Promoting an album kills creativity, said Ed Sheeran, preferring to watch a World Cup game rather than talk about "X," the anticipated follow-up to his 2011 debut, "+."
The 23-year-old singer-songwriter was drained and distracted from talking up the new album, which came out Monday, across the country.
"It has to be done," he said with a shrug, one ear on the U.S.-Ghana game.
The English performer prefers the other parts of his job, writing songs and playing live. He created more than 100 songs to get the 12 tracks on "X," which he pronounces "multiply." He also worked with a handful of hitmaking producers — Pharrell, Benny Blanco, Jeff Bhasker and Rick Rubin — to craft a broader, more radio-friendly sound.
"It’s weird, because they’re more polished producers but it’s a more raw sound," Sheeran said, "so I think they brought an element of rawness to it."
It’s also funkier than his folksy debut, which sold more than 800,000 units and earned him a pair of Grammy nominations. A clear example is the Pharrell-produced Top 15 single, "Sing," which has earned comparisons to Justin Timberlake for its dance beat and falsetto vocals. Sheeran appreciates the association.
"He’s a very talented person and I’ve listened to ‘Justified’ a lot," Sheeran said in an interview the week before the album dropped. "I definitely took influence from that."
Suddenly, a cheer erupted from his colleagues who were still watching the game.
"Oh, you won," Sheeran told an American reporter. "Congratulations."
Though Sheeran presents a sweet, almost cherubic image, with his mussed red hair and low-key fashion sense, a hardness shows through, and not in the form of his sleeves of tattoos.
Success is everything he hoped it would be, and he misses nothing from his prefame life. "It wasn’t that fun," he said.
He’s picky about his process and partners. He wouldn’t feature just anyone on his songs, though he has written for One Direction and his BFF, Taylor Swift.
"The people that [I’d] want to collaborate with aren’t the type to collaborate," he said. "For instance, if I just decided tomorrow that I wanted to do a song with Jay Z, it’s not going to happen just like that. I think he has to have the idea. … It’s like that with me."
Note to potential collaborators: Wait until the World Cup ends.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.