Ed Sheeran may only be bubbling under in the States, but in his native England, he’s a national treasure. Established as an independent artist in the mid-naughts, the 21-year-old has rocketed to the top of pop consciousness over the past year, breaking with his smash singles “The A-Team,” “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” and “Lego House.”
But it was with his debut album + that the fire-haired singer-songwriter became a cultural phenom, rocking the U.K. charts before achieving triple-platinum status. With his Stateside debut planned for release via Atlantic Records this summer, Ed most recently released his collaborative EP Slumdon Bridge with Yelawolf and is already at work on his sophomore album. While in New York City earlier this month, he spoke with YRB about his connection with hip-hop, linking with Catfish Billy, his upcoming tour with Snow Patrol and what we can expect from him in 2012.
YRB: How does it feel to be in NYC? What have you been up to?
Ed: Not much, really. Radio interviews, just ate a burrito from Chipotle, which was wicked. Now it’s my press day and I’ve got a gig later again. But it’s wicked to be playing here. It’s the mecca for songwriters to come and play. So it’s a good thing.
YRB: How is it to be in America, having had all this success in the UK? Does it feel like people don’t know you here yet?
Ed: To be honest, I love work and starting off at the beginning again is kind of perfect for me because I get to do small, intimate shows again and really show people who I am, rather than in England, I’ve done that and people now know. The music’s still there, but maybe the excitement’s gone because it’s out in the open. Now, I get to do it all again. It’s quite fun working from the ground up.
YRB: You’ve been releasing music for more than a half-decade, and it’s sort of been a slow build. Was there a breaking point where you realized things were on the up and up?
Ed: When I realized my collaboration project last January, and that charted independently, I thought things were going to start getting better from there.
YRB: What was going through your head when it came time to sign with a label?
Ed: I just kind of went with Atlantic, because they actually had shown an interest before any of that. They offered me a deal in November. I just didn’t take it because I wanted to do all of my independent stuff first. But as soon as I achieved what I wanted to achieve, I went with Atlantic because they’re the best label, in my opinion.
YRB: You perform by looping your instruments, which seems very technical. When was the first time you experimented with doing that?
Ed: When I was 14. I saw Gary Dunne play a sampler and I was just like, that’s wicked. I need to get one and started gigging with it from then. I wasn’t that good to begin with, but the more you practice, the more it becomes second nature.
YRB: Do you ever have mishaps with that these days?
Ed: Yeah. Yesterday, for example, I was stepping over it and I pulled out the power switch on the last song. That’s something that went wrong, I guess.
YRB: You seem to have a strong interest in hip-hop. Have you always been a hip-hop fan?
Ed: Yeah, as far as I can remember, I’ve been really into rap. I think it’s just the rhythm of it. I was into the commercial stuff to begin with, so I was really heavily into Eminem and Jay-Z, and then I got into UK hip-hop in rap, people like Devlin and Wretch 32. More recently, I’ve kind of gotten into Biggie and Big Pun and Yelawolf. I’m kind of discovering new people every day to listen to.