"I am hungover, and so my mind's not really working, I'm sorry," Ed Sheeran says, explaining he went out the previous night in Miami with DJ Khaled for "a lot of very, very loud rock music and sparkly bottles and stuff like that." Sheeran is about to take the stage at Tampa's Amalie Arena — with a capacity of 13,000, it's one of the smaller gigs on a tour that has Sheeran playing U.S. stadiums for the first time. In July, he did three sold-out nights at London's Wembley Stadium, all without a band. Sheeran's mentor Elton John joined him onstage, and told him, "You're the only person in the world who could do this on your own." Says Sheeran, "The peak was just walking out onstage for the first time and seeing all that. It's quite a sight to behold."
In his book Life, Keith Richards writes about going from not being able to get a date to having every woman in the world after him. Have you experienced that?
I've gotten more attention from the wrong sort of women. Like, the sort of women I wouldn't have wanted to date anyway show attention now — the ones that are kind of driven by money and fame and want to get taken out to nice restaurants and bought nice things, you know? I've always been more attracted to someone who would just want to go to a dive bar and do shots and play pool.
You recently spent some time with Keith when you opened for the Rolling Stones — what was that like?
It was good! He's definitely a kind and humble person, but he's definitely Keith Richards — he can handle his drink and drugs. The best thing he said to me was when I was talking to him about getting arrested, and he said, "I've never had a problem with drugs — I had a problem with the police."
You got a huge tattoo of a lion on your chest to celebrate playing Wembley Stadium.
Well, the England crest is three lions, so I was going to get three lions, but I got one instead. And that's kind of the story. I don't really know why people make such a big fuss out of it. I know so many people with shit tattoos in fucking Greek and Latin that they can't even read or understand that say slogans like "Times change, people don't," or something bullshit like that. I'm sure [David] Beckham has some shit on him, some sort of Chinese art that no one would find that strange. But they find me putting something that symbolizes me playing the biggest venue in England weird.
Who found the tattoo weird?
Every single news story was about how it was weird. The press has never been this interested in me, and now they are, but I don't really see why. I don't really do anything that interesting. I read stories about Justin Bieber and I think, "Oh, well, that sounds fun." And mine's like, "Ed fucking goes and buys a bottle of wine." Why does anyone care? I've been doing some stuff to fuck with the press recently. They don't write about the right things — Wembley was quite a big achievement, I think. They're choosing the wrong things to focus on.
Have you ever thought of putting together a band?
Yeah. And then I kind of was like, "There's no one else at my level doing what I'm doing, so why would I want to do what everyone else is doing?" Surely it's better to be different. And I know my show can be better when I do it solo than if I do it with a band.
What is your next goal after Wembley?
I want to do stadiums everywhere, not just certain places. We just did Dallas and Houston, and Boston is next. I want to be able to do a proper stadium anywhere in the world.
I read you're already working on both your third and fourth album.
I could probably release one of them tomorrow and have people like it. X was full of good songs and a couple of great songs, and I feel like on the next couple of records there will be more great songs than good songs.
Is it true that you're going to Africa to look for new sounds?
I don't know who told people that. There's definitely a press leak in my team somewhere. But it's true. I know a load of Ghanaian musicians in London, and they've always told me to go over there. I feel like I'd go there and be revitalized. Their music industry isn't like our music industry. Our music industry is really cutthroat and people trying to climb on top of each other to get to the top. They just do it to create music because they love it.
You're a competitive guy, though. Who do you view as your competition in the pop world?
Well, I'd say everyone is. The music thing is like a race, and I want to win the race. I'm not going to trip up anyone on the way to the finish line, if that makes sense. Like, I've got all my competition, but I want to see them succeed too. I just want to win.