Don't say the 'f' word
Shouldn't George Ezra be punching the air with joy? Or else flopping about in a nervous sweat?
The acoustic rocker, just 19, is the latest musician to be plucked from the 'toilet circuit' of bottom-rung venues and tipped for imminent hugeness. He's been long-listed for the BBC 'Sound of 2014' poll and named one of MTV's 'Brand New For 2014' artists. Happiness, terror -- surely he ought to be experiencing a giddy cocktail of the two?
Actually, he's a picture of calm. It probably helps that, only a few years out of school, Ezra is new to the music industry and appears not to appreciate how life-changing a place on the BBC 'Sound of' poll, in particular, can be (previous picks have included Florence Welch, Adele and Amy Winehouse).
"To tell you the truth, I wasn't really aware of all of those polls," he shrugs. "My manager rang up and said 'we're on this and this'. I had to investigate further before I understood what a big deal it is. It's quite shocking, if you consider the calibre of people they have previously considered. I appreciate it massively."
It's a double-edged thing, though, isn't it? For every Florence, there are a dozen Arlissas. When the Irish Independent interviewed this 'hotly tipped' singer in December 2012, a breakthrough seemed a sure thing. She was smart, photogenic and had collaborated with rapper Nas. How could she NOT conquer the charts? However, it never happened and artists in Ezra's position must be aware that it takes more than a thumbs up from the BBC to crack the mainstream.
He shrugs. Young and optimistic, it doesn't occur to him that there might be a downside to the acclaim.
"I see those polls as a bonus on top of what I have achieved," he says. "You COULD regard it as pressure. Ultimately, I am doing exactly what I want. Inevitably, if you are introduced to a wider audience, someone will say 'that's not my cup of tea'. That's fine -- I don't regard that as pressure."
He winces slightly when you mentioned the 'f' word. He has a rootsy voice, burnished with an American twang. And, sure, he hefts an acoustic guitar. But don't draw any lazy conclusions as to where he's coming from musically.
"If I hear someone call me a folk artist, it gives me pause," he says. "Look, I'm not going to throw my toys out of the pram. I do wonder why anyone would call me a folk musician though. As soon as you see a musician playing a guitar and singing, they are labelled folk."
Yes, but couldn't that function to his advantage? Folk is super-hot now, with merry banjo bashers such as Mumford and Sons not so stealthily conquering the world. That presents Ezra with a big opportunity.
"I feel a certain connection to [Mumford and Sons] in so far as they did a lot of gigging before their career took off. Creatively, not so much. Their writing is a lot more traditional than mine."
He may have yet to reach his third decade, but Ezra has done a lot of living. Having penned his first song aged 13, by the time he finished school he decided he needed to work harder at honing his musicianship. So he inter-railed around the continent, busking on whatever street corner would have him. After that he played the open mic circuits in his native Bristol and London. It was, he says with a wry smile, an education.
"You see lots of things at an open mic that you wouldn't at a normal gig," he says. "They attract a 'diverse' crowd, shall we say. I've had a few interesting experiences. It has certainly prepared me for whatever the live music circuit throws my way."
He is currently recording his debut album. The hope is to have it released mid-summer, in time for the festivals. He is wrestling with the difficult choice as to which songs to drop, which to include.
"It's hard -- so hard," he says. "I am proud of all of my songs. To have to discard one in favour of another is difficult. If you think about it, I'm going to be touring the album for a long time. You really have to love what you are putting on it."
GEORGE EZRA PLAYS THE SUGAR CLUB ON FEBRUARY 19 NEXT YEAR.