OTU Exclusive Interview with Ed Sheeran

From folk to grime, Ed Sheeran’s experienced and performed it all, emerging as one of the most well-rounded artists in the UK scene at a young age.

When a rare and homegrown talent of this quality arises, there’s an air of inevitability that he’s going to be one of the UK’s better artists in the coming years. Hence, for us here at OTU it’s best to get on the bandwagon now, as it’s going to be pretty hard to find room on it very soon: welcome to an Overrating the Underrated exclusive interview with the wonderfully-gifted Ed Sheeran.

Indi caught up with Ed to discuss a range of topics, including his thoughts on the No. 5 Collaborations EP, his upcoming album, and much more in a very in-depth interview. Huge thanks to Ed for being so friendly, and to Gully and Sian for putting this together.

You can read the script of the interview below (including a bonus question not on the video!), and of course the video interview is available up here. If, for whatever reason, you’d prefer to view the video (in 2 parts) on Youtube, you can do that here and here.

Congratulations on the success of the EP (review here) for a start.

Ed: Thanks man.

Indi: What were your expectations for it?

Ed: Quite small to be honest. I wanted to make it, put it out and just for it to be a little buzz, and then when the album comes out for people to re-discover it and think ‘Oh you did this!’. But yeah, it was mad.

Indi: I understand you co-produced it with Jake Gosling. What did that involve exactly? What did you both bring to the table?

Ed: I brought the music, he brought the production. I was doing all of the guitar and all the ideas for synth, and he was finding the drum sounds and different sounds to put on the synth. I was doing the hooks and he was doing the ‘how to do the hooks’, like on the P Money one (Family) I just wanted it to go ‘let me go, see my family’ and he was like ‘nah, we’ll put some (insert wispy noise here!) on it, and make it sound really eerie’, so little things like that, old school producing. Thing is, people get mixed up with co-production nowadays. Production in hip-hop means you make the track, whereas production in my world means you tweak a few buttons and make something sound nice.

So yeah, with the production people get mixed up so I wasn’t really sure how to credit it: whether I was the producer because I wrote the music, or Jake was because he did all the ‘actual production’, so [I went with] co-production.

Indi: One thing I noticed, and was quite surprised about, was the way the people you collaborated with brought more emotional and deep-meanings to their lyrics and whatnot, which you don’t really associate with grime. Was that part of your thinking beforehand, or did it just turn out like that?

Ed: Nah, I think I got them on lucky days to be honest. First tune I got sent through was the Wiley tune, You, and when I got it I was like ‘man, I’m so lucky to have this. I’ve [not] heard Wiley go in on a tune like this in a while’. I think I just caught people on good days and gave them a good subject matter to write to.

Some people just came with their own ideas. When I did the P Money tune and sent it to him, he sent it back and he told the whole story about his car crash. They all went in, and I’m really, really happy they all went in ‘cos it gave it such a nice rounded [feel], like you can say something like all the MCs bring something new to the table and stuff. I’m glad every single one did that in such a good way, and they really smashed every single track they were on.

Indi: Got any videos planned?

Ed: Not really no, I quite like the fact it did what it did without anything. It was just put on iTunes and Twitter, and that was it. The JME, P Money and Devlin tunes have been played on Radio 1Xtra, so I know some people want the Devlin video and I know some people want the P Money video, that could actually be happening, and I think me and JME might be doing a jokey video where we go kidnap some DJs and put them in a van. I’m not sure, I quite like what its done and I wouldn’t mind just breaking away and saying ‘look, I’m a singer-songwriter, I’m gonna make this album for now and then come back to it’. I tihnk that would be cool, and come back to it at the end of the year and do a live show or something. Maybe a tour, that would be sick.

Indi: A personal favourite of mine was the way Mikill Pane just completely flipped your A-Team track. What did you make of that? Is that the vision you had for the song?

Ed: That wasn’t even meant to go on it, that was a really weird one. Basically, the whole collaborations thing was meant to be I made tracks, give them to [the collaborators], people work on it [and] send it back, we go through it together and add different bits, then it becomes a collaboration and then goes on the EP. But with that, Mikill Pane just used to come to a lot of gigs and he stands out like a sore thumb: big tall dude with tunnels, loads of tattoos and cool dress sense, and he’s just always there and I got to talking to him, and he became a really good friend. Then I found out he spat which was sick, and I found out he really, really spit. One day, I did a gig in Old Street and I had to go back to Chalk Farm, and he walked me back. We spent the whole way talking about music, and he was like “ah look, it’s mad you did The A Team and had the ‘couple grams…motherland’ line, ‘cos I wrote a rap 3 years ago called Little Lady, and never really did anything with it. On the walk home he did it, and I was like ‘you know, that’s f*cked’. Jake, (the producer) manages him now and we basically went in, I said ‘take those verses off’, we got ‘em in and he did it, and I was like (happy/satisfied face!). It was one take as well, one take. Yeah, so that was cool, I’m glad that happened. The amount of good feedback I’ve got about that, I was expecting people to hate it and be like ‘oh you’ve ruined our favourite song, The A-Team’ but no-one’s said a bad word, and I’ve had people Just Jack texting me being like ‘who’s Mikill Pane? He’s sick’ or Professor Green being like ‘best track’s Mikill Pane’ and stuff like that. It’s good for him to be opened up a bit more.

Indi: I actually hadn’t heard of him before the EP, so it was just a complete shock to hear the way firstly to take it on, a track like that as you were saying.

Ed: He’s a really talented guy though, he’s got some big stuff coming out. He’s got a song called Fairytale which is on Youtube.

Indi: What were your influences growing up? What made you decide that music is what ‘I want to do’?

Ed: I suppose it was the only thing I was actually good at, or really enjoyed. Anyone who knows me well will know that I sing all the time, especially when I’m drunk. I’ve stopped drinking now probably because of that fact, cos I irritate people with it, just rap and sing and stuff. It’s just a love of mine that’s been sort of embedded into me since I was young, so I kind of knew that I wanted to do it when I never stopped doing it, it was constant. When I started playing guitar, it was practicising 7 hours a day just going through it and not going out: I had friends [asking] ‘are you coming out?’ and I’d be the typical ‘no man, I’m doing my music man, I can’t waste time’, but that actually happened.

Indi: So you moved to London how long ago now?

Ed: 3 years ago now.

Indi: Just on a whim, or did you know people around?

Ed: No, I didn’t. I knew about 3 singer-songwriters that got me started on the scene. There was a website that had every single promoter listed that does acoustic nights, so I emailed every single one. There were probably about 300 of them, and I got about 50 replies so I did all those gigs, and went back and did them again and again and again. Just kept building up and doing gigs every single day.

Indi: How many gigs would you say you’ve done?

Ed: Over 1000. I did 312 on my Myspace count in 2009, which was pretty much every single day. That killed me though, that was a bad year. The thing is, after every single gig I’d drink a lot, it just wasn’t good. Stopped now though.

Indi: Was that just in the London area or all over the country?

Ed: All over the country yeah, I’ve played everywhere. Everywhere.

Indi: You were signed to Atlantic a week after the EP came out.

Ed: Not even that, 4 days after man. Went well.

Indi: How hard would you say it’s been to get signed? Not only to get signed, but get the deal that you want to make the sort of album that you want to bring out?

Ed: I think it helps if you give up after a while. I did, I was like I’m not gonna get signed, I’m gonna do this independently. That helps, because the minute you stop watching something…It’s like with girls. If you stop showing interest in a girl, chances are she’ll probably start to show an interest in you: I found that was the same with the record labels. I had pursued all of them when I was about 16, and was like ‘look! I’m a singer-songwriter, I’m young, I play, sign me!’ and none of them were on it so I was like ‘that’s cool, I’m gonna go away and do all my independent stuff, I’m gonna build it up, I’m gonna make it this way’. But I never ruled out the fact that one day someone might offer a deal, and it might be good, and give me a chance to push my music a bit further. Basically did that, and built up a really strong fanbase which have proved very efficient, loyal and cool. Did all my gigging, so now I could go on any stage: I’ll play in Inglewood to hood gangsters or I’ll play in Suffolk to 50-year old balding white men, so I can do both of them and that was through all very different gigs. So I’ve done that, I’ve done all my recordings and my independent releases so people know I’ve been around a while and I am a singer-songwriter and not just some grime kid.

Nothing is worth having unless it comes with hard work. I’m in a good position man ‘cos I’m happy. If I’d got signed when I was 16, I would have been like ‘yeah I got signed’ but there would have been nothing to back it up, but now I feel like I deserve to. Now I know what to do ‘cos I’ve got all this to back it up, and if I was to get dropped tomorrow I really wouldn’t care as I’d still release the album and my fans would still buy it.

Indi: Have you started the album?

Ed: Yeah.

Indi: How far into it?

Ed: Probably about 1 or 2 months left, but we’ve done the main structure of it. I’ve written all the songs and it’s all done now, but yeah, we’re just recording it which is wicked, really excited that I finally get to put a project together. With the EP’s, I’d put songs on them but it’s not the definitive thing that people would look at and think ‘yeah that’s Ed Sheeran’ because each of the EP’s have been different: there’s been an indie one, singer-songwriter one, a folk one, a live one with a DVD and then a collaborations one. You can’t really understand who Ed Sheeran is unless you get all of them and listen to all of them, but the album is going to encapsulate everything.

Indi: Sounds good. What’s your overall vision for the album? How would you want your fans to receive it?

Ed: Just as a singer-songwriter. If you were to buy a Damien Rice album, like when O came out, if you bought and listened to that. One of those storytelling, feel the emotion of the song. I’ve got a lot of stories on it, I’ve got a lot of different emotions evoked in different songs. I just want to make an album that people can listen to in 10 years time and think ‘yeah, that’s sick. I remember when that came out’, rather than that big hyped thing, ‘oh, that’s that kid that did the Collaborations thing and made that album that wasn’t that good’. I want to properly make an album that really comes across as good.

Indi: When can we expect it?

Ed: August.

Indi: Any collaborations following on from the EP?

Ed: Nah man. The whole point of doing the collaborations thing was that there were so many acts I wanted to work with, and there’s not enough time or CDs that they can fit on, so I’ll just make one small one for now, and come back and do number 6 in two years time or number 7 in four years time. For now, I need to focus on making myself a singer-songwriter. That’s what I did on the 4 EP’s beforehand, to make sure that everyone realised I wasn’t just the kid that sings the hook. You can download it and have 40 tracks of Ed Sheeran on your iPod and think ‘cool, that’s what he’s done and now he’s done this [album]‘ rather than just some grime kids so I made an EP.

Indi: America, is that on the radar?

Ed: Definitely man. I’m going to America around April I think, because I signed out there as well, I signed an international deal. That’s more of a long-term plan, my future plans for this year [are that] I wanna just tour, I wanna be the headline tour. I’ve done maybe 15 support tours, where I’m always first or second on. I want to be the first one on, and even if it’s playing to 100 people a night, I just want to build up that fanbase more and more, and just have a hardcore following like Mumford & Sons or something and then let the album come out, and do all the radio and TV, build up a strong following and then the States.

Indi: Are you getting recognised in the streets at all yet?

Ed: It’s hard not to get recognised when you have bright ginger hair and a guitar on your back. With me not living anywhere, I travel with everything so I always have a guitar on my back and a rucksack. I’ve just cut my hair, I did have wild ginger hair. Even if you don’t know who I am, you know who I am: it’s like ‘oh, there’s that ginger kid that plays guitar’, ‘oh yeah it’s that dude’. That happens a lot. Some people think I’m someone else! Someone called me Ben Sherman or Ed Sherrington, or Ed Shirran, or Sherran or Sherman, Sherwin. That’s what Wretch [32] called me when he first met me, Ed Sherwin. Yeah, I get recognised but it’s not got to the point where everyone knows who I am, it’s just people know there’s a ginger singer-songwriter out there somewhere that has a guitar, it’s not that there’s genuine fans on every single street corner.

Indi: Outside of music, what do you enjoy?

Ed: I’m really boring! The last time I had time off was at Christmas, and I watched The Wire season 1-5, and watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy all of New Year’s Day with my girlfriend, just eating ice cream. Pretty much full-time is music, I don’t ever get a day off, and if I do it’s usually Christmas time with the family.

BONUS QUESTION! (Not included in the video due to audio problems!)

Indi: Last question, and probably the most important one, what’s the heaviest animal you could kick over a crossbar?

Ed: Wow, that’s quite an important question! Heaviest…..? Probably a Koala bear. But the thing is, it’d probably grab on to my leg and not let go, so I’d have to shake it a bit more then it’d probably go further! What’s the heaviest animal you could kick over a crossbar? An elephant yeah?

Indi: Nah, I’m not very strong to be honest, probably a mouse I’d say…

Ed: Mouse..or you could be really clever and say frog. Because that would leap anyway and all you’d need to do is just flick it.

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