George Ezra's new album sees him throwing caution to the wind.
“Now right here,” pouts George Ezra, putting on a distinctive Louisiana drawl. “It’s insaaaaaneeee!” Nope, this isn’t a shocking new twist on the next chapter of his already humungous career, but the result of George spending the previous weekend wrapped in S-Town, the revered podcast that took the world by storm. It’s indicative of George Ezra in 2018, a man who can balance the staggering heights of stardom that surround him with the ability to take a moment, poke your head out of the whirlwind and soak in simply being alive.
“You know what, it’s just so nice to be busy again,” explains George, a glint in his eye now that he’s back on the trail and gearing up for a blooming massive year. “It’s shit when you can’t contribute in some way, y’know? It feels nice that I’m doing my thing again. Someone said to me the other day, I was doing some promo in Germany, and this dude said, ‘You’re always happy. Whenever I see you, you’re always happy.’ And I was like, mate… I’m in Germany talking about music. It’s brilliant!”
For the huge stages and millions singing along to his words across ‘Wanted On Voyage’, its following years have been a journey of discovery for George, coming down from a schedule of continuous touring, commitments and appearances, selling more records than most of the acts laid out in these pages combined. What came next though, was a myriad of different moments that shaped where he sits today.
“My biggest fear on the first record was what effect it was going to have on my personal life,” notes George, reflecting on how he felt as things truly kicked off. “When you’re building up through a record and what comes with it, you get this sense of mild-celebrity almost, but you’re never in the same place long enough for it to affect you, and then you’re not home either.
"That’s what I was most worried about, and it was fine. The fact of the matter is, you’re not a criminal,” he laughs. “Nobody’s going to pull you aside and say, ‘Hey, what the fuck are you doing?’ They’re either going to say I love what you do, they’re not gonna have a clue who you are, or they’re gonna know who you are and won’t come up to you because they don’t like what you do - I had nothing to worry about, really."
Coming off the road did have its effects though. Suddenly with a blank diary for the first time in two and bit years, adjusting to the real world again was a challenge. For the first time in his life, George sensed a feeling of anxiety, even if he didn’t know exactly how to describe it.
“I was extremely fortunate in the sense that my experience with it, I detected it quite early on and was aware of it. That combination of not having commitments anymore, or a reason, and just different things going on around me like all of us in the world. I thought I don’t know what this is, why I feel the way I do - part of me is probably decompressing from coming off tour and putting that first record to bed, but there was definitely something more to it than that.”
It’s a moment that feels encapsulated in a track like ‘Get Away’, a glistening number that sits pride of place on new album ‘Staying At Tamara’s’. ‘It’s never been this way before / shut down by anxiety / it’s never been this way before / you better get away’ it rolls, and it’s exactly what George did. Decamping to Barcelona was a vital move, and a decision that not only shaped the album to come but the next step in George’s life.
“It was really important that I did that. The good thing about spending time on your own and taking yourself out of your comfort zone is that you force yourself to think in a way you wouldn't normally think. You slow down, so I was having adventures still, but going slowly. When you're around the people you know and love, you actually can feel less present because you’re so comfortable. When you’re surrounded by people that are new to you and new sounds, even silly things like currency and language and climate - it helps you to be a bit more aware of what you’re doing, and that really helped me,” George explains.
Scribbling notes down onto paper that pulled together lyrics, observations, drawings and more - “It’s part teenage diary, part sixth form poetry, part song names, both fiction and real accounts - if anyone read it, it’d be embarrassing.” - he made an active choice to live those words, taking himself into new terrain and leading him to the front door of a woman named Tamara.
“On the first record, I would write and stay at promoter’s houses or at a student’s house after I’d play, but I’d never done it properly,” recalls George, “and there was a lot less need for me to do it this time. I could have started in a hotel or an apartment, but my thinking was… well, my thinking was, fuck it! If it’s crazy in a bad way, I can leave, but there’s also the element of it being amazing. Even if they just live normal lives and are able to point me in the right direction for where’s good to eat and where’s not, that’s a nice touch.”
It was much better than that. “There was vinyl everywhere, and her friends were musicians, artists and designers, were in fashion and were around a lot. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a different pace of life there, and it did me a world of good. They’d go out a lot and work Monday to Friday so I’d usually get involved in the red wine before they left,” cracks George, “but I was reading a lot, walking around day and night and I dunno - you feel safe there."
Gazing into the positives of the world and finding joy in switching off from the world, it’s a feeling that rings through the entire album. Looking at life in 2018 from a completely different perspective, ‘Staying At Tamara’s’ feeds off those wonderful moments - finding new love, learning to embrace yourself and dreaming of more. It’s a confident and beefed up step from George that takes the earnest tales of his debut and lights a fuse for an ever bigger firework display.
Optimism reigns supreme, whether it’s the collective happiness of ‘Pretty Shining People’, the carefree swagger of ‘Don’t Matter Now’, surf-pop vibrations that ring off ‘All My Love’ or the pep-talk hope of ‘Only A Human’ - it’s a record all about putting faith back in the person standing next to you. A statement that George must have set out from the start to deliver, right?
An instantly recognisable giggle emerges. “I think, I didn’t have a clue, really,” he cracks. “What I did know is that I enjoyed playing in front of people - whereas writing the first one I didn’t really know how it felt to stand on a main stage and have people sing along, whereas this time I was like, ‘That feels fucking great’ and I want that. The shared energy when there are thousands in a field singing along. If you’re in this game of pop music, then there needs to be, or it appeals to me, to have this element of camaraderie - let's join in and sing together."
Having a ball in the studio, combining his vital trip to Barcelona via stops in Norfolk, Cornwall and the Cotswolds, it’s an album that sounds like it was made from a bunch of mates gathered in one space. “With the first album, I was obsessed with really synthetic noises,” points out George. “Like, even with ‘Budapest’, we really fucked around with the bass and then on ‘Did You Hear The Rain’ we ended up with a didgeridoo loop on it - it was that moment of being let loose in the studio for the first time and being like, fuck it, we can do anything. This time, after playing for two years with a band, I was kinda really keen to get more acoustic or traditional instruments on the album. There’s still the wonky sounds; I think I’ll always love that, but toned down a little bit."
From start to finish, ‘Staying At Tamara’s’ is a record that knows what it wants to achieve: for you to grab your friends, grab strangers and pull them close, making you sing along even if it’s your first listen. Take ‘Hold My Girl’, a track that feels destined to be played over and over at weddings and stuck on repeat on radios all over the world - it’s a warm and welcoming feel that George has taken from his trips across the globe. Stepping out from your comfort zone and allowing yourself to try something new is a philosophy George is passionate about. “I can’t recommend it enough for people,” he implores. “I’m as bad as everyone else. You need time and to be able to put money aside for it, but it’s an amazing thing to do."
With experience now in his pocket, aware of what the world can throw at you yet with the brimming hunger to do more - George Ezra’s next step is already glistening with unfiltered fun. “All of us function so much better when we have a purpose, no matter what that is,” he notes. “I know what to expect now, whereas on the first album there were times when you feel a bit like a deer in the headlights, but I don’t get it when bands and musicians are all grumpy, I’m like… you’re touring the world, man!
“Yeah, you miss your family, and you miss life events sometimes - I’ve missed weddings and funerals and everything in-between, but it’s not for any other reason. I love it. There’s a balance to be had, but it’s amazing.”
Sometimes, we don’t need to be rallying against the world - but celebrating its sheer beauty. George Ezra is, making sure to poke his head out into the breeze to savour its wondrous positives and hilarious absurdities. Because of it, things are only set to get bigger.
“Mate!” he exclaims, as the topic of travelling around the country continues and the inevitable discussion on coach travel rises. “There’s one that stops off in Bristol - if you book it at the right time it costs like eight quid; it’s insane. That doesn’t even cover the cost of petrol, does it? I don’t know how they’re running that racket, must be a cover-up of sorts!” as that infectious giggle returns.
We’re keeping an eye out, George is keeping an eye out - Paradise can be all manner of things.
Taken from the April issue of Dork - order a copy or subscribe below. George Ezra's album 'Staying At Tamara's' is out now.