Ellie Goulding Follows Cher's Lead, Won't Play for Putin (Q&A)
Photographed for the "Pop Goes the World" portfolio in THR's music issue, the British singer talks about performing for William and Kate, appreciating vocal-manipulation and why a future visit to Russia "is probably a 'no.'"
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
From Buckingham Palace, where she sang at the request of William and Kate, to the White House (ditto, the Obamas) to Coachella, there isn't a place in the world Goulding won't perform -- except maybe Russia. When Cher protested the Sochi Winter Olympics after Russian president Vladimir Putin condemned LGBT citizens, Goulding, 27, decided she too won't play for him. "It's probably a 'no' for Russia," she says.
Instead, her European tour will stop in Germany, Scandinavia and the U.K. before a North American run in March -- her third in as many years. It's no wonder: U.S. fans helped Goulding's 2011 hit Lights sell more than 4 million copies, and her latest album, Halcyon, has spawned another transatlantic smash, "Burn." To some, those enchanting vocals seem otherworldly.
"The reaction I get most when people come see me is, 'Damn, I thought you had shitloads of effects on your voice,'" she says. "People think it's been Auto-Tuned and manipulated, and it actually hasn't." But while the accolades keep coming -- Goulding is up for three Brit Awards ahead of that Feb. 19 ceremony -- there has been no love from the Grammys. What gives? Says Goulding, "Anytime I don't get nominated for something I was hoping I might, I take that as a sign that I've still got a way to go."
Featured in THR's third annual music issue, Goulding elaborates on how she picks her collaborators, her favorite hotel and airport and plans for a new album.
Will you be recording songs for a new album this year?
God, I hope so. If I can find the time. But I don't think I'm going to, unfortunately. That would be amazing, but I'm not sure…At the moment, it's more like I'm doing anything that isn't recording, a lot of shoots. But, actually saying that, I'm going back into the studio on Thursday and Friday for a film soundtrack.
You're nominated for three BRIT Awards, but no Grammy nod. What gives?
I don't know. I think I've still got a long way to go, obviously, because I was eligible for sure. To me, anytime I don't get nominated for something I was hoping I might, I take that as a sign that I've still got a way to go.
When did you hit your first high note?
It's a weird one for me, because I would sing all the time and no one ever really commented on it, so I didn't really think that my voice was a big deal. I didn't really know what I was capable of. My voice has evolved and changed so much, and it's become slightly more powerful from being on tour. Training your voice is kind of like training your body.
Where do you stand on producers and performers who manipulate vocals in the studio?
I appreciate vocal-manipulation production as part of the art of a song, but I also love hearing a voice that is very raw and untouched. It really depends on what you're trying to do, and what your style is.
The reaction I get most when people come see me is, "Damn, I thought you had shitloads of effects on your voice." People think it's been Auto-Tuned and manipulated, and it actually hasn't. I think my voice is quite unusual. I love using effects on my voice as a part of the art, but I will rarely do anything like that in an attempt to make my voice sound better-quality, you know what I mean? My voice is my voice, and it is what it is.
Do borders exist now, given the ease and immediacy involved with how we consume music?
Nothing is as mysterious as it once was. I used to discover things by chance. I'd only ever hear music that was in the charts in America, because it would usually trickle over to here. But now, I'm on SoundCloud and listening to electronic music producers, hip-hop producers from their own bedroom. I guess the need to make more commercial music is probably upped a little bit, and there's such a saturation now that the only way that you're gonna get on the radio is if you make a huge, huge, massive pop song. ... But at the same time, when Lorde released Royals, that was quite a subtle release. That ended up becoming, like, ginormous.
You've collaborated on several songs – most recently with Nate Ruess of fun. on "Goodness Gracious." How do you choose who to team with?
Making music is so much about the process, as much as the finished product. I love Nate, and we wanted to work together from the second we met each other. I met him randomly outside a hotel -- I walked past him, and he emailed me to say that he was a fan. That's always really cool, when you like someone's band and then you find out that they like your band. I felt like we were supposed to work with each other in some capacity.
Was there pressure that came with playing for President Obama, or Kate and William? Or is playing for royalty just another show?
Yeah, of course. God, it was crazy pressure; it was nuts. It's still one of those things that I probably won't get over for a long time. It's nerve wracking doing something like that, but at the same time, you kind of have to accept that. You're there to do a job and you can't get nervous. But as soon as you think of everyone as just people that you're performing for, then everything's fine. But I have to admit, I did let my nerves get the better of me.
You travel a ton. What’s your favorite airport and hotel?
Terminal 5, Heathrow. It’s comforting; it’s pretty modern. And also, architecturally, the airport in Stockholm is pretty badass, and the airport in Oslo. Yeah, you do end up sort of getting to know airports a little bit, which is mental.
There’s this hotel which always sticks in my mind. It’s called The Thief in Oslo. It’s just stunning, modern but also that Scandinavian, cozy, warm feeling. They cater to everything. I managed to hire a personal trainer to go for a run with me, through the hotel. And it has one of those fires that you press a button and you’ve got this huge fire. And books. I spend so much time in hotels, I just consider everything, like the smallest detail, and for me, that nailed it. Nailed it!