Ellie Goulding uses the word "mental" a lot. It comes up when she's describing her life ("Nothing surprises me anymore – it's mental"); pondering an upcoming trip to Ibiza ("It's one of those places you just have to accept is mental"); noting that she owes Prince William and Kate Middleton, who picked her to perform at their 2011 wedding, a baby gift ("Just totally mental").
On August 27th, the mental quotient will likely be cranked up a notch: That's when Goulding – who wrapped a nearly 30-date North American tour with Bruno Mars earlier this month – will drop Halcyon Days, a 28-track album that includes a reissued version of her 2012 smash LP, Halcyon, plus 10 new tunes, like the rave-y smash single "Burn" and collaborations with fun. frontman Nate Ruess, French house producer Madeon and British drum & bass star DJ Fresh.
The 26-year-old Brit, who cut the new tracks everywhere from London to Las Vegas, is in a different space than while recording Halcyon, which she's copped to being a breakup album (the culprit: her ex, British DJ Greg James). "Halcyon tells the story of my life a couple years ago," she says. "Instead of trying to tell a story of a particular time, I did the new songs more for fun."
This time around, Goulding is putting distance between herself and her song subjects: "I used to say 'fuck it' and tell everyone who my songs were about, but I'm a bit more secretive now," she says. Still, she doesn't skimp on emotion. Take the piano-backed ballad "Hearts Without Chains," which touches on scars that need healing and misery "weightless as a stone." (It was co-written by Fraser T. Smith, who's behind Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain.")
"It's my favorite song of the batch," says Goulding. "It has a folky English quality to it. Plus, it's quite nice to listen to and not be in the state I was when I wrote it."
Another standout: "Goodness Gracious," a blippy ode to fickleness co-written with Ruess. "I've been in situations where I knew someone wasn't right for me, yet I kept bringing them back," says Goulding. "The song is about dissing yourself for not thinking straight and not being fair."
On the flip side, the sweet, contemplative "How Long Will I Love You" would make a killer first-wedding-dance song. "Unfortunately, I'm a hopeless romantic," says Goulding, who grew up watching Richard Curtis films like Love Actually and Notting Hill. "They make me feel happy and warm inside." (In a full-circle victory, the tune will appear on the soundtrack for the director's upcoming rom-com, About Time.)
Still, Halcyon Days doesn't go too heavy on the, well, heavy stuff. To wit: "Stay Awake," a collaboration with Madeon, celebrates "not sleeping and partying all night" over triumphant synth stabs. "It's less serious content than I'd usually write about," says Goulding. "But I've always been a fan of club songs that feel good."
That's fitting, because Goulding has proved herself a master of the feel-good-club-song genre. Her Calvin Harris collaboration "I Need Your Love" was nominated for two VMAs this year, one in a new category, Song of the Summer. "I absolutely didn't think the song would be so huge," says Goulding. "I mean, every track Calvin has made has been a chart success, but before we recorded it, I thought, ‘Is this going to be the one time he doesn't make a hit?'" She realized her anxiety was for naught at a Barry's Boot Camp class, of all places. "I was working out, and all of a sudden ‘I Need Your Love' came on," she recalls. "It was a bit awkward."