As she rushes to shower before her Dublin show, pop princess cum electro goddess Ellie Goulding sits down with Aoife Valentine to talk living in the Phoenix Park, outrageous egg demands and how Irish students are just the right level of crazy drunk
“I would live here, you know. I would,” says Ellie Goulding, Brit Award-winning English singer-songwriter. She’s just returned from a run around the Phoenix Park, and has roughly an hour before she’s due on stage at the Olympia. “It was divine,” she declares. “I literally just ran nine miles. I haven’t had a shower, which is why I look so gross.”
Gross is not a word Otwo would have chosen; rather Goulding looks relaxed, in an oversized top and leggings, with a beanie covering her mop of blonde hair, her rather famous undercut currently in the process of being grown out. She began running when she was in university studying English, Politics and Drama, and she says it began more and more to take over her degree. It is still something she is passionate about; it’s the only thing she says her inner diva comes out to complain about, asking her manager to ensure that any hotel she stays in has a gym and that there’s some time put aside in her schedule so she can run even when on the road.
This stipulation has become even more important recently as Goulding gears up to run a half marathon in Washington later this month, as part of her partnership with Nike. She’s quite despairing when asked how she even thinks about fitting in training sessions while on tour, before she says with more than a hint of disappointment in her voice: “It’s fine, it’ll be fine, I just probably won’t be able to run as well as I wanted to, because I haven’t got time.”
It’s quite clear that she’s not covering up her other more outrageous diva-ish demands for our sake. With no sign of a 100-person entourage or bowls of blue M&Ms, her main complaint is that her friend, who is waiting patiently as the interview proceeds, hasn’t boiled the kettle while she was out of the room. She muffles his protests that he had in fact boiled it, as she puts it on for herself. It seems after her run, all that matters to her is getting a cup of tea. That and large eggs. She sized up the two salads that had been delivered by room service, before declaring that the one with the bigger egg was hers, a point she reinforced when a member of her management team passed through, lest anyone dare pick up the wrong one. These requests seemed less like diva-ish tantrums, and more just the basic requirements of a tired person trying to recoup after a long run, before heading on stage to jump and dance around for a couple of hours.
With the salad and tea débâcles settled, she returns to chat about the tour, which had begun the previous night in Belfast, with a performance jammed in the previous night again at Trinity Ball. She seems a little wary of talking about that night, saying only: “It was really good. It was, eh, energetic. I think I played a good spot, at 1am.”
This was two hours later than Jessie J played two years previously, before complaining about the level of drunkenness in the crowd, and lecturing students about the dangers of binge drinking. Goulding takes quite a different approach to the whole subject, saying: “No! No, it was perfect. If people are too sober, it’s also not great so it was a perfect level of craziness.”
When talking about the tour, she can’t seem to quite put her finger on what’s different for Halycon Days when compared with the Lights tour from a couple of years ago, besides that there’s just “more” of everything: “It’s a whole different set, all different songs; some are new songs, a few are old songs, and I suppose there’s a bit more energy there. There’s more going into the lighting and sound, we’ve worked on that a lot more. It’s just very different this time.”
Perhaps the struggle to identify differences lies somewhere in the fact that it’s the songs that are very different. Halycon, released last October, is Goulding’s second studio album and is also a lot “more” everything: It’s a lot darker, a lot more personal and emotional, a lot more electronic, and it showcases just how interesting her voice is. This, she says, was her intention when she began writing the album: “Yeah, I mean I think the next album will be the same again. It might have an extra level of intimacy. That was a natural progression really. I always knew from Lights and from writing songs for when I re-released Lights as Bright Lights, that it was getting more and more personal.”
Referring to her song ‘I Know You Care’, she says: “It’s about my dad. I don’t mind telling you that. It’s very personal to me.” Referencing her own denials about her father, who left her and her siblings when she was young and who she has had little contact with since, she has admitted that she isn’t even sure if he has heard the song or if he ever will, but felt she had to write those feeling down anyway.
While she never meant the album to be a break-up record, it turned into something closely resembling just that, as it was written in the aftermath of her break-up with Radio 1 DJ Greg James. This is obvious as you give the album a listen through, but talking about the track ‘Without Your Love’, she says: “The chorus just goes ‘Without your love, I’m getting somewhere.’ It’s harsh but true. Harsh, but fair.”
Baring all of this in mind, this must be a tougher tour to face, with the prospect of getting up on stage and singing these songs every night. “No,” she says. “I perform them in a way that’s almost like, robotic. I still have the emotion but there’s just a little bit closed off so I don’t have to keep accessing the same thing that I did when I wrote it.”
When it came to the song-writing for this album, she took off alone, with just her guitar for company, and landed in Dingle, County Cork; an odd choice of location for a British songstress with plenty of similar countryside on offer, surely? “I made friends when I did the Other Voices festival a few Christmases back, and I made very good friends with the Kings so I stayed in touch with them. I just thought, you know, I’m going to do it and I went there for a couple of weeks, just by myself. I’m going to do it again, I need to do it again, but I’ll just get my guitar and read books and hang out, by myself… I definitely prefer being in the countryside yeah, because it’s where I grew up so I have a close connection and bond with the countryside, ” she says.
More so than other pop stars, she is very involved in almost every aspect of writing and producing an album, acting as co-producer for Halcyon. This control is something she says she could never give up: “It’s just something that I have to do really. I write songs with my guitar, and other people on the piano. I like writing with other people because it’s just a fun thing to do and when other people have such different perspectives on things, it makes it really interesting but I’m just very interested in production, very interested in making sounds and finding sounds. It’s part of it, it’s part of the fun.”
Her interest in production and sounds is becoming more obvious as she’s gaining a reputation for electro and dance music, more than just her pop roots. This really began when she broke America and re-released her début album Lights as Bright Lights, which had a slightly more electronic feel than the original. Still mostly renowned for her pop on this side of the pond, the dichotomy is something she enjoys: “People are just a lot more friendly in America and they didn’t really sort of look into or take into consideration anything other than that they liked my music and they liked my remixes. I suppose it’s nice to be able to have those different sides, I like being looked at in different ways.”
Comparing the two worlds, it’s difficult not to note that the electro and dance scenes are flooded with successful male artists, but women are few and far between. This is something that Goulding seems to find a little sad, but it has had its benefits for her, as she explains: “I think to me, I feel like a lot of electronic producers and DJs have a lot of respect for me because I seem to have found myself in that world and I’m one of the very few girls who have. There are a lot of really, really talented female vocalists that end up on electronic dance tracks that people have never heard of, but still, I want to work with a lot of electronic acts and they send me stuff and when I actually get a chance, I’ll record some stuff, but I think that I found myself in that sort of group and it’s awesome.”
Not content with just finding time to record new tracks with new people, she is constantly just looking for new music and new artists to add to her collection, and it’s something that she feels is really important, as a musician herself. “Whenever I get a chance I go on blogs and my friends also are really, really good at that stuff so between me and my friends, we always find the coolest stuff, the new stuff.”
Both that and running are things she feels she has to keep up with, no matter where in the world she is, or how busy her schedule becomes. The only other really key thing to her, it seems, are Instagram, and to a lesser extent, Twitter. With an almost never-ending stream of photos of everything she’s up to, whether it’s playing shows, recording or just hanging out, it’s something she believes she almost owes fans. “People seem to like it,” she says. “I’ve got a lot of Instagram followers and it just sort of seems to keep them happy. I’m never around so, especially where I come from in the UK, I feel like I’ve abandoned my fans slightly when they’re in the UK, so I like to give them photos and let them know that I’m okay, that I’m fine and having fun. I don’t use them for any reason other than that really, I just like to have fun.”
This will certainly ring true for the next number of months, with the first leg of her European tour only just begun, and no tour dates scheduled in the UK until at least the end of the summer, after she’s toured the US and Canada first. It’s a hectic schedule, with a new show almost every night in not only a new city, but most in most instances, a new country. When the subject of a third album is carefully broached, she almost laughs at the idea of fitting in song-writing amid everything else, exclaiming: “No! When?!”, before conceding that she writes “stuff down all the time but just [needs] a long period of time in the studio.”
And that, she says as she picks up the cup of tea that had been hesitantly placed on the table beside her a few minutes earlier, is where she hopes to be by the end of the year.
Ellie Goulding’s second album, Halcyon, is out now.