“It was very, very hot.”
That’s one of the few memories British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has of Houston, which he visited last year on a radio tour. Another involves, appropriately enough, food.
“The phrase is, ‘Everything’s bigger in Texas.’ I remember the first time I was in Texas, I ordered a steak and fries, finished it, and had to order another one because the steak wasn’t big enough,” he said. “It was a bit small.”
Houston will likely provide better recollections this week, when Sheeran, 21, opens his first North American headlining tour at the Bayou Music Center. Several dates have already sold out, and the local show was moved from the House of Blues to accommodate the demand for tickets. It follows a run of even bigger shows overseas, where Sheeran is a certified superstar and has sold almost 3 million copies of his debut album, “+.”
“I got very nervous yesterday, mostly because I don’t use a band. It’s just me onstage with a guitar and a loop station,” he said. “I got very nervous about whether I could hold a (bigger) crowd for two hours with just that, but it works.”
Indeed. Once Sheeran wraps up his solo tour, he’ll hop on Taylor Swift’s massive Red Tour, which kicks off in March and includes a sold-out May 16 date at Toyota Center. Sheeran co-wrote “Everything Has Changed,” a duet with Swift on her “Red” album, which has further upped his profile. Swift was an early proponent of his album, which blends acoustic ballads with soul and hip-hop influences. (Yes, he occasionally raps.)
Sheeran’s first single, “The A Team,” has emerged as a sleeper U.S. hit. The mournful ballad about a girl’s descent into drugs and prostitution was first issued to radio in February 2012 and has quietly climbed the charts, eventually becoming a top 20 hit and selling more than 1 million copies. The video is about to hit 52 million YouTube views, and next single “Lego House” is already picking up heat.
The slow and steady build, it seems, suits him well. It helps, too, that he co-wrote the One Direction single “Little Things.”
“It’s so exciting to me. Each week, something new happens in the U.S. that kind of opens up another door,” he said. “I knew that it would take awhile, and I’m just happy that it’s fitting in piece by piece.
“It seems like a large amount of artists can have an enormous amount of success in any country other than the U.S. The U.S. has always seemed — from a U.K. artist’s point of view, anyway — as a kind of impossible feat. We’ve had so many artists that have been absolutely huge over here, that play stadiums, and it just never works in the U.S.”
Paging Robbie Williams, Boyzone, Westlife, Alexandra Burke. Even Leona Lewis’ and Aussie diva Kylie Minogue’s stateside successes pale compared to their worldwide accomplishments.
“I didn’t just want to come over and do what most U.K. artists do, one or two tours and that’s kind of it. I want to really immerse myself in the culture and U.S. society and be there for a long time and make sure it gets done,” Sheeran said. “It just seems like a good time to get in. I never really do anything by half measures. If I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna do it properly.”
Along with commercial success, Sheeran’s career got a big lift when “The A Team” earned a surprise song-of-the-year Grammy nomination — a songwriting award. He’s the youngest in a category that includes R&B singer Miguel (“Adorn”), Carly Rae Jepsen (“Call Me Maybe”), Kelly Clarkson (“Stronger”) and fun. (“We Are Young”).
“I’m a singer-songwriter first and a performer second. The song is always the most important thing,” he said. “I wrote ‘The A Team’ 100 percent by myself when I was 18-years old, so to have a song get recognized by the biggest award ceremony in the world, just to be on the shortlist, is amazing. I’ve kind of won the battle just by being nominated.”
Though Sheeran doesn’t expect to win, expect things to skyrocket after he performs Feb. 10 on the live telecast.
“I think the fun. song is incredible. I wouldn’t be surprised if they win,” he said. “There wasn’t a bigger song than that last year. That’s a well-written, well-performed song by a band who’s had an incredible year. I haven’t had my incredible year yet. I’m still kind of working up to that.”
Being named “worst dressed male in Britain” by a GQ poll: “I’ve always just worn trainers, baggy jeans, T-shirts and hoodies. I’m actually quite pleased that a magazine like GQ has noticed that I really couldn’t give less of a (expletive). Most men dress well to impress women, and I think if you can play a guitar, that’s kind of that box ticked.”
Writing songs for other artists: “My rule at the moment is, I’m not writing songs for people. If people want a song, it’ll have to be a song that I’ve already written, which is what “Little Things” was. I’m working toward a new album, and if I can’t write songs for myself at the moment, I’m not gonna write songs for other people.”
A new album: “I have around 26 songs recorded. There are some huge ballads in there, and there are some straight-up, hip-hop beat kind of things. We’ll see, production-wise. I want to try and do something a bit different.”
Fame in America: “What I really, really love about your country is this ethos of the American dream. It’s completely different from anything I’ve ever experienced before, where you celebrate success, which seems like a normal thing to do. Where I’m from, it’s the kind of opposite effect. We lift the underdog up, and as soon as he gets past a certain time, they’re kind of fair game for the press to take down. Thankfully, I haven’t slipped up yet, and I haven’t really done anything silly.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Bayou Music Center,
Tickets: $28-$35; 713-230-1600 or livenation.com