By Holly Rubenstein
LONDON (Reuters) - British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has his share of admirers, among them superstar Elton John, and the 23-year-old is hoping to expand his growing U.S. fan base with his new album entitled simply "x".
The first single from the album, "Sing", produced and co-written by multiple Grammy winner and hit-maker Pharrell Williams, is a step away from Sheeran's laid-back acoustic sound and he hopes it will provide further proof of his versatility.
"'Sing' was a song that I did with Pharrell Williams and it was a very random studio session where he was forcing me to try new things and really pushing me outside my comfort zone and we just ended up with that song," Sheeran told Reuters in an interview that was embargoed for release this week.
"I think he knew how special it was and I needed a lot of convincing and I'm glad he convinced me," he said.
The album "x" (read as "multiply") follows Sheeran's 2011 debut "+" ("plus") which went 22 times platinum worldwide and was the highest selling debut for a male British solo artist in the United States.
That made Sheeran the biggest selling British artist since 2011.
Sheeran became more widely known in the United States in 2012 when he featured on Taylor Swift's track "Everything Has Changed" on her album 'Red'. He later spent much of 2013 touring North America as Swift's opening act on her Red tour.
Asked if he saw Swift as having been his ticket to U.S. success, Sheeran said, "I think Taylor as a musician, as a person and as an entity is one of the biggest exports from the United States of America so to have her seal of approval, enough to take me on tour for six months was, you know, instrumental to me breaking the States.
"I'd been over to the States a lot. I'd had a bit of success there but just having that stamp of approval just took me from a theater artist to an arena artist and took me from a one hit to a household name."
"If someone has aims, dreams and aspirations to become a superstar she'd be the best example of it, of how to keep it together," he added.
Fame has allowed him to circulate in the higher echelons of the pop world, including a duet version with Elton John of "Candle in the Wind" at John's 22nd Annual AIDS Foundation in March, but otherwise he says it hasn't brought many surprises.
"I think my experience of fame thus far has been everything I thought it would be, everything you hear about in songs and interviews and people say this is gonna happen and this is gonna happen and this is gonna happen.
"Everything happened. It was just like watching a domino effect. And most of it was positive."
However, not everything in Sheeran's life has been quite so positive, indicated by the track which he says "describes the album best" called 'I'm a Mess'.
"I mean the music industry is a very dark place and you can let it, let yourself get sucked in there quite easily," he said.
"I mean there were a couple of occasions where I was in the darker side of things, I guess, but again it's just about coming home and getting back to your roots."
Sheeran recently announced plans for his first North American headlining arena tour, kicking off at Seattle's WaMu Theater on August 21 before returning to London in October.
As for those mathematically themed album titles, this is what he said when asked about his latest one:
“It’s a bit more of a well-rounded album. It’s more thought out, I think. Along the same trajectory as ‘+’ but bigger, that’s why I called it ‘x' because it had made everything bigger.”
(Reporting by Holly Rubenstein; Editing by Michael Roddy and Alister Doyle)