Gracefully perched on a sofa in the oversized, lavishly decorated surroundings of the Royal Suite at London’s St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Ellie Goulding is recalling some of her more painful onstage incidents.
“I tried to do a backflip once, totally failed and my leg was bent ’round the wrong way,” she says with a smile. “I do tend to go hard onstage. It’s quite a workout. I’m terrible because my pain threshold is crazy. I have genuinely broken bones and not known it before. It must be something in the Goulding family. My brother is the same. I’m also a bit of a ninja, but, touch wood, nothing crazy has happened to me yet.”
There has, however, been plenty of near-misses along the way. Only last month, Goulding tweeted that she had given herself concussion as a result of a characteristically hyperactive performance supporting close friend Taylor Swift‘s sell-out show at London’s Hyde Park. “Everyone kept on saying: ‘Are you okay?’ And I was going: ‘I’m fine.’ But I do remember afterwards feeling that my head was not really attached to my body,” she explains, looked down upon by a somewhat stern-looking portrait of Queen Elizabeth II that’s hanging on the suite’s far wall.
Goulding’s own status as the current queen of British pop was confirmed earlier this year when “Love Me Like You Do,” from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, spent four weeks at No. 1 in the U.K. and peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Speaking exclusively to Billboard at the launch of a major, year-long global marketing partnership between Marriott International and Universal Music Group — which will feature a series of exclusive live performances for hotel guests across Marriott’s global portfolio, as well as ticket offers and original video content — Goulding talks about her upcoming third studio album, reuniting with Swedish uber hitmaker Max Martin and her regret that she never got to meet Amy Winehouse.
You’re here today to launch the partnership between Marriott International and your label home, Universal Music Group. Do you feel that music artists and hotel companies make for a natural match?
I would say it’s a fitting endorsement because if there’s one thing that all people on tour can relate to it is hotels and how important the quality of them, the staff, the gym and the pool is. Something that people don’t realize is that hotel life just becomes your life because we’re on the road constantly. It’s not as glamorous as people think. It’s mostly just a lot of hotels and a lot of time in a tour bus. So, yeah, I think this is great. It’s also in London and I always embrace something that’s easy to get to! I live down the road, but I’m going to stay here tonight anyway as there is a boot camp just two minutes away that I want to do in the morning. I’ve been given a room, so why not?
You’re currently working in London on your forthcoming third studio album. Given how hyper energetic your live performances are, is it a struggle to get the same level of passion and intensity when working in the recording studio?
It’s a complete contrast. Onstage is just so energetic and then in the studio a lot of it is brain power because I really want to say what I feel. When I’m in the studio I can always tell if I haven’t really made an effort on something or put enough emotion in something as I should have. So it never ends up being good enough for me if I know I haven’t put enough emotional detail into it. It just so happens that I’m writing with someone at the moment — we’re two girls that obviously over think a lot. When we get together we both think the same way and I feel like we come from the same universe. We’ll just sit there and just think and think and think and nothing ever comes easily. Then all of sudden we’ll get to a lyric and go: ‘Oh, my God. That’s it!’ And you just know and get a connection. It’s rare to find a songwriter like that, so I feel quite privileged to work with her really. She is called Laleh and she was recently taken on by Max Martin. She is an incredible artist in her own right and we have a really great connection.
Can you talk about what direction the new album is going in?
I don’t really know why this word seems appropriate but it’s definitely bigger. Whether that means it’s more adventurous, or a bit more ambitious, or a bit more daring, I don’t know. But I’m certainly taking on something a lot bigger than I have before and sonically it’s a lot bigger. I feel like there were maybe certain restrictions on the last album. But I’m at a point now with this album where it’s just taken on a new life now of its own and I can’t stop it. So that album is coming out and what people make of it I don’t know, but it is coming. It’s nearly finished and it will be out this year. Even if it’s out on 30 December, which is my birthday, it will be out this year.
In addition to Laleh, who else are you writing with on the album?
I’ve worked with Diplo. I’ve worked with producers that I have known for years – Jim Eliot from my last album. I love working with him. I thought the stuff that we did together was something really special, so I had a ‘you don’t fix what isn’t broken kind of attitude.’ He’s just wonderful and I got to go back to my home town [Hereford], which helps the writing process a lot. But then also I’ve been adopted into the Max Martin camp and I love them all dearly.
You previously worked with Max Martin on “Love Me Like You Do,” which became a huge hit around the world. What makes working with him and his team of writers and producers so fruitful?
It’s more than just music. I feel like we all have a real connection. He writes with big artists but he also works with upcoming people. I don’t feel like I’m one of those big artists. But I’m also not under the radar, so I think maybe curiosity got the better of him and here we are.
What do you personally look for in a writing partner or producer?
Just someone that I get on with because how can you unearth your darkest thoughts if you’re not working with someone you connect with? Then again, God, you might work with someone that you have no connection with and that brings out a song. But, for me, personally, because it’s still taking up your whole day being in the studio and it’s still your life, I think it’s important to work with people that you have fun with and you have something special with. I feel like I have nailed that aspect.
In the two and a half years since your last album, your fame and profile has grown to the level where everything you do is reported around the world. How do you feel about the celebrity circus that now surrounds you?
I feel like artists when they say “I never wanted to be famous,” that’s not always true. I think people in the beginning are excited by the idea of becoming famous through their art and then when they get there they realize that they completely regretted ever wanting that. I watched the Amy Winehouse documentary and it’s made me think that I want to just continue my art as long as I can and I will never let that get the better of me. I’ve learned from Amy. She’s a massive inspiration. She lived here [in London]. She worked here. Her friends were here. And I don’t see why that can’t be my life and I can still do my art without letting that [celebrity] stuff [interfere]. And it’s not that Amy let it get the better of her. It’s just that she had no choice. It was so grueling and, like it says in the documentary, it was like a feeding frenzy. But that kind of thing doesn’t have to be part of what I do.
Were you personally close to Amy?
No. We had mutual friends, but I didn’t know her and I’m so sad that I never got to meet her and I’m so sad about how it ended because she was just an unbelievable talent. Unbelievable. She’s one of the greatest artists to ever come out of this country and to come out of London.
The past several years have seen U.K. artists consistently punch above their weight on the world stage. As someone who is now flying the flag for Britain, how does that make you feel?
I’m so proud to be part of it. Every time that a British person wins a Grammy or an American award I feel a little bit proud for them and hopefully I’ll do the same at some point.