Ellie Goulding Explains How Bjork (And a Vodka Drink) Made Her Believe She Could Sing

Ellie Goulding
Nathan Jenkins

Ellie Goulding

“It’s been a long time coming,” Ellie Goulding says of her new album, Brightest Blue, which was released on July 17 – nearly five years after her last release, Delirium, in November 2015.

“It’s fairly surreal that it’s finally here. It feels right. It feels instinctively like there couldn't be any other time. Not earlier, not later. As much as the world is a very changing place, right now, more than ever, it still feels right.”

On the latest episode of the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen below), the singer-songwriter joins the show to discuss how the album was the result of her taking time to reflect on her life, “whether I wanted to or not.”

“I knew it was time to confront everything I’d been through,” she says. “And then I was like, ‘wow, I’m a woman now.’”

Below are some highlights from Goulding’s chat with the Pop Shop Podcast, including if she drew inspiration for the album from her recent marriage, her thoughts on working with Juice WRLD on the set’s “Hate Me,” and how (a bit of vodka and) Björk’s music helped change the course of her professional career.

On the beginnings of ‘Brightest Blue’

I came home (after touring and promoting her 2015 album Delirium), and had for the very first time, days off and weeks off. It was so alien to me, to have that time, that I had to kind of start reflecting on everything, and unraveling my life for the past however many years — whether I wanted to or not. I knew it was time to confront everything I'd been through. And then I was like, 'wow, I'm like a woman now. I'm in my 30s and I'm seeing things in a different way. I'm trying to figure out why I see things now, compared to then.'

A lot of unraveling and a lot of analyzing, in a good way. Trying to understand how I've become this person, and where my rationality comes from, where my artistry comes from now, where my lyrics, my music… I've navigated the past few years, and this album, when I listen to it, makes me realize that it's the first album where I've really… I wouldn't say it's … my defining my life album. It's the album that I had to write to process everything that happened, and to acknowledge who I was now. And that meant going out of my comfort zone.

I explored a lot, I explored different chord progressions, different sonic sounds… But I also used the same songwriters and producers that I worked with back in the day. I still believe in simplicity and not having a crazy amount of people around. I have this innate trust of them because they've known me since the very beginning. So they've kind of been through all of that stuff. And so, that's how… yeah, this album came out. (Laughs.)

Goulding has been through a lot personally the past five years, including getting married to Casper Jopling last year. Did she draw upon those experiences when writing the new album?

To be honest, not much. It's weird, even though my songs center so much around my relationships and around my personal life, I still feel like I've managed to separate the two, which is strange, because it's almost like I -- I do develop this side of me that writes in a very kind of personal and intimate way. But at the same time, for example, something like my marriage, is to me, an untouchable thing. When you marry someone, it's for life, and it's not something you play with. …

This album is definitely more personal, but it's about myself. It's not about anyone else. It's about finding love for myself and taking a long time to get there, and talking about the journey it took for me to reach that point. But also, I did write the (album) way before I met him, so it has nothing of him on it, really.

On working with Juice WRLD on the 2019 single "Hate Me," which is included on the new album:

When I heard 'Lucid Dreams' for the first time, I was like, 'who is this?!' And I don't have that moment very often with artists. And I wanted to immediately know everything about him. So, I called up the Max Martin camp because I knew that they'd been working with him, and I was like, 'I gotta know about him, what's he like?' And (they said) 'he's super sweet, he's kinda shy.' And then I was like, 'oh, maybe he'll do a record with me.' So, somehow, he said yes, and loved the record. And I think maybe it was one of those things for him where he just had something to say, and that song was perfect for it. When I met him on the video (shoot), he brought his family with him -- his mom and his brother. He had the whole team there, and they were really gracious and really sweet to us. And we were just this bumbling English team of like, idiots… trying to be cool. And they were just so lovely, and he was great.

You know I wish I'd gotten to spend more time with him, I really do. I wish we'd gotten to live that song together. I still think it's a really great song, and I'm so happy that we got to do something together, I'm just sad for him. Because he was on the beginning of … an incredibly special journey, I think. And everyone was really excited for him, we were really excited for him. And then yeah… it's just painfully sad. He had so much farther to go. I just feel very sad for his family … it was incredibly sad.

I still think about it. I think that you can never stop thinking about someone that you have a song with, you have a piece of music with. You're connected forever. I hope it lives on. I hope his music is always appreciated, because he had a lot to give.

On how being inspired by Björk helped give her confidence to be a singer:

I came home one day when I was 15 and I saw her performing at the (Royal) Albert Hall on TV, and I was a bit drunk… I took a bottle of Smirnoff vodka to like -- I think we were camping in a field somewhere, I grew up in the middle of nowhere in the countryside. And I came back (home) and I was like, 'who is this?' I'd only ever heard (sings) 'It's Oh So Quiet' on the radio. And that's all I'd heard. I'd never really thought that much of it, other than (she) was this unusual singer that's got this radio song. And then when I heard her… what she actually did, it was mind-blowing. It was a real pivotal moment. It was the moment I was like, 'oh, well, my voice is kind of weird, maybe I can be a singer.' It really was that moment.

I was like, maybe my voice isn't so weird after all. Because I was never really brought up on alternative female singers. I didn't know who Joni Mitchell was, I didn't know who Kate Bush was. I mean, even Stevie Nicks. I didn't listen to Fleetwood Mac when I was a kid. I was brought up on techno and electronic music. So these singers -- even Imogen Heap -- had these voices, it suddenly made me feel like I had some kind of validation. Even though people had said to me, 'oooh, I think you should stick to playing guitar.' Björk was one of the artists that made me feel like I had a place, and that I could still be a singer.

In addition to the Goulding interview, Pop Shop hosts Jason and Keith chat about big chart news from Juice WRLD, as his new album Legends Never Die opens atop the Billboard 200 chart with the largest week of the year, and he takes over the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart – including placing five titles in the top 10.

The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard's senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and senior director, music, Jason Lipshutz every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)