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Interview: George Ezra on new music, mental health, and playing Auckland City Limits.

Interview: George Ezra on new music, mental health, and playing Auckland City Limits.

George Ezra, whose debut album went platinum in New Zealand (and 4x platinum in his home country of the UK), is gearing up to release his sophomore record over four years after lead single and smash hit 'Budapest' first graced our ears. We caught up with him to find out what to expect, and ended up talking mental health, masculinity, and Michael Bublé…

COUP DE MAIN: Last night you tweeted that there might be new music around the corner… can we have any clues as to what to expect?
GEORGE EZRA: Well, a new album! It’s got to happen. The songs are all there, and you get to a point where you sit back and listen to it all and you go, “I’m proud of this!” I still feel what it is I’ve written and recorded; it feels true to how I’m feeling. It’s a weird thing, recording an album, because it means there’s definite milestones of your development. With each one you hope you’ll go, “I feel like I’ve improved on that,” or “I’ve said this exactly as I wanted to.” It’s strange – I’d never want to sound arrogant, but it’s nice for me to sit back and feel like I’ve improved as a songwriter. I feel like I’ve improved lyrically, and it nice hearing it and going, “Yeah, the last three years of touring have paid off! There’s an improvement.”

CDM: I’m imagining it might be quite different to your 'White Christmas' cover for Spotify?
GEORGE: <laughs> Yeah, that’s not where I’m going – not just yet! It gave me a taste of, “Oohhhh, I could be a crooner one day!”

CDM: You could be the next Michael Bublé.
GEORGE: No, he’s doing pretty good, I’d have to find my own niche so I could be alongside Bublé!

CDM: Our most recent taste of new original material from you was last year’s 'Don’t Matter Now' – would you say that reflects the tone of what’s to come?
GEORGE: Bear in mind that was a brilliant song to release before Summer. We were booked for a load of festivals and we played a load of new stuff – it was more to testrun stuff, and 'Don’t Matter Now' felt like the best song to go, “Hey, guys, we’re coming back out!” 'Don’t Matter Now' is a good introduction to the tone of the record, but the first song I’m going to release-- it’s really hard to use words to describe music without sounding like a sixth-form journalist, but it’s quite punchy! <giggles> I find it hard to sound sincere – sometimes I’ll want to tweet about someone’s music they’ve released and tell them how much I love it, and you sound like a sarcastic bastard! But yeah, the new song is a bit punchier and fairly energetic. The record has as much fun on it as the first one does; there’s still all those little quirks. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake that.

CDM: How does it feel to be following up such a massively well-received album?
GEORGE: It’s bizarre! The truth of the matter is that it’s very hard not to be quite detached from your own releases. I feel very connected to the first record, but I’m blissfully unaware of how successful it was. Every now and then I’m reminded of the actual facts – it sold X amount and you’re like, “Oh, wow, that’s a lot!” But I didn’t buy it that many times! When you’re on tour, you don’t hear it on the radio as much as other people. You’re almost the only person who can’t take in just how big it’s got, because you’re in the middle of it all. Going into the studio for the second record, it didn’t hang over me like a cloud. It was more just like, “Oh, cool, I get to do more music now!” If you sit and listen to the first record, 'Wanted On Voyage', back to back with this second record I think there’ll be similarities. The second one feels like a move on; it sounds a bit more informed, maybe. Maybe I’m talking shit, maybe that’s not the case at all! You’ll have to let me know.

CDM: 'Budapest' is now four-years-old. At the time of its release, do you think you could have imagined this is where you’d be in four year’s time?
GEORGE: Well, I’m currently in bed, so yes, I could imagine that! No, of course not. Me and the record label released 'Budapest' as a free download. I had just turned 19, and someone offered me a record deal. You barely read through it, you just sign it, because why the fuck wouldn’t you? I literally had nothing to lose. I definitely didn’t think, “This is my ticket out of here! It’s all going to change from here on in!” I didn’t know what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t touring the world, and it definitely wasn’t success on the level that I experienced it. It’s only a positive thing though, that it’s happened, and it’s a great experience. Onwards and upwards, I guess.

CDM: Can we expect the return of “petan” with new music? I found a few fans on Twitter saying they miss it!
GEORGE: I’m trying to shake it! I got annoyed at myself with the lack of substance around that. I must have been 18 when I first tweeted that, and found it hilarious. It’s a joke that got out of hand, and I can’t get away from it! It’s just going to haunt me! Hey ho, it could be worse!

CDM: You’ve spoken about how social media is a fun and important thing for you – what do you think is so great about social media?
GEORGE: Shall I get boring? I love social media, but anyone that denies that it’s addictive is silly. It definitely is. You look at people’s faces when they’re engaged in social media and it’s not a face of alertness, it’s just a kind of “unnghhhh.” We’re all guilty of it! I was having this conversation with my Dad a while back. I was like, “Do you prefer the world with or without the Internet?” He said that it’s undoubtedly better with it in, because keeping in touch with people has got easier, tenfold. I feel that – it’s an amazing thing for me to be able to release something and see an instant reaction. You can get a vibe of what people are thinking, if they’re enjoying it, where they are straight away. A lot of bands and artists don’t use it anywhere near as well as they could, and it annoys me a bit, ‘cause it’s so easy!

CDM: You’ve been quite an outspoken advocate for mental health, speaking about your own anxiety in interviews and collecting donations for the charity Mind at your shows. Can you tell us a little about why this cause is so important to you?
GEORGE: When I got to a position where, instead of just throwing a few quid in a bucket for charity when one came around, I was able to set up who I gave to monthly, I chose Mind. That was five or six years ago, and I didn’t think much of it. It was more because mental health was the one thing that had affected people that I loved around me. I was definitely ill-equipped – and probably still am – with an educated, informed view on what [mental illness] is and how to best help someone who is experiencing it. Off the back of the first record, I started to experience [mental illness] for the first time. I had a very conscious sit-down talk with myself where I was like, “Okay, this second record is only going to work if you’re as honest as you can be.” I’m not saying that I lied throughout the first album, but I relied on characters. There’s lots of easy ways of flipping a story so it’s not directly you, or not easily read. I did away with all of that on the second record, and was as honest as I could be, which meant talking about anxiety. The more I started to look at it, the more I saw it everywhere. So many stories that we know and love are about that. It felt good writing [the new songs], it felt good singing them down, it feels good singing them live. I was hesitant to mention that [anxiety] was the main theme on the album, because I didn’t want to be a poster boy for mental health. I feel in many ways like there’s a lot for me to learn, but it’s something that I am eager to learn about. It’s been amazing working with Mind. We put on a gig this Christmas called George Ezra and Friends, and we managed to raise 20 grand. That’s more than I would have ever dreamt that we could have raised in an evening, but also there was a roomful of people acknowledging what is often an elephant in quite a small room. I think we’re going to try and do it next year as well!

CDM: Men specifically often suffer from mental health problems that put them at risk, in part because of the expectations of masculinity. What would you say to any men with mental illness who might be reading this while yet to seek support?
GEORGE: [Masculinity] is one of those things that’s so blatant everywhere growing up. There are things thrown around, like “man up!” or “don’t be a girl!” or “grow a pair!” They’re shit messages for both genders. It’s rubbish. I think the hardest thing for me was actually identifying what it was. Something I tried to work out was, is this just because I’m in my early twenties and I’m affording myself the luxury of “woe is me”? People talk about us going through hard times at the moment, and how it’s a weird world to live in, but actually isn’t that the same throughout history? Isn’t there always hardship? There was hardship without cures back then, but I do feel there’s something about the modern world that doesn’t help at all. I feel like the world around us has evolved quicker than we have. We’re still quite simple beings, and I don’t think we know quite how to responsibly use the tools that we have. Talking has to be the easiest way around it. No-one’s going to judge you. No-one’s going to leave you hanging. Everyone will want to help – that’s my experience! Also, when you talk about it, it actually turns out that everyone around you is going through the same stuff. You build yourself up like, “Today’s the day I’m going to tell this person!” Most of the time they laughed and went, “Thank fuck, me too!”

CDM: Finally, you’re coming back to New Zealand for Auckland City Limits!
GEORGE: We are playing Auckland City Limits! We’re over there in March. I’ve only ever been over there for 24 hours at a time and haven’t managed to enjoy it as much as I would like to.

George Ezra will play Auckland City Limits on March 3rd - click here to purchase tickets.

Watch the ‘Paradise’ music video below…

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