Ed Sheeran joins Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1 for an in-depth conversation about exploring grief, depression, hope, and honesty on his new album ‘-‘ (pronounced ’Subtract’), which he calls his “most uncomfortable record”. He tells Apple Music about finding freedom in honesty and discusses fighting copyright lawsuits and why he would never consider litigation against a fellow songwriter.
He also opens up about making an album to process his grief, crying daily since the passing of his friend Jamal Edwards, embracing a healthier lifestyle since becoming a father, why he hates the idea of being the “sad pop star”, and how his friendship with Taylor Swift led to his collaboration with The National’s Aaron Dessner. “This is the best conversation I’ve had in ages,” he tells Zane. “This is f***ing great…some subjects here, people tell me not to talk about…”
VIDEO | Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Exploring Grief and Depression on New Album ‘-‘, Finding Freedom in Honesty, Friendship with Taylor Swift, Copyright Lawsuits, and More
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music His New Album ‘-‘ Is The Most Human He’s Ever Been and His Most Uncomfortable Record …
I am who I am, and I’m definitely not a perfect human being. And I do make mistakes, but the album that I’ve made is about being honest. There’s probably stuff in this interview that’s going to be sensationalized and make headlines and…I hope people just see me as a human being and not a statistic crazed pop monster.
The reason I’ve cried during the interview is this is real life for me. This is stuff that I’m still going through, I’m still processing. And I feel like this record is definitely the most human that I’ve been. I hate it when artists go, “It’s my most personal record yet,” because I feel like each record I put out is super personal.
This is just more uncomfortable. I think it’s my most uncomfortable record. As I’m getting older, I’m getting less uncomfortable just being comfortable in my own skin, I guess, and not afraid what people think.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Why Releasing ‘-‘ is Foreign Territory to Him…
Aaron will tell you this, but he sent me seven instrumentals one day and I sent them all back in two and a half hours and we have all the time stamps on it. So it was like, and it’s songs like Sycamore, which is one of my favorite songs that I’ve… That’s what I find really uncomfortable about the release of the album is I have no idea.
It’s foreign territory for me… even with Plus or Multiply, it’s like you write for three years and you pick the best songs and then that’s the album. Whereas this one, I wrote for a month and all of those songs are coming out. There’s a bonus of the album with eight songs and that’s all that I wrote in that time. And it’s coming out.
And it’s not even necessarily a risk because it is what my fans originally liked me for, which was singer-songwriter stuff. Each my albums, I’ve always been like, well, I know I’ve got this and I know I’ve got this and I know I’ve got this.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Making an Album About Grief and Depression and Talking It a Day at a Time…
I sent this record to the record label, and they were like, “Is it a breakup album?” And it’s not. It’s an album about… grief and depression and stuff. I feel that I don’t want to give too much context and hammer it home, because I don’t want people listening to Eyes Closed and be like, “This is about Ed’s friend that died.” I want people to listen to it and relate it to their own life.
One of the things that I realized most in making this record and feeling the way I felt throughout Cherry’s cancer diagnosis and Jamal dying, and the court case, and then Shane dying first day of the court case. Just all of these things like that, those days were horrible days. And then it gets to midnight and then the next day begins. And that’s either going to be another bad day or it might be a good day.
The thing about grieving or even anxiety about Cherry’s health or feeling depressed and stuff like that, none of that matters with your kids because they’re just like… I would go to bed crying, I’d cry myself to sleep after spending hours and hours at Jamal’s mural and I’d get in at two and I just remember just sobbing. And then waking up in the morning at six to your daughter being like, “Hey, let’s eat porridge.”
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Finding Freedom In Honesty, Fighting The Lawsuit, and Capturing What He’s Gone Through on His New Album…
Ed: The thing that it’s quite freeing is usually if we did an interview, there’d be things that I’d be like, I’m not going to talk about that because that’ll be sensationalized and go to a thing. And there’s something very freeing about being like, “Yeah, this is what’s f***ing going on, and I don’t care how people take it.
This is how I feel. This is what’s happened. This is what’s happened in my past.” And there’s something very freeing about just being honest. And what’s the worst thing that can happen? This is the thing, even with the lawsuit stuff. When people are like, “Don’t talk about it, don’t talk about it,” I’m like, “Why? What do you think my opinion is?
This is my opinion.” Obviously, I’m f***ing fighting it. Or my opinion on alcohol abuse or drug abuse or depression or stuff, this is it. This is it. This is how I feel. And I might not feel like that in five years’ time and things change, but this is it now.
And I think artists, we’re expected to be these, as you said, this sheen and this perfect thing and never have struggle. “Why would you ever have struggles? You are not a human being.”It’s a thing that’s expected, and it’s a thing that I’ve played into over the last 13 years of my career, of just being like, keep calm and shut up, and just get on stage, sing the songs and…
Zane: …Be grateful for the success you have…
Ed: Totally. Mate, I am. See, I love it. I love getting on stage and singing songs, but with this album, it’s what I’ve gone through and I want people to listen to it basically, and I hope they do.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music How The Court Cases Have Impacted His Songwriting and That He Would Never Consider Litigation…
Zane: Did the court case change the way that you approach songwriting? Even subliminally, you must hear things… And go, that sounds a little bit like this. Sounds a little bit like that.
Ed: Totally. Yeah, yeah. All the time. All the time.
Zane: Do you ever consider litigation or what’s your feeling on that now that you’ve been on the receiving end of that?
Ed Sheeran: I would just never do it. I’d just never do it. I feel like if people felt that they had would come to me… And I’ve cleared songs for people that have come. There was a Rod Wave song where he used to sample of my song, U.N.I, and he came to me and cleared it. And that’s like, yeah. The thing with these cases, it’s not usually song writers that are suing song writers.
I mean sometimes it is, but it’s not… I feel like in the song writing community, everyone sort of knows that there’s four chords primarily that are used and there’s eight notes. And we work with what we’ve got, with doing that.
So I’ve even gone to artists to clear songs. I had a song that I wrote for Keith Urban and it sort of sounded like a Coldplay song. So I emailed Chris Martin and I said, “This sounds like your tune. Can we clear it?” And he went, “Don’t be ridiculous. No.” And on the song I made sure they put, “I think it sounds like Ever Glow, Coldplay, but he was just like, nah, I know how songs are written. And I know you didn’t go into the studio and go, I want to write this.”
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About His Friendship With Taylor Swift is Like Therapy and Credits Her For Suggesting He Collaborate with Aaron Dessner…
Ed: I have long, long, long conversations with Taylor about stuff just because I feel like she’s one of the only people that actually truly understands where I’m at. Because she’s solo artist, she’s stadiums, she’s doing… Well, and to have a career, you have to keep doing something that’s a little bit different…
She was the inspiration for it. She hooked me up with Aaron to work on Red (Taylor’s Version) to work on Run and Everything Has Changed. And then she said… I’m always, not guarded, but I kind of would keep my distance if there would be a collaborator that she’d be working with closely just because that’s her thing. And I don’t want to be like, well’s going to do that too but she was like…
She said, “I think it’d be really important for you as an artist to do what I did and work with Aaron because this is what it did for me. And I think you and a should work together.” So that sort of opened the door to it. And I am incredibly grateful. I’m making some of the most meaningful music to me that I’ve made in a very long time. And I was just very wary about treading on to… I didn’t want to just be like, okay, now Taylor’s done Evermore… and we can be open with each other about that sort of stuff as well.
I had a hour 20 conversation with her yesterday and we were just… Everything that was on our minds we talked about. I mean that in itself is kind of therapy as well, because you’re actually talking to someone that genuinely gets it.
That has all the things that you feel and have insecurities about and how other people treat you or how your family treat you, how your friends treat you, she’s just basically in the same sphere. I have a similar sort of friendship with Stormzy, where I know what he’s going through and we can talk about it. And his friends necessarily would be my friends who would say the same things.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music He’s Cried Every Day Since The Passing of His Late Friend Jamal Edwards…
He’s just the best. He’s the best. That’s the thing…That’s the thing. That’s what I was saying in the song, is everyone remembers him the way that the media are telling you to remember him. “He was a mogul, he set up SBTV, he was worth this, and he was worth that.” But he was just a really great, lovely, funny bloke, and that’s part of him, but who he was as a person was like… I’m going to get really f***ing upset man. I’m sorry.
F***ing hell. I never cry, and all of the interviews, I seem to be crying. It’s just going to be like… Ever since he’s passed away, I cry every day. I like that I still feel this way. I think this is the most respectful way to feel about someone that you’ve lost, is actually allow yourself to feel rather than just bury it down. I hate it. I don’t want this to turn into some Ed cries every time that he talks about this album or whatever, but it’s real f***ing life.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Making an Album To Process His Grief…
I played a show yesterday, and I went to a bar afterwards, and some of my fans from the show had ended up in the bar. I was talking to them, and they were like, “It’s weird. Grief is this really solitary thing that you are expected to grieve for X amount of time, and then get back to normal life and forget about it.
It never happened. Why are you still sad 10 years on?” They were saying having a record about it justifies the living with it. Your life can fit around grief. You don’t have to get over anything. I will never, ever, ever get over Jamal dying at 31.
I don’t want to, I don’t feel like I have to. I feel like, if I want to cry, I can cry. Yeah. But someone sent me a picture of a bookshelf with grief on it. It said, “Day one of grief,” and it’s a book saying grief, and it’s day 2,078 of grief. It’s just a full bookshelf, but the book is still there, and life just fits around it.
My mum went through a massive loss when she was 28, 29. Almost 30 and a bit years on, she still cries about it because it matters. You can’t just get over things. You can get over relationships. That’s fine. That’s part of life. You move from one thing to the other or whatever. But loss and grief, especially when it’s sudden… Maybe even when it’s not sudden.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Opening Up On His New Album Despite Hating The Idea of Being The “Sad Pop Star”…
Ed: I’ve always had ups and downs and struggles, and I’ve felt like, ever since I was a young kid, have had real, real, real lows. Whatever it is, it’s chemical imbalance or something to do with genes. I have lots of family members that the same thing. But I’ve never spoken about it because I put it in….
You can listen across my albums, it’s there. But I hate the idea of it being sad pop star because no one wants to hear that. No one wants to hear someone that has had success in their field who, from the outside looking in, everything’s great. No one wants to hear someone go, “Well, actually, it’s not.”
I think the reason why I was more open about it this time is it’s not like people… This is why I started therapy, because I live a very, very privileged life. I’ve made money over the years, and I have all these things.
Whenever I would say to my friends, last year, this was happening, they would always point out all the good things in my life. And that’s great. But money doesn’t buy back your friend who’s died. It just doesn’t, and it doesn’t make it better.
Steve Jobs was the richest guy on earth, and he died from cancer. It doesn’t just fix things. I hate talking about it because everyone goes, “Well, it does, actually. It does this, this, and this.” But there’s just certain things it doesn’t. I got super low when my friend died, and you can’t do anything about it, you know?
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music He Originally Thought “Shape of You” Was A Throw Away Pop Song, But Realizes He Was Wrong in Retrospect
Ed: I don’t want to speak for artists or what they feel though, but I’m just, I’ve been sometimes not pressured, but sometimes a record label will listen to a batch of songs and be like “This is the one”. And it happened with Shape of You. And I will admit that I was wrong there.
Zane: So you didn’t want to get behind that song?
Ed: No, because I kind of, Divide was a different album in my mind. I wanted to go Castle on the Hill first and then into Perfect. They were like, “You have to go with this.” And we reached a compromise…
Zane: Yeah, put them both out at the same time. Are you any closer to figuring out at that moment in time, because I feel like that was absolute peak pop star launchpad into space moment what was holding you back? Was there a fear somewhere deep in there about that song?
Ed: No, I just kind of thought it was cookie cutter and lazy. It was so easy. I was just like, this is the type of music that people are listening to at the moment and I’m going to write this for this artist for them to sing. And in my mind I was like, I’ve worked so hard on making Divide what it is and crafting it, that putting on, we wrote five songs that day. We wrote 25 songs that week, me and Steve and Johnny just writing. And for me it was just a throwaway pop song that I’d written. And I now realize that I was wrong obviously.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music He Stands By “Bad Habits” Despite The Initial Negative Reaction To The Song…
…at the heart of it all, I write songs because I like writing songs and I release songs because I’m proud of them and I like it. This is a song that I like. So I think as long as you can remember that and stand by your work, however it’s received.
“Bad Habits” has now become a hit for me and I get to play it live. But the reception of it was really negative when I put it out. People are just like, “Oh God.” I think because it’s dance music and it’s a different thing and I’m an acoustic singer-songwriter. It’s a different thing. But I stand by it because I love it and I loved the feeling of creating it…But creating it in the studio was exciting and I was excited for people to hear it.
So when it came out and there was a lukewarm, if you could call it that, reaction, I was like, “I believe in this. I like it. I think it’ll do well.” And you took a bit of time. And this is the thing I say to people now because no one believes me.
Everyone’s like, no, it came out and it was a very lukewarm reaction. And it wasn’t a great day one streams, it wasn’t a great week one streams. It wasn’t a great month one streams.I think if you can stand by something and you believe in it, I think that’s enough for your career. And everything that I’ve made up to this point I can look back on and be like, “I like that. I like that.” And I think that’s actually all that matters as an artist.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Taking Better Care of Himself After Having Children…
I think that’s mostly the work being done is I’ve never really cared about my wellbeing or my health. I remember being younger, and I just didn’t care. I just didn’t. Whatever happened to me happened. But I think, having kids, you’re like, if I’m having really, really low periods in my life, it’s affecting my children. And that does matter. That does. Cherry was saying, “I think you should see a therapist,” because obviously…
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music About Quitting Drugs and Embracing Moderation…
I stopped doing drugs years ago, and I think I benefited a lot from not having that button to push. It was the way that Jamal passed away, honestly. I’ve spoken about it in the Rolling Stone interview, but I stopped pre-kids because I was having kids and I didn’t want to be that guy anymore. And it just compounded it more when I found that out. And also, I’m not saying I don’t… I drink when I’m sad.
That is definitely a thing.I just don’t drink spirits anymore.I think it’s culture, man. I grew up in a household where my parents liked wine and they beer, and it was never a problem. It’s just that’s what they did and that’s how I grew up. And yeah, I found myself throughout last year. I rarely have sober days, and I know that that’s… I like ending the day with a glass of wine.
I know that in my mind having… I’m a compartmentalizer, and I know that in my mind, having switched the switch that goes, “You do not smoke anymore and you do not do drugs and you do not drink spirits,” there’s a thing there that goes, “But you are allowed this,” and that makes it okay. I think if I…
And everyone has their own way of dealing with things… throughout my life, I’ve tried to learn moderation. And yeah, my moderation is I might have a glass of wine every day, but I’m not going to smash a bottle of vodka, which is what I used to do. I used to just binge drink every tequila, vodka, f***ing brandy, anything.
Ed Sheeran Tells Apple Music Learning How To Write Pop Songs is a Skill…
Subtract is my bread and butter. This is the that I grew up on. I’ve always been a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar and it’s so easy for me to go in and write acoustic singer-songwriter music.
Learning how to write pop songs is a skill. And you can talk to Fred about this and you talk to Steve Mac or whoever, Taylor would be a great person to talk to about, yeah, it took longer for me to learn how to write a song like “Shape of You” than it did for me to learn how to write “Boat”, which is the first song on the album. And I think, yeah, I don’t know. There’s like a weird energy around pop music where it’s seen as this throwaway thing and I think it’s because it’s not got the connection to heart. It’s just fun.
Ed Sheeran Reminisces on LA Jam Sessions at Home with Taylor Swift, Gavin DeGraw, and Ellie Goulding…
…when I lived in Los Angeles, I’m sure Taylor won’t mind me saying this story, but we used to have jam nights at my house and I remember one night it was me, Foy, Gavin DeGraw, Ellie Goulding, Taylor.
And we just had a guitar and we just passed it around playing songs and like that was… I really miss doing that. Just songwriters just hanging out and playing tunes. You sort of get to a point in your career where you’ve had success and you’re more guarded and stay… I spend most of my time with my family now, but I do miss the sporadic, f**k it nights
Ed Sheeran Calls Fred ..again “One of The Most Talented Musicians on the Planet…
Fred’s Actual Life 1 is about his grief, and I found that incredibly helpful. Listening to a song like Me Heavy or whatever, I found that whole record, I Found You. So yeah, I know the whole world is falling in love with Fred. Well, and he’s easily one of the most talented musicians on the planet.