You probably know a little bit about Ed Sheeran by now — he’s the 22-year-old ginger singer-songwriter championed into stardom not only by the fervent adoration of Swifties and Directioners, but also on the strength of his own unwavering determination (before making it big, he once tried to play a show every day for a year).
Nowadays, he’s able to count people like Sir Elton John, with whom he sang his hit “The A Team” at the 2013 Grammy Awards, collaborator and tour mate Taylor Swift, Bill Clinton, and none other than the Queen of England as fans. BuzzFeed sat down with him at the launch of the guitar he designed for Martin to benefit East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices.
Did you ever consider becoming anything other than a musician?
Ed Sheeran: I think to be successful at anything you have to put in a hell of a lot of effort. Pick your battles. I picked music, put in a lot of effort, and it’s worked. I used to do a bit of acting. With music, you could stick someone with a musical instrument or even not a musical instrument, get them to showcase their talent, and within 30 seconds you could tell whether they were good or not, but with acting you have to give them the right part. If De Niro didn’t have Mean Streets or Taxi Driver, he might not have gotten Raging Bull.
It’s a weird thing. There are loads of actors out there that are probably brilliant who have never gotten the right part. They haven’t been showcased on that level. With music, you say, “I do this,” and someone will be able to tell you whether it’s good or not. I think that would stop me from doing acting and art. I really don’t know what’s good or bad art because all the art I like people tell me is tasteless. I bought some pictures.
I’m really into graffiti artists. Not like Banksy…there’s this drum and bass guy named Goldie who does these pictures where he’ll spray paint this thing… He does it with particular people. He’ll take you and spray paint you, exactly you, on wood and he’d cut up the wood and then burn it all on different sides and put it back together and lacquer it and spray it again.
Have you done graffiti yourself?
ES: I used to get drunk in venues after my shows and sign the walls “Ed was here.” So if you see that, it was me.
Where is your favorite place on tour and where is your least favorite?
ES: I haven’t found a least favorite yet, but I haven’t been to every single country so I’m sure there will be a point where I’m like, “This sucks.” It’s a really cool job. My favorite place would be Australia. My first arena tour was Australia and it was just an amazing experience… being there and the interviews and the interaction with the people and playing these huge venues.
Who are your favorite acts right now that your fans might not know about, that you think should be getting more attention?
ES: Most of the acts I take on tour are all friends of mine. There’s one that probably all of my fans know about now, he’s been on tour with me for about a year straight… a little bit more, maybe 14 months now and he’s called Passenger. He’s on my label and has hit No. 1 in 17 different countries; he just keeps going up the charts. I think people will be very aware of him; if they’re not now, [then] very soon. He was on tour with me for a long time. There’s another guy called Foy Vance who’s very similar. He’s going to be huge.
What is the wildest thing you’ve been able to do since your rise to fame?
ES: Maybe meeting Paul McCartney or the Queen? I played at the Queen’s Jubilee. It was really cool. I had a poker game with Bill Clinton the other day.
Really? What was that like?
ES: Random. I bought a saxophone and got him to sign it. De Niro, that was a big one. I played the opening of De Niro’s hotel. Peter Jackson, the guy who did the Lord of the Rings films, he invited us around for dinner. Just a lot of random wicked things have happened. It generally is the greatest job ever. Every single day there’s something mental that happens.
Is Bill Clinton good at poker?
ES: He didn’t play. It was for his foundation, he was there to raise money. I was bought in by a lawyer in New York whose daughter I was nice to at a gig. I wasn’t overly nice, but I said hello and took a picture and he bought me into the game as a thank you. I lost. I lost his money, which was not my deal.
What does the rest of touring look like for you? Where are you going next?
ES: In New York next, we’re playing Met Life stadium tomorrow. The rest of touring… September the 22 and then I’m off for like three months, which is nuts.
What are you going to do with the time?
ES: Nothing. Settle down into my house, which I’ve never been to properly.
Wait… you haven’t seen it?
ES: Well, I have. I’ve stayed like two or three nights there but not enough to properly enjoy it. The few times I’ve been there my friends have been home and I just threw a house party because it’s completely empty. You can have raging house parties and nothing gets broken.
Perfect. You should just not put furniture in it.
ES: Maybe for the first week I’ll just have a week of raging house parties and then say, “Everyone fuck off,” and then I’ll fill it with nice things.
Do you plan on writing more when you’re off?
ES: I do. I have! I just built a studio in my garden just in case. I’m not planning on it but if the mood takes me, I’ll go.
Is it hard to write on the road?
ES: Actually, no. I thought it would be but I’ve been writing more on this tour than I ever have before.
What are you finding inspiration in right now?
ES: A relationship that I was in and now I’m not. It’s been positive; I’ve got a record. Probably two. I’ll get two out of this one. I tend not to write songs about girls, it’s more like a whole album about one person. I never plan to, but I’ve only been in like three relationships, so that’s how that works.
What’s you favorite thing that you’ve written so far?
ES: I wrote one the other day that I was really happy with. I wasn’t expecting to put any more into this album but I went into the studio yesterday and was recording a song for the album, and starting playing a riff and said, “Oh, this sounds cool,” and wrote another song.
You’re able to just ad lib in the studio and have this stuff come out?
ES: Pretty much. I mumble along with the music, then go in the booth and put words to the melody.
So you write lyrics on the spot?
ES: Yeah, actually, I haven’t written down anything in a while. I know all the rappers do that… It’s not all that amazing because rappers say, “Oh, no, I don’t write anything down,” but they spend a lot of fucking time in the vocal booth working out what they’re going to say. It’s like writing something down, but you go step-by-step. I’ll go in and do one line and say, “Oh, no, that’s not right,” and do it over again… it’s a gradual thing. It’s like writing stuff down, except you just do it on the spot, instantly.
You’ve got to have a pretty good memory for that.
ES: I don’t have a lot else to remember. My job is to remember lyrics and sing them. I don’t have to remember trigonometry for math exams.
When did you become involved with Martin?
ES: I’ve been playing Martins for seven years now. I think every acoustic guitar player has one in mind and they’re kind of the peak of acoustic guitars. You can’t really get better than them at a mainstream level. It’s a massive honor to be involved and put it with a cause that’s close to my heart is good. I do quite a lot of work with children’s hospices in general. This hospice is my local one. It’s for the whole of East Anglia which is quite a large place.
Are you actually able to make it physically home a lot, or are you busy with tour?
ES: No. Taylor [Swfit] has a bunch of days off — there will be like five days off, and I just hop on a plane and go back and see all of my friends. I do that quite a lot.
I’m sure that’s different from when you first started touring. How has that changed for you? Do you enjoy it more?
ES: It’s a lot more free now. When I first started touring I was doing everything myself: I was booking myself, I was traveling myself, I was doing all the soundchecking. I was the only one in the touring party. Now I have a team of four people. I have the sound engineer, the lighting guy, guitar tech, and the tour manager. The tour manager takes care of all the travel logistics of the show and the sound engineer and the guitar tech soundcheck the show and the lighting guy takes care of all that. It’s a lot more relaxed for me.