Most know the singer-songwriter for his sensitive songs played on Scrubs, a slew of chick flicks, that Subaru commercial and countless other placements, but his fans have been listening to his recently released album The Fall and have helped propel it to No. 12 on Billboard's Top Folk Albums chart. We talked to the Los Angeles resident about The Fall, opening for Sheeran and cultivating artistic freedom.
Q: Your shows are usually so intimate. How do you adapt to playing an arena?
A: I’ve sort of cultivated a fan base that wants to come and listen to the songs, you know what I mean? I’m just totally 100 percent honest with the audience, and I think at least in small settings, that really comes through. Usually when I play songs, they’re all honest kind of accounts of my life — like journal entries set to music. Whenever I’m singing them for people, it’s very therapeutic, like I’m going through it again, and each time I sing it — if it’s a song about something I went through that was difficult, like a breakup or something, it’s cathartic. [The Q] is going to be an enormous place with 20,000 people that are all fans of Ed’s, and there are gonna be a lot of people who aren’t in their seats yet. You have to play for the fans that are listening.
Q: What inspired your seventh album, The Fall?
A: It’s really an album about past relationships of mine. The falling in love, the falling out of love, the trying to convince someone to take that leap when they have been burned before. There’s certainly ups and downs in that relationship, breaking up a couple times in between and writing songs about that. It’s really just an album about the fall of innocence. When it comes to my point of view in this relationship, something that seemed one way ending up being not what I thought and learning a lot from it. Learning that sometimes, in this past relationship, I wasn’t sure if I should go down drowning with her or I should try to save myself. In the end, I chose to save myself. Which, one could say, saved her as well. It’s too soon to know.
Q: You self-produced The Fall and had musician friends play on it rather than studio musicians. How was that experience?
A: It was probably my favorite of all the records I’ve made. I’ve learned a lot from watching different producers over the years, and I’ve taken a little something from each of them. The key is to just take the things that you think will work for you personally. And once that you do that, producing your own work, you know exactly the sounds you want to hear, you know when the bass should come in. Just having my friends in there made it just a chill hang. I’d play a song for them, and be like, “What do you think? You think electric guitar? Acoustic guitar? What kind of drum?” We all just kind of got together and shared ideas. For the vibe to flow, we’ll really play it [to] have that live feeling, and that’s the kind of music I love. If you fix too much with computers, you lose that human element that makes music so amazing. I think a lot of music these days has lost that. I don’t plan on losing that. I love that human element. There should be a few mistakes. It makes it sound human.
Q: You’ve recently been touring without a setlist. How has that been?
A: It’s just so fun to do it that way. It just feels so free. You’re not beholden to anything. That’s what I’ve been trying to do over the years with so many decisions I’ve made: leaving record companies and tearing down the band into solo shows, where I’ve just played a whole year of solo shows. You never know what’s gonna happen in my mind, and that just makes it really fun for me. If you get up and do the same thing every night, for me, it’s just boring. I’m not inspired. So that’s how I find that adrenaline, that rush onstage: having no idea what I’m going to play. I sometimes try songs someone yells out that I haven’t played in years. As you play, that’s so scary. This isn’t so rehearsed. This is totally off the cuff, and I can’t remember this song I wrote seven years ago — whatever it is. But then your heart starts racing a little faster. Then you remember why you do this for a living, why you got into it in the first place. There’s no better rush than that rush onstage, where you’re just so vulnerable. It’s the best drug there is.
5:00 PM EST
September 8, 2017