Amy Ta /NPR
Ellie Goulding sings "Your Song," which she dedicated to the late Amy Winehouse, at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., on July 25.
Ellie Goulding sings "Your Song," which she dedicated to the late Amy Winehouse, at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., on July 25. Amy Ta /NPR
A new generation of women singers from the U.K. have risen as of late, including Adele, Duffy and Estelle. Their distinct voices and styles have won hits and fans here in America.
But there's another star on the British music scene: Ellie Goulding.
Her debut album Lights became the biggest and fastest-selling debut album of 2010, taking the top spot on the U.K. albums chart. Goulding won the Critics' Choice Award at the Brit Awards. She earned recognition as the BBC Sound of 2010, making her the second artist to win both honors in the same year after Adele did in 2008. Goulding also performed live at the wedding reception of Prince William and Kate Middleton, singing her rendition of Elton John's "Your Song" for the couple's first dance.
The young British star is now on a U.S. tour. She shares with Tell Me More host Michel Martin that her childhood dreams never even involved music stardom. Goulding says she wanted to be an actress at the time, particularly because she lived in a country where there wasn't much to do besides watch TV and films. Thus, acting was a big deal for her.
Goulding says she had been strengthening her voice ever since she was a young girl. She also developed an interest in running, training and martial arts, so she wanted to become a personal trainer.
Ellie Goulding listens to host Michel Martin's remarks at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., on July 25.
Ellie Goulding listens to host Michel Martin's remarks at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., on July 25. Amy Ta/NPR
Then she started doing gigs around London, becoming known as a "shy" performer. Goulding taught herself how to sing and play the guitar because she couldn't afford professional lessons.
She says her stage confidence didn't quite develop until after she signed a record deal. "I started performing in a non-apologetic way," she says.
Goulding recalls that suddenly being in the spotlight, where those attending her shows are analyzing every aspect of her performance, made her think people were missing the point of her craft. She says she just brushed off all the attention, whether negative or positive, and developed thicker skin.
When it comes to her songs, The New York Times calls each "a happy crash of signifiers."
Listeners can hear a range of genres in Lights, including electronic, folk, pop, blues and indie rock.
Martin notes that the sound of Goulding's music is buoyant, but that the lyrics are quite sad. The singer replies, "I like that sad songs can give you hope in a way."
Host Michel Martin and a live audience applaud Ellie Goulding's performance at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., on July 25.
Host Michel Martin and a live audience applaud Ellie Goulding's performance at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., on July 25. Amy Ta/NPR
But what is the root of that melancholy tone?
Goulding attributes it to her childhood. Her father and his family were undertakers. She recalls her mother helping her dad apply cosmetics to dead people.
"I was kind of strangely familiar with death and murder at a young age, because my dad had loads of books on crime, murder and stuff like that," Goulding says. "I used to go see my dad on weekends, and that was the only literature I had to read."
Goulding's interview took place within days of musician Amy Winehouse's death.
"I don't think an artist is ever really satisfied," Goulding says, "and I think that links to pain, because you're never quite happy with anything."
On the brighter side, Goulding is focusing on her next album.
"I can't wait to have new music out there, because I think it'll be slightly different to what I've done already," she says. "So we'll see."