Several audiences in Europe have just witnessed George Ezra play for the first time. ‘Budapest’ - a song devoted to a city he hadn’t even bothered visiting at the time of writing - is striking gold in almost every European capital going. It’s one of the twenty most played songs on the radio (“It’s probably my mum in the kitchen,” is the explanation) and for the first time in his life, George is being treated like a star. He doesn’t like it.
“It’s weird seeing people treat you different. Doing a TV programme and there’s a runner, someone’s going ‘Do you need anything George?’ I’m like no, I know the tap’s there and water’s over there, if I need something I’ll get it’,” he says, having just returned from a three month trip. “This came up in conversation when I was in Europe. They said, ‘You seem to take the piss a lot. Will some people be offended?’”
If Ezra’s beginning to be treated as serious business elsewhere in Europe, back in the UK he shouldn’t be under any illusion: people expect big things over here, too. But one of the underlying reasons why the acoustic guitar-wielding George stands out in a crowd of fellow strummers, is because he does - with every inch of his being - take the piss.
Word’s just got round that he’s allowed to have a backdrop and a new drum skin on stage. The drum skin will “definitely just be #petan,” a hashtag that’s followed George around from the very beginning. Nobody really knows what the word means - not even the man himself. “I made it up in Bristol and we used it as a word for anything; positive, negative, past, present, future. It was all about the eyes - how you said it.”
“I don’t get why people take themselves seriously.”
A conversation was had about the backdrop also simply saying “#petan”. No album title. No cover art. Just a made up word that somehow bonds this twenty-one-year-old songwriter and his fans. In the build up to the release of ‘Wanted On Voyage’, his chart-bothering first album, every tiny detail is being planned out. George knew he didn’t want the album to be self-titled. The artwork couldn’t just be a standard portrait shot of him looking forlorn, like a traveller about to be set free. He’s also planning merch. Attempts to sell baboon masks on stands have gotten off to a shaky start. “I’ve started a character called Aztec Dave,” explains George. “He’s made a few appearances. I bought a baboon mask for £18 in Edinburgh - maybe that’s why I had such a good time in Edinburgh - and I called him Aztec Dave. We’re trying to sell them at gigs.”
There doesn’t appear to be a serious bone in George’s body, but he puts it well by saying: “What I don’t take seriously is myself, because I’ve lived with myself for twenty years. I know there’s no point in taking myself seriously. I don’t get why people take themselves seriously. People who complain about their passport photos - that’s definitely you. That’s what you look like.”
If there’s one thing this musician takes wholly seriously, it’s the songs he’s writing. Yes, they’ll contain inside jokes, tongue-in-cheek references. A track about the fleeting passing of time? Sure, he’ll name that ‘Cassy O’’ (following a quick legal check with the actual watch company - they wanted to make sure they weren’t being ripped off). But deep down behind the hashtags and the retweets, there’s some genuine meaning to what George is doing.
‘Wanted On Voyage’ documents the time he went travelling on his own, penning songs as he discovered new cities. It possesses everything but the typical “gap yah” mentality. There’s no banter cruise, no regaled tales of winding up naked and bleary eyed on a Prague riverbank with a lost passport. This trip ended up being the basis behind the debut, almost by default. When Ezra started recording the album back in November, he was travelling from Bristol to London everyday. There was no great inspiration in that routine. “I can’t inspire an album on a First Great Western train,” he says. Instead George looked back to a point in his life “when I wanted to prove something and to do something new.”
The travelling spirit’s still there. A recent string of UK and European tour dates totalled up to almost sixty shows in two and a bit months. The sense of it being a slog only cropped up when George ended up in venues without a kettle (“Our rider is pretty much fruit, a kettle and some honey and lemon. I bought myself a kettle. A proper one. I was making a point about it.”) He feels most at home on the road. “I’m not going to be able to do this in fifty years, in this way. It’s an opportunity,” he says.
In part a tribute to the record’s themes, George took fans on a great big trip to - you guessed it - Budapest. The Ezra Express, as it’s been labelled, picked up fellow #petan-heads at various train stops across Europe. Competition winners had access, although any old sod could have hopped on board. “You can’t police sanity,” George jokes, but the whole trip went off without a hitch. His fans are lovely people, not obsessive hashtaggers. The same applies for his shows. “Firstly they’re really mixed age-wise,” George lists off. “And secondly they’re really chilled out. One thing that the tour’s been is actually really comforting. I’ve realised that the fan base, as it were, the crowd that I have - are lovely.”
When George is back home, strung out from travels, he reaches out to his creature comforts. “Feet up. Bath. Gogglebox,” he lists, referring at the end to his favourite TV show. “If someone says, ‘Hey, let’s watch this programme of people watching programmes’ you’d be like ‘What the fuck has this world come to?’. But the humbling thing is, you kind of fall in love with all the couples and the characters. I’m not very patriotic at all, but I’m happy to share with these guys.” Ok, so maybe that’s two things George is willing get serious about: music, and programmes about people watching programmes.
Taken from the new DIY Weekly, available to download for iPhone, iPad and Android or read online now. George Ezra’s debut album ‘Wanted on Voyage’ will be released on 30th June via Columbia Records; he’ll play Latitude this July.