Thanks to her stadium-husky voice, deployed on expansive pop full of unabashed emotion, Ellie Goulding has long been one of the UK’s biggest global pop stars. In 2019 she releases her yet untitled fourth album which. Here are excerpts from an interview.
Where has your head been at since the last album ?
I finished touring, moved to New York, and I was jaded, depleted of any artistic inspiration. I just started cooking, going to the dry cleaners, learning piano. New York doesn’t really have the same rock’n’roll scene it used to, and it was very lonely. I’d often book studios and there’d never be anyone else there. But it gave me a kind of freedom, because there was no one telling me to release an album. I wasn’t forcing myself to write pop songs about boys and relationships, which I used to be so obsessed with when I was younger.
And you got engaged. Did you write about that?
I have a terrible habit of analysing things to within an inch of their lives, so I didn’t want to overanalyse what I had with him — it’s something much more pure, and something I didn’t need to explain to myself in a song.
But on one new song, ‘Love I’m Given’, maybe I was reflecting on how I finally felt I’d found this person that was loving me for the right reasons. I don’t think I ever got over being thrust into the spotlight, so I put on quite a tough exterior. I never had time to myself, and any time I did was in a hotel room somewhere — I’d probably had a few drinks, knocked myself out. I don’t know how I could have possibly given a good version of myself to anyone: friends, boyfriends, family. So I’m very grateful Caspar came along, because I feel like I was able to be myself again.
What else did you write about?
‘Flux’ is about thinking about the person who you almost ended up with — I’m a sucker for what could have been. ‘Electricity’ is about a friend who had been cheated on quite cruelly for a couple of years. But I can’t help writing with empathy, trying to understand why a person has behaved the way they have. Somebody tried to write a song to damage me, and it was a really horrifying thing to go through. I found it really baffling, and just sad, that something that I’d built entirely by myself, my career, was somehow at risk. It had a huge effect on me. But I still didn’t feel the need to be angry — so maybe that’s a good thing.
Are you talking about Ed Sheeran?
Er... not specifically. [Sighs] There was a period where I felt someone was trying to sabotage me. So there probably are small pieces of the songs that relate to things that frustrate me, and things that are happening in the world, but I’ve always been conscious that I want to keep songwriting as an escape.
There’s a bit of a pop-rap feel to some of the new tracks — were you trying to do something new?
I think it’s important to know the way pop is changing — I would never release something completely blind, without listening to any radio or Spotify, and expect people to like it; and for it to compare with what’s out there. But I still find it thrilling when people release something that doesn’t sound like anything else — I’m always fighting to work with producers coming up with whole new soundscapes. My voice doesn’t sound like anyone’s in the world, so I’ve got that to my advantage, and I can also manipulate my voice as part of the track or make it into a sample. That’s how I stay not sounding like anything else — I have that locked, for ever.
Does pop ever feel frivolous compared with your climate change activism ?
Sometimes it does. But often I really need to just write a bloody good pop song after meeting climate scientists, or going to the climate assembly in Kenya last year. Going to Greenland and seeing glaciers collapse. It’s gone beyond facts and boring data — we’re seeing it with our own eyes. The wildfires [in California] were exacerbated by climate change, the crazy storms that have been happening: it’s very obvious.
One of my motivations to have a bigger platform as a singer is so that I have more people to reach. Climate change has got to a critical point where we all need to be very active; we need to compensate for what’s going on in certain political situations. I know that ‘celebrities shouldn’t get involved in politics’, but it’s something we have to act on now. I can’t help but feel a bit frustrated that I’m the only one speaking out about something so important — no one else in my peer group is.
The next step is electing people who take this seriously, and to trust scientists. And having a bigger consciousness of your day-to-day actions. I don’t eat that much meat; I try to use sustainable fashion brands; we’re trying to make my tour completely plastic free, and cut down on flights, with a better eco-bus situation. I think I’m probably doing more good than bad, overall.