He’s an internationally renowned star. But how did George Ezra go from performing in school cover bands to writing some of the best-known hits of our time?
George Ezra made it big with his unique vocals, and ability to write universally popular tunes. Signed to two of the biggest labels in the industry and with a coveted Brit award, Ezra got discovered in his teens, playing Glastonbury by the time he was twenty.
In this article, we’ll take a look at exactly how he rose to fame and the routes he took to forge an award-winning career.
How did George Ezra get discovered?
George Ezra’s rise has been meteoric. He was signed by the time he was eighteen years old and hardly had a chance to draw breath, as doors opened providing more and more opportunities. However, when it came to releasing his first album, he took his time to ensure it was just right. Songs like Shotgun and Pretty Shining People have proven highly popular, being upbeat, feel-good and easy to singalong. It’s no surprise then, that his work is frequently covered at open mic nights and competitions.
In 2019 he won the Brit Award for British Male Solo Artist, having already received multiple nominations. He’s known for his relaxed and super nice demeanour, as well as his super popular tracks. So how did this lad from Hertfordshire have this kind of a meteoric rise?
How did George Ezra make it big?
George was born on 7 June 1993 in Hertford, to teacher parents. He attended primary school in Bengeo and then Simon Balle School, a co-ed secondary. It was during his high school years that he got into music. His very first stage appearance took place at the age of 13 when he sang the female part of the song Teenage Dirtbag. The friends he made during this period have stuck, and still make up his close circle.
George Ezra’s beginnings
As young teens, George and his peers would stay late at school on Fridays to write music. It was when a mate took up the drums, that Ezra decided to learn bass guitar, an instrument that has become a big part of his music and stage performances.
Ezra particularly loved listening to Bob Dylan and Woodie Guthrie in his formative years, artists he says had a big impact on his musical style. And he would later go on to sign with the same label as Dylan.
While he’d often thought of following in his parents’ teaching footsteps in terms of a future career, these early experiences in music encouraged him to pursue this newfound passion and study music full time after school.
Yet his goal was never fame, but rather musical creativity. Ezra is all about the sound, not being a well-known face. He told The Independent newspaper:
“When I was younger, I used to love the idea of writing songs and performing them live. But that was all I thought about,” he says. “I didn’t think about people getting to know my face.” He said of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner. “He’s appreciated for his lyrics. He’s released, what, five albums now? And still, I never see his face in papers. You don’t ever hear what he’s up to, and I think that’s cool.”
However, George’s good looks and likeable personality meant that he, as well as his music, would become more and more in demand for appearances and live shows.
How did George Ezra start his career?
After finishing school, Ezra left home and moved to Bristol, enrolling at the BIMM music academy, a college dedicated to preparing students for working in the music industry. During this time he also played rhythm guitar and sang with Harlow indie band Anything In Mind.
It was while studying in Bristol that he began experimenting with his vocals, realising he could produce a previously undiscovered deep and soulful sound – now a signature part of his act.
George Ezra gigs
This opened up a whole new world for the aspiring young artist. With the support of his college, he pursued his newfound sound. George gigged by himself (as well as with his band) on the local open-mic circuit. He utilised the deeper vocals and began developing his folk-rock and pop style. He believes that playing a lot of live gigs in all sorts of venues was an excellent training ground for the bigger events he went on to land two years later.
Performing live, he learned a great deal about how to handle audiences and what works in live performance.
Ezra used his gigs to build both an offline and online fanbase. He set up his own YouTube channel making videos and plugged his music on social media continually. This commitment to his digital marketing and promotion had a great deal to do with his success.
Who signed George Ezra?
Ezra didn’t have to go knocking on studio doors to attract attention from influential people. He gained increasing popularity at gigs and online, and some exposure to A&R (artists and repertoire) via his college.
He was scouted by all the major labels within a year of moving to Bristol, as well as being offered management by a top talent agency. George elected to sign with Columbia/Sony Records in 2012, one of the few that allowed him a great deal of artistic freedom, rather than encouraging collaborations and remixes to gain public attention.
Ryan Lofthouse, Ezra’s manager at Closer Artists, spoke to Music Business Worldwide about the decision.
“As soon as Alison told us she wanted to build on the image of what Columbia Records used to mean, and that ‘old school’ artist development was key, we signed almost immediately. George had just turned 19 and had a clear idea of who and what he wanted to be but no idea how to get there. Alison gave him the time and space he needed but it wasn’t like the label went missing, they were incredibly hands-on.”
George Ezra Budapest
Unlike some other songwriters, George likes to stay active to achieve inspiration. Ahead of writing his debut album (and following his signing with Colombia), he decided to go interrailing around Europe. In an unusual move by record label standards, this was fully supported by Columbia, who bought his ticket and allowed him the two years needed to put it together.
It worked a treat, as travelling inspired his breakthrough hit Budapest, although he never actually went to the city during his four-week trip. He had booked a train there, but after a big night partying in Malmo, missed it the following morning. And it was an Airbnb host in Barcelona who inspired his 2018 album title Staying at Tamara’s.
Ezra continued to prove himself an able composer of catchy singalong tunes that are also original. Just after Budapest made him famous, he made his US debut, invited to perform alongside Sam Smith at Madison Square Gardens in New York.
George Ezra’s songs
Ezra’s first EP Did You Hear the Rain? came out in October 2013 and was given airplay on BBC Radio 1. He was also asked to perform it on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury that summer.
Although Budapest wasn’t officially released until 2014, it was gaining traction and becoming increasingly popular too. Ezra’s second EP Cassie O also came out in 2014. While his debut album Wanted on Voyage became the third best-selling album of 2014 in the UK, selling 678,156 copies in the UK in a year. He also hit the Number 1 spot, as well as a Top 10 in another seven countries. A few months later he released a video – Listen to the Man – and was nominated for the Best British Album, Best British Male Solo Artist, Best British Single, and British Breakthrough Artist at the 2015 Brit Awards.
How did George Ezra get famous?
In music industry terms Ezra was already hugely successful, with a big name record deal, manager, plenty of fans and some top gigs. But the wider public was only just discovering the musician. In 2015 that was all about to change, with the Brits awards and some major TV appearances: Saturday Night Live and The Late Late Show with James Corden.
His second studio album (inspired by his ‘hero’ Paddington Bear) came out in March 2018, hitting the number one spot in the UK and making an international chart splash. His second single Paradise went to number two spot in the UK, while Shotgun gave him another number one hit.
Does George Ezra have anxiety?
Fame has taken its toll on his mental health at times. Ezra has talked about his struggle with anxiety after his first tour. It came as a surprise to him, as he’d always been laid back and relaxed. It was only when he was midway through writing his second album and had stopped touring, that the chart-topper recognised what was going on.
He describes feeling lost when not on tour and has since taken steps to help this, including keeping family close and staying rooted to his origins. Although George relied on social media to get the attention of labels and managers, he now often eschews it for long periods, for the sake of his mental health.
Is Ten Tonnes George Ezra’s brother?
George isn’t the only musician in his family. His little brother Ethan Barnett is also a singer-songwriter, known by his alias, Ten Tonnes. In May 2019 he released a self-titled album with Warner Music.
Ezra takes his older sister Jess out on tour with him as his assistant, to keep him in line if he gets too big for his boots! It’s often the case that musicality and industry links run in families.
He doesn’t speak about his private life very much, but we do know that he’s in a serious relationship with a fellow singer-songwriter from Bristol, Florrie Arnold. She has sometimes been his muse for his romantic numbers and even covered his hit song Budapest. Ezra told The Sun that they met a few months before he finished writing Staying at Tamara’s.
George has played the main stage at Glastonbury, tours arenas including the O2 and headlines large scale music events. His ascent has been quite unusual – while many artists have a hard time getting signed, but then quickly produce tracks, Ezra only gigged for a year before landing a label, but then took his time releasing albums. His attention to detail and focus on the creative process, rather than achieving notoriety, has certainly worked for him. It’s great advice and makes him a fantastic role model for young musicians, in a culture that can be all too focused on the fame and fortune aspects of the industry.
- Is George Ezra touring in 2020?
George toured in 2019 but doesn’t have any plans to do so in 2020. When he does play venues he likes to gives something back and donates £3 from every gig ticket to the charity MIND. In the meantime, you can listen to his podcast, George and Friends which recently featured Lewis Capaldi.
- Where does the surname Ezra come from?
Ezra is, in fact, George’s middle name (his surname is Barnett). It’s traditionally a Jewish name meaning ‘help’ in Hebrew. ‘Ezra’ was a prophet of the 5th-century bc who helped to rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.
- How did George Ezra get the scar?
George accidentally ran into a wall when living in Bristol and sustained a large cut, resulting in an inch-long scar on the right side of his forehead. Fellow Brit musician Ed Sheeran also has a facial scar from an accident.
Are you a George Ezra fan? Has he inspired your songwriting? Let us know in the comments below.