106.1 KISS FM welcomes Ellie Goulding to the Showbox SoDo on Monday night, February 4th, 2013! Tickets are Sold Out
Ellie Goulding is a complicated thing in a seemingly simple package. On first hearing, shes a bright and shiny 22 year old singer-songwriter, with her fingers on her guitar, her feet in a night-club and her head in the heavens. But very few singer-songwriters, young or old, can flip between dance-til-youdrop euphoria (Starry Eyed) and wistful, journeying space-folk (Guns and Horses), between lyrics that talk obliquely about sleeping around (Under The Sheets) and those that pin-point the love-hate relationship every leaver has about their home town (Wish I Stayed). Very few can do all that and leave us, the listeners, with enchantment, curious romance and, somehow, a sense of vastness, of travel, of space and time. Its pop, Jim, but not as we know it.
Ellies songs are built around big proper tunes that lift you up and spin you round, yet theres something off-centre about them, something sparkly, filmic, haunting, odd. She mixes heartfelt emotion with other-worldly atmospherics, spins cool electronica into dreamy warmth. Her insistence on putting her guitar in every song, whether an acoustic cover (shes done some amazing versions of Passion Pits Sleepyhead, Wolves by Bon Iver and Roscoe by Midlake) or a gorgeous song about new love (I try out a smile and aim it at you/You must have missed it, you always do) gives her soaring electro-folk an earthed rootedness. We note that she hasnt changed her name, that she doesnt hide behind a stage persona. She is who she is. And in person, Ellie is direct. Honest to a fault.
I like simplicity, she says, which is why Im not afraid of pop, or dance music. I just look for the hook, the centre. And it can be the words or the melody, just the one thing that can relate to everyone. Even in alternative music, or classical, if its good, there will be something direct about it.
But I also like to dig deep when it comes to lyrics. Im aware of how Im feeling all the time, so its impossible for me to write words that are contrived or meaningless.
Ellies sound is given an extra twist by her voice, an unusual, warbling instrument that recalls The Cocteau Twins Elizabeth Frazer: though I mostly get compared to Kate Bush or Bjork, she says, only because people think, Ooh, its pop but its a little bit weird! I dont know who I sound like because I tried to sound like so many people when I was starting out. I taught myself to sing, like I taught myself to play guitar. Like I taught myself to speak, too!
Ah yes, Ellies speaking voice. Born Elena Jane Goulding in Hereford on December 30th 1986, brought up in Kington, a small village on the Wales-England border, she decided to change the way she spoke because I felt different: now her neutral tones mean she gets mistaken for a posh gel. In fact, her background was anything but cushy: brought up by her mum and step-dad in various council houses, she shared a small bedroom with her two sisters and spent most of her young life outside. It was a typical country childhood, nothing to do so youd always be out. When I was 12 or so, me and a friend would just set off on walks, see where wed end up. Id want to leave, really, get away from everything, but all the roads kept coming back to where we lived.
Far from being groomed for stardom from a young age, Ellie had little encouragement at home. My mum hates me saying this, she laughs. but she used to tell me to be quiet whenever I sang, shed say, Oh Ellie, dont do that, it doesnt sound very good. Its maybe fair enough, though: my music wasnt an obvious thing in me, it was gradual. I almost didnt want people to know.
Without formal training, Ellies first musical inspiration was the hands-in-the-air rave music that her mum and uncle used to listen to; then, the classical tunes she heard on the soundtracks to Disney films. In her teens, Ellie sang one of her own compositions to a friend of the family and he introduced her to folk music: Alison Krauss, Jim Moray, Seth Lakeman, even Fleetwood Mac. But the idea of being a performer seemed very far away from Ellies life: though she joined a band at 16, she was too shy to put herself forward as the main singer. Even now, some moments, Im like Power! she laughs, and some moments when Im too shy to speak.
It was at Canterbury University where she studied performing arts that Ellie first found the confidence to sing on stage: on a whim, she entered the university talent competition and won first prize. But that was with cover versions: realising she needed to write her own songs, she sat down with her guitar and had a go. The songs came pouring out.
In a friends room, she heard Frankmusik (Vincent Frank) and got in touch with him, via his MySpace page. She sent him her acoustic version of Wish I Stayed and he swirled it into a thing of cool and classy beauty. Soon after, again using MySpace, Ellie hooked up with Fin Dow-Smith, aka the electro-don Starsmith, and something clicked. Though I write on guitar, I hear the entire sound of songs in my head, she says. And Fin is someone who understands, who can really help me make that sound. A talented musician in his own right (hes about to release his own LP), Fin and Ellie have an amazing rapport: he sent her just a few la la la sounds and she was instantly inspired to write Starry- Eyed.
Live, Ellie has moved on from her talent show debut: she gives her gigs her all, as those who saw her mesmerising performance on Later will testify. But she doesnt like to speak between songs.
Perhaps I should just hold up cards saying, Thank you so much for coming, because I am grateful, she laughs. Its just that I want the music to do the talking. I dont want to detract from the songs. I dont want to break the spell.
And we dont want her to, either. Its lovely to have Ellies magic wafted over you, wonderful to be caught up in her enchantment. Spell-bound indeed.