Why a period out of spotlight was the perfect preparation for Ezra's return
Four years on from a chart-topping debut album, George Ezra, the man with a booming baritone, has finally unleashed his second record. He tells Joe Nerssessian about his struggles dealing with fame, the pivotal age of 14 and why he wouldn't want to become as big as Ed Sheeran
He's an uncertain popstar, George Ezra. Not in the physical sense. He's well-dressed and has a boyish face with an effortless grin. It's more that he just can't quite believe who he has become.
After a frustrating delay, the third best-selling artist of 2014 has returned with his second album, Staying At Tamara's.
We're inside Sony's building in central London, and Ezra stands tall before taking a seat. We're a day out from the record's release, but the 24-year-old can't quite fathom it.
- George Ezra is playing Belfast's Custom House Square on August 10
"I find it really hard for this to feel like reality," he explains. "I find it hard to not just be 14-year-old me in my head. Genuinely, it's like an outer-body syndrome where I'm unable to go, 'This is me'."
He fully understands the album is coming out, of course. In fact it's already out in Australia, he says, disappointed by the lack of respect time zones have for romance.
Schooled on the likes of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, Ezra came of age when the British music scene was stifled with indie bands. The son of teachers, he was born George Ezra Barnett in Hertford in 1993.
His first gig, other than S Club 7 when he was seven, fitted the indie billing: The Fratellis at Brixton Academy. Ezra remembers getting caught up in a mosh pit before quietly holding a girl's hand at the side. He was 14 at the time, a pivotal age when, subconsciously, his musical career was beckoning.
It's when he learned guitar and started writing songs.
"It definitely was that age where I found music for myself," he says. "There was a part of me discovering all this old American music alongside indie bands.
"We'd get ready to go to parties and end parties listening to indie bands and we loved it."
Another pivotal moment was when Ezra began dreaming of travelling - a theme dominant on his debut.
Aside from family camping trips to Wales, he was yet to really explore anywhere with his friends. That changed the summer before he turned 15.
They started spending every sunny school break fishing or in a tent or simply walking. The plan was to go further afield, but life, college and music got in the way.
Ezra signed with Columbia at 19 and put the idea of travel on the back-burner until some wise words from his A&R prompted him to jump on a train across Europe.
"He told me I needed to not think I was anything other than what I was: a 19-year-old boy. What would I be doing if there wasn't a company I owed a record to? I'm just so thankful he said that because I think I'd put the idea of going away to bed a bit."
An inter-railing trip inspired Wanted On Voyage, and Ezra took the idea a step further for his second record.
He failed to write anything when touring for the first time. "I was just trying to get my head round everything else," he says. So when he needed fresh inspiration he headed to Barcelona, where he stayed with Airbnb host Tamara, earning her naming rights on the album title.
Other trips also provided inspiration for the record, including to a pig farm in Norfolk and a converted cowshed in north Wales.
The result is a happy-go-lucky collection of tracks which are immediately improved because of Ezra's effortless baritone boom - particularly on Saviour. Deep and resonant, he has the voice to compete with those American storytellers that inspired him.
He blames himself for the album delay, describing it as a light at the end of a "frustrating tunnel".
It proved to be a learning curve, discovering what songs deserved to be on the record and what songs didn't.
"I definitely am not a master at this. I took it for granted that there were songs on the first record that I wrote when I was 14. Also you have to be selfish when you're writing music," he says. "You have to just please yourself. Instead of thinking, 'Well what would this group of people think?' or 'What would that person think?'. That's not going to help you out."
Despite its shortfalls, the album seems certain to triumph where the likes of Camila Cabello and Justin Timberlake have failed, by knocking The Greatest Showman soundtrack off the number one spot after an 11-week run.
But despite his charm and attractive qualities, Ezra still isn't a natural pop star, baulking at the idea of becoming as successful as Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith.
"I definitely don't want to be that big," he half-shouts. "No, I know that. Deep down, I know that. I don't think I would fare well with that level of fame."
"I used to say on the first album, 'If this never happens again, I'm still happy'.
"This has happened and things that have happened can't be taken away from you, so I have got that mentality. And I'm also aware what happened on the first record was insane. I don't think that's normal. It's not like I look at what it did and go, 'Well yeah, duh'. I look at it and I still think, 'What the eff, why, how did that happen?'
"I'm not some mad alternative act, but I'm also, not that," he says, the final word given emphasis, referring to those other big chart stars.
He pauses when asked how he would measure success. "The fact I get to work in music every day is a triumph," he says. "That's mad. I think the reason music appealed to me is because it wasn't competitive and I'm not competitive. I don't fare well in competitive situations. So if I can tour, if I can maintain that for a long period of time, that'd be great."
With a second chart-topper on its way, Ezra may have to get a bit more used to success, plus a whole lot more.
Staying At Tamara's is out now. Ezra tours the UK throughout 2018. See www.georgeezra.com for more information