George Ezra still gets excited about playing in New York City. Since his hit “Budapest” became an international success three years ago, he’s been a part of shows such as Coachella, Lollapalooza, Glastonbury and, well, ones in Budapest.
But it’s been more than a year since the British singer/songwriter has performed in New York, until he takes the stage at Bowery Ballroom on Monday night. He’s hoping it’s as memorable as most of the “beautiful gigs” he’s played here, although some of them he can’t even remember at all.
“We supported Sam Smith at, what do you call it, the bloody Madison Square Garden, which is insane,” Ezra recalls of his show from January 2015. “That’s a blur though—I don’t know if I enjoyed that or not. Before I had time to think about it, it was over.”
Now a month and a half since the release of his new single, “Don’t Matter Now,” Ezra has had a summer full of shows. The last 18 months since he finished touring for his first album have been quite an adjustment for the 24 year old. His 2014 debut album, “Wanted on Voyage,” went four-times platinum in the U.K., and peaked in the U.S. at No.1 as a Billboard Top Folk Album and at No. 6 as Billboard Top Rock Album.
To shake off the rust and get back into the swing of touring, Ezra planned a “Top Secret Tour” earlier in the summer where he played in smaller towns throughout the U.K., trying to reach audiences they wouldn’t typically see. With a “newish” band that has added a different bassist, a keyboardist and a brass section to those he toured with before, Ezra said the secretive shows were a good way for the group to warm up and play tighter together.
“The response on that tour was better than I expected and that’s not because I didn’t think it was going to go well. I got myself quite nervous beforehand, thinking that I didn’t know how to perform,” Ezra said. “After the first chord of the first song on the first night it was like ‘Oh yeah, this is what you do.’”
Once Ezra finished his first tour in 2015, he wrote “Don’t Matter Now.” But the rest of the pending album didn’t come as quickly. After having more experience in front of his own fan base instead of just coffee shops or bars, Ezra said he had fun considering what he and his audience can do best together knowing what he can write to get them to sing along.
But he didn’t want to write an album just for the sake of it and figuring out what his second album will be about took a little more time. Ezra decided to take a month to hang around Barcelona (a city that inspired one of the hits from his first album), suddenly feeling energized by the idea of relaxation and taking the back seat sometimes.
“I felt like a student again for the first time since I was 18, which was lovely. I had no real reason each day, I just walked about,” he said. “And that’s when that time became important for me. Before I’d actually gone away, I didn’t know that I had needed it. I’ve realized none of us really have a clue what we’re doing out there, and that made me relax a lot.”
After listening through his new material, Ezra said he realized he was writing about the crazy year that was 2016, even though he didn’t intend to. His songs showed “a very George Ezra take” on current events and how he finds the positivity in taking himself away from it all. His goofy alter ego, Geoff Ezra (a.k.a. Young Geoff), may even be sprinkled throughout the new record. “It depends, it might be different from track to track,” he said laughing.
Ezra has teased fans with “Don’t Matter Now,” which he says is a perfect introduction to how the rest of the album will feel. The song, all about forgetting anxieties and living in the moment, features the familiar sounds from “Wanted on Voyage,” but with an added brass section to liven things up even more.
The single was released along with a music video featuring George and a rather fluffy pupper riding around the countryside. Ezra doesn’t know how to drive and isn’t the biggest fan of dogs, but knew this video was going to be the exact vibe he was looking for.
Though not quite the notable face of Ian McKellan, who was featured in Ezra’s “Listen to the Man” video back in 2014, Ezra’s costar was quite the “diva dog” who strutted in with her own agent and a team of makeup artists.
“She was a very well behaved dog on the first day,” he said. “Her temperament changed on the second day and we fell out, we haven’t spoken since. I should probably be the bigger man and give her a call.”
Matching to the tone of “Don’t Matter Now,” Ezra said he never felt pressure to produce something bigger than what he debuted with, and instead focused on writing songs that felt good. Although he isn’t writing from the same place he was when putting together “Wanted on Voyage,” channeling himself back to his days as a kid from Hertford, England wasn’t too difficult for Ezra.
“I’ve got the attention span of a gnat, so it’s pretty easy to forget about the pressure,” he laughed. “I think part of the success of the first record was the fact that it wasn’t overthought, I really believe that.”
There isn’t a release date, or even a name, for the new album yet, but Ezra promises it will live up to his standard.
“What I can say is that there will be an album one day, that’s an exclusive for you. I know people say this, but it’s bloody good. I’m proud of it, which is the important thing, isn’t it? I’ve got to live with it.”
George Ezra will perform a sold-out show tonight at the Bowery Ballroom