“I think,” he started slowly, “that any song that people connect with has to feel uncomfortable while you’re writing it. When I was writing ‘Perfect’ I thought, This is really cheesy, Cherry is gonna think that I’m like the cheesiest fucking boyfriend”—he wrote the song for Seaborn two months into their courtship, a move I do not advise for the layperson—“and you know, when I was writing ‘Salt Water,’ which is all about imagining your own suicide, I was like, Fuck, I don’t want to put this out and have my parents listen to this.”
There have been times when he has felt that he’s put too much of himself in a song, such as in “The Man,” on 2014’s x, which he wrote after someone broke his heart. “It felt super uncomfortable at the time, writing it, and everyone I played it to reacted in an uncomfortable way, which I thought was a good thing, and I put it out,” he said. “The album probably didn’t need that song. I probably needed to write it, but I didn’t need to release it.”
The mass of intimate narratives associated with his tracks, detailed in great depth at his theater shows and more glancingly in stadiums, have congealed into a mythology, with plot twists and characters. And when Sheeran talks onstage about the tectonic events of his adult life—Edwards’s death, Seaborn’s cancer, a troubling court case—it feels like part of a larger catharsis.
When Kweller first met Sheeran in 2015, he was struck by how simple his shows were, and how humble he was. “That’s something that, in showbiz, gets lost pretty quick. There’s a lot of elements in play. Looks. Money. Talent, sometimes, is kind of down there on the list, which is kind of sad,” Kweller said. “Guys like me and Ed, we just want to sit on the bed and write songs… it’s such an escape.”
They met when the opening act for one of Sheeran’s shows in Austin, Texas, was detained in Australia, so Kweller hopped on the bill. After Austin, Sheeran asked Kweller to open for him in Dallas, and then to join him on the rest of the tour. The two became very close. When Sheeran and Seaborn got married in 2018, they asked Ben Kweller to play at their wedding. His piano ballad “Thirteen”—we built this world of our own/ it was in the back of a taxi when you told me you loved me/ and that I wasn’t alone”—is Ed and Cherry’s song.