George Ezra takes us to "Budapest" and back on Wanted on Voyage, his critically acclaimed debut album which quickly shot to the top of the charts in eight different countries and became the UK's third highest selling album in 2014. Now, the 21-year-old Bob Dylan-inspired folk singer from Hertford, England (with a voice far beyond his years) is ready to take the world by storm. Just days before his biggest U.S. performance to date, acting as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, the blue-eyed crooner sat down with Music Times in New York City to chat about writing Wanted on Voyage while on voyage, his bloody run in with Ramones drummer Marky Ramone and the one album he would never leave home without. Enjoy the trip.
Danica Daniel: Tell me the meaning behind the title of your debut album Wanted on Voyage?
George Ezra: There’s a bear in England called Paddington Bear. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Paddington Bear?
Of course.Who didn't love Paddington Bear growing up.
On his suitcase it says “Wanted on Voyage.” My whole life I’ve been a huge fan of his. I know it’s like a kids TV program, but I’ve always had DVDs and watched it. You can learn a lot from him. People used to travel by boat, like traveling from America to England, and you would write “wanted on voyage” on anything that you wanted on your person. Everything else would end up in the cargo and you didn’t see it for the whole journey. I liked the idea of people wanting my album on their journey, it being written from my journey. It all kind of went full circle, I liked it.
Any truth to the rumor you wrote Wanted on Voyage while on your own voyage of sorts traveling by train on tour?
That’s kind of true. It wasn’t a tour, it was more just for me to get out and learn a bit about the world, more than I knew anyway. So you can buy the train ticket. I did one or two open mics I think, but that was about it.
Tour or not, the trip was clearly inspirational.
I think the reason that was so inspirational for me was because it was the first time I’d been away from home by myself for a long amount of time. And also, my whole life, I’ve been someone that leads, I need to have people around me. I get bored really easily by myself. And then spending a month by myself was really… to learn that I can spend time by myself and just to relax into your own thoughts is a valuable lesson.
Where were you when you wrote “Budapest?”
The songs came from the trip. Predominantly, I wrote them when I got back from the trip. I [travelled] a lot of months and then when I came home, the songs came in waves. I was in the North of Wales, which is on the West of England, or Britain. I was with a friend up in his cottage. The spot is beautiful. You can’t see one other property. It’s just a tiny little old barn, you have to have the fire lit for hot water. There’s no phone signal and it’s just beautiful.
Growing up did you always know you wanted to be a musician?
I don’t know how good an answer this is, but I didn’t get into music because I loved music. I was 13-years-old and had a lot of energy, so I had to do something. I fell in love with bass guitar. Me and my friends would go after school and see how loud we could make things and just punk about. And then, when I got to 14, 15, most friends lost interest and I gained a genuine interest. That’s when I started to listen to music for the first time and fall in love with it, instead of it just being something you play to punk around with.
Fast forward to your college years and I hear you were so intent in seeing Ramones drummer Marky Ramone give a lecture you ended up with a gash on your head? Can you tell me the story behind that?
This a long story, but in the machine of transmissions, it’s become a lot more interesting than it is. All that happened was I went out and got very drunk with my friend and ran into a wall. And in the morning, bless my friend Bamba; she slept next to me all night with a t-shirt on my head to stop the bleeding. Ramones legend Marky Ramone, the drummer, was doing a lecture and I lost it about five minutes in.
Lost it how?
My friend pulled me into the stock room, because I felt fine, I was drunk, but I went into the stock room and they were like George, you need to go to the hospital, it’s just down the road. And you know when someone says something like that and you start to feel the pain? It started sinking in and I went, Oh shit! Yeah I need to go to the hospital.” And I got there and they injected me, told me it was too late to give me stitches, so you’re going to have a scar. And yeah, that’s the story.
Well maybe one day you’ll visit Bristol music college Bimm and give a lecture to the student. How has your life changed since the release of Wanted On Voyage?
I think that it’s more in your power than you think it is. I think if you allow your life to change, then it will. When I get free time, I still go home to the town I grew up in with the same friends, in the same pubs, and the same people. Just nothing’s changed at all. Really, I mean obviously I’m away from home a lot more and I guess people recognize me more, but they recognize me for a positive reason, it’s not like I’ve done something terrible, like killing someone or something and they recognize me.
Your are a good-looking lad. Have you been recognized or mobbed by a group of girls yet?
Yeah but you take it in stride I guess. I’ll be honest. I wasn’t very cool with being recognized thing at first. It’s not something you learn at school. It’s not something you can anticipate. You can’t anticipate your success when you’re recording. Even when you release the record, you have no power as to whether the label can help as much as they want. There’s people that like you [and] that don’t like you. It’s good when people recognize me but I don’t want people to think I’m better than anyone else. I don’t like that. I understand people are enjoying someone’s work, but I don’t like it when they expect something from you. I like to remind people that I’m just a person.
Besides your own, what albums would you pack away on your voyage?
There are some albums that I consider masterpieces, very few, but there are one or two, like Paul Simon’s Graceland or Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. I’d have to have a Tom Waits album in there somewhere.
Is there anyplace you’ve wanted to visit that you haven’t gotten to go yet?
There are a lot of beautiful places I’ve been, but I haven’t seen them because of work. There are a lot of places I’d like to revisit with five days to myself. I’ve have a few days off in New York by myself, so I’m looking forward to just actually getting stuck here. Of all the places in the world, New York is the place in America that feels closest to home. Atmosphere wise, it kind of feels, I don’t know it feels like I fit in New York, I like it.
When I think about places in the world though… Africa, I’ve never even touched foot in Africa and I would love to do that. I’d love to do Morocco. That would be beautiful I imagine.
What’s your favorite place you have traveled to in the world thus far?
I always enjoy in playing in Germany. I don’t even know how to answer this question because I enjoy playing everywhere. As long as I can perform, I’ll be happy.
The British are coming! The British are coming. Check out Ezra in his biggest U.S. appearance to date performing "Blame It On Me" on this week's episode of Saturday Night Live.