Introducing Ed Sheeran, one of the most talked about artists of the moment. After being unsigned for many years, he finally inked a deal with Atlantic Records earlier this week, and is now ready for global domination. Vanessa Laker caught up with the rising star (pre-signing) for this in-depth interview, exclusively for The Wrap Up…
After grinding on the UK live circuit for over four years, an encounter with Jamie Foxx in LA finally changed the tide for Ed Sheeran, and put the talented singer-songwriter on the path to success. But it was his appearance on (popular YouTube channel) SB.TV that really got the ball rolling for the 19-year-old Ipswich lad. His acoustic rendition of ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’ has gathered over 500,000 views and made him one of the most talked about up-and-coming UK acts.
With his new EP, ‘No.5 Collaborations Project’, released this week – a record which sees him team up with the cream of the crop of the UK grime scene, including Wretch 32, Wiley and Devlin – Ed’s set to become one of the UK’s breakout stars of 2011.
The Wrap Up: You’ve got a new collaborations EP, ‘No. 5 Collaborations Project’, which sees you team up with a number of UK grime acts. Firstly, where did the title name come from?
Ed Sheeran: A year ago when there was no hype, I said I’ll create hype by making five EP’s. I’ll make an indie one, a singer/songwriter one, a folk one, a live one and a collaborations one. And once those five are done, I would have probably built up enough hype to get signed.
TWU: And what’s the concept behind this collaborations EP?
Ed Sheeran: Every single song was as musical as I could make it. I really didn’t wanna make any songs about girls. On the P Money track, he speaks about being in a car crash, so I wanted it to be a spiritual thing about being taken home. With the Dot Rotten one, it’s about saying goodbye to someone, and he went really deep on it. With the Ghetts track, I really wanted to bring the old Ghetts back. I wanted to get him on a really grimy beat. Devlin is just so lyrical. With the JME track, we bought a bit of humor to the project. Every single song is so different and every MC I worked with on this project brings something totally new and completely fresh to the table.
TWU: There’s a lot of label interest in you, but you chose to do this project independently?
Ed Sheeran: If I were to do a collaborations album with a label, the label will put their input into it, and if it becomes huge, then everyone will say grime is the big thing at the moment, so it will be like the label has taken this white singer/songwriter and stuck him with a bunch of grime MCs to get him hype, then he’s gonna go out there. And I actually wanted to prove I have a serious love for the music and I really respect the MCs I’m working with. I’ve been listening to them years before they got hype and also I proved I could do it myself. I contacted all the MCs myself and personally asked them to be on the project. There was no fabrication. It was all very organic. So therefore, why not just keep it all grassroots? I don’t give a s**t if don’t sell 30,000 copies. The whole point of this was to create something that would be remembered. It’s never about the sales. This project is all about the music, so doing it independently was the best route.
TWU: It’s fair to say you’re a fan of grime…
Ed Sheeran: I just like what they’re doing, and I have done for a while. I’m always being introduced to new people that are really good. Being a songwriter myself, I love the way they put lyrics together. If you listen to Ghetts’ flow, it’s not necessarily like four-bar, four-bar, four-bar. He’ll do a two and a half bar rhyme and then stop, and go into something else. And me as a songwriter, that sort of fascinated me, like how can you get away with that? That really interested me. I’ve started writing songs a bit more like that, lyrically.
TWU: And who’s your favourite grime artist and why?
Ed Sheeran: There’s so many! I have no particular favourite grime MC, but from the EP, the people I’ve chosen for it, you can tell that I really like them.
TWU: Are you are fan of the grime mainstream cross over, or do you feel authentic grime is being compromised in order to gain commercial success?
Ed Sheeran: Yes and no, because they gained a lot of success from doing it in the first place, so I think that should be remembered. Wiley is not the big name we know him for because he did ‘Good Times’ with Roll Deep. You know, he made ‘Eskimo’, ‘Avalanche’ and ‘Wot U Call It’, and he did all the old skool Eskibeat stuff and made his name off grime. Pretty much every single grime artist that is crossing over; they got famous because of that. People said Example sold out because he stopped rapping, but when you actually speak to him, his first love is dance music. So no, I don’t particularly think it’s been compromised. You can tell who enjoys doing what they do.
TWU: Speaking of commercial success, UK soul music isn’t really shown that much love in the charts…
Ed Sheeran: We don’t really get shown too much love in the charts, because we don’t sell singles, we sell albums. I think if you speak to any soul singer, they’ll say they’re an album artist. If you ask any soul singer if they’d rather a top ten single or a top ten album, they’ll probably say album. The singles are really just to promote the album.
TWU: Estelle famously moved to the US because she said her UK label didn’t know what to do with her. Do you feel as though a lot of UK labels don’t know how to market this genre of music?
Ed Sheeran: You just have to prove a point. What happened with me is that about three years ago I had a lot of interest, and then it sort of just died down. I was like, ‘How can I get myself in the position of getting a deal?’ And what I did was just, for the time being, say I’m not gonna go with any labels or chase a deal. What I’m gonna do is do it myself and stock up a lot of CD sales and YouTube views and be able to sell out good venues and so on. Once I started doing that and showing no interest in labels, that’s when they start seeing you’ve got a formula that works.
TWU: Do you feel that it might have been a blessing in disguise that it didn’t blow up for you three years ago, as you were only 16 at the time?
Ed Sheeran: Three years ago, I would have been a very shy kid when it comes to live gigs and stuff like that. I wouldn’t be writing mature songs. I think I’ve now reached the point where you can put me in any situation – there will still be nerves – but I would know how to handle it, just because of the ground work I’ve put in.
TWU: What’s this about Jamie Foxx helping you out in your career…?
Ed Sheeran: That story has been a bit elaborated. But at the beginning of last year, I was having a bit of a rough time in England; I was playing the same gigs over and over again, sleeping on the same sofas and drinking a lot. So I was like, ‘F**k this’, so I hoped on a plane to LA. I had one contact out there, who got me a gig. So I just decided to go out there for a month and see what happens. My first night in LA, I played a gig in Inglewood and it was the best response I’d got from any crowd. That night, there was a girl there who ran Jamie Foxx’s open mic night and she invited me to play there three days later. When I played there, it was the same reaction. Jamie’s manager was there and told me Jamie would love my stuff, so he asked me to come and perform on Jamie’s radio show. When I performed on Jamie’s show, he gave me his number and told me he has a studio he created for musicians like me and said whenever I wanna make music; I can come in and use it, free of charge! The last person he did that to, was Anthony Hamilton, which makes me feel quite special.
TWU: Impressive! Opportunities like that don’t happen everyday…
Ed Sheeran: I took that opportunity and went to his house. I laid down some tracks in his studio and went to some parties with him as well, which was pretty serial. He’s a very generous, kind guy. The thing I really like about him is that everyone in his family lives with him; from his sister, to his daughters, to his best mate, his best mate’s wife and the dude who’s writing his new TV show. They all live in this one massive mansion. It’s not like, ‘I’m Jamie Foxx’, it’s like, ‘This is our home, we all live here.’ There’s no arrogance at all and it was just really nice to be brought into that.
TWU: You’ve been performing for four years plus, but who and what inspires you musically?
Ed Sheeran: I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 11 years old, so for about eight years now. It was my love for the guitar that first got me into music and singing. Growing up, I was inspired by The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Damian Rice was a huge influence for me musically. My dad took me to a small intimate gig of his in Dublin and I met him backstage afterwards and told him that I really wanted to get into songwriting. He gave me such great advice, and I can honestly say he’s one of my main inspirations.
TWU: And what are your plans for 2011?
Ed Sheeran: After the EP, I’ll be putting out an album later this year. I’ll be touring a lot. I plan to do a lot of gigs this year. Really just stabilizing myself in the industry, as not just the kid who got a lot of hype at one point, but something that justifies my hype, by making a really good record.
Ed Sheeran: ‘No. 5 Collaborations Project’ – is out now.
Stay up to date with Ed Sheeran on Twitter – www.twitter.com/EdSheeran
This interview was originally conducted for MTV UK.