By Brian Ives
Ed Sheeran fans are eagerly looking forward to his upcoming album, ÷, and he’s recently previewed the record via two new songs, “Shape of You” and “Castle on the Hill.” He recently told Radio.com that he originally intended the former for Rihanna (he changed his mind and kept it for himself), and in this interview, he talks about “Castle on the Hill,” and how it was influenced by Bruce Springsteen. He also discussed some of his lesser-known collaborators on ÷: a traditional Irish band called Beoga, and a musician from Ghana called Fuse ODG. ÷ is due out on March 3.
In “Castle on the Hill,” you sing “Driving at ninety down those country lanes/Singing to ‘Tiny Dancer.'” Did you really go 90 while listening to “Tiny Dancer?”
Well, no, the “Tiny Dancer” thing is just I really like [Elton John’s] Madman Across the Water, it’s my favorite Elton album, and I would usually listen to that driving home. But you can’t drive 90 where I live; it’s impossible, the roads [are too curvey].
It must have been bizarre for you once you finally became friends with Elton.
Yeah, there are lots of pinch-me moments in my career, and I think the way you don’t turn yourself insane is to just roll with them and don’t think about them too much. But, obviously, it’s weird being able to call Elton a friend.
So, in this song, you’re looking back fondly at your early years, before you became a successful musician.
Yeah, that song came after a lot of listening to Bruce Springsteen, and in particular “The River,” and really wanting to write a song that looks back on childhood and childhood friends and how people grew. And I wrote a few like that, and that was by far the best of the bunch.
My song isn’t as detailed as “The River” or as good, but that was the kind of idea was to show the happiness and the innocence of youth, but also show the kind of darkness, the reality of growing up I guess.
Are you still friends with your old friends? Did they know that you were writing about them?
Yeah, I’m in touch with most of them anyway because they’re still my mates, but the same guy that works down by the coast is the guy I was running from the law through the backdoors with, and we had a bit of a laugh. I spent New Year’s Eve with him, so we had a bit of a laugh about that, remembering being naughty kids.
Is it difficult to relate to your old friends; your life must be so different from theirs.
Yeah, well that’s the point of “Castle on the Hill”: we have nothing in common other than our love for each other and the place that we’re from, and we’re still friends, which is a really special thing.
Related: Ed Sheeran on Keeping “Shape of You”
Tell me about writing “Shape of You.”
“Shape of You” came very quickly. It was only really finished about a month ago. And it was one of four songs written in a day, and we literally did it, went to the next one and the next one and the next one, and then at the end of the day listened to everything. And I was like, “That’s actually not bad. That’s actually not bad.” And then I took it away, played it to a couple people who flipped out about it and then decided to properly finish it and produce it up. But it was just the marimba and a vocal.
You must have so much unreleased material.
Yeah, loads of stuff, and I don’t know if any of it will see the light of day, but maybe it will in some form at some point. I think it would be cool just to zip them all off in a file and just stick them out.
I heard you saying that you were working with a traditional Irish band on this album…
They’re called Beoga. They’re from Northern Ireland. One of them is from Limerick I think, Southern Ireland. And yeah, we’ve done a couple songs on the album; they’re really fun, got fiddle on there, got pipe on there as well. It’s good.
I’ve always wanted to make trad Irish music, but do a modern twist on it and put a bit of rap in there. So yeah, that was the idea. Yeah, I flew them over to my house and we just made a bunch of songs and two of them ended up on the album.
Are there any other guests on the album?
We’ve got a song, John Mayer does a guitar solo on it. That’s for me quite a cool thing. I finished the guitar solo myself, and I was like, “That sounds like I’m trying to do a poor impression of John Mayer. So I’ll see if he wants to do it.” I just dropped him an email and said, “Can you do this song?” and he was like, “Yeah, all right.” It was nice. He was recording his album in Montana, so I just emailed it over, and then he emailed it back. But we’ve worked together in the past [on “Thinking Out Loud”].
What are your tour plans for this year?
I’m gonna start the tour pretty soon after the album comes out, and it’s gonna roll right until the end of next year. So we’re gonna put out dates when we book the shows.
You told [Radio.com affiliate 92.3 AMP host] Shoboy about your trip to Iceland. Where else did you travel?
Iceland was incredible. Iceland’s probably the most beautiful place I’ve been to in terms of the way things look and the way people are, so I’d recommend that to anyone, go to Iceland. Japan, never toured anything outside of Tokyo really, so I got to see actually full Japan. Fiji, I went on a white water rafting trip. That was quite beautiful. Went to Ghana, to Africa to make some music, which was pretty fun. Yeah, I had a good time traveling.
Did anything from Ghana make the album?
Yeah, there’s a song called “Bibia Be Ye Ye,” which means, “It’s all good. Everything’s all right.”
How did you meet the musicians that you worked with?
The main guy I worked with was Fuse ODG, and he had a kind of big pool of amazing musicians out there that we worked with.
Last year, you did some funny metal covers on The Tonight Show. Were you a metal fan?
I really liked Tool growing up; I really liked Mudvayne, Slipknot. Cradle of Filth is actually from my hometown. Were they really big over here?
Finally, going back to Elton John, what songs would you recommend to your fans if they aren’t familiar with his entire catalog?
“Indian Sunset” from Madman Across the Water, I think that’s my favorite Elton song. People will definitely know “Candle in the Wind” and “Your Song.” “Sacrifice” is also one of my favorite songs as well. I think that one’s beautiful.