, his song ‘The A-Team’ hit number one in Singapore and Hong Kong recently- two places he has never previously visited. “I haven’t had a number one single anywhere in the world so that’s like… Really cool!” He said to me excitedly.
The truth is he has music that is just so easy to connect with. The first song on ‘+’ was written five years ago, and the rest of the record took those full five years to put together. “There’s a song called ‘This’ which I wrote when I was like 16. It’s an old song” Ed said when I asked about that first song written for his CD. The inspiration- love- is a common theme for him. The evening of his concert in Montreal, he told the audience about the love story behind his song ‘Kiss Me’, and then there is the beautiful track ‘Give Me Love’ which is fairly self explanatory. There is also his rather famous track ‘Lego House’ which seems to be another song inspired by love.
I’ve always had an affinity for ‘Lego House’. Not only is it the reason I first discovered Ed’s music, but I made the same mistake when I first saw the music video last year that so many other listeners have made since. I mistook Rupert Grint-Ron Weasley of Harry Potter- who stars in the video, as Sheeran himself. Turns out, this was the musician’s plan all along. “I knew I wanted Rupert Grint to play me, go on stage, write songs, walk down the streets and stuff like that looking like me, and then the director was kind of like “Well what if you turn up at the end and it just turns out that he’s a superfan?” and I was like “YES that sounds perfect!””
After discussing his music, I started to ask Ed more about himself. He is particularly known for his involvement in social media, and therefore shares a lot with his fans. I was curious if there was something about him that they may not already know. At first, he couldn’t quite think of anything. “I think fans know quite a lot about me. That’s the beauty of the internet!” He said. After giving it some thought, however, he added “I don’t like being on my own.” He then explained a little further: “whenever I’m given a few days off, I just invite all my friends around my flat. It’s not really a day off; it’s just me hanging out with a lot of people! So yeah, I just really don’t like being left on my own, as weird as that sounds!”
We also briefly talked about Twitter, which Ed says he isn’t addicted to- although he certainly does love using it! “I can go without Twitter, like I can cut it off cold turkey and go a month without it! But when I’m on it, I’m on it, you know?” He also made some really great points about the importance of Twitter for artists today. “I just think that letting people know you’re human is a very important thing in this world. It’s quite hard for you to be relatable when you’re on a TV screen, but if you’re saying “I just woke up and had a bowl of cereal” someone will be like “Oh! So did I!” It’s just an important thing to relate to fans.”
My time with Ed quickly came to an end, and he was off to do more press before his set that evening. Just as I expected, his show was fantastic and I don’t think a single person left the venue that night feeling disappointed. We all became his choir, and somehow the voices of all his fans made the songs even more surreal to hear live.
It is quite clear that the Ed Sheeran Music Revolution (this is going to be a thing) is not anywhere near over. You’ll be able to catch Ed singing a duet with the lovely Taylor Swift on her forthcoming record, among other plans that he has for 2013. “[I’m] writing another album, but I’ll be promoting this one for a bit longer. I’ve got the single with Taylor that’s going to be on her record coming out October 22nd. Then there are just a few more collaborative things that come out of the next year.” Although most of Ed Sheeran’s tour dates are sold out for the foreseeable future, keep an eye out for him in more duet projects and touring new countries where his music is currently making its rounds!
To learn more about Ed Sheeran, check him out at the links below: