“I don’t get starstruck—I never have,” George Ezra tells InStyle, with the candor befitting a fresh-faced 21-year-old. It’s a good thing he doesn’t, because the breakout British folk singer, and the toast of myriad Burberry fashion events over the past several months (most recently the brand’s star-studded fête at the Griffith Observatory in L.A.), is getting more well-known by the minute. And as if his mop of dirty blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and boyish complexion wasn’t enough to make the fashion crowd swoon, his powerful baritone voice will definitely do the trick.
Even though Ezra's debut album, Wanted on Voyage, dropped last June (an ode to an epic post-grad trip he took around Europe), his introduction to the world at large likely began after his stirring performance on Saturday Night Live in March (and a series of LOL-worthy promo sketches with host Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). "It was the first time that I've done something that went out to every little corner of the country," he said. Something tells us that it won't be the last. We caught up with Ezra after his show at Webster Hall in N.Y.C. Here's an excerpt from our conversation:
You embody the folk music tradition, but you're obviously from England. What made you gravitate toward that genre?
It's pretty much my way of staying true to what I grew up listening to. My dad used to play a lot Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Paul Simon. I think a lot of kids try to rebel against what it is their parents like, and that’s where a lot of modern music comes from---the need for something new. But I fell in love with it when I was 14---especially Bob Dylan, he was my introduction to loving music. Once that set in, there was no escaping it. I used to try and write British folk songs, but that sounded more forced.
Did you listen to new music too, or just stick to the old stuff?
Oh yeah. At the same time growing up, there was a lot of Kings of Leon, Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys, and Bombay Bicycle Club---all of them came out when I was in middle school, so that's what me and my friends listened to. I assumed they weren't interested in the older stuff I was listening to, so I just kept it to myself.
Have you gotten a chance to see Dylan play live?
I've seen him three or four times now---I made sure of it. The first time was at Hop Farm when I was 16 or 17. If I'm going to be honest, I was too stoned---it went over my head a bit. Since then, I've gotten to see him a lot more sober and really take it in. What I find fascinating is the fact that there has to be a genuine love and interest from his side to keep doing it. At that age, he doesn't need to go on tour, or play for anybody, or write. It makes me appreciate it on a different level.
Do you plan on still making music at that age?
I have no idea. I didn’t plan this, and I have no idea what I'll be doing even 10 years from now.
Your popularity has skyrocketed in recent weeks---especially after your performance on SNL. How have you been adjusting to the attention?
Honestly, my life feels absolutely no different from three years ago. I’m lucky, I love what I do, but it's just a job. My best friend's a scaffolder, my other good friend's a designer... when I go home, I go to the same pubs with the same people and have the same conversations. I haven’t changed into a whole other person. You just take it with a pinch of salt. It's all good fun.
Surely you must be dealing with a lot of newfound female fans, though.
I’ve never had a problem handling that! [Laughs.] It’s fine. It's funny, because fangirls---that's the term, right?---will say the most ridiculous things to you online, and then you actually meet them at a gig or whatever and they have nothing to say in person. They can't look you in the eye!
What's the craziest thing a girl has said to you online?
I don’t know if I should be sharing those things! I get some pretty interesting offers. I started calling them Ezralites, because it sounded like some kind of f***** up religious group. They started calling themselves that, and it made me laugh a lot. I was like, "These people will call themselves anything!" It's quite funny.
Is it true that you didn't want to show your face on your album cover?
It was less on a personal level---it wasn't that I didn't want my face to be known. In the U.K., singer-songwriters have a tendency to put a picture of them looking dreamily off-camera on their first record, and I was keen not to have that. So I went the other way and had 50 of my friends on the cover with me.
Why did you decide to embark on a monthlong voyage?
I was 19 at the time, and it was my first time traveling alone, so it was important to me that I did it. I just went out with open eyes and slipped right into it. I was happy wondering about and meeting new people. I’ve always been someone who can’t sit still for more than five minutes. It was the realization that, for a lot of my life, I'll be moving around.
How did the collaboration with Burberry come about?
Burberry is one of the most influential and inspiring music companies that isn't an actual music company. It's a beautiful thing that they help artists like me. It was an introduction to that whole world---I had no idea about fashion, I was still pinching my sister's jeans. It was an eye-opener.
Has your style changed since teaming up with them?
I would definitely say I dress better now than I did three or so years ago. Fashion can go over a lot of people's heads. I remember the first catwalk I went to, and there were a couple of things that blew my mind: Firstly, how quick it was, that I wasn't expecting, and how intricate the whole thing was---every step and every inch of clothing was accounted for.
Listen to “Cassy O'” below, and download Wanted on Voyage for $8 on the iTunes Store.