Ellie Goulding tells Andy Welch how shrugging off the hype has finally set her free
ELLIE GOULDING doesn’t know what day it is. That’s not a slight on her – she actually doesn’t. “Friday?” she shrieks when she discovers it’s almost the weekend. “I’ve been so busy recently I’m not even sure which month it is.”
After a relentless round of media engagements to promote her latest album and tour, which includes the Liverpool Academy on Saturday, she’s entitled to feel a little mixed-up.
Nevertheless, she’s as bright as a button while answering more questions, chewing through a big pile of sweets to keep her going.
“I am tired, but I’m feeling really positive,” she says. “I know the tour is about to start, which is my favourite thing to do. As long as I look after myself and my voice, it’ll be brilliant. My memories of touring are so good, particularly in the UK.”
She says it’s especially enjoyable playing on home turf because she can concentrate fully on performing, without the feeling at the back of her mind that she’s thousands of miles from home. Plus she can interact with the crowd more naturally.
“It’s a warmer feeling generally,” she adds. “The humour is different, and in places like Glasgow and Edinburgh, really rowdy.”
Goulding released her second album Halcyon in October. It’s the follow-up to her debut, Lights, which was released in March 2010, shortly after she’d topped the BBC’s Sound Of 2010, the annual poll of music industry tipsters on who they think will succeed in the coming year.
As predictions go, it wasn’t too bad either, with Lights reaching No 1 in its first week of release. To date it’s sold just under one million copies in the UK and 1.6 million worldwide.
Halcyon is a very different album, however. In a brave move, Goulding ditched the gentle folky electronica for a harder, more dance-based sound.
“Figure 8 is the new single,” she says proudly. “People are saying it’s a real banger!”
With two such contrasting albums, there was a worry her forthcoming shows could feel like gigs of two halves. Goulding has wisely taken measures to prevent this and is confident the tour will be her best yet.
“I don’t just want it to be one song after another, up and down in tempo and all over the place. It’s going to be like a DJ set where the DJ is mixing songs to match one another.
“It’ll all run very smoothly and there’ll be room for everything in the set, gentler songs like Your Song and I Know You Care alongside Figure 8 and whatever. And I want to play remixes and maybe a cover or two.”
I Know You Care was written with Justin Parker. As you might imagine from the involvement of the man who co-wrote Bat For Lashes’ recent single Laura, and Lana Del Rey’s Video Games, it’s a stripped-back, piano-led ballad and among the album’s only downbeat moments.
Despite the remaining songs from Halcyon being more frenetic than those from Lights, Goulding maintains they’re actually easier to arrange for performance, with the likes of Starry Eyed and Under The Sheets from the latter proving quite challenging when she first stepped out on tour in 2010.
There was also the worry that her distinctive voice could become lost under the masses of electronic beats and heavy basslines of Halcyon.
“I actually feel stuff gets lost more on Lights, because my voice isn’t very high in the mix and it’s weaved into the music and production, whereas on Halcyon I intentionally wanted my voice to be the leading instrument on the album,” she explains.
Halcyon seems like a direct response to the critical reaction to Lights. Where once Goulding could have been accused of being timid, she’s toughened up. While once she seemed shy, now she’s full of confidence.
“I didn’t want to try to do anything for anyone else,” she counters. “The one thing I did want to do was move away from Lights, though. It’s not me any more. I’ve changed and matured, in lots of ways. And that has to show in my music.
“I was a little bit scared of everything that was happening before,” she says, referring to the pressure of the Sound Of poll and the Brits Critics’ Choice award, which she also won.
“It was a very strange time and I obsessed over everything. Now I’ve reached a point where I can brush off things and have no baggage and can just do what I want to do. Now there’s no hype or expectation, and people’s unfounded perception of me has disappeared.
“I’m not in that position any more where I have to impress people who’ve never heard of me before. I’m relaxed and I can just tour my new record. I’ve probably gained some new fans with the new album, and lost some too, but that’s what happens.
“Now, I think people either like me or they don’t, but there probably aren’t people who are still undecided.”
Much of Halcyon was inspired by her break-up with BBC Radio 1 DJ Greg James. The two are still on good terms, although she won’t say much more than that on the matter. She will say, however, that performing the personal songs of heartbreak each night is easy. As long as she acts her way through them.
“I just put up a barrier before I perform those songs,” she says. “It’s just like acting – acting a really tragic, horrific event that happened to someone else. Sometimes that slips and I’ll go back to feeling how I did when I wrote the song, feeling vulnerable.
“The feeling is always there, I just have to avoid it so I can perform the songs every night.”
ELLE GOULDING is playing Liverpool Academy on Saturday.