Some artists are easy to pigeonhole, but that cannot be said of Ellie Goulding. The 26-year-old is a star in her native U.K. and is making increasing strides in the U.S. – her impressively diverse hit albums Lights and Halcyon have fans of all music tastes.
Goulding is clearly something of a chameleon. She can deliver dance hits - see current smash “Burn” - as well as haunting guitar folk-rock and artsy-pop, all framed by her remarkable voice.
What is not often mentioned is Goulding’s abilities as a musician: she plays guitar, piano/synths, clarinet and drums. She’s a fan of Joni Mitchell and Feist – two possibly too-obvious comparisons - but Goulding is walking her own path.
Gibson.com talked with Ellie Goulding mid-way through her hit U.S tour with Bruno Mars…
How is this big U.S. tour going?
“Really good. Bruno Mars’ band is incredible. They put on an amazing live show and they’re great musicians, so we’re all having a great time. I’ve been doing headline shows for a while so it feels like a nice break being support, in a way. It’s a bit freaky, but it’s pulling in crowds. Bruno is a legend to me, so it’s great fun.”
Many fans of your dance tracks may not know of your musicianship?
“I guess not. I played clarinet from nine years old, but got bored of it. I picked up a guitar when I was 14. My dad played guitar. I was aware he played electric guitar in bands and was apparently really good – I don’t see him now. But maybe inspiration came from that. He bought my big sister a guitar for Christmas one year and she wasn’t remotely interested. So I stole it.
“I started playing guitar initially to impress a boy. There was a boy I liked, and I really wanted him to like me. I wanted to be the only girl guitarist around. But after that fixation, I just really enjoyed playing guitar.
“I became obsessed about guitar quite quickly – teaching myself, getting tab, learning fingerpicking. And I discovered a lot more female guitarists in my school and around the area I grew up. We started little “collectives” playing together. Even if it was just hiring out the local village hall.”
Watch Ellie Goulding in 2010, before she broke big.
When at university, you played solo gigs with just a guitar - is that right?
“Yeah, and I did that for a long time. Just from that, I became way more skilled at guitar. It was all I had for a while. No backing tracks, no other musicians. So for a while, I killed it on guitar! But when I got a band, I started to concentrate on my voice more… and stopped playing guitar as much. I’m really passionate about pop music, electronic music as well, so I’m aware that my craft as a guitarist doesn’t necessarily come through on some of my songs.”
Did you take lessons for your guitar playing?
“No, I didn’t. Over the years I just developed a personal fingerpicking style. I don’t ever use my whole hand, just two or three fingers. It’s good to have this conversation now, because I’m really getting back into guitar. I’m now playing guitar more and more.”
So there’s more guitar to come?
“Definitely. I’m writing a soundtrack for a movie at the moment. The story is based in North Carolina, and I was asked to be involved in the soundtrack. It’s using Joni Mitchell, Bon Iver and Nick Drake as a “guide” soundtrack at the moment [Editor’s note: Ellie is a fan of all three], but I’m writing new songs for that movie.
“I’m writing every night on guitar at the moment. I record next week [July 2013] and this will maybe show more of the guitar side of what I do.
“I write a lot on guitar. But it varies. When I walk into the studio, I may have sounds in my head that could be guitar riffs or piano riffs, or something else. We’ll just jam ideas. Even though guitars don’t end up on a lot on some records, the songs usually start on guitar most of the time. If anything, I’ve always struggled with piano - I want to have piano lessons, at some point.”
And for guitar, you mainly play a Gibson Songwriter Deluxe Studio EC ?
“Yeah. I’m quite small, and it feels big sometimes – but it works for me. It’s just a great sounding guitar. Even before I got a recording deal, I had a publishing deal, and I have always played Gibsons since. One of my manager’s friends recommended Gibson. It was great – I didn’t have a good guitar earlier.
“I’ve been playing that guitar for four years now, I love it. I can’t tell you about any mods and technical stuff – I’m doing so much in a show; I just get passed it and play. I’m such a diva!”
Photo: John Rahim