Dance

Ellie Goulding on Recruiting Diplo For 'Close to Me' & Why Her Next Album Is a 'Return'

Ellie Goulding
Conor McDonnell

Ellie Goulding

Doomed love, a luxurious trip across the globe, a chest-rattling drop and a guest verse from Swae Lee -- "Close To Me," Ellie Goulding's latest dance hit with Diplo, has it all. The edgy, explosive track was co-written by pop savant Savan Kotecha (Ariana Grande, Madonna), and a high-fashion music video shot in Budapest, Hungary only adds to its fantasy allure. As the track notches the Hot 100's top 40 for the week of Jan. 12, Goulding speaks to Billboard from her home in London to explain what inspired the song's dramatic love story, how Diplo got involved and what we can expect from her forthcoming album.   

How did "Close To Me" begin?

I was in the studio in L.A. with Savan Kotecha, and we were playing around with the guitar part. It was very simple. I think I sometimes have to create a song out of not taking myself seriously, whatsoever. Otherwise, I overthink everything and I go against myself. I remember singing "don't let me down," and being like, "yep, we'll go with that." Sometimes you just have to commit.

What inspired the turbulent love story at its core?

At the time, there was a lot going on in the world that I wanted to forget. Savan gets very overwhelmed with what's happening particularly in America, and I think we all wanted to forget that and just write something a bit silly. It was so nice to just go back to just writing a song about a turbulent, probably doomed relationship -- someone to forget the world with.

When did Diplo and Swae Lee come into the picture?

Diplo was a later addition. I sent it to Diplo because I felt like there was something missing, and he's the hardest-working person in the music industry, I could tell he was massively into it, because he sent it back pretty much straight away. He must have worked on it all night. He said he knew who would be perfect for this, and that's kind of where Swae came in. 

You have a long history of electronic collaborations. What draws you to dance music?

I was brought up on it, so it's in my blood. I was brought up to The Prodigy and The Future Sound of London and Massive Attack. I remember listening to dance music with my family in the car. I think it was just a form of escapism for me and my family. Only when I was a teenager did I discover songwriting, and learned the guitar, and I listened to Imogen Heap and Björk and Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco. I think I'll always collaborate with electronic producers. I'm working on getting in with Four Tet at the moment. 

I also listened to so much classical music, because I feel like it really soothes me, and the more I listen to classical music, the more I get obsessed with its intricacy. That's why I love Björk. Björk remains my favorite artist of all time, because she fused classical and electronic music so beautifully and effortlessly, and she composed it herself. She remains my hero.

The music video for "Close To Me" was shot in Budapest. What was that like?

It was so fun. [Director] Diane Martel is batshit crazy, and I love her, we just had so much fun. She's the kindest person, but she knows what she wants. Everything just clicked together. There's something about the song -- it just doesn't feel like there was any pressure [for me] to be anything that I wasn't. I could just dance around in cool dresses and that's kind of all it needed.

You're working on a new album, out this year. How will it differ from 2015's Delirium?

This album is definitely a return of some sorts, because it's very much written by me. It's much less collaborative than the last album. It has much more clarity and space. This album is the album of my voice, and my songwriting, and that's kind of what I've always wanted to do. There will be electronic influences and hip-hop influences, and the music that I grew up listening to and that I'll never be able to shake off. I've always had my own interpretation of what's happening in pop music. 

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jan. 12 issue of Billboard.