Acoustic soul. It's a boldly single-flavor proposition in a top 40 landscape that rewards decadent synth lasagnas and electro pop layer cakes. But then again, given the recent success of Adele, a singer who has racked up eye-popping record sales with nothing but good ol' fashioned soul, it's clear there's a market out there for music fans who'd like to feast their ears on much simpler aural dishes.
Ed Sheeran has leveraged his unique brand of acoustic soul to wild success in the UK. His debut album + debuted at #1 in the UK, earning him the highest UK sales for a debut artist ever. He's also up for numerous awards at the Brits this year, including Best Album, and he has the support of a few showbiz VIPs like Elton John and Jamie Foxx.
We had the chance to catch up with the British wunderkind as he prepares for an extended campaign of the US. Will he be able to cast a spell on the US as he's done in his home, the UK?
Q: Congrats on all of the nominations at the Brits. How does it feel to be recognized on such a large scale like that?
A: It's kind of surprising. I didn't really expect to get that kind of recognition so early on in my career. The last year has been a whirlwind and it's all taken off. It's very nice to have that kind of kudos. Especially the Best Album nomination. To be in the same category as Adele and Coldplay, that really means a lot.
Q: What challenges do you see in conquering the US market as opposed to the UK?
A: I spent the last four years touring the UK and doing promo and TV and stuff and the important thing to remember is that you've got to put that time into America. So my plan is I'm basically going to come over there and not go home until it's done. I'm going to give it my all because it's a very important market to crack and not many UK acts do it. So it's definitely #1 on my list of priorities.
Q: It's interesting that you mention the trouble most UK acts have in crossing over. But one Brit who has done it recently is Adele. You've done a few covers of her material, but have you ever talked to her? Do you have any plans to collaborate with her in the future?
A: I think she's her own kind of artist and she can kind of pick and choose who she wants to collaborate with now. I went to a gig of hers back in 2007; a pub, where she played to about 20 people. I remember being completely blown away then. But her success now is just sky rocketing and I kinda just want to sit back and see what she does, rather than wanting to work with her and tamper with what her kind of magic is. I'm just a fan and I wanna keep it like that, I think.
Q: Although you're about to embark to on a tour of the US, you've been here in the States before. You crashed with Jamie Foxx when you visited LA, no?
A: He just kind of gave me a place to stay which was really kind of him. I did his radio show and did his Foxxhole gig and he put me up in his house for a few days, which was kind of cool.
Q: Did Jamie impart any words of wisdom, given the depth of his experience in show business?
A: I think the best advice just came from seeing how he was, what he's achieved in the US with all the Oscars and Grammys and remained so humble and true to his family. He was a good role model to look up to.
Q: You released the first track, "You Don't Know (For F**k's Sake)", in your joint EP, Slumdon Bridge with Yelawolf. How did the collaboration come about?
A: I'm just a fan to be honest. I kind of listened to his mixtures and really studied his work. I got in the position with the success I've had in England, so I reached out to him and he said yes. And we went in the studio and made four tracks. It's some of the most interesting music I've made and he's a very, very talented guy.
Q: Do you think this kind of spontaneous collaboration is made possible with the instant gratification of the Internet and digital music?
A: I think that the reason it's been possible is having the success I've had in Europe and him having heard of me because of the success I've had there, rather than digital music helping it out. But I guess digital music is a factor as well.
Q: Will we get + here in the States or will it be a retooled version of +?
A: No, you'll get the album I released over here and that'll come out in June, I think. I'm touring with Snow Patrol up until then, so that's kind of all over America, at really cool venues. I'm gonna be visiting all of the radio stations out there so I think it's gonna be really fun.
Q: Rocket Music, the management company that manages you, is run by Elton John. Have you gotten to spend a lot of time with him? Has he always been an influence in a lot of your music?
A: Yeah, I grew up listening to him. When I first met him I was a bit awestruck. He's a really, really nice guy and he rings me up once a week to give me advice. I got a message from him yesterday actually. He really wants to be hands-on with the breaking of America cause obviously he did it himself and he kind of knows what to do. And he's saying which song to release first and how to work it out here. So it's good to have an ally like that on board.
Q: How do you want to be described as an artist as you go around introducing yourself to America?
A: I guess if you're gonna put it down to that kind of base level, then acoustic soul, I guess. But I think the Internet nowadays has kind of removed genre barriers and music is just music now. Cause you can click on a Lady Gaga video and in the little sidebar there'll be an Eminem video in the sidebar, and then you'll click on that and then there'll be a Mumford and Sons video in the next sidebar and then there'll be a Justin Bieber video. The musical genres have all kind of blended because of the accessibility of music.
Q: What is it that draws you to playing acoustically? Especially since a lot of mainstream pop music tends to be very produced and acoustic is usually only used when an artist wants to present a stripped version of the song.
A: I think just different strokes for different folks. I don't really like using a band. I love being on stage on my own with just a guitar and being able to control the audience in that way. But that's just kind of my thing and I guess I translated that onto records. There's different music for different people and I guess the overproduced pop music is for people that are into that and I make the music that people are into acoustic music. But maybe that crosses over sometimes as well.
Q: When can we expect to see you here in the States exactly?
A: I've got one [gig] on Monday at the Metro Lounge in New York and one in second of February in LA.
Q: Will this be your first time playing to larger audiences in the US?
A: Yeah, this is my first headlining show.
Q: How do you feel about it? Are you nervous or excited?
A: I didn't really know what to think cause I haven't really touched there at all. I didn't really know how the tickets would sell, but they sold out within the first week. So I'm looking forward to seeing who bought the tickets and whether they're hardcore fans that know all the lyrics or whether they're people just following the hype machine from England.
Ed Sheeran's debut EP The A-Team is available on iTunes now.