George Ezra has none of the tortured artist schtick of some of his contemporaries, writes Ed Power.
YOU won’t catch George Ezra huffing and puffing like a diva. One of the big names at the up and coming Longitude festival in Dublin, the UK songwriter is endlessly humble — an impressive feat given all of the hype he’s been subject to. He is gently spoken and unprepossessing, the sort who could walk into the room without anyone noticing.
“I am quite laid back,” he says – a welcome contrast to the tortured souls, with their egos and their pouts, traditionally dominant in acoustic pop. “People expect I should be anxious about releasing a [successful] album, or feeling the pressure or having a bit of an ego. As uncool as it sounds, this is how I’m made. I feel very lucky. I’m happy to be doing what I am.”
Ezra is looking forward to Longitude at Marlay Park in south Dublin next weekend. He has a special relationship with festivals. It was at a new artist showcase at Glastonbury in the UK that he first made his name 12 months ago. He went on stage an unknown, stepped off it an anointed up and comer.
“The beauty of festivals is that there are so many people playing,” he says. “You can enjoy one artist — then look around and check out another one. I can’t imagine a more relaxed environment.”
Ezra has just released his debut album, Wanted On Voyage. The record caps what has been a whirlwind year. There have been many surreal moments. Strangest of all was a show in Shanghai, where he was accompanied by supermodels Cara Delevingne, Suki Waterhouse, Malaika Firth and Matilda Lowther. If that sounds odd to you, imagine how he felt.
“It was at the opening of a big Burberry flagship store. For a lot of the people involved it was another day at the office. For me it was completely new to go through. I found it very emotional, to be honest. You never think you will end up somewhere like that.”
Generally, musicians are quick to grouse about their record label: those cruel oppressors who stuff their artists’ pockets with cash and pump millions into turning them into household faces. Ezra is a departure from the stereotype and is happy to be with a major, in the shape of Sony Music.
“I always listen to what they say,” he reveals. “I understand that we have to work together. They’ll have opinions, I’ll have opinions. The best thing to do is sit down and talk about it. Starting on my album, we decided which songs would be singles, then they’d check in every so often. Of course, the songs that were meant to be singles didn’t become singles – you plan as best you can but it can all change massively.”
He played his first gig aged 13 (he’s a grizzled 21 now). As a teenager he was ambitious but never to the point where he considered going on a show such as X Factor.
“The people who get careers out of X Factor… it’s an artificial thing,” says Ezra. “They don’t cut their teeth playing gigs. They get rocketed onto a stage overnight. It’s not healthy. The artists I was influenced by meant I would never take that route.”
He wondered whether he might struggle with his debut album. Concerned about lacking inspiration he inter-railed across the continent, searching for the seeds of a lyric or a song. While this alarmed his label, he pointed out his daily commute from Brighton to London was hardly going to stir him to dizzying heights of artistry.
Ezra’s music has folky elements and it probably isn’t a surprise he should be (approvingly) spoken of in the same breath as acts such as Mumford & Sons. He isn’t appalled at the comparison – who would look down their nose at one of the biggest bands in the world? At the same time he’s not sure if he can quite understand why he would be lumped with what has been described as the ‘nu-folk’ scene.
“When it came to it the album was quite easy,” he says “I was on the same page as the producer, which really helps. There was no nonsense throughout the process; it was simply the three of us in a studio, locked away for three months. What I discovered was that with recording you have to quite selfish. You need to write a song you enjoy — if you don’t like it, how can you expect that anyone else will?”
The strangest part of being in the public eye, he says with a laugh, is the way the media can pick up on throwaway remarks. Several months ago, for instance, he jokingly remarked he would one day like to make an album of original songs for kids.
“I never actually said that,” he insists. “I said it might be a good idea. My manager gave me a talking to: ‘For fuck’s sake, everyone thinks you’re doing a kids’ album now.’ I mean, I’m not opposed to the idea. On the other hand, don’t hold your breath. It’s weird the way the media works. Like, if I’m doing a photoshoot and I get on well with the photographer I might do a few silly poses. And those are always the ones they use. I have to remind myself : don’t get carried away when a photographer is about.”
Friday is Bastille Day at Longitude, while Haim rule on Saturday Bastille (Friday):
Bastille (Friday):Love ‘em or flee in terror, Dan Smith and his charges are now a big deal, thanks to their record smashing hit ‘Pompeii’ (the most streamed tune of all time).
Bombay Bicycle Club (Friday): Starting out, the Londoners seemed like just another indie band. But they’ve progressed steadily as artists — this year’s So Long, See You Tomorrow was perhaps their finest LP yet.
Haim (Saturday): The California siblings have lived up to the early buzz, with debut album Days Are Gone delivering a satisfying mash-up of classic soft rock and r’n’ b grooves.
Massive Attack (Sunday):
The godfathers of British electronic music are back on the road. The trip-hop veterans are said to be working on new material (including a reunion with estranged one-time bandmate Tricky) – it remains to be seen if they will be road testing these songs in Dublin.
First Aid Kit (Sunday): These young Swedish sisters channel Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris on their gorgeously downcast country dirges — songs so accomplished you can almost forgive their singing in fake American accents.
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