It's no surprise that English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is a fan of another English singer-songwriter: Sam Smith. Despite their different musical styles, both come across as earnest and straightforward.
"It's instilled in English people to always downplay things," said the 23-year-old singer in a phone interview last week. "We don't really shout too loud. We quietly get on with what we are doing."
What Sheeran's been doing hasn't been quiet at all.
This week marks an eight-week run at the top of the U.K. Billboard album chart for Sheeran's second album, "x"' (pronounced "multiply"). Sheeran considers it his biggest achievement so far in a career that has included a Grammy nomination for his song "The A Team," three sold out shows at Madison Square Garden last year and a stadium tour with bestie Taylor Swift.
Sheeran's music, a mix of soulful pop and rap, is refreshing and rhythmic. He is famously friendly, poorly dressed and constantly adds to the colorful collage of tattoos on his arms. His chubby cheeks, thick accent and affinity for hoodies make him look more like the boy next door than an international star.
When asked what he considers his biggest mistake in his climb to commercial success, Sheeran had a fail-safe attitude.
"I don't think you can make mistakes in this industry," he said. "I think you can make errors that you learn from."
It's clear Sheeran isn't making any mistakes now, but fame has come after years of struggle.
"For four years I never had a place to stay/ But it's safe to say that it kept me grounded like a paperweight," he sings in "Take it Back," a track off "x."
He began releasing EPs in 2005. In 2008 he moved to London to focus on playing live, and in 2009 he claims to have played 312 live shows.
Sheeran said that "nothing ventured, nothing received" is the best advice his father gave him. They are the words Sheeran lived by as he played show after show and wrote song after song, creating a loyal fan base in the process.
In 2010, Sheeran flew to Los Angeles in search of a big break. After playing at an open-mic night, he was discovered by Jamie Foxx, who let Sheeran crash on his couch and gave him the publicity needed to land him a record deal. In 2011, Sheeran released his first studio album, "+." His debut single "The A Team" was one of the top 10 most downloaded singles of the year. "x" was released in June of 2014.
Sheeran's next project will be a collaboration with rapper The Game. The project might not be what fans expect from the acoustic artist — some find the tracks with bigger production on "x" to be too far a stretch from his singer-songwriter roots — but Sheeran does what he wants, staying true to himself along the way. He hasn't been wrong yet.