Ellie Goulding’s got a new album out and to help promote it her label organised some interviews in a reasonably swanky hotel so we went along to have a bit of a chat with her about panthers, popstar hair and Skrillex’s tea-making skills. Perhaps you’d like to have a read of it below.
Questions: Michael Cragg
Shall we have a chat?
If your first album ‘Lights’ were an animal, what animal would it have been?
My goodness. Erm. Oh my god, I was not expecting this. I don’t really know, no one’s ever asked me that… It was a cat. Because cats can be vicious and cats can be really powerful. I’ve seen cats jump off really tall things and land fine.
What animal is ‘Halcyon’?
Not a panther?
Oh I like that more. I used to have nightmares about panthers. Once someone told me that the forest next to my house had a panther in it, or a black cat. From that day I started having nightmares that I was being chased by panthers and from then on it sort of ruined everything because I didn’t like going walking by myself or cycling or anything for fear of something “grrrr”. Apparently you’re supposed to do this (lifts coat up over her head like she’s making a sail). It’s to make yourself look really big and scary.
Would you actually do that if you saw a panther?
No, I’d run for my fucking life.
This new album of yours seems full of emotional wreckage. Was it difficult to make and write?
Not really. For this record, I don’t know whether it shows or not, but I felt like I had a much stronger vision for it. In the sense that even though I sort of had no idea what I was doing but at the same time, I did. A lot of people have been asking me about whether there was a lot of pressure, and there wasn’t really. Even though ‘Lights’ did well and I’m really proud of it, it’s also really naïve and sort of thrown together. It wasn’t something I ever really intended to release as an album in the sense that I was writing it even before I had a record deal. It’s a mix of things I’ve written since I was really young, but with this album I felt like I was much more focused and committed to things. On the first album…It’s like when I did my first essay at Uni and I thought ‘this will be amazing, I’ll get a first for this’ and it came back and it was average and I was really like ‘wow’ and taken aback, and I realised I needed to put a lot more work in than I did before. I don’t know why I think of that comparison but I think I remember that feeling of being naïve and thinking it was a lot better than it was.
Was there extra pressure because you’d won the BBC Sound of thing and a Brit award?
Yeah. I think there probably was but at the time I didn’t really notice because so much was happening. Then one day it was like ‘the album’s coming out next week, yeah? Cool’. (Laughs) That was all just an intense time for me. All of a sudden my album was being reviewed by people I didn’t know. I think it was the personal aspect of people talking about me as if they knew me and that kind of threw me off a little bit. I found it very hard to take in. Reviews are a funny thing.
Do you read them?
Yeah, I read them, but mainly just out of curiosity. I find it quite amusing when people are so so wrong. Just so far away. Talking about where I grew up and they get little facts wrong. I’m really intrigued by some people’s interpretations of what I do.
Was there any pressure from your label to work with Dr Luke or RedOne or anything?
No no no.
How do you think that would have worked out?
We probably could have made some good songs. That was never really my thing. I think my label knew that.
You’re on Calvin Harris’ new album aren’t you? Along with just about every other popstar.
I think it’s one of the first songs he’s written with someone. He’s written a lot of songs by himself. I mean, he’s really really clever. I’ve always been a fan of him and we used to have the same management, ages ago. He’s done well for himself. We wrote that song in his flat about a year ago now and then we sort of scrapped it and came back to it and re-recorded it and there was a bit of confusion around that song for a bit. A lot of artists have to write an album, do promotion for it and then it comes out and then you do things for a bit and then another album, but he’s got to the point where he can just say ‘I can do what I want’.
Was there a turning point where you thought ‘I’m getting rid of this mousey blonde hair arrangement and dying it pink and wearing black mesh trouser and cornrows’? Or did it just come with growing up and getting more confident?
What were you wearing two years ago?
The same as today, to be honest.
Yeah? Quite similar. (Sighs) I don’t know, I change what I wear all the time. When I was younger I was a bit of a goth, then I went through a point of rebelling against the rebel or whatever I was and became quite girly and dyed my hair blonde from black, which took about four years. And now I’m kind of a mixture of that really. I genuinely feel for the first time in ages really comfortable with myself. I went through a point where I was super skinny and I felt like I had to be I don’t know, that I had to… It was actually more convenient to be fit for touring and stuff. I just feel really comfortable with myself and I feel like I don’t have to be anything.
The cornrows caused a lot of fuss didn’t they?
Cornrowgate! I don’t know what the big deal was really. I’ve always had this mane of hair everywhere and then all of sudden it’s gone and I’m practically bald, maybe it just looked a bit odd for everyone. But it was very convenient because I didn’t have any hair in my face, I didn’t sweat as much and it was a delight. I think people are very eager to talk about my reappearance and stuff.
But you did say that the Active Child cover was a turning point for you and a new direction, so people were primed for that.
It’s definitely the first new direction people heard, but I’ve been doing side projects with other people for the last two year that people haven’t heard yet. Ever since I put out Your Song, that was the point where I was like ‘right, time to do other stuff’. So I went and worked with Billboard, who produced ‘Hanging On’, and I’ve made a bunch of stuff with him, made stuff with Skrillex, made stuff with people that I met through him and I’ve just been having the time of my life as a singer because my voice is so much fun and I can do so much stuff with it. I’m singing on stuff that people don’t know is me because it’s been manipulated so much.
The American success of the single ‘Lights’ is a bit of an odd one, isn’t it?
I don’t know if I should tell people that it broke the Billboard record for the slowest climb up the chart. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. I remember when we sort of started to talk about America and it was quite daunting for me. But it was never ‘we’re going for the big push, we’re going to America and we’re going to break you, raaaaaar’. We did a very small show in New York and one in LA and realised that they were absolutely jam packed and then we realised it was just from them hearing about me from the UK. Then it built up slowly and I was doing big shows and then I sort of left and came back home to write the new record. Then out of nowhere ‘Lights’ started climbing the charts.
Do you think it was helped by the Royal seal of approval? Americans seem to love that lot.
I think I definitely got attention around that and people were like, ‘Ellie who?’. Then I did SNL and stuff from that. But it just made people go ‘ah, cool, she’s nice’. But it really was a very slow process. I think people were predicting that I would blow up in America [after the Royal wedding 'gig'] but it didn’t happen like that. The last year or so has been going between doing stuff in America and doing my album.
How was the wedding? Was it the most surreal thing you’ve ever done? Or was it just like any other kind of wedding? A bit of over-the-dress fondling on the dancefloor and everyone avoiding the creepy uncle?
No comment. Here’s the thing, I know everyone wants to know about it, but I don’t want to talk about it. I didn’t sign anything [to keep quiet], but I just want it to be the one thing that I can keep to myself. We did have a lot of fun. My band were there and they let us stay afterwards. I played some covers and played some songs from the new album and that’s quite daunting you know, especially with songs people don’t know.
Does Skrillex make a good cup of tea?
He does! He actually does. He knows I love my tea. He tries to make me drink coffee and I don’t drink it. I love the smell but I can’t bear the taste.
A few years ago Popjustice ran a cruelly-ignored-when-it-came-to-awards feature in which you unpacked a vacuum cleaner. In the feature you are sporting a ‘Skrillex’ atop your head yet people assume you’ve copied him. Does that annoy you?
I invented it! (Laughs) I mean, when I first met Skrillex it was a bit awkward. Loads of people are getting it now. I’ve decided to grow this one side out now. I’ve had it really short for the last year or so because I’m starting to miss this side of my hair now. It’s been a while you know. That picture is really old. I tried a wig on the other day for a laugh and it had hair on both side, obviously, and I was like ‘ah, I miss it’. (Mimes stroking imaginary hair)
Popstar hair is confusing. Who has hair? Who doesn’t have hair? Is it a wig, is it extensions…
You’d be surprised. It’s really difficult because you have to have so much maintenance with your hair when you’re on the road and your constantly doing stuff with your hair. You’re always having to put product in it and glue hair extensions to it.
And Marina’s hair broke off!
Yeah that’s what she said to me. Actually, here’s the thing, before she dyed her hair blonde she had this beautiful brown hair and we have the same hairdresseer and I saw her and asked her what she was doing and she said he was dying it blonde. I said to her, ‘I just want to let you know that dying your hair blonde, from experience, will make your hair fall out’ and she did it and it looked amazing and then apparently it snapped off. So kids, don’t bleach your hair.
Did you send her a text just saying ‘I told you so’ perhaps with a sadface emoticon?
(Laughs) No, that’s mean. But yeah, it does damage your hair a lot.
Can we talk about ‘I Know You Care’, which is really rather beautiful, and paired with that new video is basically one huge blubbathon.
I know. That film [Now Is Good, which is about a teenager dying of leukemia] man, have you seen it? Even I can’t watch that because I relate it to that film. It is a good film so do see it but don’t go if you’re feeling depressed. I wrote that song about my dad but people have been interpreting it in different ways and I’ve had quite a lot of tweets about it. People saying ‘oh, it’s just like when two people break up and they don’t want to but they know it’s for the best’ and this mutual sadness, but there’s a valid reason why two people have to break up. I wrote it with Justin Parker who wrote ‘Video Games’ and he’s a really clever guy and sometimes people just bring out that really sad thing in me. It really depends on who I work with.
Do you think secretly he just wants to write a big banger and everyone keeps turning up in tears wanting to exorcise some demons?
(Laughs) Yeah. The thing is, on a serious note, when I used to talk about my dad in interviews I wasn’t very nice and I was quite bitter and still very angry because he sort of just stopped… I mean, I don’t even know where he is. It just frustrated me a lot, but now I’m sort of over it.
The title is quite generous isn’t it? Was the working title ‘You Massive Arsehole’?
It’s sort of a denial thing. When you’re constantly saying to someone ‘I know you care about me’ or ‘I know you still love me’, and a lot of the time that’s not the case, sadly.
Do you think knowing what the song is about is important or matters? I am in a similar position where I haven’t seen my dad for ten years and when I first heard that song I thought it was good but didn’t connect with it in the way I do now.
Songs like ‘Anything Can Happen’ are open to any kind of interpretation. The reason why I did that video is because I think that song is either about jumping off a building in euphoria or waking up and thinking ‘today I’m going to start a new life’ or whatever, but songs like ‘I Know You Care’ and ‘Explosions’ are way more specific. But then again the film that it’s in is about someone who falls in love right before they die, so the people who chose that song obviously interpreted it in a certain way. I suppose, I don’t know, if that song makes people feel better, like if it made you feel better or feel like you’re not alone or whatever then that’s good. I like the idea that it helps someone out. That’s what music does for me.
Do you ever worry about exposing yourself, emotionally?
(Laughs) This is why it makes me laugh when, like, Popjustice said I was the least controversial popstar. I thought that was hilarious. If only you knew!
Where do you think this perception’s come from?
Because I’m a good liar. No, I don’t know. Now people think I’ve changed into this different person and I don’t think I have.
Part of it’s you just going out with someone new isn’t it?
No, but he’s not my boyfriend just specifically for that. Aside from the music he makes, he’s my best mate. He’s my favourite person. It’s quite simple really. It’s not complex.
But from a public’s perception and people looking in these are the sort of things that can change people’s opinions.
Oh yeah, totally. But yeah, exposing myself. I feel like if I started censoring my own songs it wouldn’t work. I have to be honest. I don’t think anybody would ever say to me, ‘I don’t want you to write about that’. No one’s ever said that to me. But maybe the next record will be a bit more cryptic or maybe it will be even more honest.
Can you talk everyone through the time you fell off a Segway? How is that even possible?
(Laughs for ages) I’ll tell you the story. We were in Miami and I was performing for Richard Branson actually. He wanted me to go and sing for him at the Versace mansion and it was nice and lovely. Then we had a rare day free so it was my manager’s idea to go on the Segways and I was a bit worried because sometimes the more confident you are the bigger the fall is. So I had these paps following me around so I had that pressure and then someone said we should ride out onto the beach. So I’m riding along and Chris my guitarist was in front of me and Segways are quite shit; you can’t go uphill, you can’t go downhill and all you can do is ride forward. On a more serious note, the person who invented them killed himself on one. So I saw Chris start to fall and I burst out laughing and I lost control. People have lost fucking limbs on those things, they’re that dangerous. And the paparazzi knew it was going to happen as well. We carried on and then we got to these rocks and I fell off again! My head was about an inch away from a sharp rock and my manager was white as a sheet and he didn’t talk for about an hour.
And people say you’re not controversial!
I am very controversial.
‘Anything Could Happen’ is out now and it’s brilliant. ‘Halcyon’ is out now as well and that’s very good too. You can get them on iTunes if you like. Hurrah.
Answers: Ellie Goulding (obviously)