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A Quietus Interview

Ellie Goulding Interview About Brits, BBC, Breakthrough And Lights
Iain Moffat , February 11th, 2010 06:50

Iain Moffat declares uncritical love for the output of young Ms Goulding

Here at The Quietus, we've never been ones for giving a free pass to anyone on the basis that they're almost definitely The Next Big Thing. Nonetheless, when someone actually turns up doing a sterling job of justifying such expectation, we're more than happy to offer our fulsome support. And so to Ellie Goulding, who's following in the somewhat disappointing steps of Adele by winning the Brits Critics Choice Award and the even more heartbreaking wake of Mika and The Bravery in topping the BBC's Sound Of... poll. Thankfully, though, we've heard Lights.

And what a debut it is; vocally and lyrically it's imbued with a profound sense of adventure throughout, and features some of the most deliciously complex homegrown songs since the emergence of Badly Drawn Boy. The structural games and pop twinkle (impressive even in an age when pop twinkliness comes as luminous as it does on 'Bad Romance', 'Bonkers' or '3 Words') of 'Under The Sheets' may well have already ignited your intrigue somewhat, but there's plenty more of a similar or higher standard, from the sleeve-hearted rhapsodies of 'The Writer' to the gleefully bizarre gallop of 'Guns And Horses'.

Needless to say, those songs won't showcase themselves, and it's something of a minor miracle we even pin her down at all: when she comes on the phone, she's in the midst of such chaos that she cheerfully admits to a racing heart and constantly apologises for being a little on the vague side, and, in an endearingly unglamorous touch, is in fact queueing for a well-earned cup of tea. (She takes camomile, beverage fans.) What a trooper! So, then, Ellie... all set for the Brits?

“God, I haven't even started getting ready for that! I haven't got a speech, haven't got a dress... I haven't even had time to talk to anyone about it. I'm meant to be getting sorted out on Sunday, but if that doesn't happen then it's just straight into the wardrobe for something. How are you supposed to prepare for that sort of thing anyway? I'm not exactly going to go there and go, “right, tonight, I will be noshing with celebrities”.”

We suspect from that, then, that the whole Heat'n'household name element of this malarkey kind of isn't the point. But it's looking eminently inevitable, which begs the question of just what it is that made you embark on the road to pop stardom in the first place.

“I was always drawn to music, even when I was little, because it was such a huge escape for me. I grew up with a few sisters in a tiny house, so, really, listening to tapes was the only privacy I ever got. [Yes, readers, TAPES! Ellie Goulding is 22, so we weren't expecting that.] And I think it would've been Bjork that made me realise it was what I actually wanted to do: I think it must have been her greatest hits or something, but I'd just sit there singing along, over and over, and that just seemed like all I ever wanted to do. Sorry, that's really cheesy, isn't it?”

Not at all – it's probably a fairly familiar story, and, besides, there's not exactly a great deal terribly cheesy about Bjork, of all people. That wasn't your first record, was it?

“I'm not really sure, my memory's terrible... I think it might have been a Spice Girls tape. I think I bought everything, though – lots of dance, Simply Red's 'Fairground', bit of Blur, The Verve, Supergrass, a lot of classical. Oh, and I got quite rock as well – Pearl Jam, MUSE, Incubus. I've been getting quite nostalgic for a lot of that lately, maybe because I've had to think about what's made me sound like I do, but I couldn't really point at any of it and say yes, that's what's really influenced me. It's probably affected me in ways I don't even notice.”

It's one thing singing along, though – even when your choice of role model has such a remarkable voice – and quite another to take the leap from there to writing your own stuff, particularly given the style you've developed. Did you start out by writing poems and then move on from there?

“Well, the thing is, I've always been really absorbed in other people, I pay a great deal of attention to what they're doing. I used to keep a diary when I was younger, and I think that led into writing songs. Never poems – the music was always part of it – but I've always a real way with words, it's something I really took to. And it's helped that I've got a very vivid imagination.”

So are you saying, then, that what you're doing now is all imagination, that, like Kate Bush, you're starting out not by being autobiographical but by telling stories?

“Oh no, it is storytelling, but it is all about me. I'm very honest, and I think that's probably something that people respond to. There are pop stars who just sing other people's songs, but that's not me.”

That's clearly something that's very important to you, and that's apparent in the fact that the album was as good as done even before anyone else became involved. Still, there are now one or two other people who've worked on it – the wonderful Frankmusik for one. It must have been quiet difficult for you to let go to that degree, mustn't it?

“What's been really surprising is how much people are on the same page as me, so it hasn't felt like that at all. It really didn't occur to me when I was putting music online that people would get it to the extent that they do, but then again I suppose I've never really tried that hard. I don't think any musicians put their songs out there just to get a response.”

That's as may be, but it's obvious that the response you've had means a lot to you. Has that changed your approach to other artists as a result? Do you find now that when you go on, say, MySpace and hear something that has an effect on you you're more inclined to respond yourself, given the difference that kind of reaction's made to you?

“To be honest, I don't get to hear that much in the way of new bands at all. When I was recording it was important that I was totally isolated; I had no idea what else was out there at the time because I was too focussed and I didn't want to let anything else in. But I do love going out to see bands, I'd do it as much as I could, except that now I pretty much only get to see bands when I'm actually playing with them. So yes, I'd love to check out lots of new stuff – there's just not the time!”

Lights is released through Polydor on the 1st of March