George Ezra just released his debut album “Wanted on Voyage” reaching number 3 in the UK charts. Earlier this year he spoke to LSi about Paddington Bear, the hidden depths of sandwiches and being a muppet.
‘Unfortunately, it’s so un-rock and roll,’ George Ezra apologises as he welcomes me into his hotel room. ‘The first interview I had today, I made them cups of tea but I’m afraid those were my only teabags,would you like a Cherry Drop instead?’ Talk quickly turns to food. ‘If my music were a sandwich… it would be the type of sandwich that comes in a meal deal, with a colourful juice. Salmon…’ (he notices my disappointment) ‘… and jelly beans? One slice of white breadand one slice of brown, to show the different sides of my music. Wow, this sandwich talk is quite deep, actually.’
We then discuss the word ‘petan’, something he uses on Twitter to describe pretty much anything, ‘I think it gets people ready for the fact that I don’t take myself that seriously. I take my music seriously and I love what I’m doing, but people know I’m up for taking the mick out of myself.’
It’s something George takes great pride in, in fact he rarely stops chuckling throughout our chat. When we talk about a competition he ran for fans to join him on a four-day trip to Budapest, inspired by his recent top 10 single of the same name, he tells me he deliberately hasn’t thought it through properly. ‘I don’t think any old artist could do it. For me to be able to do what I want to do, I always need people to feel comfortable knowing that I’m just a normal lad that plays guitar. When people get weird around you, it’s because they assume you’re going to be something special. And I’m not, I’m just a fool. I’m just a muppet.’
Ezra remains in high spirits, not jaded by his years of relentless gigging or the pressure of emerging as one of the most hyped artists at the start of 2014. ‘This year has been testing. I’ve been headlining tours for the first time here and in Europe, and there’s just been so many of them. But I think if I ever get to the point where I get bored of playing a particular song, I’ll just have to remind myself what it is that I get to do. You don’t know how long it’s gonna last, so shut up and enjoy it.’
Travelling the world has clearly inspired his forthcoming debut album, Wanted on Voyage. ‘I first heard about the saying “wanted on voyage”…’ He pauses, unsure whether to reveal its origin, ‘…because it was on Paddington Bear’s suitcase. I love Paddington Bear and I think people can learn a lot from him. Then I found out when people travelled by boats they would put it on their hand luggage to show that they wanted it on their journey. And I think that’s a really nice sentiment, for people to want my album with them on their journey. The record label said, “well, that’s fine, as long as you don’t tell anyone it’s about Paddington Bear!” But I like it. I think he’s a little dude.’
The album was released on the 30th of June, in the Summer, something George tells me was a conscious decision. ‘I reckon the album sounds like what your t-shirt looks like,’ referring to my garishly colourful attire. ‘It’s going to make sense at festivals. I’ve just started practicing with a band, and it’s perfect because it sounds live compared to the album, but not too far from it.’ His favourite song from the album is ‘Leaving It Up To You’, ‘when I first recorded the demo, I recorded it with three of my female friends, and they sang the chorus for me. When it came to the album, I didn’t spend any of the budget on session musicians because I played guitar, the keys, and the bass. So I decided to splash the budget on bringing a choir in.’
Is he scared of releasing his album into the wild? ‘Not scared, but… It’s a selfish thing, it’s no longer going to be mine. But I’m interested to see how people react to it. You’re an idiot if you think everyone is going to love it.’
Later than night, George steps out into the auditorium at the Leeds College of Music to a hushed, respectful audience. His growling baritone soars around the room throughout his short set. Recent single ‘Cassy O’’ sounds even better acoustic and receives the best response from the audience, while the dark, roaring ‘Did You Hear The Rain?’ ends the night on a high. Throughout the set, George jokes around with the audience and seems overwhelmed by the reaction to each song, as humble and jovial as I have come to expect since our interview. I am reminded of his answer to the question about his spirit animal. ‘There’s a character in the film Fantastic Mr. Fox, a harmless, timid mole who gets the job done. He’s my spirit animal.’ It is this charming, affable spirit of his which complements his commendably serious work ethic so well, striking an interesting balance. A bit like a salmon and jelly bean sandwich on white and brown bread.
Photo: Jack Kenny