‘Lights', Camera, Action: A chat with Ellie Goulding

I’ve been an Ellie Goulding fan for what feels like forever. One of the first pieces I ever wrote for HelloGiggles was an album review for her debut album Lights, in fact. It was in early 2009 when I came across her early demos via her MySpace page. One listen to ‘Starry Eyed’ and I knew I was onto something special. Just a few months later, she’d signed to Polydor and was on her way to big things.

Ellie is a rarity – an effortless blend of pop/electronic production with undeniable folk sensibilities, which makes sense given her acoustic roots. As a writer, she is direct and yet vulnerable, unafraid to express some of the darker feelings we all try to ignore. At the same time, she manages to capture the realities of what it means to be young, alive and passionate about the world around us.

Never content to stick to one easily definable path, she’s collaborated with artists such as Tinie Tempah and dubstep’s man of the hour, Skrillex; she’s covered songs by everyone from Midlake and Jose Gonzalez to Robyn and Rihanna. She has performed for William & Kate at the Royal Wedding, for the Obamas at the White House and toured with Katy Perry. All of this at only 25 years old.

I was lucky enough to grab a bit of time with Ellie last week to talk about her success, her career highlights thus far and her plans for the future.

I have to ask and get this out of the way because I’m impatient. When can we expect the new album?

“Well, I’m writing it – I’ve been writing the last six months or so and I still have a long way to go. I’m really excited for the new album to come out, which I hope will be the end of the summer in the UK. We’ll see. But I’m quite happy about the new stuff I’ve been writing and I’m really looking forward to getting it out. It’s about time, as well!”

You’ve hinted that the next record will contain “darker material”.  Are you going in a new direction entirely or is this a continuation of what you established on Lights?

“It is quite different, yeah, but it’s because I’m still really getting stuff together. I think I just want less restriction, I want my album to breathe a bit more. I want to concentrate on my voice and my lyrics. I guess raw might be the word, it might be a bit more raw. But I want to flex my voice. I want to trust it for this next record.”

When I first heard you back in summer 2009, you’d come over to appear on Mark Ronson’s East Village Radio show and were quite shy at the time. You’ve definitely flourished a lot since then, but I’m curious – are you a naturally shy person? 

“Wow, that was so long ago! It was my first trip to New York so I was completely clueless! I didn’t know my way around and I was nervous and shy. I guess now, yeah, I have more confidence and I can deal with things a lot better than I used to. I’m doing shows all the time in the states now – I’m in LA at the moment. So I’m just getting used to it. The Mark Ronson show was so long ago. I’ve been through a lot, I’ve done a lot of touring and met a lot of people. I’ve been though a lot of ups and downs so I’ve got thicker skin now, definitely.”

Are you surprised by your success in the US? 

“With my record, it’s not like one of those records. It’s an electronic pop album, you know? So I feel like I’m lucky to even have the success I have here. There are big artists here and big singers and I feel like the fact that I got to play big venues from just having an album out, I’m pretty bloody lucky about that. I’m grateful for everything. I haven’t done any promotional tours, or radio tours. Everything that’s come so far has been a blessing. I’m glad to be out here and to even have a fanbase. It is hard, but going off the strength of my first record, I’m lucky to have what I have.”

You’re massively popular in your native UK, as well, of course. What’s the difference between fame here and across the pond? 

“In the UK, it’s definitely different. I don’t know if it’s to do with how people are… you definitely don’t have so much of a hard time here. If people here don’t like something, they’ll say exactly why… Here, people are kind of friendlier. I have a great fanbase with all ages in both places. It’s just different, there’s something different about here. Especially because you do build up like a thick skin, as you said. You’re used to audiences being all quite kind of mellow and you can’t gauge people’s reaction, whereas here I feel like people are quite emotional and energetic. It’s perfect, I love it!”

Have any plans for a another tour over here or in the UK?

“Obviously when my second record comes out, I’ll tour in the UK and I’m so excited about it. It’s my favourite time. And here with ‘Lights’ on the radio, there’s more songs to come out and stuff to do. I’m excited for the next single after ‘Lights’. I don’t know what it’s going to be but I’m excited for it. It’s just a matter of time and seeing what happens, but I really would love to do another tour here, it’ll be great.”

You love sharing music on your Twitter page and are clearly a big music fan in general. That Clock Opera song destroyed me!

“Oh my God, right? Grown men have cried at that video, it’s so sad! It’s so gorgeous. I’m sure that song will never be a big song, but I just always want people to hear stuff that I hear. Whether people like it or not, I don’t know, but even if ten people like that song, that’s enough for me. It makes you really want to f**king seize the day, you know?”

Do you find it inspiring or frustrating to listen to much other stuff when having to write your own?

“I think to keep your individual style and way of doing things, it means not reading too much or listening to too much. At the same time, I come across things all the time. If I’m moved by something, I always think if I hear something accidentally that happens by chance, then I was meant to hear it. I don’t go out of my way to scour for new things every day because then I’d fill my head with stuff and it’s already crowded as it is. That’s kind of my rule.”

You’ve done so many big things even though your career is only just starting. Do you have a highlight?

“My highlight has to be singing for Kate and William, the future king. If I die tomorrow, God forbid, I’m so proud of me and my band for pulling that one off! It was so much fun and it was something that I’ll never forget.”

You recently did some recording at the same studio where Thriller was recorded – what was that like? Were you working on stuff for the new album?

“I was actually doing something with Calvin Harris – he’s a good friend and an amazing producer and person so we were just having fun. It was a great experience and I felt so lucky to be in that room. You could just sense something special in that room. I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve been in a lot of cool studios but that’s the best.”

Even though you’re not on tour at the moment, run us through a standard day for you when you’re on the road.

“I wake up about 11 or midday or maybe earlier if I have promo. Then I try to hit the gym at the hotel and have soundcheck around 5pm. Then I chill and eat and then go onstage probably around 9 or so. The show goes on and then I just chill with my band and have fun and listen to music and I dunno. I haven’t had one of those days for ages. It was different when we were headlining – the UK tour was so long ago but I’m just so anxious and wanting to get out there and do it again.”

Are you superstitious? Do you have any pre-show rituals that you just have to perform?

“I do some push ups and me and my band have a screaming session together!”

You’ve got quite a lot of friends who are also musicians. Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with in the future? 

“Yeah, actually there are. There are people that I massively respect – there are so many producers I want to collaborate with, nobody necessarily well-known but I keep finding new producers in the UK that I want to work with. I feel like there are some great artists, as well, but I just want to focus on my own stuff so much.”

Find out more about Ellie via her website, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook

You can also purchase Ellie’s debut album Lights on iTunes or on Amazon.com.

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