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Interview with Ellie Goulding

Aired August 30, 2013 - 05:30   ET



MONITA RAJPAL, HOST (voice-over): Her ethereal sound has endeared her to millions around the world...


RAJPAL: -- first flooding into households around Britain with this Elton John cover that's part of a commercial for the department store, John Lewis.


RAJPAL: That after a 2010 pop single, "Starry-Eyed," that would snag a number four ranking on the U.K. charts, helping her debut album, "Lights," hit the converted number one spot.

Her sudden popularity saw her win the influential BBC Sound of 2010 poll, followed by the Critics Choice Award (INAUDIBLE) that same year, making her the second artist after superstar Adele to achieve (INAUDIBLE).


RAJPAL: The rising British star also cracked audiences across the Atlantic with her electronic pop sound. Today, her single "Lights" has sold some three million copies in the U.S. alone and reached number five on the Billboard 100.


RAJPAL: And while Grammy fame has so far eluded her, her latest album, "Halcyon" also entered the U.S. charts in the top ten.

(on camera): Very nice to meet you.

(voice-over): This week, we meet Ellie Goulding in Singapore, as she brings her digital groove east, and find out why she had to lock herself away to write her latest album.

(on camera): Ellie Goulding, welcome to TALK ASIA.

GOULDING: Thank you.

RAJPAL: Thank you so much for being here with us in Singapore, your first time performing live in Singapore.


RAJPAL: Do you ever give yourself a chance to think back as to how your music and where your music has brought you?

GOULDING: It's -- definitely, this is a -- this is a place which has kind of brought home for me the most, you know. I've spent a lot of time in America the last couple of years. And to suddenly be here, it just -- it really has made everything a bit more real, you know?

Like I -- when I got to the airport, there were fans there and they were really sweet and really cute. And I get -- I didn't expect that. And so I thought that was (INAUDIBLE) that there wouldn't be anybody waiting.

RAJPAL: And you're saying you've been touring a lot in the United States, as well. It's a place where a lot of artists want to break. It's a market that's very difficult to break.


RAJPAL: So what's that -- what was that like for you, knowing that you were able to break that barrier?

GOULDING: Well, I spent a lot time in America just being kind of on the cusp and not really getting to that higher level of having a hit song or having a hit album. I think we kind of got to that point where all of us, myself and my management team and stuff, thought that -- it got to that point where we were just going to give up on America...


GOULDING: -- which to me seems crazy now, because as soon as we -- I got back home to record "Halcyon," it took off with one of my songs "Lights." And then I realized that I could do it. And so they flew me back over. And I was performing everywhere and I -- I had a good -- I was in a good place. But like "Lights" took me into even a greater place in America.


RAJPAL: Let's talk about "Lights." I think there was, at one point, especially during the Summer Olympics in London where I heard it everywhere all of the time.


RAJPAL: Were you prepared for the kind of feedback and reaction that "Lights" gave you?

GOULDING: No. I wrote "Lights" a long, long time ago. And I expected it to be on the album, because it was -- I wrote it with "Biff" Stannard and he's -- he wrote every single Spice Girls song and every single pop song of the '90s, basically.

So I thought, you know, I was -- I was really lucky to work with him. And I -- but I didn't think it would be a big song for some reason. I just, I don't know. It just -- I just didn't think it had that kind of magic, but obviously it did.


GOULDING: Because it sold 3.5 million copies, I think.

RAJPAL: And everyone heard it.

GOULDING: It's just everyone -- like people -- people in America, actually, in the world, know my name more than they know me or my face or what I look like.

RAJPAL: That's pretty cool, though.

GOULDING: Yes. And it's handy.


GOULDING: It's handy, yes. But, you know, I like that. I've always liked that. I like the idea of me, not just "Lights," with other songs, remixes, coming on in cloud (ph) sort of shops or wherever. And people are like, oh, this is really cool. But no one (INAUDIBLE) that's me. That's quite a cool thing.

RAJPAL: What was the inspiration behind "Lights?"

GOULDING: Partly my fear of the dark, which I still have. And I still sleep with one light on at least. And I think because I grew up sharing a bedroom with my two sisters that as soon as I wasn't with them, I missed it. And I wasn't used to it. And so I have to rely on...

RAJPAL: Yes. 2011 and 2012 were pretty huge years for you. I mean they -- aside from the accolades and the awards and the recognition that you received, you also became a wedding singer.

GOULDING: Yes, I was asked by Kate and William to perform at their wedding, at their part -- the after party.


GOULDING: Because they're just really big fans and they had seen me perform. First, when I sing that, that was what made them choose me.

RAJPAL: Did I hear that you almost -- you didn't take the call, because you were on your way to the gym or something?

Is that what happened?

GOULDING: The first call, I didn't answer, because it was anonymous and I always get scared of answering anonymous calls. And the second time, I just had this -- it was another anonymous call and I just had this feeling that it was someone important. And I was on my way to the gym in London with my boyfriend at the time. And I just looked and it was (INAUDIBLE). I think this is a very important phone call (INAUDIBLE). and it was. It was one of Prince William's advisers.

RAJPAL: And at that moment, when you see, at that time, the most famous couple in the world walking in, what was going through your mind?

GOULDING: I think towy that I was able to deal with it is because, firstly, I had met them already and I'd chatted with William and Prince William and Prince Harry quite a bit. So I think that was the only way that kind of -- now, that took the edge off. But also, I guess when you've met famous people and people that you see on the TV a lot and people you -- you -- finally you start realizing that famous people do really exist and they're human people and it's not that scary or intimidating.

RAJPAL: I understand you sang "Your Song." I'd like to talk a little bit about "Your Song."


RAJPAL: It got such wide appeal, not to mention that it was also in a commercial in the U.K., as well. It was produced by Ben Mumford.


RAJPAL: How did that change for you?

How did your sound change, working with him?

GOULDING: I think he just wanted to bring back that -- like the -- that kind of delicate nature of my voice when I first started doing music. And he did like -- he real -- he genuinely directed me when -- while I was singing it and stuff. So had he not been there, I think it would have been -- it would have been very different. So he had a huge part in it.

RAJPAL: It was an album that was dominated by this loneliness.

GOULDING: Yes, I think I just need -- experienced different kinds of loneliness in making my first album.




RAJPAL: I want to talk about "Halcyon" it's -- I've heard you describe the album as having a very ambitious sound. But yet I've read that you said that it was also a very -- it was an album that was dominated by this loneliness.

Tell me a little bit about that.

GOULDING: I think I've definitely experienced different kinds of loneliness since making my first album. But I think it's more a loneliness in feeling something or I think the reason why I like writing songs so much is so that I can -- so that I can prove to myself that I'm not actually alone. And then I realize that a lot of people feel the same way.

And I think when you become disconnected with someone or something ends, you do feel -- suddenly feel an intense sort of loneliness.

And that was what helped me write the record.

RAJPAL: Why did you decide to call it "Halcyon?"

I know that one of the songs on the album is "Halcyon."

What did it represent for you?

GOULDING: A lot of the lyrics, the majority of the lyrics by the ocean in Ireland and I guess tied with me wanting to make songs that are hopeful and kind of have a light in them so that it's not all like doom and gloom, because I do write about, you know, breaking up with people and broken hearts and stuff.

So I think I just wanted there to be some sort of -- I just wanted to summarize it in a more positive way, I think, with "Halcyon."

RAJPAL: The video for "Anything Can Happen" -- I mean it's a beautiful song, but it's also the video -- it has a sort of a tragic twist to it, as well.

What -- what was the inspiration behind that?

GOULDING: I guess because it could have been a really, like, it could have been a really feel good positive like enfemic (ph) video where, you know, everyone is very happy. I guess because the song is quite like that. It's quite uplifting.

But I wanted to sort of show the dark side of fate, as well. (singing)

GOULDING: It's sort of -- it's actually something that I think people sing about a lot, but I think I've made it less obvious in the lyrics of "Anything Can Happen." So I guess I wanted to show that on the video.

RAJPAL: Do you find that the more that you've been exposed to this industry and the entertainment world, as well, and the more famous you become, that it becomes even lonelier at the top, that you have to be very careful with who you associate yourself with and who your friends are?

GOULDING: Yes, I think that as time goes on, I think you realize more who your friends are. In the beginning, there's people -- there's people around. But it's -- to me, it's one of the most important things that an artist can have, good people around them and not people who are just, you know, there for any kind of glory or there for any kind of -- for themselves. I think you start realizing when people are genuinely there for you because they will be there there for you.

RAJPAL: When did you realize you wanted to write songs, but not only just that you wanted to do it, but that you had something there, that you had a sound, as well, that would -- you could make a living out of?

GOULDING: I never thought that I could make a living out of my voice, to be completely honest. I thought that I could probably keep playing pubs. And, you know, it was exciting for me to get even just a pub gig in my town or on my (INAUDIBLE), where I went to university. That was really exciting.

So you can imagine like, you know, how I feel every day. It's just that I feel very lucky all the time. And I seem to have found my voice at university and that's when people -- I met all kinds of people and when a lot of people started paying interest, I kind of -- I thought maybe I was onto something then.

RAJPAL: One thing I admire about songwriters, they're like poets, as well. You can deal with your emotions in a beautifully lyrical way. You can put it all down there and let it out. And not everyone has that kind of skill and quality.

Do you find that writing songs helps you emotionally?

GOULDING: Yes. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't write songs. I still don't know if I can write songs. I don't think -- I don't think anyone ever knows if they can write songs. You know, I think...

RAJPAL: I think you can.


GOULDING: Thank you.

RAJPAL: You're pretty good at it.

GOULDING: I think that's always kind of driven me, like the unknown, like not knowing if I'm writing a good song or not.

RAJPAL: Yes. In terms of, also, the fact that what you write about is quite personal, do you -- and then it's out there for everyone to hear, to listen to and also, potentially, judge.


RAJPAL: How do you deal with that?

GOULDING: Again, in the beginning, I found it very hard to deal with people judging my music. I made it because I wanted to and I got to where I was just purely from the enjoyment of singing and writing songs.

So I found it hard and I felt like I didn't deserve it.

But now I use it, again, to my advantage. Like I take criticism, really, and I, you know, in a productive way.

RAJPAL: How therapeutic is the process of making a song and writing a song, for you?

GOULDING: It's therapeutic when I listen to what I've done, after various -- like the first sort of version. It's amazing to suddenly hear something out of nothing. It's amazing to suddenly hear a song that has been born and when you've been with an album so long, which I was with my first one, it was so awesome to hear -- suddenly hear new stuff. And I still find it fascinating that me and someone else can come out with "Anything Can Happen" out of nothing, you know?

I still -- you know, regardless of whether people like the song or not or whether it's a hit song, I just still think it's really cool.


RAJPAL: How do you deal with the enormous responsibility and the pressure of fame?





Ellie Goulding wrote the song "I Know You Care" for her father, who left her family when she was a child.


RAJPAL: Tell me a little bit about what that song meant for you.

GOULDING: "I Know You Care" is about my dad. And I haven't seen him for a long, long time. And my parents divorced when I was really young. And I guess I just wanted to -- it was my way of saying that I wasn't bitter or angry anymore, I was just sad and just felt like something was missing.

And I was really pleased that the song was taken out of my context of it and put into another one in the film "Now Is Good," which is about a girl with terminal cancer and she's got like not much time left to do the things she's always wanted to do. And she sort of goes through them in the film. And it's a beautiful film.

But I think -- yes, I think it's -- it's almost like too sad. It's quite hard to watch, you know?

But I mean I was glad they asked to use that song, because I wanted it to be slightly more universal. And it helps me, as well, because I stop thinking about it as, you know, connecting it with one person.

RAJPAL: How has your family shaped your -- the way you write your songs?

GOULDING: I think growing up with my siblings and my mom definitely - - has definitely informed my writing in that we are quite -- kind of quite a tough love kind of family. So I think that any kind of emotion that I have or felt, being in that situation with a -- without my dad and stuff, I would end up putting into a song. I wouldn't express it to my siblings or my mom. It wasn't like that. You know, it was -- it was like we wouldn't talk to each other very much.

RAJPAL: Does your mom ever -- has she ever spoken to you since about your songs and think you didn't talk to me about this stuff before and wonder why?

GOULDING: It's kind of overwhelming for them that I have all this stuff to write about, I think, because I think it would be for any family, to suddenly have like someone in the family with two records full of stuff, full or lyrics and memories and talking about my childhood and my dad.

And I think anyone would find that quite strange.

RAJPAL: If you could -- if you knew your dad was watching, what would you tell him?

GOULDING: Wow! I don't know, really. I suppose this -- the thing with him is unjust it was just always a gynormous question mark, because I still don't -- I don't know what happened sort of thing. But I don't -- I mean I don't even know if he watches my interviews or listens to my music. Genuinely, it's just everything is a question mark, everything is a question, wondering whether he's even heard my music or not.

So it's a very strange situation with him.

RAJPAL: That certainly has an impact. I think it would have an impact on anyone. But for someone who's out in the public eye, I guess you deal with it through your music.

GOULDING: Yes, it's -- I've never sort of felt any kind of like bitterness toward the way -- my childhood or the fact that my dad wasn't around, because it's given me a lot of strength and being able to sort of - - knowing that I've almost seen like two sides of the coin now. I fee like I can sort of deal with anything.

And also, it just gave me a really good sense of humor and a way of looking at things in life.

RAJPAL: That's very English of you. Keep calm and carry on.

GOULDING: Exactly. Exactly. Yes. I am very British. Yes.

RAJPAL: In -- I guess, how do you -- you're so young, how do you deal with the enormous responsibility and the pressure of fame?

GOULDING: I feel (INAUDIBLE) famous. That's why I'm always like, oh, no one is going to show up to the show, my show is not going to fan (ph) out or no one is going to be there, there's not going to be any cameras there. And I just always think that.

RAJPAL: Is that your biggest fear?

GOULDING: I don't know. My life is a strange -- but it -- it's really cool, but it's -- it's -- I always feel like I'm in a comedy show all the time. There's so many weird stuff happens and I meet people and people come up to me and like -- yes, just things happen to me all the time where I just think what on earth is my life?

RAJPAL: What's the strangest thing that's happened to you so far?

GOULDING: Just, I suppose, being asked to sing at the royal wedding was quite a big shock to me. And just knowing that I have the fans that I do and like Simon Cowell came up to me the other day and said I was his favorite artist. And I thought...

RAJPAL: He's a tough critic.

GOULDING: I know. That's why I was very shocked. I mean he -- he's seen thousands and thousands of singers perform to him and signed so many bands and artists. And me being like my biggest critic, it was just like why -- really?

So that's why I always think my life is crazy, because stuff like that happens. And my life -- like I always think, you know, I'm not on that -- I'm not on that right level of superstars or anything.

But the stuff I get to do feels that way sometimes.

RAJPAL: Ellie Goulding, thank you so much for coming.

GOULDING: Nice to meet you.