Hot on the heels of his chart-topping album “X,” British pop star Ed Sheeran has embarked on an “intimate” arena tour.
At 23, the singer-songwriter is no stranger to life on the road, playing seemingly endless dates (including a reported 300 shows in 2009 alone) in support of the music that fuels his soul.
Sheeran paid his dues busking on street corners and playing more than his share of pubs, small halls and open mic nights, until his 2011 debut album “+” made him a household name on this side of the Atlantic and spawned the breakout hits “The A Team” and “Lego House.” “X” breakouts include the Pharrell Williams co-penned “Sing” and the hugely personal breakup anthem “Don’t.”
I spoke to Sheeran via email about Williams, the new tour, working with his good pal Taylor Swift, and staying true to himself.
Q. How has the arena tour been going? What’s been the biggest challenge and the biggest surprise?
Ed Sheeran: It’s been going well, I can’t complain. I’d say the intimacy of an arena [is what] I had to get used to. At first I was nervous but gradually things changed. I’ve been having such fun on this tour.
Q. It’s almost impossible to pigeonhole you into one music genre. Where does your love for so many different types of music come from?
ES: Growing up, I was exposed to all different genres of music. My dad listened to a lot of Bob Dylan when I was younger. I grew up in school listening to hip-hop like Eminem.
Q. The word “passion” is always mentioned when your music is written about. Can you describe this seemingly endless supply you possess for the songs you do?
ES: Writing songs is an interesting process. I’ve written some pretty bad songs, but you need to get those bad songs out to make room for the good songs. I pull inspiration from real emotion, whether it’s something that has happened to me or one of my mates.
Q. You just finished up a cut with DJ Martin Garrix? Can you tell me about it?
ES: It’s my first step into the EDM world. Though it’s not full-blown EDM, it’s a little more laid back.
ED SHEERAN When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday Where: Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont Tickets: $59.50 Visit: ticketmaster.com
Q. Is Nashville still your current home base?
ES: I actually don’t live in Nashville. I was renting a house there while I was on tour [with Taylor Swift], because we would often have a break of a few days in between shows, so I’d go there to write and work on songs for this record that I just released. It was quite nice there.
Q. How much does country music influence your work, your songwriting?
ES: I don’t know, to be honest. I’ve never really thought about it. I think lyrics of country tunes are great because they are very honest. There’s a lot more freedom in writing country songs, in a way. Maybe when this is all said and done, I’ll write a whole country album [laughs].
Q. Nashville can be a songwriter’s paradise. Have you found that to be the case, and how so?
ES: I’ve written songs in the strangest places, so it’s hard to say. Nashville definitely has a different energy than New York or Los Angeles, when it comes to writing songs. It’s very zen and quiet, though. Songwriting to me is very therapeutic.
Q. Can you talk about your work with Taylor Swift and what that brought to the table in terms of your growth as an artist and performer?
ES: Taylor is great. Working with her is always fun. She tells me like it is and pushes me be risky with my music.
Q. Same for Pharrell. Seems you’re working with the hottest names in music these days. What was that experience like?
ES: Pharrell is also very edgy with music. His ideas for my music are unlike things I could imagine, so he’s definitely helped me get out of my shell.
Q. Do you find time to write while you’re touring, and if so, what kinds of things are you writing these days? What new musical roads would you like to travel and why?
ES: In the last three weeks I’ve actually written around nine songs. I find touring to be a bit more relaxing, I can lounge around a bit. I’m writing everything. Anything that comes to mind I write. I would like to get into country and see what I could do with that. I just think it would be fun.
Q. You’ve written songs for Taylor Swift and One Direction, opposite ends of the spectrum in so many ways. How do you find the soul of so many diverse artists in the words/music you write, so that it all works out in the end?
ES: Sometimes I write with someone’s voice in mind, because sometimes I just want to write a pop tune even though it may not work for me. It may work for someone else. It’s fun to play around with melodies, lyrics, things like that.
Q. You pretty much started your music career as a teen, 14 or 15. How did you stay focused, grounded, true to who you are?
ES: In many ways, you are a reflection of the team you surround yourself with. I’ve surrounded myself with people who aren’t afraid to tell me when I’m out of line. They keep me focused and have my best interests at heart. Aside from that, you just need to have fun with what you do. It’s definitely a job, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m fortunate that my job just so happens to be my passion.
Posted at 11:55 p.m. on Sept. 15, 2014.