Ellie Goulding On Why Her Least Personal Album Is Her Most Empowering

“Sometimes pop music isn't personal and that's okay.”

Ahead of the release of her fifth studio album ‘Higher Than Heaven’, award-winning artist Ellie Goulding sat down with marie claire to talk the power of impersonal pop, how motherhood has influenced her creatively and why she won’t stay silent on the climate crisis.

Marie Claire: Your new album is a pandemic baby, but I read that you didn’t want that to overshadow the feel of the album. Tell me about that.

Ellie Goulding: Often the first thing I’m asked when I get into the studio is ‘What do you want to write about?’ and ‘Have you been through anything lately?’ And sometimes I’m in the mood for that and I’ll say ‘I’ve had the worst week of my life. I need to get it down on paper.’ But with this album, I just wanted to write really fun, dreamy pop songs about falling in love. When I announced that this was my least personal album I’ve made, the response I got was, ‘Thank God, somebody said it!’ Because sometimes pop music isn’t personal and that’s okay.

MC: Totally! Sometimes it’s just not that deep.

EG: I like that. I want to get that tattooed.

Ellie Goulding
(Credit: Photography: Catie Laffoon.)

MC: Is there an album or artist that offers that form of escapism for you?

EG: I listen to a lot of classical music. I like that you have no choice but to let the music flow through you because often there are no words or lyrics. I’ll often play Max Richter, John Michel Blais, Luke Howard, Craig Armstrong or Nicholas Pash Berg when I’m walking through the park. People often associate classical music with something deeper, as it evokes slightly more sombre or melancholy vibes, but for me, it makes me feel alive and happy, and like anything’s possible. 

MC: You said that the album evokes this vision of an “independent woman on the dance floor not needing anyone to make them feel better about themselves.” I love the concept of women reclaiming loneliness in a radical act of self-love. Was that something you were conscious of?

EG: I realised that I didn’t have to write about somebody else on this album. Instead, I wanted to explore the idea of self-love. This album is kind of an escape in so many ways, whether that’s self-love or falling in love completely freely. I love the idea of a woman or person feeling completely free in themselves in whatever way that can be interpreted.

MC: You were also in the early stages of pregnancy during the making of the album. How has motherhood influenced your creative process?

EG: There are definitely going to be changes in my writing from now on. While we were making this album, I dealt with the surrealness of pregnancy by going in the opposite direction. My next album will probably be quite weird, because [motherhood] takes your brain to a whole other universe. The patience, gratitude and curiosity that you gain from having your own kid has had a big influence on me. 

Ellie Goulding
Higher Than Heaven album artwork. (Credit: Supplied.)

MC: You have several festivals playing this year. How are they different from a standard tour?

EG: Festivals are always brilliant because it’s an opportunity to make new fans and get people on my side. There’s a different atmosphere at music festivals, because half of the crowd are fans and people who want to see me, and then the other half are people that don’t know anything about me. It’s my chance to bring new people into my world.

MC: What does your dream festival line up look like?

EG: Hmm let me think about who I’ve been listening to lately… I love Lubyanka, her voice is like silk. If there was anyone that I would want to collaborate with right now it’s her. I just rediscovered (Swedish electronic music duo) The Knife. I’ve also been listening to Two Chains, Chloe and Halle, Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar.

MC: What would the location be for this festival fantasy? 

EG: Scandinavian festivals are always the best because they’re super green and environmentally friendly. They have beautiful food, nice people and a good crowd. They can feel sort of whimsical. So definitely either Sweden or Norway.

MC: Speaking of environmentally conscious concerts. You’re also a UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador and I read that you are trying to ensure that any upcoming tours don’t cause further damage to the environment. What have you found to be the biggest challenge?

EG: Getting people to get on board. We will send our demands to a venue, and they’ll come back and say ‘We can’t accommodate that.’ Things just aren’t happening fast enough. All the technology is there to provide renewable energy and to start phasing out the use of fossil fuels. Artists should also be thinking more about their travel arrangements and also their merchandise because we know that fashion is one of the biggest polluters. I would love people to be a bit braver and bolder in their decisions.

Higher than Heaven is out now.

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