By Andrew Burns
Ellie Goulding sits in front of me in a Glasgow hotel around the corner from the city’s ABC – a venue where she will support Passion Pit in an hour’s time, and where she will headline in June – eyes shining and a smile as wide as one could imagine. With a sold out date at King Tuts scheduled for April, not to mention a number one album at the time of writing, it is understandable why this songwriter from Herefordshire is so joyous. “I would rather not think about it all,” she muses in reference to the whirlwind months that she has just experienced, possibly out of the fear that she may awaken from what has turned into a dream come true.
Born Elena Jane Goulding in Hereford, and brought up in Kington, a small village on the Wales-England border, Ellie spent two years at Canterbury University studying performance and arts before being awarded the chance of a career in music. Following understandable hesitation on her part, Ellie was given the opportunity to take a deferred year from her degree. “I was very nervous, and I basically expected to go back. They left it open for me, so I could’ve gone back if I had wanted to.” She reflects in hindsight, before gasping at what her reaction would have been if the deferred break was not an option. “I don’t know,” she says before a moment of silence. “I might not have left. It’s mad, isn’t it? If I hadn’t left, right now I would probably be struggling with fourth year.”
Admittedly feeling the hangover from the previous night, Goulding reflects on the proverbial ‘hype-machine’ that has become so ubiquitous in the UK music industry in recent years. Every year, through a host of mainstream media awards and critics’ polls, a select few artists are needlessly championed as ‘the next big thing’, which, as she is quick to point out, can often be disadvantageous in some respects. Not to say that she is not appreciative of the recent attention and praise; the 23-yearold simply points out how the manner of the negative press of a few national broadsheet newspapers left a bitter taste in her mouth. “The album, quite inevitably, had a bit of reactionary reviews because of all the hype around it. Obviously it’s just people who don’t want to be told what they should like, so there were a couple of reviews that weren’t good, while the rest were pretty amazing. It was those few reviews that really stuck with me though, and I started to panic, worrying that no one would like it. One of the articles wasn’t concentrating at all on the album or the songs. In that sense I think that it was a bit unfair and irrelevant.”
Bursting onto the UK music scene with a performance on Later with Jools Holland, as well as a number of national live dates supporting Little Boots, debut-album ‘Lights’ has been an overwhelming success. Furthermore, as well as the online and subsequent national media hype that has engulfed her short career so far, Ellie’s masterful cover versions of songs such as Bon Iver’s ‘Wolves’, Passion Pit’s ‘Sleepy Head’ and the Temper Trap’s ‘Sweet Disposition’, have attracted widespread critical acclaim, proof that this wonderfully talented songwriter is capable of planting her unique style on anything. When asked about the most productive period during the recording of ‘Lights’, Goulding, in an admirable show of appreciation, heaps praise on producer Fin Dow-Smith, the electro-don better known by his pseudonym, Starsmith. “I would say that the most productive time was any day that I was in [the studio] with him.”
While ‘Lights’ is undoubtedly a record of immensely detailed musicianship, courtesy of the aforementioned Dow-Smith, it is this cleanedged, finely-tuned production that is its weakest point; although it is difficult to argue this as a weakness in some regards. Make no mistake about it, with songs playing on various similarities and influences, wide-ranging from Rilo Kiley to La Roux and Norah Jones to Lady Gaga, and Goulding’s beautiful voice multi-layered to an often ethereal effect; ‘Lights’ is a sensational debut album, worthy of the almost-complete praise that has been bestowed upon it.
Untypical of the British music press, Goulding’s blend of electro-fuelled pop, undeniably influenced by her adoration of folk music, has been labeled as everything from ‘folktronica’ to ‘femtronica’. ‘Lights’ is a record that has attempted to bridge the gap, or the gaping hole should one say, between gritty folk and dancefloor pop, and the emergence of Goulding as a successful young songwriter, most notably with an album promising longevity, in an increasinglyvoracious British music scene is encouraging. “I don’t really think about the consequences or how people will view me – I just do things to make me happy. There’s no plan; I just do things that I like,” she says with an aura of confidence; and long may it continue.