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February 2021
Cover Story

George Ezra: All the best

Last time round, he was the plucky upstart. A squillion album sales later, and he’s one of the biggest pop stars in the country. Not that you’d tell - welcome to the world of George Ezra.
Published: 7:42 am, August 11, 2017
George Ezra: All the best

Last time round, he was the plucky upstart. A squillion album sales later, and he’s one of the biggest pop stars in the country. Not that you’d tell - welcome to the world of George Ezra

Words: Jamie Muir. Photos: Phil Smithies.
Hair & Makeup: Verity Cumming using Oilixia.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]George Ezra is a big deal. His debut album sold over 1.2 million copies and took him around the globe. After 12 months away packed with moments of self-doubt, puzzles and starting afresh - he’s backed with a vital message and new outlook on the world. George is back, and he’s throwing any fears or worries right out the window.

As George Ezra bounds into the West London studio, we find ourselves in; there’s a smile on his face that’s practically bursting at the seam. Taking off his shades and delving into stories and questions about his day and those around him, it’s only a matter of moments before he realises something’s missing.

“Has anyone got any music we could listen to?” George asks. Quickly, the responsibility falls to him to provide the soundtrack, settling on a playlist of favourites he’s been listening to over the past few weeks. From his self-confessed hero Bob Dylan to London Grammar, The Japanese House, Hot Hot Heat, Vanilla Ice and The Strokes - it’s a blending of new and old that demonstrates the jumping thoughts racing around George’s world.

“Oh, I think some of my own songs are in there,” remembers George. “Please skip those!”

It perfectly captures just how linked into the musical blood-stream of the past few years George Ezra is. A story that started in cobbled venues and intimate nights in pubs and bars has blossomed onto a world stage where now just a glance at Spotify shows his biggest tracks have been streamed over 600 million times. That’s a whole lot of playlists that’s for sure, and summarises an 18 months where George Ezra became not just another singer-songwriter with a devoted following, but a force to be reckoned with - millions joining him for the ride. The Pyramid Stage at Glasto? Check. Number 1 album? Check. Sold-out venues around the globe? Check. It all came to George in a flurry, and means the next chapter he’s about to embark on is one that eyes are firmly locked in on, but this is no ordinary tale of a ‘pop star’ riding on that wave to the glossy worlds that could come his way.

“Yeah, ‘pop star’ weirds me out a bit,” laughs George, “because that is definitely not me! So much comes with the name pop star. Pop singer? I’ll take that - it’s just the star bit that troubles me. I’ll never say it, but in the back of my mind I think ‘What’s that all about?’”

Taking it all in his stride, the story of George’s past three years is a foundation of discovering life, learning how to deal with ever-changing surroundings and coming out of it with one of the most refreshing takes on how to move forward. If you think you know George Ezra, then think again.

“I guess there’s probably a crowd out there that see me as another male singer-songwriter,” he contemplates, “which I am, but I think they just take it as not much going into it. I’m not trying to convert those people, but I think well, maybe if they came along to a show or listened to the record then it’d be cool to see what they thought.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row
[vc_column][vc_single_image image="21712" img_size="full" add_caption="yes" alignment="center
[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s 5th October 2014. George’s debut album ‘Wanted On Voyage’, a collection of tracks inspired by characters and tales witnessed during a month-long trip around Europe and searing with an emotional core that has wrapped its way around millions, has just gone to Number 1 in the Official Albums Chart. It’s been out for fourteen weeks already, and George has just the news in the most unlikely of locations.

“Yeah, when it happened I was in a Park Inn Hotel in Cork Airport,” recalls George, “which is just weird after it being out for so long. I got the phone call and I just kinda went ‘Ohh!’. You turn to your friends who aren’t there and just think, ahh so this is how it feels - and just start thinking about the free breakfast that’s included with the room!”

It’s the sort of breakfast that would go down a treat, that Number 1 album breakfast. It’s a meal that George will have only dreamed of when growing up in a musical household in Hertford. Surrounded by music pouring out of every room - whether it was the radio in the kitchen, his sister Jess blaring out a CD upstairs or his Dad plugging into a classic in the lounge, it was a walking musical upbringing that ensured there was only one direction George was heading into. “It’s just eternal,” exclaims George as he chats through that love for music which radiates from him. “It never ends. I distinctly remember at whatever age I was, asking my Dad, ‘Will there be a point where every song is written?’ There’s only so many chords for starters, but he was like of course not, and I just couldn’t get my head around it. It fascinated me.”

After friends slowly moved away from music, George’s love remained strong - writing folky numbers inspired by Dylan, Woody Guthrie and the classic songwriters of old. It was only when George reached the age of 19/20 where pop suddenly become a constant in his life, a challenge to write and convey meaning with the sharp hooks and immediacy that now breathe through everything George puts to paper.

“It was the challenge I needed,” George remembers, gazing out across the West London rooftops. “I’m not saying I completed doing those folky-acoustic tunes, but it got to the point where everything sounded the same. I appreciate that challenge with pop tunes, there’s something harder about them, and it’s quite tricky, to be honest, and articulate yourself in a way that’s new. I dunno, I love that.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link="
" align="center[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The culmination of it all, ‘Wanted On Voyage’, melted its way into hearts all over the place. A rich record of immeasurable warmth, its dives between singalong favourites (‘Blame It On Me’, ‘Listen To The Man’), earnest heartache (‘Barcelona’) and skiffle grooving melodies (‘Cassy O’, ‘Drawing Board’) make it a record that could spin at any time of year. There wasn’t a place on the planet that you couldn’t hear the soothing tones of ‘Budapest’ - and being in the midst of it all meant that George still can’t truly grasp its huge success.

“It’s really odd, but I think it’s odd for the opposite reason that somebody would think,” details George. “It’s so odd because you just feel so detached from it. Someone can say your album was the third biggest selling album of the year in the UK and that’s just…”

He pauses, still taking in that fact. “When it’s happening you’re caught right in the middle of it. You’re the wrong person to talk about it because you’re the least aware of it. I kinda feel like I’ll have more of an opinion and view on it all in 30 years time when you can really appreciate it in hindsight and go, ‘Fuck, that was insane’. It’s not that I take it for granted, it’s just so hard to make sense of it all.”

That perspective on the tidal wave that came with ‘Wanted On Voyage’ may be one that comes in decades to come for George, but it also got rid of a fear that he harboured when stepping into the spotlight. Life changes when you became a household name and that worry of losing touch with the life he had was one that truly resonated with him. As primetime TV show appearances clocked up like days in a diary, the last thing George wanted was to be taken out of the day to day life he enjoyed so much, and for fame to became an overbearing shift in the way he lived his life.

“It was the thing I was worried about the most, coming off tour to find my life completely changed - whether that’s my social life or my personal life. I just didn’t know what was going to come and how to cope with that. In school, you have lessons on Maths, on English but you don’t have a lesson on how to deal with being recognised in the street. Thankfully it didn’t happen that much, and my life didn’t change at all - it’s kinda made me relax about going into this album and the touring to come because well, you’re in control. The last thing I ever wanted to be was a ‘celebrity’, and I think that worry came from the uncertainty of it all.”

George finished up the worldwide run around ‘Wanting On Voyage’ in America on 14th December. The year that followed proved to be an eye-opening one, bringing its own challenges that George had to face head-on - but when opened up, have laid out a path to a new way of seeing the world, and the sheer importance of embracing the good.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row[vc_column][vc_single_image image="21715" img_size="full" add_caption="yes" alignment="center[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Structure is an important thing. It’s what keeps the boundaries around our lives, what points people in the directions they need to go to and above all else, is a motivation to get up out of the seat being sat in for way too long. Back at home, after two years of schedules and dates in the diary, George found himself at odds for what to do, with a clean slate completely. There were no already-penned down hits there and no demos, just the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next.

“When I came off tour, the one thing I didn’t want to do is fly anywhere for a while,” recollects George. “People were like, ‘What are you going to do?’ And I just went to places like Norfolk, did the Cotswolds way, but it took me a while to leave England. You don’t really capitalise on time off; I started thinking that I shouldn’t take a trip somewhere because what if that was the day that I wrote THE song. Other people must be so much better at it than I am, I just sit there looking at the guitar and spurring myself on to pick it up and see what comes out.”

There’s that thing you hear about with musicians who spend years on tour, and that’s a feeling of being locked away from everything. To change from that way of life back into a surrounding where you’re suddenly fixed right back into the swing of things is a daunting one, and for George, that feeling was one that affected him greatly. There were no crowds around, no timetable in place, just George and his thoughts.

“Yeah, I mean, when I came off tour, and for the first time in my life I became quite an anxious person,” details George, sitting forward on the sofa. “At first I couldn’t put my finger on it and didn’t know that it was anxiety. These are names that you give to things that aren’t tangible, you can break your leg, and it’s pretty clear what’s wrong, but if there’s something going on in your head, then you need to work it out.

“I didn’t realise what was going on, so I booked a trip to Barcelona to get away from things as I was getting quite overwhelmed by it. It was then that I realised what it was. A lot of people around me were experiencing it as well, and 2016 was such a weird year for a variety of different reasons where everything that could go wrong did. For the first time in my life, I had spent time in this bubble of touring, and I had gone from that to waking up every day with breaking news notifications on my phone of things happening on the other side of the world. When that would happen two or three times a day, it became something that would make me worry, and it just built and built.”

George decamped to Barcelona, a place which already had weaved its way into his very being on his debut album, where he would spend his days walking its shining streets and bustling corridors - taking in life once again. He didn’t write any songs, simply soaking in the very vibrations and essence that filled the city’s streets and it led to an epiphany that flows through his as-yet-untitled second album.”

“It really was that trip that helped me realised and learn that it’s okay to switch off - and I don’t think any of us do,” details George. “It’s just a habit we have, like all of us have smartphones right now and each smartphone is connected to the world and what’s going on in it. There’s almost no escape from it, and there’s also this demand for when something does happen that everyone needs to have an opinion on it or a response straight away. And if you don’t have one, then get off the track because that’s not how the world works.

“You need to be seen to have recognised what’s happened, whereas actually, it’s okay to say, ‘Yeah, I’m aware of what’s happened, and I’m just trying to compute it’. I think what it did over the past 12 months, is that it stopped people from being able to take in the good that there is out there - without sounding too soft about it.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row[vc_column][vc_single_image image="21710" img_size="full" add_caption="yes" alignment="center[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s a feeling that resonates and brims through ‘Don’t Matter Now’, the only taste so far out there from George’s second album and a track that throws away any fears and worries in one triumphant blast for carefree and jubilant vibes. If there was a way George wanted to return, with the lessons of the past twelve months behind him, then that’s exactly what ‘Don’t Matter Now’ encapsulates - a progression from the pulls of ‘Wanted On Voyage’ that’s beaming with that message of the good times - and more importantly, that enjoying them doesn’t make you a fantasist or out of touch with the world around you. Sometimes, savouring the best in people can be the hardest thing to do, but it’s more important now that ever before.

“If you look at it in a really simple way,” continues George. “I leave my front door every day and can have a nice smile and a chat with my next door neighbour, and I know they’ll do the same with their neighbour. That still exists, and if that still exists then, that’s something to celebrate and recognise. The news would be so shit if it just reported on the good in the world, and I think we take it for granted because of that. It was nice to realise that. Actually, there’s more of that good going on in the world.”

George’s next step comes with the knowledge and reassurance that music doesn’t have to push every boundary all of the time. When speaking, he’s relaxed, happy with the standing he now finds himself and with a newfound vigour in what he’s doing and how the new music is shaping up to provide a message of its own.

Savouring the little things and rising up with the joy the world holds, it was a connection that took him a while to actually realise. “I remember I was at Latitude last year with Huw Stephens, and we were backstage during Billie Marten’s set, and he asked ‘Are you writing about everything going on?’ and I turned to him and just said, ‘No, I don’t feel like that’s my job to do that’. I got home and listened to my demos and just went, ‘Shit, I am - but from a completely different angle’.

“All these songs that I was writing were about escaping and taking yourself away and that being alright. I thought I was just writing those songs for me and then I listened to them and realised that a lot of people might actually really appreciate that sentiment.”

Tracks like ‘Get Away’, ‘Hold My Girl’ and ‘All My Love’ are panoramic in size, glowing towers of epic sensations that have already been treated to those catching George over the summer. Yet it’s in ‘Pretty Shining People’ that George may have served up his biggest number to date - a swooning universal anthem that manages to encapsulate every drop of this appreciative way of approaching the wonders of the world. With the line ‘What a terrible time to be alive if you’re prone to overthinking, what a terrible time to be alive if you’re prone to second guessing’ - it’s destined to nestle its way into millions around the globe. If ever there was an anthem needed to bring the world out of the darkness, it’s this one.

“The first record we were writing and recording for nobody, and basically you’re writing for such a very small audience, and there’s a very good chance that a lot of people aren’t going to hear it so it’s fine” points out George. “Whereas this time around, in the back of your mind, you’re aware there’s a certain size of audience there but I’ve kinda learnt that the most important thing is that you dig it and you like it. This time around I just thought that this was only going to work if I was honest with myself - not for anyone else’s sake.”

“And it’s been really therapeutic, like what a luxury it is for there to be a demand for people to hear what you’re writing anyway, so you need to do that, but also you enjoy it, and you’re getting things out there.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row[vc_column][vc_single_image image="21711" img_size="full" add_caption="yes" alignment="center[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]George continues to recall the weird and the wonderful past 12 months. From the time he spent almost a month down in Cornwall working on five huge thousand-pieced puzzles (“I took a picture of them when they were all out, and for a second I was like, what are you doing man? But then I was like, nah that’s good - this is time well spent George.”), to listening to the latest 2 Chainz and Bleachers records, there’s one key message that pours out of him.

Happiness. George Ezra is a guy who has worked hard, pushed through self-doubt and now has the world at his feet waiting to witness the sequel he’s so proud of.

“And we’re still not quite done,” states George. “There are still tweaks going on, and therefore I’ve just said I’m going to keep writing. Even if none of it goes on the record, it’s just good for me to be still exercising that muscle. It’s not set in stone which I quite like, it goes against everything I usually like as I’m always about a plan normally. I’m shit at not having a plan, but this freedom is quite nice. It’s all up in the air on music and when the rest of it is heard. It’s all working in this weird world of not having to of committed to anything yet and just seeing how everything is going which is a great thing to do.”

More than anything, George Ezra is unabashed in who he is - a songwriter writing earnest tales of modern life and offering a hand back to jubilant euphoria and kicking back for moments of bliss. He knows who he is, and knows there’s a place now more than ever in the world of pop for what he’s offering. Things are about to get extremely busy once again, and George is raring to set the fuse once again.

“I’ve not tried to shy away from what I am,” details George. “I think that’s a common thing where people think, ‘Well, I’ve got this audience but those guys don’t like me’ so they start trying to write songs that appeal to that audience but the thing is, they’ve got their fix. They’ve got something else. Honestly, I think that happens more often than we realise so I was really keen to stay true to what I am.”

Like, for me, I’ve got a larger fanbase than I ever thought I’d have - and I’m happy, y’know? And you can’t really ask for anything more than that. If there are more people that want to come and enjoy it, then that’s brilliant, but if not… then that’s okay. If you’re in a position where you get to write and record music, and people want to come and experience that with you live then that’s the dream, and I’m kinda there at the minute, so I’m happy. I wouldn’t change it.”

“World domination? That’s not me.”

Being free, and simply realising that sometimes we all need to switch off and enjoy what’s going on around it - now that’s a lesson that’s vital. As George Ezra strolls down the corridor, you can hear his laughter ringing out. That’s exactly what life is about - and sometimes saying that it doesn’t matter can mean the most.


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