ABOVE: ED SHEERAN
Ed Sheeran, 20, is a new kind of singer-songwriter: part troubadour, part rapper. (He'd call his own sound "acoustic soul.") Sheeran's songs are populated by love, life, and loss, delivered with his soothing melodies and catchy rhythms. It's hard not to like this fresh-faced redhead; he is one of only a few gingers currently in the limelight. Sheeran even cast Harry Potter star Rupert Grint in his music video for "Lego House," as an Ed Sheeran imposter. His single, "The A Team," has been climbing the charts in the UK and is the title track off of The A Team EP, which is now available in the US. His debut album, +, won't be available in the US until next September, but Sheeran's music will be spreading around the country as he will be playing shows in the US starting in January.
We caught up with Ed Sheeran while he was overseas to discuss his claim to fame, performing a gig in a homeless shelter, and having a Harry Potter star as his stand-in.
ILANA KAPLAN: You're blowing up everywhere. Can you tell me a little bit about your inspiration for your debut album?
ED SHEERAN: Musical inspirations or life inspirations? Well, I listen to a lot of Eminem and a lot of Damien Rice... those would be my influences from that side. As far as songwriting, my inspirations came from love, life and death, and viewing other people's situations.
KAPLAN: For instance, your song "Small Bump," a song about losing a child—you sing it from your perspective, but it's actually about a friend?
SHEERAN: Yeah... it was quite a difficult subject to tackle. I wrote it from their perspective. It was my perspective looking on them to begin with. It's quite a touchy subject, so I wrote it from the perspective of actually being the parent.
KAPLAN: Where do you come up with the subjects of your songs, other than life experience as your inspiration, your songwriting is very creative. As a troubadour or pseudo-rapping, your music is something that hasn't been heard yet.
SHEERAN: I think it's good to remember that everything has been done before. The public has heard the stereotypical love songs a million times and they've heard the stereotypical life-or-death songs millions of times. It's good to mix it up a little bit. That's why the different subject matters and love songs on the album are a bit odd and have some rapping things in it and popular culture references. I just wanted to kind of make it a little bit different.
KAPLAN: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
SHEERAN: There was never actually a moment where I was like, "This is my career now. I'm going to do this." It kind of all happened quite naturally and quite unexpectedly: the success to it. I'd say at which point I realized that my career... Obviously I did lots and lots of small gigs and never got paid, but that was a hobby. I started making a living out of it. It became my profession at some point.
KAPLAN: How did you get discovered?
SHEERAN: I got discovered by doing a lot of shows and releasing a lot of independent EPs. One of my independent EPs charted at number two. That built up quite a big fan base.
KAPLAN: Do you have any people in mind that you'd love to collaborate with?
SHEERAN: Stevie Wonder. In my eyes, there's no one better than Stevie Wonder. He's a top dude.
KAPLAN: Your first single was obviously "The A Team." It's been getting a lot of airplay in the US. Can you tell me a little bit about how that song came about and the meaning behind it?
SHEERAN: I did a gig at a homeless shelter, and it was about one of the women there. It's her story. Well, the song itself was written all about her story, so the song is about a drug-addicted homeless woman.
KAPLAN: Do you have tour plans for the U.S. coming up?
SHEERAN: Yeah! We're touring. I'm doing my first gig in January. We're touring through March and April.
KAPLAN: Do you know whom you're touring with or sharing a bill with?
SHEERAN: I'm doing SXSW, and I've got a tour for six weeks throughout April and the beginning of May with a big UK band, but I better not say yet.
KAPLAN: Do you have plans for another upcoming full-length, or are you just kind of concentrating on your EP that's being released?
SHEERAN: The full-length album will come out in America around September of next year. I kind of have four years to build up a successful career in England, and that has been going so well over there. We haven't really touched on any other country at all. So, now I'm going to do the groundwork in places like America and work my way up.
KAPLAN: So the actual, physical copy of your debut isn't even out here yet?
SHEERAN: The actual, physical copy will be out around September.
KAPLAN: What sets you apart from other musicians today?
SHEERAN: I don't think that there's much that sets me apart from other musicians, but I think there are definitely things that set me apart from other kinds of artists. I feel that musicians do it their own way, write their own songs and put on a great live shows. To me, I find, I kind of like the way that I came up as an artist. I like experimenting.
KAPLAN: How would you categorize your music in genre?
KAPLAN: I definitely feel like that's been a category that hasn't been touched on too much. You toured with Example. Would you be interested in collaborating or touring with him in the future?
SHEERAN: Not really. We're really, really different. We make two different kinds of music. It doesn't fit that well. I think we're going to stick to having our good friendship.
KAPLAN: How did you go about approaching Rupert Grint to be in your "Lego House" video?
SHEERAN: I went to Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy in the films. I basically said, "I want to get Rupert in [the video], can you put me in touch?"
KAPLAN: Did you know him before? That was absolutely hilarious.
SHEERAN: No, but I kind of had a few tweets from him and I tweeted him back.
KAPLAN: What would you be doing if you weren't having a career as a musician?
SHEERAN: I'd probably be working at a supermarket.
KAPLAN: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
SHEERAN: Hopefully, still making a living out of what I love. I'd like to see how far I can take it internationally.
KAPLAN: What advice would you give any upcoming musicians?
SHEERAN: I would say, you can never do enough gigs and you can never do enough songs. Make sure that every opportunity you can, play a show and every opportunity you can, write a song. The more you write tunes, the better they will become. The more you do gigs, the better you will become. It's just kind of like the facts of life; the practice makes perfect thing. Keep your fingers crossed, start from the bottom and work your way up.
ED SHEERAN'S THE A TEAM EP IS OUT IN THE US NOW. HIS DEBUT ALBUM + IS OUT IN THE UK AND WILL BE RELEASED STATESIDE IN 2012. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.