Smoothboi Ezra: the Irish bedroom producer making ‘songs for horny teenagers in love’ 

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’d have no doubt seen opening the bill for your favourite act. This week, Irish rising star Smoothboi Ezra talks small-town life, new single 'My Own Person' and the randy playlists their songs end up in

Roughly this time last year, Smoothboi Ezra was supporting a resplendently-fringed Orville Peck in Dublin, and was gearing up for their first headline shows and festival slots. Exactly three went ahead before live music effectively shut down – and so instead, they’ve spent much of 2020 locked down in County Wicklow with a small cat named Frog with an affinity for chewing on plastic.

It’s shortly after Halloween, and Ezra marked the occasion by dressing their parents up as Rue and Jules – two troubled teens with a complicated connection, from the US drama Euphoria. “I did their make-up and they did a TikTok to a Labrinth song,” they laugh. With the ever-supportive Frog by their side, Ezra’s been writing solidly at home. “I have basically everything I need here,” they say, glancing around their poster-covered bedroom, which also functions as a studio. When Smoothboi Ezra video-calls NME, they’re gearing up for the release of new single ‘My Own Person’ – their most evocative moment yet.

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An hour south of Dublin, their seaside hometown of Greystones is a relatively quiet local beauty spot, and mainly “a town for older people,” says Ezra, with “a lot of trinket shops and health food places. It definitely isn’t the best place to hang out as a teenager, there’s not many places to go. There’s a playground…” they say, “but then you get done for loitering”.

The slower pace of life suits the 18-year old songwriter, musician and producer – the last year, the main event to shake the town has been a series of rumours about the Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan (Ladybird, Little Women) who briefly owned a house in the area. “She bought a house here and she never lived in it, I’m pretty sure,” Ezra laughs. “It was this whole thing – wherever you went around Greystones, people would be like: ‘that’s where she bought a house’. I was told she lived in loads of different places. I still don’t know where she lived”

Though Ireland has spawned a handful of flourishing scenes over the last few years – Cork’s thriving techno crowd and the outpouring of post-punk from nearby Dublin in particular – Smoothboi Ezra doesn’t feel part of the capital’s wave of new bands. Like Snail Mail, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, Ezra also has a knack for searingly honest indie rock, but scraped back to its bare and exposed bones – they don’t see themselves fitting in there, either.

“I don’t really know where I fit in, because I don’t really know what genre of music I make,” they observe. “I make stuff and if it sounds ok, I’ll release it.”

Smoothboi Ezra
Credit: Nicholas O’Donnell

Over the last two years, Smoothboi Ezra has put out a series of quietly affecting songs written and produced in their bedroom. Debut single ‘Thinking of You’ was originally based on the on-off-relationship between Spencer and Teddy – a fictional couple from the Disney channel sitcom Good Luck Charlie. Later, Ezra shifted the lyrics to address hopeless infatuation. “You don’t even swing that way,” they sing, accompanied by strummed ukulele and filtered, stuttering beats. The dryly-titled ‘A Shitty Gay Song About You’ occupies a similar space, mournfully listening to a crush’s favourite songs (and secretly disliking them) in front of a backlit fish tank. “I’m not saying I’d be the best boyfriend,” Ezra sings, “but I’d always lend you my sweatshirt when you’re cold.”

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Over time, Smoothboi Ezra’s songs have shifted towards specificity – ‘Familiar Sadness Is Too Comforting’ lays bare paralysing anxiety with an eviscerating accuracy. “The first few songs I released were break-up love songs,” they explain, “which are easily accessible to anyone.I think listening to different musicians who are vulnerable in their work – like Phoebe Bridgers – made me more comfortable with sharing.”

And new single ‘My Own Person’ is Smoothboi Ezra’s most striking release yet – chiming with rich bursts of electric guitar. “I wanna blend into the background, I wanna be nobody and never make a sound,” Ezra sings, vocals pushed to the front of the mix. “There’s an inside joke with my friends that I had these comfort clothes I would wear, and these grubby shoes – I never left the house unless i was wearing those. They hid me, and were quite baggy. The song, is about my own gender identity, being non-binary, and feeling uncomfortable expressing any kind of gender expression,” they explain. “Feeling masculine, feminine or androgynous all feels quite alien.”

”I’ve become more comfortable in not understanding who I am,” they add. “Before, I really wanted to feel like I fitted into a specific box. Now I feel very outside of everything but I don’t care as much.” The instrumentals and more hushed vocal harmonies on ‘My Own Person’ were recorded years ago – a sort of time-capsule of a younger Ezra. “I wanted to keep the harmonies  and the instrument playing from when I was 16,” they say. “Re-recording would take away the rawness behind it.”

Next up, another EP is in the making – if the musician can resist the urge to release tracks as and when they’re finished, that is. Until then, they’re happily amused by the witty playlist titles that fans have been choosing to file their music under (as Dionne Warwick recently pointed out: yep, artists can see you filing their sadbangers in your dedicated ‘sobbing’ playlists). “I like looking through them,” Ezra grins. “There’s one playlist called ‘songs for horny teenagers in love’ and another called ‘sapphic yearning’.”

For Smoothboi Ezra, it feels like the perfect home for songs intended to help people feel a little less alone. “I want to release songs like ‘My Own Person’ so that people will have a song like that to listen to. When you’re in it, you feel very alone. Really, it’s a universal feeling for a lot of people. It’s not just me.”

Smoothboi Ezra’s new single ‘My Own Person’ is out now

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