Ed Sheeran is a 21 year-old singer-songwriter who, over the course of the last nine months or so, went from being an aspiring musician to a household name in his native England. His grippingly dark single, “The A Team”, debuted at #3 on the UK charts last June and it’s been a rocket ride for the fresh-faced troubadour ever since. His first full length album, +, is currently available as an import, but will be on shelves and in the iTunes store here in the U.S. soon. We caught up with him last night at the W Hotel here in Austin, where he performed a spirited and energetic set as part of the the VH1 Rock Docs party at the SXSW Music Festival.
VH1: Is this your first trip to SXSW?
Ed Sheeran: This is my first time anywhere other than New York or LA. Not only is it my first Texas show, it’s my first middle America show I guess. It’s been going great. I just did my first gig and I’m really looking forward to this one. I’m lovin’ it, it’s a crazy vibe out here.
How many shows are you playing this weekend?
Seven. It’s cool. My one addiction is to live shows, and I love getting out there and doing ‘em.
So, the song that really broke you in the U.K. and will be your first single over here in the States is “The A Team.” The subject matter of the song is very dark, lyrically, but also incredibly compelling. What was it about this song that resonated so well with audiences?
The whole kind of ethos around it is that it encompasses pain and suffering. I know that that sounds really deep, but with enough dance tracks on the radio, sometimes people need a little bit of raw, real stuff. It’s sort of the same thing as The Police and their song “Roxanne”. People can’t necessarily relate to it 100%, but they can relate to the feeling of it.
We’ve noticed the same thing, too. With the proliferation of dance music on the airwaves, do you feel like there will be a counter-movement where fans will be drawn to more “authentic” music, the kind of stuff that you excel at?
In every single generation, when there’s been a really big seller, there’s always been singer-songwriters. Before me, there was James Morrison. Before him, James Blunt. Before him, it was Damien Rice and before that, it was David Gray. It just goes back so, yeah, you’re always going to get the kind of raw, acoustic singer who comes out at the time where everything else seems to be headed in another direction. It always cuts through, there will always be troubadours.
You’re definitely carrying the torch for the new generation of singer-songwriters. You had already experienced a huge amount of success with “The A Team”, but when you performed “Lego House” at The BRITS last month, things got rocketed up another notch. Can you talk about what it was like to see a song of yours go viral, worldwide, basically in real time?
The BRITS, in itself, was such an unexpected experience. I never expected on the first record to get that many nods. It was amazing, to me, to be recognized in the same breath as Adele and Coldplay. It was a really surreal experience, to be honest. There’s a good chance I’ll never experience something like that again, but hopefully I will.
Tonight, we’re at a party celebrating VH1 Rock Docs and, in particular, a new film called Downloaded. Did you happen to be a Napster user back in the day?
I remember it being about, but no, I was a physical CD man up until I got an iPad. Now it’s all iTunes, I always liked having the physical products.
As a recording artist, what do you think about streaming services like Spotify?
As an artist, it’s never gonna be like it was in the 60s and 70s again. You’re never gonna sell millions of records and you just have to accept that playing live is going to be your best form of income. There was a stat website that showed that my album had been illegally downloaded around 6 or 7 million times, just in the UK. If I was a stuffy musician, I’d be like “Oh man, I’m losing out on so many sales,” but I sell a lot of tickets and I get good fees for festivals now. People are actually interested in coming to my shows, and that’s why I’m in the game, anyway. But if you don’t really do the live thing, and you only rely on single sales, you’re kind of f*cked.
[Photo: Jen Marigliano/VH1]