When the title song to Ellie Goulding’s first album, “Lights,” took off, reaching number two on “Billboard” magazine’s all-format Hot 100 chart (and topping four other charts) this past August, it created a situation that can have a daunting side effect for an artist — expectations for what comes next.
Goulding, though, says she never felt the pressure of delivering on the success of “Lights” with her second album because she wasn’t experiencing what it felt like to have a major multi-format hit single in the United States in the first place.
“‘Lights’ was a huge song, but I was still here. I was still in the UK writing,” Goulding said in a recent phone interview. “I was kind of unattached from it. So it wasn’t like I was there feeling it, feeling the fact that my song was big. I was here.
“So I think it made it easier for me to just crack on and write an album I wanted to write, as opposed to one that other people wanted me to write.”
Goulding might not get another hit like “Lights” from her second album, “Halcyon.” But her music shows considerable growth on the second album, as her writing has become more ambitious and sophisticated.
“I’ve learned more about my writing and my singing, my voice, and I used my limitations and my strengths in the way I write lyrics and songs,” she said.
But pressure or not, the “Halcyon” project came with its share of difficulties — some of which, Goulding said, stemmed from events in her personal life.
“I suppose with ‘Halcyon’ I was in a place where I went through a breakup unexpectedly and I saw everything kind of change,” Goulding said. “I started building almost like a sort of a potential life in London with this person and all of that stuff. So the second that dissolved, I was kind of like a bit of a free bird again, and I think that shaped ‘Halcyon’ quite a lot. ‘Lights’ was written when I was quite young, and I think it shows. It’s still quite naïve.”
Goulding did not reveal which relationships she was talking about. But it’s been widely reported that she dated a London DJ named Greg James for 18 months before they broke up at the end of 2011.
Goulding then went on to date electronic artist Skrillex, but that relationship ended this past fall with both artists saying that it was too difficult to maintain the kind of long-distance relationship necessitated by touring and other commitments to their music careers.
In any event, the emotional upheaval filtered into songs on “Halcyon,” and Goulding said she can hear the confusion in her life in the songs.
Goulding, though, doesn’t seem at all confused when it comes to her music. Now 26, she landed her UK record deal with Polydor in 2009 and released her first single, “Under the Sheets,” that fall.
She followed that with “Lights,” which was released in the UK in March 2010 and topped that country’s album chart. The U.S. version of the album was released in February 2011 and then followed by a deluxe edition called “Bright Lights.”
The “Lights” album was a pretty straightforward collection of danceable electronic-flavored pop tunes.
She hasn’t abandoned her synth/electronic sound on
“Halcyon,” but the second CD, which was released in October, is more mature and multi-faceted than “Lights” and it shifts away from dance pop. In fact the only full-fledged song in that vein is “Only You” which has the hooks to work on pop radio has imaginative sonic touches and a richer melody than much of the material on the “Lights” album.
Several other new songs, meanwhile, show even more growth from Goulding.
For instance, “Figure 8” has an enticing sound created by its darkly hued melody and big, but deliberate, beat. “My Blood,” has a symphonic sweep as it flows from understated moment to a full-bodied chorus complete with choir-like harmonies.
Even a song like “Anything Could Happen,” which starts out sounding like a modest, albeit catchy, dance-pop tune takes sharp turns as it builds into a fairly epic anthem.
Goulding is spending July and August opening for Bruno Mars on his summer tour. She has a band with a pair of multi-instrumentalists and a drummer/programmer, which she said has allowed her to bring her music to life on stage.
“It’s very different (from the “Lights” tour) because I have a whole new album to perform now,” she said. “It’s very different. Yeah, I guess because it’s quite a leap from my first record, there’s definitely a difference live. It’s just a bit more full now.
“I don’t know, it just seems like things make sense a bit more and everything’s a bit more rounded and the whole production just feels a bit more certain now.”