Touring in support of his debut album, Wanted On Voyage, George Ezra will make his way to Southbound on Saturday-Sunday, January 3-4, 2105, at Sir Stewart Bovell Park, Busselton. AUGUSTUS WELBY reports.
Looks can be deceiving. At least that’s the case with UK songwriter, George Ezra, whose unassuming and boyish looks belie his brawny vocal capacity.
However, this incongruity hasn’t been off-putting for listeners around the world. In the last 12 months, Ezra’s gone from being a relative unknown to having a top 10 single in 11 countries and subsequently marking a trail of sold-out shows across the globe. While Ezra’s auspicious career beginnings might read like an overnight success story, lengthy preparations preceded his public launch.
“I’m aware that in the public eye this has happened really quickly for me,” he says, “but there was three years’ worth of work that went into it between me and my manager. I’m actually probably gigging as much as I have been for years, but it’s just that there’s actually people at the gigs now.”
Ezra’s first EP, Did You Hear The Rain?, came out just over a year ago. It was this set’s second single, Budapest, that had a breakthrough impact across the globe, reaching double platinum sales in Australia. Then, in June this year, he delivered his debut full-length album, Wanted On Voyage.
Even after Ezra spent those three years honing his craft prior to releasing the album, Wanted On Voyage, isn’t a compilation of tracks written throughout that entire period. Rather, the record was developed in two key stints. The first of these involved a solitary songwriting escapade.
“An album isn’t just 12 songs that go together,” Ezra says. “They have to have come from the same place. I went travelling around Europe and the best thing about that is that all the songs came from the same place. I was writing down everything I saw, the people I met. I spent a month by myself and I don’t think people actually get the opportunity to spend a month by themselves. It was amazing. I was massively inspired.”
Armed with a travelogue full of fresh song ideas, Ezra returned to the UK to get down to the nitty gritty. The album itself was written alongside prominent songwriter and Athlete frontman, Joel Pott.
“I was introduced to him in a pub and he said, ‘We should write a bit together’,” Ezra explains. “We found this little barn in Wales and you had to have the fire on for hot water and there was no phone signal and you couldn’t see another house. We’d go up there for a week at a time. We’d get there late Sunday night, go to our own rooms and swap our little notebooks. Then the next day, come out and go, ‘This was interesting, this was cool’. Then we’d drink some red wine and see what happened. Normally we’d finish with about five songs in a week, which was great.
“It wasn’t like we were necking two bottles each and just sitting around,” he adds. “It was more like a lubricant. We used it wisely, I think (laughs).”
It might come as a surprise to learn Ezra fashioned the record with help from a co-writer. However, he highlights the value of the collaborative scenario. “Some people try to pretend like they don’t write with other people and I think they’re scared that people are going to go, ‘Well, you didn’t write the album’. That doesn’t bother me. I love the fact that I learnt to write with other people.”
Welcoming others to augment his compositions wasn’t always Ezra’s preferred method of working. “I studied music for a year in Bristol,” he says, “and the lecturers were always saying, ‘The best way to work is to write with each other’. Of course, at 18 years-old my songs were the most precious things to me and the idea of working with anyone on them was just a joke.”
In addition to fronting Athlete, Pott has recently teamed up with several other UK alt-pop artists, including London Grammar and Chlöe Howl. His influence is evident in the way that Wanted On Voyage not only emphasises Ezra’s robust vocals and eye for curious narrative detail, but also harnesses audience-pleasing immediacy. Ezra explains a key lesson he took away from his collaboration with Pott.
“He taught me to put songs down. Even if all you have is one verse and one chorus, put it down and go onto the next thing. With time away from it, the next time you come back to it, it will make so much sense. It takes pretending the songs aren’t there to write them.”
After wrapping up a sold-out run of European dates, Ezra will make his debut Australian appearance over the New Year’s period, playing the Falls Festivals, Southbound and a couple of sideshows. He’s barely had a chance to take a breath since releasing Wanted On Voyage, so a follow-up release isn’t in the pipeline just yet. He’s in no rush to churn one out either.
“This came along without me really planning it, so I don’t really plan much about the future,” he says. “This is a pretty good thing to have not have planned. I’ve done pretty well here. Album two, it’s going to have to happen of course, but I’m not stressing myself about it. I’m not just going to release an album. It has to have come from something.”