The video to Ellie Goulding's delicate, sparse cover of Elton John's "Your Song" shows the young singer/songwriter at play in the British autumn: Running through a green field dotted with sheep; considering a waterfall, wrapped in a Burberry plaid scarf. Her Brontë-heroine features frequently soften with a wide smile, accompanying the natural lilt in her almost conversational singing voice, which is frank, easy and beautiful. It's no wonder Prince William and Kate Middleton commissioned her to perform her rendition at their wedding (with John in attendance), or that the public embraced her 2010 debut album, "Lights," which bowed at No. 1 on the U.K. albums chart. The 25-year-old Herefordshire native is ever the English rose.
But nearly two years removed from her debut and as she records her sophomore album in Los Angeles in preparation for a fall release, Goulding is finding new success stateside, bolstered by a deep kinship with an unexpected community of artists, led by her boyfriend, Skrillex.
"Through my boyfriend I've come into a really incredible group of people who love to make music," Goulding says. "Before, there was a formality to going to the studio in the morning, leaving in the early evening and that's it. In L.A., they want to make music all night. I feel lucky that I've come into that world."
Those relationships are benefiting her previous work, too. Buoyed by an originally noncommissioned remix by Bassnectar, Goulding's "Lights" single has sold more than 1.2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and sits at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Despite sharing its name, "Lights" wasn't on the original version of Goulding's debut album: It was recorded for the deluxe edition and released as the sixth single, peaking at No. 49 on the U.K. singles chart. But Cherrytree opted to lead with the dreamy, kick-drum-driven track for the U.S. album release in March 2011.
With her royal commission driving buzz, Goulding was able to secure major TV appearances to support the single: "Late Show With David Letterman," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," "Live! With Regis and Kelly," CBS' "Saturday Morning," the National Christmas Tree Lighting and, most notably, "Saturday Night Live," after which "Lights" hit No. 2 on the iTunes albums chart. "We saw a real bump in sales after 'SNL,' more than any other TV," her manager Jamie Lillywhite says.
Goulding first met Skrillex, aka Sonny Moore, in 2011 during his 66-date Mothership tour, an audiovisual onslaught that she calls "a moment of change for me, a massive dose of inspiration. Not from the music, necessarily, but everything-the team, the visuals, the show as a whole."
Since then, Goulding has hit the studio with Skrillex (yielding love duet "Summit," which appears on his "Bangarang" EP) and representatives of his electronic dance music crew: members of Swedish House Mafia, U.K. production team Monsta (which will release its debut EP on Skrillex's label, Owsla, this summer) and fire-spitting rapper Sirah (who contributed the verse to Skrillex's "Kyoto"). An impromptu session with Chiddy Bang's Xaphoon Jones resulted in a cover of the Weeknd's "High for You," released in late May as a free SoundCloud download.
"[Stateside], they might expect me to come out with a Weeknd cover. In the U.K., they might think it was unusual. My fans might not know the song," Goulding says. "It's like 'Lights' doing well here and passing people by in the U.K. I feel like it's different over here for me."
Set for an October release, Goulding's second album will contain some of the results of these sessions, without losing her center as a songwriter. "It has song-based songs, really well-written, but produced with accents of electronic," says Martin Kierszenbaum, chairman of Cherrytree and president of A&R for pop and rock at Interscope. "It's a beautiful and original amalgam."
Goulding says, "I just want it to be out. I'm so into what I've done, I want to make a video for every song. It's amazing. Life is really good right now."