Ed Sheeran joined Zane Lowe live from his home last night (October 28) for an exclusive Apple Music ‘First Listen’ event. During the livestream he discussed his brand new album ‘=’ and played fans a selection of tracks for the first time.
Speaking with Zane Lowe, Ed revealed his close relationship with Elton John and shared that he calls him everyday, reflected on the importance of honest songwriting and how ‘uncomfortable’ that has been for people close to him, discussed how major life events including the loss of close friend Michael Gudinski have changed his outlook on life, and more.
Please find ProRes clips, key quotes and image below — please credit Zane Lowe / Apple Music First Listen if you’re able to use.
Clip 1: Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Eminem Influencing His Work-Life Balance
Clip 2: Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Fred Again’s Idea of a Country Version Of “Bad Habits”
Clip 3: Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Four Elements That Make Great Music
Clip 4: Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Writing “Visiting Hours”
Clip 5: Ed Sheeran Plays “Overpass Graffiti” On The Banjo
Clip 6: Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About The Emotional Aftermath Of His Record Breaking Tour
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Quarantining And Not Cancelling
I hate letting people down and… I rarely, rarely, rarely ever cancel. I only cancelled gigs from breaking my arms and then one time there was a thunderstorm in Hong Kong… but I rarely, rarely cancel s*** but it was quite heavy at the beginning of the week and I’ve rested a lot, a lot of vitamin C and zinc and D and these pills and I feel a lot better now.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Writing During The Pandemic
I was sort of writing songs anyway and then the pandemic hit. And I sort of took the stillness aspect of it and I did a bit of painting. I did some carpentry, made my daughter’s stuff for her bedroom and then I sort of had the itch, I think. And started trying to write a song a day. And out of those—I probably wrote 20 songs in the space of, like, 20 days, every single day I’d wake up and write a song. And then my friend Johnny who I’d been making the album with, you know, his partner lives in America so he was leaving alone so he came and quarantined in the house next door here for two weeks and then moved in and we basically started working in the studio in our little commune. But that was, like, the beginning of it. I think the first song we wrote for that was the single that comes out with the video today.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Inspiration Versus Hard Work
How can you expect divine inspiration to hit if you haven’t got a guitar in your hand all day every day? That’s my thing, I think the harder you work the luckier you get so I just make sure I’m in the position to always be writing songs and then at some point when that really special moment hits, I’m in a studio rather than, like, driving a car or falling asleep… I just put myself in the position where every single time that that’s hit I’ve been next to a vocal booth basically.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Eminem Influencing His Work-Life Balance
I primarily thought the hip‑hop sessions were nighttime, that’s how I first really started off, was going to the studio at, like, 6:00 p.m., having a bit of food, having a chat, about 9:00 p.m. you get in the booth and then by, like, 6:00 a.m. you’re going home, and that was just the norm. And I remember going to work with Eminem in Detroit and he was like, “No, bro, I get in 9:00 a.m. and leave at 5:00, I can go out to dinner and hang out with my kids.” That I think is the way to do it. Since then the time between 9:00 in the morning and 11:00 in the morning is the most inspiration to me, that’s when your brain is really, really working, so I find all the best stuff is written in the morning and then throughout the day you wind down and by the end of the day you’re kind of done.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About The Inspiration Behind “Bad Habits”
I never worried about making the song authentic because I’ve lived it so I knew exactly what I was talking about, when I say “Nothing happens after 2:00” like everybody, “Nothing good ever happens after 2:00.”
I think in terms of writing the song, it was more a song that I feel like, I hadn’t really… I sort of like delved into it a little bit with “bloodstream” but I hadn’t really written a song like that to a kind of pop level. And yet it just felt like the right thing to do at the time. I wasn’t actually expecting it to be a single for this album, I was working with Fred who goes on to Fred Again, he has a dance group called Rain Radio and he played me that tune “Talk About” months before it came out, and I was like “We should make a tune for Rain Radio featuring me and it should be this song “Bad Habits.” When we finished it actually Fred said, “Oh, we should make this a country tune” so we did a version with loads of slide guitars and lots of, like, thing to pick style stuff. I say country but it was closer to Avicii “Wake me up” than anything.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Four Elements That Make Great Music
I’ve always had this obsession with dance music. I feel, like, quite similar to ’90s hip‑hop as well, has always, like, four great elements, right? So I listen to something like “We Found Love,” Calvin Harris and Rihanna, which I think is a perfect dance song, I mean, it’s perfect. It has four elements, apart from Rihanna’s voice, has four elements that are really, really, really strong on their own. It has the “bling‑bling-bling” on it’s own, very, very catchy, and you’ve got the bass “doom-doom-doom,” very catchy, then the “sss”, and then the kick. And those four together, some drop out, some get put in at some point, that are four key elements that sound great and you bring them in and out. I thought if we nail them with “Bad Habits” we get four things so we get the “ding-ding-ding-ding” and the bass, the kick and the snare, which is pretty much all I have on the loop when I play… If those key elements are there and we get the sound right—like the bass, we spent months and months and months getting that bass crunch proper, getting the kick proper—and that’s in my mind how you would make a perfect dance song, is just finding the key elements and make sure each one is the best sounding piece it can be basically.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About “Bad Habits” Reception
For the first three days, my fans were, like, “No, no, we don’t like this one.” I remember, like, three days into it… On the Monday that it came out, I was like “Man, I think we put out the wrong one.” This song is so odd because it’s not even peaking now, it’s still getting bigger and we’re sort of like five months into it and I sort of thought it was over three, four weeks ago and it’s still going.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About The Meaning Of The Butterflies On The Album Cover
I’ve spent a lot of my 20’s questioning who am I, why am I here, why do I do this, if I’m a singer what do I add to the world, it’s so much questioning. I’ve turned 30 and I feel like some of these questions have started to have answers but they started to have answers through two very, very massive moments in my life which is, one, my daughter being born, which is new life and, one, my friend Michael [Gudinski] dying, which is death. Both hit me in a way where you appreciate tomorrow more because of each one, if that makes sense, and I saw the symbol “equals.” An equals symbol is the end of a question and the start of an answer, it’s in the middle of the two. I definitely feel like being 30 I’m on either sides. In my 20’s there’s a lot of question, in my 30’s there’s a lot of answers, so the butterflies were essentially from a chrysalis, new life. It came to me one day, I don’t know why, but I have a lot of things come to me when I go running and I think it’s because your creative side of your brain sort of opens when you have nothing else to focus on.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Writing “Visiting Hours”
Anthony Clemons had sent me a song called “Visiting Hours.” It was a completely different song. I remember pressing play and one of the lines in it “I wish heaven had visiting hours.” I thought that was a clever thing. I contacted him and I said “Do you mind if I take that line, find inspiration, and create a song from it,” and he said “Go for it.” That was the start of it. The end of it was feeling just, you know, like, I’ve felt grief before because my grandparents passed away and I feel like when your grandparents pass away you’re expecting it because it’s just a thing, people who are old eventually die and that’s just part of life. But this was, like, different I just, like, woke up one morning at 4:00 in the morning with a call from Michael’s son telling me and then that was that. I wasn’t going to speak to him again and that was something I just had to deal with. And I went back to that line, I remember I heard being, like, “I wish heaven had visiting hours.” I remember thinking “Man, I’m sure I’m going to process this and eventually I’m going to find peace with it,” but something that would help me find more peace with it is if I could just have five minutes with him, and to go up there and be, “Hey, man I know I’m not going to see you for a very, very long time but this, this, this, this, and I love you, I’ll see you when I’ll see you,” and that was a way of just writing a tune that’s about acceptance in grief but also just having the door a tiny bit ajar so you can wave goodbye.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About His Songs Belonging to Everyone Once Released
When I record, they’re my thoughts and emotions sort of put into songs and largely quite embarrassing things in my mind that I’m putting down, but I often think if a song doesn’t make me go, “Oh, I don’t want to put that out” then I really shouldn’t put that out, like if it makes me feel embarrassed to release it it’s the right song to do. Because always when I hear songs that I love, be it, you know, connecting with Damian Rice for the first time through music or Eminem and going back to Joni Mitchell, whatever it is, there’s lines they say where you go “Oh my God, that’s exactly what I’m thinking, but I would never say that. And that’s what I would try to do with songwriting. Like sometimes I write a line and I go, “Oh, that’s silly, like, why am I saying that” and that’s the light magic in songwriting. When I write the songs, they’re very, very personal to me but then when I release them, they belong to everyone, therefore, they’re not mine anymore. Which is why, I got asked do I get emotional playing “Visiting Hours” at shows now, I’m like “I don’t, because that song is so important to so many other people now, I don’t feel like that’s my song to hold.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Preferring Writing Songs Than Being A Virtuoso
I know so many people that are amazing musicians that can’t write songs and I know so many songwriters that can write songs that aren’t amazing musicians, and I know which one I’d like to be. I’d much rather write songs than wow you on your guitar.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About How The Album Tracklist Reflects His Life Journey To Date…
It was essentially a journey through the end of my 20s, into my 30s, so it essentially starts off in absolute chaos. I wanted the album with tides it basically starts with really, really quiet. I wanted people to be like f*** it’s not loud enough, and slap you in the face with noise. Then the verse is just chaotic, it’s just…It’s just relentless and then suddenly it just cuts out, time stops still ‘when you’re in my arms’ and there’s this acapella chorus and essentially that’s what the album’s going to be, chaos and calm.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Making The Album For Vinyl…
Vinyl, I made this album for vinyl. It all fits on one, I actually cut off a few songs that I played you so they all fit on one vinyl. “Be Right Now” is exactly the same key and pretty much the same tempo as “Tides”, you flip it over and starts again, it sounds like it’s one loop, basically. Yeah, that’s my little nerd out for the vinyl.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About “First Times”….
Yeah, literally down to walking off stage at Wembley and being like “Am I meant to feel something?” and going into my dressing room, my wife was handing me a beer and oh, my God such a tiny thing that makes you feel so much, the first kiss, the first song that made you cry, first drink, red wine on a step in Brooklyn opposite a pizza restaurant that we love to go to in Brooklyn, it’s bring your own bring your own bottle and they basically give you two glasses and then you sit across the street and wait for your table. The song is basically our first times.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About The Song He Cut From The Album For Lacking Honesty…
There was actually one song on this album before I took it off so it could fit on the vinyl that was a really, really great pop song but it wasn’t 100% honest. It was just, like, it was just good, it just sounded good but it wasn’t like it was something where I could be, like, oh, that was something me and Cherry definitely did or that’s something that’s definitely happened or that something that definitely happened, so I ended up taking it off and it made the album flow so much better.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music That Writing Songs About Loved Ones Has Been ‘Uncomfortable’ For Them…
Zane Lowe: As authentic and honest as writers want to be sometimes, they feel the need to preserve their relationships and protect them or be more metaphorical or be more ambiguous with it, you love to write songs about the loves of your life.
Ed Sheeran: Yeah, and I guess it’s been quite uncomfortable for people that I’ve been with but, like, it’s something that I’ve always done and I do feel like honesty is what I expect from an artist and I don’t want to hear 20% of what you feel, you know, I listen to something like The Marshall Maters LP or the Slim Shady LP and it’s pretty f***** heavy but they felt it, and you listen to it and you’re like “Oh my God, I believe you.” But that’s what you want to hear and you want to hear unfiltered artists.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About His Unique Relationship With Elton John…
I feel like people think I’m exaggerating and lying when I say he calls every day. He calls me every single morning. Even if it’s like 10 seconds, every single morning he calls … This morning, he’s very excited about his album, it’s going to be number one this week and he’s super, super excited. We’ve kind of been following each other’s stuff…. But no, man, he’s, like, you know, just he’s such a caring human. He didn’t ring me every day before. Like, he rung me quite a bit to check up on Lyra, he’s got two kids and he loves seeing parents and blah, blah, blah but when Michael passed away he rung me the day after to check how I was and I really wasn’t good. And then just from that point he’s literally ringing me every single day. I mean, at first it was just to check up on me and now it’s kind of just become part of a daily routine, I’m sort of feeding porridge to Lyra, got a call from Elton, say hi to Lyra, it’s just become a daily thing. There’s not many people in my life like that and, yeah, I really, really appreciate him.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music Why He Doesn’t Consider Ballads To Be His Primary Style Of Songwriting…
I am the ballad guy but, you know, if you look at my repertoire, like, the big songs are, you know, “Shape Of You”, “Perfect”, you’ve got, “Thinking Out Loud,” whatever, “Photograph”, so you’ve got three ballads in there but largely my thing has always been the singing with an acoustic guitar and rapping over it. So ballads came when “Thinking Out Loud” became massive. And then suddenly everyone was “He’s a ballad guy” and I don’t know if I can do that again and “Perfect” comes out and it does it again and more and then I’m, like, I don’t know if I can really do that again. So when “The Joker and The Queen” happened, I wasn’t trying to write a ballad.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music That Playing Zane Lowe “The Joker and The Queen” Gave Him Confidence In The Song…
I was like “Alright metaphors, card game, show your cards on the table, heart, joker, queen, king, diamonds” and it was written very, very quickly and I was very skeptical of the song for months, actually. I was like “I don’t rate it at all.” The more and more people like you that would listen to it, that was a turning point for me, coming to play it for you and you listening to it, I was like “Maybe it is good”, because in my head I was so convinced it was a ‘blah’ song because I’ve made so many ‘blah’ songs that people eventually think of ‘blah’ if that makes sense.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About the Emotional Aftermath of His Record Breaking Tour…
I walk off stage and I’m 28 and I’m sitting in my dressing room and I’m like “That’s it and it’s downhill from here.” I kind of had a month of figuring out if I was OK with it going downhill. And then for the rest of that time it was actually coming to peace with it’s not actually being downhill or bigger it’s not trying to be, like, I’m going out on this tour and I’m not trying to beat my record at all, that’s not on my agenda. I’m not trying to put this album out and sell more copies and divide, it’s not about that at all anymore….It’s about looking at someone like Elton John or a band like Coldplay who I hugely admire… So my view of career now is less about more, more, bigger, bigger, I need to do this because I haven’t done this, it’s more about just like right, I made a really, really great body of work that I love and I really want people to hear this.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About An Unreleased Album From 2017…
I made an entire record for a movie soundtrack in 2017 and it’s beautifully made and I did it in a day with Nashville players, I wrote the songs and I went in acoustically with a classical guitar and I recorded my bits and then I went in with Nashville players and I played it in one day, done. It’s there and it’s all right, like, it probably would have worked just putting it out. I can do that, I can do that tomorrow. That doesn’t excite me. Like, this excites me [‘=’]. I’ve, like, honed and crafted these songs over the course of, like, four years. I’ve made what I think is a perfect album… I mean, I would love to put out the record I made at Blackbird in Nashville, but it’s just, I think the moment’s passed but I do that all the time. All the time I write a bunch of songs and then I get a bunch of players together and then I record it and then it just sits there and it’s, like, for me, that’s not a challenge.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About What Most Interests Him Creatively…
You expect me to sit down with an acoustic guitar, right, and play songs but you listened to “Bad Habits” and you were, like, “Oh, oh, I didn’t think you’d go in that direction” and that’s what excites me. The fact that I can on “Collaborations” be on a song rapping with Eminem and 50 Cent, that excites me, “Shape of You” which can get played at a kid’s birthday party or a club at 2:00 in the morning, that excites me. Like, that’s the sort of thing that gets me excited about music, not doing what everyone thinks I can do.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music The Poignant Way He’s Celebrating His Album’s Release…
I’ve basically got a statue of my friend Michael in my pub and I’ve got a bottle of his favourite wine and I’m going to open that and have a drink with him after this and wait for the album to come out.
More background on Apple Music’s First Listen global event series…
First Listen is a series of free Apple Music hosted virtual launch parties, harkening back to the album listening parties of yore but now with almost unlimited ways for artists to connect with and treat their biggest fans to something special before releasing new music to the world. Acting as a live event extension of some of Apple Music’s most popular and influential playlists, these virtual listening parties could include everything from unreleased tracks, to special surprise guests and more. Previous events featured some of the world’s biggest artists including Olivia Rodrigo, Shawn Mendes, BLACKPINK, Bruce Springsteen, Keith Urban, Rauw Alejandro, Karol G, Moneybagg Yo, Migos, Dan + Shay, Belly, J Balvin and many more.