It’s a cool September evening in New York City, and the first thing Ellie Goulding sees when her van hits Manhattan’s Lower East Side is the Economy Candy shop on Rivington Street. She’s scheduled for an interview with ArjanWrites at the Hotel On Rivington as part of his HP series, but not before she stocks up on bags of candy. She promptly tweets about the experience and even adds the photo to Instagram. It’s that level of human interaction that makes Ellie Goulding such an accessible pop superstar. She’s also pretty damn talented.
The U.K. artist’s debut album Lights arrived in the U.S. in 2011, but its title track took a year and a half to circulate and make Billboard history as the longest climb to a top position on its Hot 100 chart. “Everything’s weird in my life. Honestly,” Goulding says, settling into the leather sofa in the hotel’s penthouse suite. “I can say that with absolute sincerity.” She’s clad in all black with the only hint of color being her pink-meets-flaxen hairdo. This past year she took a trip to southern Ireland to pen her follow-up opus to Lights, titled Halcyon. The greater whole of the project was crafted in the presence of water; makes sense considering a “halcyon” is a type of mythical bird that watches over the sea. She co-produced the album with Jim Eliot of Kish Mauve, and before deciding on the name Halcyon, the two went on a binge of the Orbital track “Halcyon and On and On.” The content reflected the name halcyon. “Like the bird, it represents peace and happiness, and I like the idea that even though the album is quite dark, it can still represent sort of some kind of hopefulness and truth,” Ellie explains of the project’s title. “So then I was like, fuck, I have to name the album Halcyon. A lot of the album is melancholy, but it shows glimpses of hope so, it just all kind of made sense.”
While writing Halcyon, Goulding had a few life-changing experiences. She parted ways with ex-boyfriend, Radio 1 DJ Greg James, at the close of 2011 and met current boyfriend Skrillex several months later. The two chatted over email before beginning a friendship that turned into a relationship. Halcyon reflects the despair of one love ending and the hope of a new one beginning. There’s still a certain degree of loneliness when two touring artists get together. “I still have this dark side, you know? I think even though I’m in a relationship, and a really good relationship it’s still lonely because we’re not always physically near each other. Also I’m still very confused over what happened with my last relationship,” she admits. “I think it’s just confusion, especially when you’re by yourself a lot. Things manifest, and it amplifies and gets more intense. When I’m by myself in a hotel at night, I have a million things running through my head. That’s how I end up with songs.”
Ellie is escorted into another section of the hotel, before reemerging in a blue leather jacket and white V-neck tee. As she heads to the HP main stage to begin her talk with Arjan, her Beats By Dre commercial is shown on computer screens. A tour with Katy Perry, performing at the royal wedding, spots on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Saturday Night Live were all sizable milestones in Ellie’s career thus far. That’s not including her early achievements of winning the coveted BBC Sound of 2010 award and the Critics’ Choice Award at the BRIT Awards that same year. All of that was pushed to the back of her mind though when creating this new album. “I really had to ground myself to stay away from that and stick with what I was doing,” she says later on of the album’s direction. While there’s a strong Pop influence on Halcyon—evidenced by the album’s torch single “Anything Could Happen” along with the Calvin Harris cut “I Need Your Love”—there’s still a level of sonic purity that hasn’t been diluted by the saccharined mainstream. “That was something that I was never really going to do,” Goulding says. “Like, I love pop music, but there’s different degrees, I guess, of pop music. I would say that this album is very pop—it’s very repetitive, it’s very simple. It’s very melodic and the choruses are big. In a lot of ways it is a pop record, but it’s also kind of…” She trails off. “It’s darker.”
While sitting in a big uncomfortable chair at the heart of the small stage, Goulding makes jokes about her pants being “noisy” and seals answers to Arjan’s questions with a giggle. She’s still not totally comfortable with being a celebrity. Her eyes change shape, though, when snippets of the album are being played. The versions are chopped in a weird way, and while still remaining polite, it’s obvious Ellie isn’t thrilled with the edits made to her work. It’s a clear indicator of her connection to this album. Lights was written eons ago, but Halcyon is still fresh in her mind. “The fact that I can even remember writing tracks and where I was—I feel a lot closer to it,” she says. “That last album was just like, damn, I wrote it so long ago, and I can remember writing it but, like, you change so much! Especially in the climate of what I do, especially, I feel like I’m in a different place every day and I’m meeting different people every day, and I’m having to grow up quickly and having to move on real quick. That means that Lights is just a lot further away to me than it is other people, I think.” While she had a hand in production on the last album, she’s listed as an actual producer on Halcyon, explaining that the subtle vocal nuances scattered throughout the work are the result of her being much more comfortable and familiar with her voice. “My voice requires so much attention to me. I’ll know if the slightest thing is out of tune or if something is a little bit weird. It’s so cool to know something so well,” she says. “I used to record demos with just my guitar and my voice and didn’t give a shit about how it sounded. Now I do.”
While this next phase in Ellie Goulding’s career is certainly not her last, she’s still accomplished a lot in music thus far. Her fan base has reached mass hysteria, but she’s still one with the people. That’s the battle cry of an everyday girl doing extraordinary things, while still having fun doing it. “I posted a picture of me [on Instagram] in these latex pants and everyone was just like, ‘White girl ass!’ Like, nearly every other comment,” she jokes. “I’m just like, I thought I had a pretty substantial ass.”