George Ezra’s debut album ‘Wanted on Voyage’ was one of 2014’s biggest success stories. It saw the Bristol songwriter go from open mic nights to Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage, and it’s gone on to sell over a million copies. While his first record and songs like ‘Budapest’ went stratospheric, Ezra stepped out of the spotlight and became a recluse. His new, unannounced album is about isolation – turning your phone off, avoiding apocalyptic news headlines and finding self-acceptance. He’s back with carefree new single ‘Don’t Matter Now’, plus an accompanying video featuring a fluffy dog – always a winner. NME got the lowdown backstage on his ‘TOP SECRET’ UK tour.
You did keep things relatively ‘top secret’ before this tour. You cut everything off and nobody heard from you for a while.
“But I’ve learnt that I love doing social media so much, that I’m either on it or I have to say no. I enjoy it too much. I get my fix! I enjoy using Twitter and Instagram, I find them quite addictive things. But in 2015 and 2016 I just knocked it on the head..”
Did you worry at all that people had forgotten about you?
“I don’t think I’m a comeback act, if that makes sense. If I’d done an Adele ‘Hello’ advert in between the X Factor, going, ‘Alright! It’s been a while’, then people would be like, ‘Who the fuck is this?’ But this tour has been so nice because we’ve got a fanbase. Not just people en masse, actual fans. Which I’d forgotten about. It’s not something you take home with you, so it’s quite easy to forget.”
What’s been the best show of the tour?
“Either Dublin or Cardiff. Dublin was magic, I loved it. Some nights you get on stage and within one song you know that something good is in the air. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to give the same performance every night, regardless of what the crowd is like. I definitely feed off the audience. And Cardiff was a lairy Friday night. I felt a bit ropey before we went on stage but everything sorted itself out.”
What are the new songs focusing on? They seem to be about opting out of 24/7 news and scary headlines.
“I’ve really had to work out how I’m delivering what the songs are about, because I don’t want it to come across the wrong way. I’m not saying it’s fine for people to turn their back on the world’s problems. It’s more that I’m writing these songs for myself. I don’t claim to have the answer to anything at all. I just think some of us don’t do ourselves any favours by constantly being involved. I drove from Swansea to Bristol the other night, got into bed, opened Twitter and saw about the London Bridge attack. Naturally you’re glued to the screen. And it’s just a drip feed of bad news and rumours. You should just turn your phone off, because you don’t know what’s going on. There’s no facts, so wait until the morning instead of piecing things together.”
What are you specifically telling yourself on these songs? What’s the message?
“Writing the record, I learnt that there’s not one of us with an answer. For the first time, I was an anxious person. I convinced myself that it was just me, that other people would be able to tell me what was going on in my head. But I realised that nobody knows. Once I started speaking to friends about it, I realised it wasn’t just me. And every generation gives themselves the privilege of thinking, ‘Isn’t it hard for us now? Wouldn’t it be easy to go back in time?’”
If you were anxious before, are you better now?
“I feel infinitely better now that I’m on tour again. A big part of was not having a reason for the last 18 months. I had a reason, which was to write, but you can’t turn that on and off. And after the second week of not writing anything and cleaning the house twice a day, it’s shit. I was a touch and go time.”
It’s tough being connected to every headline and hearing about bad news quicker.
“This is going to make me sound a bit ignorant, but there’s also that stock mourning tweet people do. It’s starting to feel a bit disingenuous. That’s nobody’s fault, but I just don’t think social media’s the place for big answers. It’s great for memes though, not great for big answers.”
The video for ‘Don’t Matter Now’ is very cheery. Where did you find the dog?
“The dog had a bloody agent! The dog was getting more care than I was. And on the second day of filming, it bared its teeth at me! That put me on edge. I’m still learning when it comes to music videos. But I wanted this to express a feeling, which I think it does.
When did you write the song?
“I actually wrote the song at the tail end of 2015. I tell crowds at gigs that I wrote this song when the biggest thing we had to worry about was whether David Cameron had a sleepover with a pig. That gets a little chuckle. But it’s true – those were the headlines. And in the last 18 months, the song has made more sense to me.”
You’ve been taking donations for the MIND charity at your shows, why is that?
“For the last three years I’ve donated to MIND monthly. Playing these shows, we’re in a position where we have a room full of people every night. Why not try and do something? I’ve been counting the donations every night from these buckets – it’s very relaxing!”