Entertainment & Arts

BBC Sound of 2014: George Ezra

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Media captionTake a train journey with George Ezra, who says much of his music was inspired by a trip around Europe last summer (video by Sophie Van Brugen)

Singer-songwriter George Ezra has taken fifth place in the BBC's Sound Of 2014 list, which showcases emerging artists for the coming 12 months.

After leaving Hertford, north London, to pursue a degree in music in Bristol, 20-year-old Ezra (real name George Barnett) began writing songs and playing in local pubs on his own, allowing the city to become his musical home.

He soon realised that gigging and playing in front of people on a regular basis "was an option" and dropped out of university.

"Bristol's not a massive place but there's so much going on," he says.

"Music and creativity are in your face, it's a brilliant city. It wasn't the plan to just do a year [of university] but there was an opportunity to gig around the UK and an opportunity to record. I knew I couldn't do both because I'd jeopardise one so I thought I'd set sail and see how it worked out."

His music is a fusion of old and new, American and British, with the likes of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and newcomers Crybaby and Sweet Baboo, all musical influences.

Image caption George Ezra made Bristol his home base

What did you grow up listening to?

I distinctly remember family car journeys being good for music. There was always music being played in every room in the house. There were a lot of singer-songwriters played. My dad listened to a lot of Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg, and my mum loves Northern Soul.

I think when you're younger there's an element of wanting to rebel against what your parents are listening to but I learned quite early on that I really liked what they listened to. Listening to Dylan, and wanting to know who he listened to, I found Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. But then I have grown up in England in the 21st Century, so there's all of that going on.

So what's on your iPod now and what do you listen to in your downtime?

I've got friends who just want new music, they don't care where it comes from but I'm not like that because I find that with new music I know a lot of bands but I couldn't tell you anything about them. The two records I've been listening to a lot recently is a guy called Crybaby, who has a band sound, and another guy from Cardiff called Sweet Baboo and that's fun.

When did you realise you could sing?

I remember when I couldn't sing, quite clearly! I used to perform in plays and my brother and sister could sing quite well but I just couldn't sing. Probably at about 14 or 15 I realised I could hold a melody. The younger you are the less fear you have to try stuff and do stuff in front of people. That helped because I wasn't aware of how good I was or wasn't and over time it meant my voice improved.

You've got a very deep, mature-sounding tone to your voice. Do you think you've grown into it?

Definitely. When I first realised I had this sort of rough voice I used to shout through gigs but I've had a few singing lessons and I've learned when to hold back.

When did you write your first song?

I think I was about 13 or 14 and I'm quite pleased to say I don't think there's a recording of it!

Image caption Ezra was invited to play on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury last June

Did you always want to be a performer?

I always wanted to perform and to perform for as many people as I could but I didn't want to be famous. I think some people imagine they'll write a few songs and they picture themselves on the red carpet but I'd much rather someone say 'oh that's a George Ezra song'.

Do you play any other instruments aside from guitar?

We've tried to do as much of it as we can when we've been recording the album so I've played keyboard and bass on a few things, but I wouldn't say I'm a musician when it comes to those instruments but I can blag my way.

You played Glastonbury last summer - what was that experience like?

I hadn't played a festival and I'd never been to Glastonbury so I didn't hesitate when I was asked to play. My set was on the Sunday so I got any silly behaviour out of the way on Thursday. By the Friday and Saturday I was panicked, but there was an amazing atmosphere in the tent and it felt like people were on my side so it was brilliant.

Image caption Ezra's grizzly, husky vocals sound much older than his years

Do you feel you have to be a very focused artist to make it in today's music business?

I think what has always been the same and always will be is that you have to be gigging and you have to be recording. I do think there's less room for mistakes. I don't take it for granted that I get to do this day-to-day and I don't know how long it will last so I just make the most of it and put my all into it. There's an element of me that feels I have to do this. I get the feeling that with a lot of industries now, things move a lot quicker and you have to be on top of your game.

How would you categorise your music and your sound?

I've grown up listening to the old singer-songwriters - a lot of them American - but I've also grown up in England in the 21st Century and I think both are evident in my music. The beauty of having listened to so much old stuff is that there's a big part of me that feels nothing has to be that tight. I don't think anything should be practiced to a point of perfection. Personally, I think there's a lot of perfection in things being live and things changing. I try and do that when recording. If I do a vocal take and a few bits are a bit scrappy I say ' but the rest of it's brilliant and they're part of the take so let's keep them'.

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