In March, Ed Sheeran moved to Hendersonville, Tennessee, a suburb on the outskirts of Nashville. Since then, in a lake house a stone's throw from where Johnny Cash lived until his death, Sheeran has been exceedingly prolific in preparation for the follow-up album (or, rather, albums) to his multi-platinum 2011 debut, +.
"I've demoed 70 songs," Sheeran tells Rolling Stone. "I'm hoping to release three [albums] in three years."
Though the British pop singer-songwriter says he hasn't settled on the exact songs or production style he wants for the first of those forthcoming records ("I've got the whole months of October and November to decide what to do"), he let loose that he's tapped Jeff Bhasker (Taylor Swift, Kanye West) and the legendary Rick Rubin to produce.
"Rick had an idea of me recording it completely acoustic and then adding [instrumentation later]," he explains. "There are just so many tunes and so many directions to go with the album that I don't really know."
One thing Sheeran can say is that Rubin lives up to his inscrutable, guru-like reputation in the studio. "He's got one beanbag [chair] in [this big room] and two speakers by the beanbag, and you sit on the beanbag and play him tunes," the singer says.
"It's completely sparse — there's nothing in it but a beanbag and two speakers. It's fucking amazing," he goes on, getting increasing animated, his eyes lighting up as he explains how Rubin listens carefully, ponders and then makes crucial, nuanced suggestions for how to restructure and realize songs. "He's been a very, very helpful guy. . . But as far as the record is concerned, production-wise, I don't really know where I'm gonna go with it [yet]."
One thing Sheeran can confirm, for now at least, is not to expect any duets with his famous friends. However, he is collaborating with a notable artist or two – namely, Irish singer-songwriter and regular Sheeran tourmate Foy Vance, whom he says has helped pen six potential songs for the album already.
"He's amazing!" Sheeran says of Vance, relaying how the singer intimidated the likes of Taylor Swift, Gavin DeGraw, Ellie Goulding and Gary Go at the Nashville-style, living-room writers' round Sheeran hosted at his satellite apartment in Los Angeles. "We all sat in a circle and passed around a guitar," he recalls. "Foy started off and no one wanted to follow him. He's that good. [And] Gavin DeGraw, as a singer and as a songwriter, makes you wanna quit."
Currently, Sheeran is 58 shows into a long stint as the support act on Swift's massive Red Tour, which wraps this month with a three-night stand in Nashville. "[Taylor] treats her support acts better than anyone else I've ever been on tour with," he says. "It's [been] great."