Five hours before singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was scheduled to take the stage at the gargantuan SAP Center in San Jose, California, he sauntered into the arena’s backstage loading area, decked out in colorful soccer attire, all flushed face and sweaty strands of red hair stuck to his forehead. He was on his way to the arena’s locker room for a shower and change of clothes before sitting down with AG for an Acoustic Guitar Sessions.

Before appearing on the December 2014 cover of Acoustic Guitar magazine, Ed Sheeran channeled a bit of Van Morrison in his Acoustic Guitar Session. Sheeran has grown accustomed to performing in huge arenas like the SAP Center with just his little Martin acoustic guitars and a looping machine. Since his debut album arrived in 2011, he’s released a stream of chart-topping hits and sold out shows across the United States, United Kindom, Australia, and beyond. When his most recent album, X, came out last June, it debuted at No. 1 on Billboard and spent a remarkable eight weeks at the top of the charts in Sheeran’s native England.

What’s most fascinating about Sheeran’s success is that he’s captivating a largely teenaged audience without a lot of bells and whistles—no costumes, no choreography, no big props, and no slick electronic band behind him. Throughout his one-man shows, Sheeran maintains a sizzling, electric vibe by employing big, fat loops of picking, strumming, and thumping on his tiny Martins.

“It’s amazing how much noise a ginger-haired boy with an acoustic guitar can make,” says Rick Rubin, who helped produce X along with five others, including the ubiquitous hip-hop beatmaster Pharrell Williams. “He is explosive!” When Sheeran emerged from his shower and arrived in the arena’s private Rinkside Room, he had his custom Martin 00-28VS, a beautiful guitar with figured koa back and sides, and the telltale gecko pearl inlay that matches one of his many tattoos. After nailing a stripped-down, note-perfect version of “Thinking Out Loud”—the next-to-last track on his latest album—I noted that the song has a Van Morrison-like vibe.

Sheeran’s smile turned to a grin. “That’s exactly what I wanted to capture,” he told me. “I feel like everyone channels Jack Johnson, everyone channels Prince, everyone channels the Beatles, and there’s not really anyone in popular culture now that has gone and channeled a bit of Van.” Enjoy watching Sheeran channel a bit of Van in this segment of Acoustic Guitar Sessions.

If you want more Ed, pick up a copy of the December 2014 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

For more Acoustic Guitar Sessions, check out the archive.

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