George Ezra is busy looking at everything around our very messy office - from our Billie Eilish cover poster hanging on the wall (“she’s cool,” he proclaims), to a Paddington toy perched in a corner, which of course, leads to a very in-depth discussion about his favourite bear (and the latest movie).
Ezra’s return to New Zealand earlier this year for Auckland City Limits had been a very long time coming - especially considering he already has a platinum certified album with his debut, ‘Wanted On Voyage’. His sophomore ‘Staying At Tamara’s’ sees Ezra delve deeper into his own life, and it’s gaining an equally as popular following - as evidenced prior to the album’s release, a crowd singalong of ‘Shotgun’ echoing throughout the ACL venue.
We spoke with Ezra in New Zealand about the new album, our culture of negativity, and his very talented family…
...all of us need a purpose and a reason... and it is nice to feel like you're part of something, whatever it is that might be - a community at some level is important.
COUP DE MAIN: Welcome back to New Zealand! Do you have any days off this time around so that you can explore our country?
GEORGE EZRA: Yes! Yay! Yesterday was my last day off. It is kind of my New Year’s resolution-- it is so easy to get off a plane and go, ‘Okay, I'm going to get room service and I'm going to phone home and I'm going to catch up with everyone and go to bed,’ and technically that is what you need, but it's also… With the first record, it was so new, and it's not that I didn't appreciate it, but everything was a whirlwind and everything was a new experience. Every place I went to, it was the first time, and every work experience was new, whereas this time I'm able to sort of sit back and take it in a bit more. So we landed on Monday [in New Zealand] and we went to the Auckland Domain which was beautiful, and we walked through the University of Auckland, they were having an open day and people were trying to hand me flyers <laughs> and then we also came up to Karangahape Road, we walked around here and we went to Ponsonby. No word of a lie, two days ago we spent 45 minutes in, you know that crazy shop down below [your office]?
GEORGE: Yeah! It was insane, we couldn't get our heads out of it. They have everything, and there is like-- bless them, they are selling things that have obviously been translated that don't quite add up. <laughs> I didn't know brunch could be as good as it is, so I have been eating good and walking around. I haven't used any public transport, I have walked everywhere, it has been very nice.
CDM: 'Pretty Shining People' has a lot of interesting life insights. Did you decide to have it open the album sort of as a mission statement for how you’re feeling about life right now?
GEORGE: Yeah, I mean this is only my second record so I'm learning still, but I think a nice thing to do is to open a record with something, if someone was not going to listen to the rest of the album, it is the conclusion of it all and sums up the feeling of what I was trying [to say]. When I wrote that song, I went, ‘Fuck, that is what I have been trying to write every song!' I think one of the main themes of the record is this idea of escaping, it is hard to find words that aren't 'escape', but switching off and taking yourself away, and mainly, not feeling guilty about that. And also I can't tell you how happy I am right now that I'm busy again. Having not been busy, at the time I didn't know something was wrong, but it was and it wasn't good - I think all of us need a purpose and a reason, and every job done properly is important, and it is nice to feel like you're part of something, whatever it is that might be - a community at some level is important. So 'Pretty Shining People', the first thing I wrote was the, 'Why, why, what a terrible time to be alive,’ and I was like, 'Fuck that is the darkest lyric I've ever written - that is not good!', and so I was like, 'Okay, if you're going to sing that you need to counteract it with the most positive lyric you're ever going to write,’ so the chorus is then, 'Hey pretty shining people, we're alright together.’
CDM: It's like a cool juxtaposition.
GEORGE: Yeah! The middle eight is borderline cheesy, ‘Don't we all need love, the answer is easy.’ It is so feel-good, so yeah, I love that song.
MY FAVOURITE SONG ON ‘STAYING AT TAMARA’S IS…
[Car drawing credit: Jess Barnett]
CDM: Did Billie Marten and Florrie sing back-up vocals on 'Don't Matter Now'? How did that come about?
GEORGE: So Cam Blackwood, who produced my first record and this record, produced Billie Marten’s record, and while she was in the studio, Cam rang me up and was like, 'Would you mind coming down and playing guitar on this song?' And I was like, 'Definitely, I will be there,’ so I played guitar on a song on her record, I can't remember which one it is now. It was a really incidental thing, it is sort of part of the song, but it’s not garish, it’s part of the soundscape. She came down once or twice while we were recording just to hang out and we went for dinner and drinks and one day... It’s nice when people walk through your door, and you're just like, 'Do you want to play on this? Do you want to sing on this?' On the first record, I did it with family a lot, and also on the first album there was very few backing vocals. There was only two songs that had any backing vocals and I think it was like 'Leaving It Up To You' and 'Breakaway'. I could be wrong, I know those two, but there might be more. <laughs> Whereas this time around, almost every song has got some form of backing vocals, because I think now I know what it's like to play live, I know what it's like to play with a band, I know what it's like to have an audience that know your lyrics and it's nice to play to that, and to recreate that feeling in the studio was really enjoyable.
CDM: “But with love there is no uncertainty, it is what it is and I liken it to paradise,” you've said about ‘Paradise’. What do you think it is about love which is such a pure and straightforward feeling for you?
GEORGE: I can't answer that! I don't know, not because I know and I can't tell you, but I don't know. It's giddy and it's just-- nothing else matters, the world can be falling apart around you and you're kind of oblivious, and I know that is maybe not the best thing to admit, but you're so consumed by this thing.
MY IDEA OF ‘PARADISE’…
CDM: “No matter where you go, babe / I’ll be there,” is a really romantic sentiment in ‘All My Love’. What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done, aside from writing that song?
GEORGE: I guess I'm romantic at times. I don't know if this is romantic, but it’s something that I know I like to do and I like it when I get it as well, is when somebody is not feeling great, whether that be a bit ill or something, and I go out and get the ultimate hamper. So I go and get everything you know that they want but they probably won't buy themselves - like all of the snacks, every snack, and also every single drug option under the sun; prescription drugs! I like doing that and I also like surprises, although there is nothing I hate more - I can't handle it when someone says, 'Oh, I've got a surprise for you!' If they say that to me, then I'm like, ‘You have to tell me, I can't live without knowing.’
CDM: It’s so cruel!
GEORGE: It's so shit, it's really not fun. I like genuine surprises when they have no idea.
CDM: “I don’t even want to go out tonight, I’ve got you by my side,” is another lyrical highlight on the album, from 'Sugercoat'. It kinda reminds me of Feist’s song ‘Any Party’ from last year, which has the sentiment of “I’d leave any party for you.”
GEORGE: I love Feist. Do you know that song ‘Secret Heart’? <sings “secret heart, what are you made of>.
CDM: Do you agree that choosing to stay home with someone (or choosing to leave a party for someone) is the ultimate expression of love - where you’re prioritising someone above anything else?
GEORGE: Do you know what? I don't think it is a big move of romance, because I think what actually happens, is the reality is it’s actually just funner to be with that person than to be [at a party]. I'm not good with parties, I like parties when it’s actually my friends, but I just wish I was that guy!
CDM: It's hard when there is like twenty unknown people and you're just like, 'What are we going to talk about?', and you have to introduce myself.
GEORGE: Yeah! Did you go to University?
GEORGE: Right, so I did a year at university and every day it was like, 'Where are you living? What are you studying?' My favourite idea of a party is you and your closest friends, you go to the pub, you stay until curfew - until you're kicked out - and then you all go home and you stay up until the sun comes up and there is no-one that you don't know there. I love that.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT TAMARA…
CDM: You've said, "It’s not very cool to be happy. I’m going to bring it back!" Why do you think there’s such a culture of negativity where being enthusiastic is frowned upon as being uncool?
GEORGE: Because of Morrissey? <laughs> I don't know... some people just love it, don’t they?
CDM: It feels like it's easier to be negative a lot of the time.
GEORGE: Yeah and also it's that thing of like, 'Come on, think about it, it's not that bad!' I'm not belittling anything that anyone is going through, but we live very comfortable lives now - well a lot of us do, I know that not everybody out there does, but there is relative comfort in a lot of our lives - and then what happens is that it becomes easy to be negative about the smallest things. Every gig I ever play, I walk onstage and I go, ‘This is the one George, this is the gig where you are going to be cool, you're going to be a popstar, you're going to be a rockstar,’ and then like two choruses in I'm grinning from ear to ear, that's not cool but that's fine - maybe if I own it, it is cool.
CDM: I feel like everyone at your show is excited and wants to be there, so...
GEORGE: Yeah, I am too! I think it's cooler when you go and see any other band and they walk onstage and they're moody and it’s like that old sexy thing of like--
CDM: To an extent, but then I also feel like the the audience feeds off people that look happy.
GEORGE: Off your energy, yeah exactly.
CDM: Who sings the solo line on ‘The Beautiful Dream’?
GEORGE: That is Florrie again! That is a song that when I hear it, I love it because I don't remember writing that. I don't know if I'll ever play that one live, it just sounds too good recorded, I don't want to try to recreate it, it is a nice way to close the album.
CDM: You've got a history of name-dropping locations in your songs and you continue it on this new album. When is your Flight Centre travel ambassadorship coming through?
GEORGE: <laughs> I love the fact that I have gotten away with opening a song with, 'Once upon a time.' <laughs> When I did that I was like, 'Can I get away with this?' And then I was like, ‘Fuck it, you've done it, it’s fine.’ There is another song and I don't know if I should say this because people will ask me about it, but there is a song called 'Manhattan' that didn't make the cut, and then in 'Pretty Shining People' there is America. Where else? Paris in ‘All My Love’. I don't know, I just really, really struggle with being creative at home. I struggle when I'm in my comfort zone to write, there are so many distractions, so I have to take myself away, and for me it is just such an inspiring thing to think about other places in a whimsical way.
CDM: As a fan of Paddington Bear, have you seen the latest Paddington movie? Thoughts?
GEORGE: I haven't seen the new movie, but genuinely this is an issue. I'm not good with the cinema in that I have to time it right. I don't ever want to go when a film has just come out because it makes me feel so weird being in a full cinema. I just don't like it, so then I have to time it, because obviously how long is a movie usually at the cinema?
CDM: Normally like a month.
GEORGE: Yeah, and then often I'm away, so the timing has to be just right.
CDM: I wonder if it's on a plane, do you watch movies on planes?
GEORGE: I do!
CDM: ‘Paddington 2’ is very emotional, I cried three times.
GEORGE: I cried in the first one a lot.
CDM: Oh, you'll cry even more in this one. It's so emotional.
GEORGE: I've watched this series called ‘Tudor Monastery Farm’, ‘Edwardian Farm’, and ‘Victorian Farm’ - there is one historian and two archaeologists from the UK, who live for a whole year having to get a whole farm working by only using the tools that they had then. I used to watch it on YouTube but they’ve been taken down because they are BBC, so I bought the DVDs last month on Amazon and my laptop doesn't have a CD drive so I had to buy an external CD player, and I was on the plane with this setup, I looked insane.
CDM: I saw a similar show which was maybe BBC, they did eras of food and could only live on like potatoes in the 1850s.
GEORGE: Did you know the potato still hadn't arrived in England in the Tudor times? It wasn't a thing, so people got their protein from peas, so everyone had to grow peas because you needed them-- sorry, I could go on, I'm just obsessed, I love it.
George Ezra’s album ‘Staying At Tamara’s’ is out now - click here to purchase.
Watch the ‘Shotgun’ music video below…