When Rolling Stone meets up with Ellie Goulding, she’s in the midst of a big week. Following the release of her album, Delirium, the singer-songwriter performed a huge Scarlett Johansson–directed American Express Unstaged show at NYC’s Hammerstein Ballroom. Meanwhile, Goulding’s fans may have noticed that her latest LP takes listeners in a new direction: Rather than folk or EDM, Goulding turns confidently toward pure pop here. And while she will still play fan favorites at concerts, singing sad songs hasn’t really been for her lately. “I feel grateful that I’m even making a third album,” she says. Delirium is an upbeat record, reflective of her current state of mind.
Goulding spoke with RS about industry double standards, one-night stands and being “scarily good” at boxing.
Delirium is a really upbeat album, and it’s seemingly different from your previous records. Is there a misconception of you not being happy in your older songs?
I think they’re right. Lights was a confusing time because I still didn’t really know who I exactly was — not just as a musician but as a person. I was young — I was like 21 or 22. I feel like I was still figuring life out, not just in my music. When I listen to that, I think it’s sweet because I think I was really naive. It’s funny because when I think of writing those songs, I was pretty much a teenager. I wish the teenage me would know how things were gonna be now because I think I would have been a lot less stressed and worried about life. Halcyon was just a dark period of time in my life for different reasons. That definitely reflected a lot in the album. I didn’t know it at the time — how sad I was. This record, the past few years I feel like I’ve opened my eyes to a lot more things in the world and I feel like I can change them. I feel a lot more positive about life. I feel like I have a lot more confidence and power. I feel grateful that I’m even making a third album. I didn’t know I would even get to this place. It’s overwhelming.
“I realized that night after night I was performing songs that were making me sad all the time.”
You’ve said recently that you’re tired of performing heartbreaking music because it bums you out. Would you say each of your records thus far has been heartbreaking?
I think mostly, yeah. I’m such a sucker for writing those songs. I instantly go to write sad songs, but the kind of emotional energy that goes into that songs gets draining. I realized that night after night I was performing songs that were making me sad all the time. Eventually it’s muscle memory and you don’t have to sound the same way anymore, but even doing soundcheck performing these songs, it’s a whole new world. The band is really vibing. I feel like I’ve just been a touring artist for three or four years. I feel like it’s natural and inevitable that you end up considering what the songs sound like live and how you feel onstage. I spend way more time on stage than I do writing at the moment. Even writing this album, I was onstage every weekend in festivals in Europe and in the U.S. I definitely had that in mind when I was writing Delirium.
You collaborated with a lot of big producers on Delirium. Sometimes if that happens, it’s the producer’s work that stands out. However, with your record, it sounds like you. How did you make sure that it really sounded like an Ellie Goulding song versus, say, a Max Martin song?
I think when you work with those kinds of producers, there are all kinds of assumptions made, but there’s only one me — there’s no one else with my voice. It’s something I feel strongly about. I think it’s unfair, just because people work with big producers, that it could be anyone’s song. No way! My songs are mine. They’re never going to be anyone else’s, and they never were anyone else’s. My voice ties everything together, and no one else in the world has my voice, so it’s very hard for people to say things like that, the idea that you can lose your identity because of the people you work with. It’s just such rubbish.
Max [Martin] is a good friend now, and he’s so passionate about music and individuality with musicians and artists. He knows my past work, music and knew exactly what I wanted to do. He needs to be given credit for the fact that he may work with some big pop artists who don’t necessarily write all of their own stuff, but also he’s been working with some incredible artists lately. He knows I write all of my own stuff, and he knows how involved I am in the production and writing. He’s intuitive like that. People need to realize that in the studio, it’s as much you as it is them — unless you have no involvement. Everyone knows that I’m an artist — and always have been — who’s always involved in everything. That’s how you make your album. Same with Greg Kurstin — he knows exactly how I’ve worked in the past. He knows my passion and involvement for what I do. I’m never going to make music that doesn’t sound like me because that just doesn’t make any sense at all.