George Ezra: 'It's 2am, someone puts on War On Drugs and says "but no . . . really listen" ’
Think being on tour is one wild ride after another? George Ezra on life on the road
British singer George Ezra performing at the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset. Photograph: EPA/Nigel Roddis
Three years after the release of his critically-acclaimed debut album Wanted On Voyage and a tour schedule that brought extreme highs and the occasional low, George Ezra found a moment – 18 months exactly – to go off the grid so he could breathe a little.
“I’m really good. Our first gig in 18 months was in Belfast, three nights ago, and I was genuinely nervous,” he says. “Not about the idea of performing but the idea of how much we would remember of our trade, if that makes sense. Because 18 months out is a long time. So we rehearsed for about two weeks and it went off without a hitch really. Like it was beautiful. And I had completely forgotten. . . ”
Sitting on a collection of new songs from his second album that’s due to be released later this year, the 23-year-old is aware that his audience has grown substantially since he first arrived on the scene in 2013, and as a performer, he doesn’t intend to half-arse it.
“The first record you release, you’re kind of recording an album for nobody because you don’t have an audience . . . you’ve been given the opportunity as a musician to work in a studio and that’s fun. You’re a kid and you’re going ‘ah! brilliant’, you know? If not anything else, mum would be proud, you know?”
He admits to playing the “party boy” when he first started out but like everyone of a certain age, he realised that every night wound up being the same thing so the fomo doesn’t hit him too hard.
“You’re getting pissed with the same six blokes on the same bus, having the same conversation. It gets to 2am each morning and it’s like someone puts on War On Drugs and says ‘but no . . . really listen’ and it’s like clockwork every night and you go, ‘I realise how this works now, I’ll give it a miss’.” He has the profound wisdom of someone who’s reached the point where hangovers aren’t worth it any more.
He says if he’s not 100 per cent onstage, he’s letting down the people who helped him land his dream job. “I will always work as hard as I did on the first record because . . . if I want the luxury of saying that this is my job, then do it properly. Do you know what I mean?”
Ezra politely checks to make sure that he’s making sense because he says that while he was an off-duty pop star, he wasn’t being interviewed, so he feels a bit rusty. He has an old head on his shoulders so when he explains the background to his new single Don’t Matter Now, a nice dose of poptimistic realism, we discuss how touring provided shelter from breaking news notifications.
“It’s an alien reality. It’s not a normal way to live your life and you are out of the loop, in a way. You make your own bubble. And then we got off tour and for the first time in my life, you know, I was getting breaking news messages to my phone and the world became a lot smaller and I had seen more of it, which was a new thing for me. But also, when something happens in Berlin now, we hear about it in real time in London or Dublin. And for the first time in my life, that was too much for me.”
His response to this underlying anxiety was to escape to Barcelona, a city he had previously written a love song for, where he AirBnBed a flat with the owner (“Like, no one ever does that”). With the opportunity to be anonymous, he could look after himself.
“I was running away. I wasn’t having a good time and it took me a while to admit that to myself. Just, yeah, low. You come off touring, you experience . . . I don’t want to go into it too much from the first record, but you do experience extreme highs every day and it’s not natural.
“This is the thing that has struck me, you don’t know until you experience it a little bit and then you go ‘oh, this isn’t taken seriously because what I am feeling now is definitely as prohibiting as if I were actually ill in bed’. It’s not taken seriously.”
With a mild fondness for alone time, something he’s grown to appreciate as he gets older, he wrote the brunt of his new album locked in a cottage in Cornwall for one month, the only human connection came from whoever delivered his weekly food shop. “I haven’t got a driving licence and when I got to Cornwall, it was like two miles away from the local town. It was not walkable. It was all like windy roads, so I was properly like . . . People would come and drop off shopping and then close the door. It was amazing. I loved it.”
Like everybody else, he’s trying to find ways to deal with the world around him and he hopes that without being condescending, his next album can help others get through the tough times.
“The album is about escapism but in a really positive way. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going ‘can’t we all agree that times are hard?’ Times are always hard, I think. I think every generation affords themselves the luxury of going ‘f**k, it’s so hard’ . . . I imagine there’s always something to be worried about,” he says, slowly choosing his words.
“So yeah, as a result, I have these songs that I am so happy with and when I hear them, they make me relax. And I never wanted to be preachy either so they are songs directed at me, if that makes sense. But living with them for a while, I think that people are gonna get this.”
While most pop stars wave the everyman flag as a marketing spin for their third or fourth album, modesty is Ezra’s natural disposition. When he was locked away writing songs, he wished he had a few shifts in the ale pub he used to work in for structure rather than pocket money. His sister joins him on tour for company, and home is still his family home in Hertford, an hour north of London, with his parents and younger brother, who’s also a musician.
As his star rises and he tours the world, leaving a string of sold-out shows behind him, he makes sure that life stays the same.
“I probably don’t capitalise on the fact that I’m mildly famous as much as I could, do you know what I mean? There’s no need for it.
“Has my life changed? I’ve got an electric toothbrush now. I never had one of them before.”