Ellie Goulding is radiant on the big stage, with piercing lights and full orchestration firing behind her starry pop tunes. Yet somehow, the British songwriter seems even larger than life when it's all taken awaythe production of her performance stripped to nothing but her unparalleled voice and a few instrumental accents. At a private session at The Bowery Electric, Ellie took the guitar and accentuating voices behind her to dazzling heights, revealing that the true power of her refrain rests in her bare vocal flourishes and harmonies. Playing a selection of songs from her debut album Lights, including the effervescent "Starry Eyed", Ellie left the room in awe of both her songwriting and the way her voice brings each track to another level. It's an inspiring, anomalous session, and definitely one you'll want to share with everyone you know.
- Uh, my name is Ellie Goulding. - Guns And Horses which is about um... someone who can't express themselves very well. Um, so th-that, it's quite sad 'cause I'll never really be in love, so... so that's what it's about, kind of. And Horses intro] You're so quiet But it doesn't faze me You're on time You move so fast, makes me feel lazy Let's join forces We've got our guns and horses I know you've been burned But every fire is a lesson learned I left my house Left my clothes Door wide open Heaven knows You're so worth it, you are But I wish I could feel it all for you I wish I could be it all for you If I could erase the pain Maybe you'd feel the same I'd do it all for you Well, I would, I would, I would Oh, I would Ooh, oh, ooh Let's tie words 'Cause they amount to nothing Play it down Pretend you can't take what you've found But you found me On a screen you sit at permanently I left my house Left my clothes Door wide open Heaven knows You're so worth it, you are But I wish I could feel it all for you I wish I could be it all for you, I... If I could erase the pain Maybe you'd feel the same Well, I'd do it all for you Well, I would, I would, I would It's time to come clean And make sense of everything It's time that we found out who we are Who we are, who we are Cause when I'm standing here in the dark I see your face in every star But I wish I could feel it all for you I wish I could be it all for you, I... If I could erase the pain Maybe you'd feel the same Well, I'd do it all for you Well, I would, I would, I would I'd do it all for you, I'd do it all for you I'd do it all for you, I'd do it all for you I'd do it all for you, I'd do it all for you I'd do it all for you, I'd do it all for you Oh oh-oh... Oh oh-oh Oh oh-oh... Oh oh-oh Oh oh-oh... Oh oh-oh Oh oh-oh... Oh oh-oh Oh oh-oh... Oh oh-oh Oh oh-oh... Oh oh-oh Oh oh-oh... Oh oh-oh Oh oh-oh... Oh oh-oh - My dad, my dad was a guitarist in a band. My mom was really into music. Um, she would always have the radio on. When someone describes their days of radio child and I'm... always listening to the radio, so it's just constantly... I'm exposed to pop music, really. Um, but then I, because I was exposed to that from a such a young age, I started... um... developing a really strong taste in things from a young age, so I started liking rock bands and punk bands and... then classical music and then... electronic music and... I think I wanted to live it when I was about 4 years old, and sang at my mom, and she was like Um... and, and then I just kind of developed it my whole life really. Uh, I taught myself the guitar when I was about 15, 14-15, um, initially to impress a boy. Um, and then I realized that I fell in love with it and forgot about the boy and just... just locked myself in my bedroom and play guitar all the time. I started doing open mic nights quite a lot in my hometown. I was at university at night, would get the train into London and just play like a geek every couple of nights, and just, just like, I remember the days that I'm just calling up from... an email and just asking if I can have a slot at acoustic session, acoustic night or whatever, and that's how it was for about two years. "Lights" is about kind of bits of my childhood that I remember, and being afraid of the dark, and sharing a room with my sisters. I had a way then losing it all on my own I had a heart then but the queen has been overthrown And I'm not sleeping now, the dark is too hard to beat And I'm not keeping now the strength I need to push me You show the lights that stop me turn to stone You shine it when I'm alone And so I tell myself that I'll be strong And dreaming when they're gone 'Cause they're calling, calling, calling me home Calling, calling home You show the lights that stop me turn to stone oh-oh And noises will play within my head Touch my own skin and hope that I'm still breathing And I think back to when my brother and my sister slept In an unknown place the only time I feel safe You show the lights that stop me turn to stone You shine it when I'm alone And so I tell myself that I'll be strong And dreaming when they're gone 'Cause they're calling, calling, calling me home Calling, calling home You show the lights that stop me turn to stone Oh, lies, lies, lies Let them roll Lies, lies Let them roll Lies, lies, lies Let them roll... You show the lights that stop me turn to stone You shine it when I'm alone And so I tell myself that I'll be strong And dreaming when they're gone 'Cause they're calling, calling, calling me home Calling, calling home You show the lights that stop me turn to stone N-no, no... N-no oh, no, no, no ohh, no, no, no, no, no, no... - I suppose, I suppose I'm... I'm just not like the typical pop artist. Um, because my music look-- the music I make is founded from such different things. Um, but, um, I really love my pop music, my favorite thing in the world. The album I have out is called "Lights" and um... it's combination of very old songs, very new songs, songs I wrote last year. Um... and a lot of stuff relates to missing home, um... human behavior, relationships. I suppose I have these songs and then I want to... do something different with them so I spent about a year in a bedroom, South London with uh... Starsmith making them into something I was happy with. I think myself with Starsmith just have a kind of connection and um... we grow up listening to kind of the same things so that helps. Um, and also I think this relaxed atmosphere and the fact that we both kind of hated and loved each other and we'd... If like I, I sang something he didn't like, he'd be like. And then, if, if he like he put something in like those awful sound um... and it was just kinda, it's just kinda inte-- it just kinda works like that, really. We were each others' um like... 'yes and no' kind of thing so, and that's kinda, that was the balance so it worked out with the tracks. "Starry Eyed" is about feeling of euphoria, um... whether it be, you know, being in love or, or um... being out... uh, in a club. Uh, I don't know. Um... so that kind of thing. Ahh, ooh... ooh... yeah... I... I... Handle bars, then I let go, let go for anyone Take me in, and I'll throw out my heart and get a new one Next thing we're touching You look at me it's like you hit me with lightning Ah... Oh, everybody's starry-eyed And everybody glows Oh, everybody's starry-eyed And my body goes Whoa oh oh ah ah Whoa oh oh ah ah Whoa oh oh So we burst into colors, colors and carousels Fall head first like paper planes and playground games Next thing we're touching You look at me it's like you hit me with lightning Ahh... Oh, everybody's starry-eyed And everybody glows, oh oh Oh, everybody's starry-eyed And my body goes Whoa oh oh ah ah Whoa oh oh ah ah Whoa oh oh Next thing we're touching Next thing we're touching Next thing we're tou... oh ohh... Fell in love, fell in love... Fell in love, fell in love... Fell in love, love, love, love, love, love, love... Next thing we're touching Oh, everybody's starry-eyed And everybody glows Oh, everybody's starry-eyed And my body goes And my body goes And my body goes And my body goes And my body goes Whoa oh oh whoa oh Ah ooh... - Um, my fans are probably some of the best fans in the world because they... they're very loyal, they're very funny, um... They... they're like... one, I just found out that the other guy who's been to like... something like 50 shows with a-and he just told me. Um... and then there's just, I don't know, I have like a, like young, really young fans and fans that are a bit older and... I kind of lo-- like really... it's really varied, people who come to my shows. If being successful here means, I can tour for, for ages, then that would be awesome 'cause tour is my favorite thing so, yes, I hope that I'm successful because it allows me to... play shows all the time.
Having already conquered her native Britain with the biggest and fastest selling debut album of 2010, Lights-- premiering at No. 1 on the U.K. album chart, four hit singles she co-wrote, and a BRIT award -- singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding is ready to make a similar splash in America with her sparkling electro-folk-pop sound. Lights is, as the New York Times put it, "a happy car crash of signifiers: part electro-pop, part soul, part blues, part indie rock, part folk" that mixes heartfelt emotion with other-worldly atmospherics. Anchoring her songs with acoustic guitar, Goulding and her producer, Starsmith, spin cool electronica into dreamy warmth on "Starry Eyed," "Guns and Horses," "The Writer," and "Under the Sheets."
"I'm not afraid of pop or electronic music," Goulding says of the euphoric, dance-till-you-drop vibe of Lights, "but I also wanted the album to embrace my love for folk music, not just by my playing guitar on it, but by writing about things that have truly affected me. I wear my heart on my sleeve and am aware of how I'm feeling all the time, so it's impossible for me to write words that are contrived or meaningless."
Goulding's lyrics are refreshingly direct as she chronicles the highs and lows of love in her airy, gossamer voice. "Under The Sheets" addresses sleeping around, while "Animal" revels in the feverish state of falling in love. "The Writer" cops to her being paralyzed with obsession over a lover. "I've gotten so many messages from girls who can relate to 'The Writer,'" Goulding says. "I think anyone can get to the point where they love someone so much that they just start doing ridiculous things, like smoking or drinking, or dressing differently, I know I've done it." "Guns and Horses" is about falling in love with someone who doesn't really know how to love and wanting to take their pain away. The album takes its title from the song "Lights," which is about Goulding's fear of the dark. "Having a light on always makes me feel safe," she says. "It gives me strength, which is why I named the album after that song."
Then there's the first U.S. single "Starry Eyed," which Goulding describes as "one of those rare songs that isn't melancholy and is actually a bit happier. I kind of throw everything to the wind and say, 'Who cares about emotions? Let's just have fun,'" she says with a laugh. "I love sad songs, but I also appreciate feel-good songs."
A self-taught singer and guitarist, Ellie was raised with her three siblings in Hereford, a cathedral city about 16 miles east of the Welsh border. After her parents divorced when she was five, Goulding moved to the tiny rural village of Lyonshall with her mother and her mother's new boyfriend, a lorry driver. "I basically went from living in the city to suddenly living in the countryside," she says. "At first I hated it, but I slowly grew to love it and became completely fascinated by being surrounded by all this wide open space it still colors everything I do to this day."
Money was scarce, so Ellie shared a bedroom with her two sisters. "It wasn't easy, plus there was the added stress of my dad leaving, but I got along okay," she says. Her first memory of becoming interested in music is wanting to sing the loudest in her school's assemblies. "I was pretty quiet, but I really loved to sing and would use my voice at any opportunity," she says. "We couldn't afford lessons, so I learned by copying other singers, like Lauryn Hill, Beyonce, and Celine Dion; I loved singers whose voices were really powerful." Being a performer, however, didn't seem like a real possibility. "It didn't feel like something that could ever really happen, coming from my background," she says. At 15, obsessed with bands like Deftones, Pearl Jam, and Rage Against the Machine, Goulding taught herself to play guitar. "The minute I could master actually strumming and singing at the same time was when I started writing proper songs," she says. In her teens, Goulding sang one of her own compositions for a family friend, who encouraged her to listen to folk music. She soon became inspired by such artists as Alison Krauss, Fleet Foxes, Joni Mitchell, and Sufjan Stevens.
It was while studying Politics, English, and Drama at the University Kent in Canterbury, where Goulding first found the confidence to perform onstage after winning a university talent competition. Gigs in London followed and soon Goulding was looking for a producer to help her flesh out her songwriting ideas. She discovered Vincent Frank, a British electro-pop musician and producer who goes by the name Frankmusik, and got in touch with him via MySpace. "He listened to my demos and really loved them, so we started working together and writing more songs," she says. "I began getting more gigs and that's when I realized I wanted to drop out of university to focus on music."
Goulding moved to London and locked herself in her room with a guitar. Songs like "The Writer," "Starry Eyed," "Salt Skin," "This Love," and "Your Biggest Mistake," came pouring out. After a friend sent a link to a MySpace page for Fin Dow-Smith, a remixer, composer, and musician who works under the moniker Starsmith, Goulding sent him a demo she'd done, which resulted in a fruitful working relationship that continues to this day.
"Fin understood that it was pop, but a bit more emotional," Goulding says of Starsmith, who's known for his remixes of tracks by Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Passion Pit, among others. "I liked that he was this really cool DJ with really fresh sounds, but wasn't afraid of pop music. Working with him was when I started to have faith in my writing and thinking something could actually come of giving music a go."
The two began making tracks an album in the summer of 2009, demos of which caught the attention of the major labels in the U.K. Goulding signed with Polydor Records and released her first single "Under the Sheets," which she later performed, along with "Guns and Horses," on LaterWith Jools Holland, a star-making appearance that won her the attention of both critics and fans. In early 2010, it was announced the Goulding had topped the "BBC Sound of 2010" poll, which surveys critics and broadcasters for their top choices for rising stars in the coming year. She also won the Critics' Choice Award at the 2010 BRIT Awards (previously won by Adele and Florence & the Machine). In February, "Starry Eyed" was released as a single (climbing to No. 4 on the U.K. Singles chart), followed by the March release of Lights, which shot straight to the top of the U.K. Albums chart.
"I found out that the album was No. 1 while driving through the countryside on my way home from a gig up north," she says. "I was very emotional and, quietly, very proud. I felt like this was just the beginning." And it was. More hit singles followed, "The Writer" and a cover of Elton John's "Your Song," which climbed to No. 2 after being featured in a Christmas commercial for British retailer John Lewis. Goulding hit the road and sold out three headlining tours in the U.K., and performed at numerous music festivals, including Glastonbury, V Festival, and T in the Park, earning rave reviews for her joyful, no-holds barred live shows.
Nominated for two 2011 BRIT Awards (for "British Female Solo Artist" and "British Breakthrough Act"), Goulding is gearing up for the Stateside release of Lights. "I'm really excited to come to America and visit new places and see new countryside," she says. "I feel ready to introduce my music and see what people think of it there. I'm hoping they'll like it and be inspired, the way I was when I first heard certain artists. I want to create that excitement you get when you've discovered something special and feel happy to have ever come across it in the first place."