British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is currently on tour with country-pop songstress Taylor Swift as the opening act on her Red tour, with Canadian tour dates in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
Before his second show in Edmonton, Sheeran stopped by local radio station Virgin 104.9 for a fan VIP Experience.
If you’re wondering: “Who is Ed Sheeran?”: After years of independently releasing EPs and singles, Sheeran achieved mainstream success in the UK with his song “The A-Team” which became the best selling debut single in the UK in 2011. He released his debut album + later that year, and it went quadruple platinum in the UK. Like Swift, Sheeran has received accolades for writing most of his own songs and draws on folk, hip-hop, and pop influences. Hailing from London, he (arguably) garnered attention in North America because of his affiliation with popular boy band One Direction — Sheeran wrote songs for the band, including “Moments” and “Little Things”. Still, Sheeran’s musical style and sound doesn’t compare to that of the aforementioned boyband sensation—his unaided live performances (Sheeran performs only with a loop pedal and guitar, and without a backup band), gripping songwriting, and genre-blending style have earned him attention and praise as a solo artist.
Sheeran was very polite and casual, dressed in a Star Wars T-shirt that showed off his many arm tattoos—including a brand-new one on his right arm that hadn’t even healed yet—and neon blue Nike shoes that he purchased yesterday “at some mall” in Edmonton. No, Sheeran wasn’t oblivious to his presence at the largest mall in North America; when asked if he had been at West Edmonton Mall, he replied “is that the one with the roller coaster? No, not that one. [Taylor Swift’s] dancers went there last night but I didn’t go—the one I went to was small and didn’t have as many stores, but it had a shoe store and… I bought these” he says, gesturing to his shoes. Talking with Sheeran was like having a conversation with a friend—no gimmicks or pretentious, diva-like behaviour.
Sheeran’s Edmonton fans eagerly gathered at the Virgin Radio studios, clutching their bright orange copies of Sheeran’s debut album + (pronounced “plus”), to meet Sheeran and listen to a performance that included acoustic renditions of Lego House, a cover of Macklemore’s Thrift Shop, and The A-Team.
Q: What do you like best about Canada?
Ed Sheeran (ES): I really like Canada, it’s a very relaxed country where no one gets too stressed out about anything and I like that attitude. It’s a good way to be.
Q: What have you enjoyed most about the RED tour?
ES: Taylor has so much time off so that mean that I also get lots of time off when I’m on tour with her, which is great because it’s not like that all the time when you’re touring. I have time to just do stuff and explore the different places I travel to.
Q: How did you enjoy the MMVAs?
ES: They were a lot of fun! I got taken out by Psy—the Gagnam Style guy. He can sure handle his alcohol. I mean, I’ve got Irish blood and can drink a lot but when drinking with a Korean guy… you’re pretty evenly matched.
Q: When/how did you learn to sing?
ES: I learned to sing very young and I just kept singing… I think anyone can sing if they start young and they keep practicing, but if you’re older it’s too late and if you stop practicing you’ll forget. I played piano when I was five until I was about eight, then I stopped playing and now I can’t play piano any more. I learned guitar at age 11… well, technically age 10. But I was trying to play Green Day songs and just plucking strings [demonstrates] thinking that’s how you played chords. So when I was 11 I started seriously practicing and that’s when I got really good.
Q: How many guitar strings do you usually break during a gig, with all your intense playing?
ES: At least two. Yeah, usually two. The most I ever broke was four at South by Southwest… if you YouTube “South by Southwest Ed Sheeran [You Need Me I Don’t Need You]” you can see it, and I had to play most of the song with only two strings.
Q: Where do you get the inspiration for your music videos?
ES: They come from weird ideas that I have and then I just sort of translate them into a video… the video for the Taylor Swift song [“Everything Has Changed”] was actually the original video idea for “Give Me Love”. When I pitched that idea [for “Give Me Love”] the producers said it was “too sweet” for that song.
Q: What is your favourite song of your own?
ES: “Give Me Love.”
Q: Why did you want to perform “Wish You Were Here” at the Olympics?
ES: Because I was asked to cover it by [Pink Floyd’s] Nick Mason, and when a member of Pink Floyd asks if you’d like to cover one of their songs you don’t say no. Why would you say no?! Nick’s a cool guy, really wonderful to work with.
Q: What was it like to work with Rupert Grint [on the video for “Lego House”]?
ES: Working with Rupert Grint was cool. Really cool. I was nervous because… like… Rupert does all the Harry Potter movies and he’s used to getting paid millions of dollars and I was like… we don’t have any money. It was my first video, and Rupert filmed it with us for free. I had come to play a show in [Rupert’s] hometown and that’s when we filmed it. So that scene when he’s on stage at the concert… that was before the actual concert.
Q: Who were your musical influences?
ES: Damien Rice. Yeah.
Q: Who is your favourite Star Wars character [in reference to his Star Wars T-shirt]?
ES: Boba Fett, definitely. Until he dies in the sarlacc pit.
Q: What has been your most embarrassing or funniest moment during your career so far?
ES: Well, it didn’t seem funny at the time, it was just embarrassing, but now I realize how funny it is. During the Billboard awards I had my seats with, you know, all my managers and stuff. Then Taylor [Swift] was like “come sit with me!” and she was right in front where all the cameras are all the time so I went, and then she told me that whenever someone wins an award to stand up and clap and whenever someone performed to get up and dance. Then she left! She got up to go perform. So the first band came on and I stood up but no one else around me did, but I just stayed standing! Then Nicki Minaj won an award and so I stood up to clap, and Nicki’s team was all standing behind me but no one in my row was! Then Taylor would come back every now and then but mainly she was up there getting ready for a performance or presentation. So I spent much of the night awkwardly standing and sitting down again.
Q: What was it like opening for One Direction?
ES: It was [laughs]… interesting. It was interesting and fun.
Q: Who would you like to collaborate with next [for songwriting]?
ES: No one, actually. I spent a lot of time working with other people and now I just want to focus on my own stuff for awhile.
Q: What is your writing process like?
ES: I’ve learned to stop pressuring myself and not to force it. I usually have to wait for something to trigger inspiration, and some times I’ll go 6 months without writing anything and then all of a sudden I’ll get to write a lot. Ideas usually come in the darkest times, unfortunately.
Q: What’s the craziest thing a fan has ever done for/to you?
ES: The moms of some of the fans are way crazier. 9/10 mothers are just really sweet but then there’s that one that’s just crazy. The craziest mother of a fan I ever met was one who said to me “Carrie Underwood was a little boy’s first kiss, could you be my daughter’s first kiss?” and shoved her daughter at me. Her daughter was 9, and I’m 22! I said that’s weird! Parents: do not force your daughters on 22 year old boys. They don’t think about how weird that is.
Q: Have you been to Tim Horton’s yet?
ES: What is that? [A coffee shop.] Is it like Starbucks? [Yes. Kind of.] No, I haven’t. Is it better than Starbucks [Yes! It’s a Canadian coffee company.] So because it’s Canadian it’s better than Starbucks? I see how it is here!
Q: What’s been your favourite part about Canada?
ES: My favourite thing in Canada has been Niagra Falls. So beautiful. But also startling because it’s like half a cheaper version of Las Vegas, like lots of lights and theme park things. And then the other half is just so beautiful and you go on the boat and get soaked and… yeah, Niagra Falls was fun.
Q: A fan once made a Lego™ version of your video for “Lego House”. What would you say if a fan built a life-size Lego™ version of you?
ES: [Laughs]. I actually approached Lego™ to make an Ed Sheeran set! You know, like with me and a stage and stuff. But they said that I wasn’t their demographic. But I approached them at the earliest possible point [in my career]… so now I think it may be more of a thing… yeah, I actually think you may see that soon.
Q: What would you do if you weren’t a musician/singer?
ES: Oh I’d be working at Tesco. Which is like a supermarket… I didn’t graduate, I didn’t get my [exam] results. The other day I realized I couldn’t spell “restaurant” [laughs], I realized that because I didn’t graduate if I wasn’t passionate about music and didn’t have this career I wouldn’t be anything.
Q: What’s the story behind your new tattoo? Which one is your favourite?
ES: [Laughs] This new one [of a tree] hasn’t even healed yet… a buddy of mine actually drew it in permanent marker and now it’s…. more permanent. I want more tattoos I really like them but I need to slow down… I got these [gestures to sleeve tattoos] all within a year. My favourite tattoo is this one, it’s a Matisse drawing, which is my mother’s favourite drawing, called “Mother and Child”. A lot of people think it’s of a couple having sex… which is awkward.
Q: When will your new album be released? Will you ever tour solo?
ES: Yes, next I’ll be touring solo. I’ve opened a lot and this [RED] tour was good to do but… it’s time to be on my own. So I’ll be back [in Edmonton]! Not soon, because I’m here now! But the new album promotion starts in February , and I’m not sure of an exact release date after that.
Q: What advice do you have for anyone pursuing a career [in music]?
ES: I’d say that whatever you’re doing the best advice would be never have a Plan B. If you have something to fall back on, chances are you’ll probably fall back on it at some point. I think you need to put yourself in a position where it’s like sink or swim… parents will probably kill me for saying that, but when you put pressure on yourself you tend to achieve.
Wise words indeed, Ed Sheeran.