It’s one of those muggy early summer days in London when the weather can’t decide what mood it’s in. Glorious sunshine quickly turns to apocalyptic rain. By the time I arrive at the pub in north London where I’m meeting George Ezra, I’m hot, sticky and shedding layers; Ezra is sitting serenely in a quiet corner dressed in immaculate double denim. I feel like a ball of tumbleweed that’s just blown into a meditation session.
Ezra radiates calm. With two number one albums under his belt, he’s one of the country’s biggest popstars, his easy, anthemic songs crossing age boundaries – and yet he might be the most low-key celebrity I have met. He smiles easily and thinks very carefully about everything he says. When I tell him we’ve met once before at an awards show, and that he was the one person who was nice to me that day, he looks surprised. “Was I not supposed to be nice to you?”
It’s this breezy manner that has kept him grounded. His surprisingly deep, rich voice and hooky pop’n’roll guitar anthems may have made him popular with radio listeners and festival-goers, who tipsily sing along to inescapable mega-hits such as “Shotgun” and “Budapest”, but he can also happily hop on the train and zip between Hertford, where he grew up and now lives, and Stoke Newington without worrying about being hassled. That’s the way he likes it. “It was a busy commuter train and no one seemed to care,” he grins. “It’s amazing. It feels like having my cake and eating it.”
In general, George Ezra is feeling good. “It kind of feels like I’m observing the release of this record almost outside of it,” he says. His third album, Gold Rush Kid, is out in just over a week and his life is currently a mix of interviews, awards shows and festival appearances. But having thrown himself headfirst into the madness for his earlier albums, he’s setting some boundaries this time.
Back in 2018, the success of “Shotgun” threw him for a loop. “I didn’t know what the parameters were of the thing I was looking for,” he says. So when the song became the kind of inescapable zeitgeist-defining hit that it did, even though he had pursued it, had wanted that kind of success, it was overwhelming when it happened. “I was terrified,” he says. “You’ve opened these floodgates.”
He thought it would mean that thousands of people would suddenly treat him differently, the reality of major celebrity suddenly hitting him. He was anxious that people would suddenly start combing through his bins, chasing him through the streets and selling stories of what he was buying in his weekly shop to the red tops. But it didn’t happen. “The truth is, people want good music to soundtrack life and a lot of the time we’re not that fussed where it comes from. That was a great thing for me to realise.”
He loves being able to switch between George Ezra, famous pop star, and George Barnett, regular person; going to the pub, slipping out into festival crowds (with the help of a bit of face paint; he is famous after all).
In contrast to today’s chill, the first few months of working on his third album felt fraught. He had always slept well, but suddenly found his nights restless and wakeful. He thinks now that it was because Gold Rush Kid became his most personal record. Both 2014’s Wanted on Voyage and 2018’s Staying At Tamara’s were influenced by travels undertaken specifically to give him something to write about – but with the world locked down, he had to turn a little more inward.
“I’ve done an awful lot of just analysing thought and feeling myself – and not being able to pin it on other people, which I’ve done in the past. That’s the beauty of travelling: I used to be able to pin the record on these journeys and it deflected from having to actually talk about the songs, or the thoughts and feelings behind them.”
This time, there is no such distance. There is a stunning track called “I Went Hunting”, which isn’t Ezra’s coming out as a steeple chaser but rather a gently anxious song about going looking for problems in his mind; he has a form of OCD that rears its head in the track, the lyrics mirroring the thoughts that circle around and around in his mind.
He writes about a future meeting with “The One”, the flush of new love, the fear of relationships that end, the hope of a new day and, more than once, about death. He is comfortable in these feelings, in sharing them and talking about them. “I think that’s why I love [this album] so much.”
Though Gold Rush Kid starts out with the jaunty, joyful pop that Ezra is so adept at (just try getting “Anyone For You” out of your head), it switches to introspection a few tracks in. But it’s not doomy, the-world’s-a-mess Eilish-esque darkness, but contemplation of the things in life that are complete and incomplete for him.
The mantra-like closing track, “Sun Went Down”, features the repeated lyric, “I could die now, I’m so happy I could die now.” When I bring this up, he closes his eyes like he’s basking in the sun and says, “I just felt so good.” He also sings about death on the fantastically upbeat “Green Green Grass”, inspired by a funeral procession he saw in St Lucia that prompted the line:“You better throw a party on the day that I die.”
He is introspective about death. “It’s hard for the human brain, I think, to be able to understand the idea of infinite time, infinite space,” he says. “We know that things start and end, but the universe boggles my mind. And when I try to imagine myself starting and ending, that boggles my mind: both extremes surely can’t be true. It’s terrifying.” Changing how he thought about death and the people left behind was extremely comforting, though – hence the party vibe of “Green Green Grass”.
“When you lose people you love, it’s so hard. But I think that our experience in St Lucia was just beautiful because it was so effortless for the people involved. It was really true. It was a really pure experience.”
By all accounts the new, relaxed George Ezra has a very chilled life. He’s excited that today he will be home by 5pm and can go for a walk through the town, cook dinner, relax.
It seems almost as though he’s enamoured with the 9-5 life. He tells me how much he enjoys getting the train into London like a commuter, which I imagine a few commuters out there might have a thing or two to say about. “I envy a way of life,” he clarifies. “I envy the friends of mine who have routine.”
In October 2020, he moved out of London to Hertford, the county town where he grew up. He started looking for other ways to release his anxieties and to let go of things he couldn’t control. He implemented a kind of routine, started meditating, spent more time with family and old friends, and found joy and relaxation in walking (last year he walked from Lands End to John O’Groats, the journey he had planned to inspire his third album but realised he didn’t need). It was a welcome period of connecting back to the everyday things that he had lost in the whirlwind of a career as a major musician.
When we say goodbye outside the pub, as he casually bites into an apple and swings a golf umbrella, it feels like the two sides of George Ezra are finally happily coexisting. A very famous man disappears quietly into a crowd, just the way he likes it.
Gold Rush Kid is out on Friday 10 June