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Don't call Ed Sheeran an overnight success

| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Christie Goodwin
British singer Ed Sheeran

Plenty of American music fans are getting familiar with the name and music of Ed Sheeran. Considering the Englishman is coming off of a single, “The A Team,” which went Top 20 on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart and earned him a Grammy nomination for song of the year, and is now opening for Taylor Swift's epic “Red” tour, Sheeran stands a good chance to be very present in the United States in 2013.

But don't call Sheeran an overnight success — not in the States or in his native United Kingdom.

He lost claim to that title when “The A Team” took its molasses-like path up the charts, rather than being the kind of instant smash that seems pretty common these days.

“I think the initial problem dealing with the States was trying to convince radio to play ‘The A Team,' because it's quite a dark subject when you kind of get your head around it,” Sheeran says of the song, which is about a woman he encountered at a homeless shelter who turned to prostitution to support her drug habit. “I think it's now been the slowest climbing single of the decade. ... It went to radio in December 2011.

“So, it's taken a long time to get there, but now it has, and with the Grammy nomination and all the ticket sales and the Taylor tour, it feels like it's going to kind of either disappear or blow up.”

The smart money is on the latter option.

It's already happened in England, where Sheeran has gone five singles deep with his current CD, “+,” and was one of the biggest breakthrough artists of 2012.

But again, Sheeran's success was far from overnight. He may only have turned 23 in February, but he released the first in what is now a catalog of a dozen-plus EPs in 2005. (He also released two full-length CDs early on — in 2006 and 2007.) He's also done a good deal of touring, logging 312 shows in 2009 alone.

Despite all of that activity, Sheeran says his career was going nowhere fast at that point.

“I was living on my mates' sofa and staying at different (places), kind of drinking a lot and not really being any good either mentally or musically. I would do the same gigs every single day for the same people. So, I thought I could do with a change of scenery. “

In 2010, Sheeran relocated to Los Angeles, despite having only one music-industry contact there. He started playing open-mic nights and pretty much any other gig he could get. One of the shows was at The Foxxhole, where Sheeran was spotted by the club's owner, R&B artist/actor Jamie Foxx.

Foxx was impressed by Sheeran's music and performance and offered to let Sheeran use the studio in Foxx's Hollywood home.

Sheeran took advantage of the offer and continued to write and record. He also was making extensive use of the Internet, posting songs and videos online, and gradually built a robust following. When he released the EP “No. 5 Collaborations Project” in January 2011, it shot to No. 2 on the iTunes chart.

That helped Sheeran land a deal with Atlantic Records. His debut CD, “+,” was preceded in early June with the U.K. release of the single “The A Team.” It entered the U.K. singles chart at No. 3 and paved the way for “+” to debut at No. 1 on the U.K. album chart.

The CD “+” had a slower rise in the United States, but it eventually went Top 5 and has spent more than 50 weeks on the Billboard album chart.

Sheeran's latest single, “Lego House,” went Top 10 on the Billboard Hot Rock singles chart and has crossed over to the all-genre Hot 100 chart.

Sheeran will continue to perform solo acoustic as he opens for Swift through September.

“It's always just me and a guitar,” Sheeran says. “I don't have a band at all. I have a big light wall, which it's all kind of interactive. So, when I play a chord, a color will come up. Yeah, it's quite a cool thing. But the live show is just a solo thing.”

Alan Sculley is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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