Ed Sheeran: "I got to where I am through illegal file sharing"
What’s been your highlight of the year?
The whole last 18 months has been a blur really. It’s all been one massive highlight. I haven’t yet got to a stage where I’ve had enough time off to look back and reflect. I’m sure in five years’ time I’ll be able to look back and see that some things were more highlights than others.
You’ll be spending a good six months of 2013 on tour with Taylor Swift. Was she how you expected her to be?
I didn’t expect her to be anything really. American stars are so different to UK stars. It’s just a totally different thing over there. I did not expect her to be as safe as she was though. Just chilling in her house, making apple pies… it was pretty cool because there aren’t many musicians in the UK like that let alone global superstars.
Do you want to be as big as her?
Yes. I’m aiming upwards to see where it takes me. I haven’t yet reached my glass ceiling, so I’m just going to keep going. And if that ends up being where Taylor is or a band like Coldplay, then yeah, that would be awesome.
You clearly not someone who’s embarrassed by success then?
I think that’s a very British thing. In Britain success isn’t generally viewed as a good thing. People here love the underdog but I’m all up for achieving my dreams.
Tell us about the song of yours One Direction have covered (Little Things)?
That was my first number one! It’s a bit nuts that song because up until about three months ago it had disappeared and then it was number one in the UK charts.
"The truth about the One Direction boys is they love their job and who am I to put them down for that?"
How did they end up recording it?
I was in touch with Harry and I said, “I’ve got a couple more songs”. Usually their label are very funny about them wasting time recording other songs that won’t be used, so I got them to record it on the sly. I was like, “Look, record this. It’ll only take a couple of hours and don’t tell your label” kind of thing. And they did, and they did tell their label in the end because they liked it so much and it became a single.
You obviously don’t suffer from musical snobbery. A lot of people think boybands or people from reality shows aren’t ‘real’ musicians but I’m guessing that’s not the case with you?
Listen, I’m very good friends with real musicians and very good friends with people who wouldn’t be classed as real musicians. At the end of the day, they are all people. I don’t judge them on the kind of music they make but the kind of people they are.
The truth about the One Direction boys is that they love their job and who am I to put them down for that? They sing well, they got to the final of a talent competition by singing well, they were looking for songs and I like writing songs. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
And I quite like the idea of doing, say, an underground EP with Yelawolf, doing a song with Taylor Swift, doing a song with Gary from Snow Patrol, and doing a song for One Direction. Being a music snob means you just get stuck in a box and anyway, my credibility isn’t based on the people I work with, my credibility is based on the music I make and put out.
"Being a music snob means you just get stuck in a box"
What are your feelings about reality shows like X Factor?
For the last 50 or 60 years there have always been different routes for getting into the music business. The particular route I chose was the troubadour thing of gigging around and independent releases and pushing it from there by building a fan base but there are plenty of other routes.
There are acts who get signed to record companies at 16 and are developed for years. Kate Bush was one of those, for example. And there were acts that were found via talent auditions. Now there happens to be a national talent audition on TV which allows people to live out their dream.
As long as you know exactly what you’re going to get out of it. If you go on expecting to come out the other end a credible act and you end up resenting the show, then yeah, it’s probably a bad thing to do.
The One Direction lads and someone like Olly Murs, they’ve got it spot on. They’re like, “We’re going to take everything we’re given and do everything people tell us to do and we’re going to love it and enjoy the ride and if it all ends tomorrow, then we’ve had fun”.
That’s why I respect people from those shows who have that kind of mentality.
Do you have a favourite cover of one of your own songs?
Ummm… yeah. Birdy did a version of The A Team. I remember listening to it and thinking, “Ahhh f*** that man!” because it was actually better than mine. I kind of wish I hadn’t listened to it now because I’m just going to listen back to mine and think it’s not as good.
You are the most illegally downloaded artist in the UK. Is that flattering?
The way I acquired such a massive fan base before I got signed was through people coming to my gigs, watching it, me doing CDs afterwards, them then ripping the CDs, burning them for their mates, putting them on Sendspace, putting them on media share, all these kind of illegal download websites, torrent websites… they basically shared my music so much that all of their mates got into it and started coming to gigs and blah blah blah… and it got to a point where I could play to a thousand people in a day without a record company.
I got to where I am through illegal file sharing. Now I’m at a point where I’ve gone five times platinum in the UK and everyone’s saying “You’re the most illegally downloaded artist in Britain” but I can’t really resent it. But that’s only my opinion. I won’t speak on behalf of everyone because obviously musicians do need to make a living and selling CDs is definitely a way to do that but for me, I can’t resent it because I got to where I am through illegal file sharing.