“I can’t understand the concept of maple syrup on chicken,” Sheeran confesses, challenging the Bert and Ernie of American morning meals: chicken and waffles. The shoot has wrapped and he’s slipped into a secluded outside table at Cliff’s Edge restaurant in Silver Lake seemingly unnoticed for an early afternoon brunch. “I’ve tried it—I’ll try anything once. You have to go through life trying things out.” With pleases and thank yous, Ed orders a Diet Coke and breakfast sandwich and strips its buns; he gives away his fries. “I’ve been proper California [dieting] for the past month because I drank so much fucking beer and started doing these photo shoots again,” he says, forking a naked tomato, avocado, bacon and fried egg mound. “So I just cut out bread and potatoes.”
With x, Sheeran is shaping up for what could be his true breakthrough, the tipping point for becoming a household name. It’s a long way from his rural Framlingham, Suffolk hometown, where he grew up around farms and farm animals (“It’s where nice people go to retire,” he says). The youngest of two boys, Ed would climb trees and go to skate parks for fun. He began singing in choir at age 4 and later learned to play guitar, drums, bass, cello and violin. When he was 10, he bought his first guitar from a local department store called Argos for $50, and has since accumulated nearly 100 of them, scattered around the world in the homes of friends and family, including the vintage 1907 acoustic that lives in Malibu. “The older ones are easier to record with,” he says.
Ed’s maiden songs were about girls (duh) but much like his freestyle earlier today, they were merely words rhyming. By age 14, with a sharper pen, he’d recorded his first EP, The Orange Room, and began performing at local shows—just him, his guitar and a loop station. When he turned 16, he skipped university and moved out on his own to London to pursue music full-time, sofasurfing with friends, relatives, fellow musicians, promoters, fans, basically anyone with a couch. It’s here in the UK capital where his worldview vastly expanded; a gig at a homeless shelter inspired Sheeran’s first major single “The A-Team,” which tells the story of a drug-addicted prostitute. In 2010 he moved to Los Angeles, where he’d play at Jamie Foxx’s club The Foxxhole and wow Foxx so much that the actor/singer allowed him to record at his home studio and, of course, crash on his couch. Elton John’s Rocket Music Management quickly scooped him up. Sheeran’s self-released 2011 EP No. 5 Collaborations Project, assisted by his go-to producer Jake Gosling and grime rappers Devlin and JME (all of whom he met in London), sold 10,000 copies and effectively helped him ink a deal with Atlantic/Asylum Records.
Sheeran’s proper debut +, which features the bold “You Need Me, I Don't Need You,” was a shocking success. Now, after three years of touring and writing for One Direction and Taylor Swift, he shows his personal growth on x, with the intent to exponentially supersize the music, concepts, lyrics and venue sizes. The catchy, Pharrell-produced “Sing” soulfully challenges Justin Timberlake’s falsetto crown. He’s equal parts proud and self-depreciating on the dizzying rap bonus cut “Take It Back.” But x isn’t all sunny. “Last year was the best professionally, but the worst personally. At the end of the year, there was quite a lot of shit going on,” Sheeran says, possibly alluding to his fling with Ellie Goulding. “I’m a quiet, chill, happy guy, but everyone goes through dark times. I get rid of them by writing a song.”
That purging comes on “Don’t,” a scathing recall of an unfaithful (singer) ex, believed by many to be about the aforementioned UK starlet Goulding. He sings: “I never saw him as a threat/Until you disappeared with him to have sex, of course/It's not like we were both on tour/We were staying on the same fucking hotel floor.” Sheeran says he hasn’t spoken to the song’s subject since “Don’t” dropped. “I was planning to leave it [off] because it was therapeutic, but the more I listened back I thought this is an alright song,” he says. “I was so frustrated... I couldn’t not write that song.” Ed isn’t jaded, though. For hopeful romantics, there’s the enamored “Thinking Out Loud,” an instantly classic wedding-ready ballad he wrote in his kitchen in February, around the beginning of his blossoming relationship. He says his new non-celebrity love, who works in the culinary industry, helps keep him focused on the music. “My heart is in one place,” Sheeran says. “Different people click. You just need to find the right person.”
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