Ellie Goulding is a complicated thing in a seemingly simple package. On first hearing, she's a bright and shiny 22-year-old singer-songwriter, with her fingers on her guitar, her feet in a night-club and her head in the heavens. But very few singer-songwriters, young or old, can flip between dance-til-youdrop euphoria (Starry Eyed) and wistful, journeying space-folk (Guns and Horses), between lyrics that talk obliquely about sleeping around (Under The Sheets) and those that pin-point the love-hate relationship every leaver has about their home town (Wish I Stayed). Very few can do all that and leave us, the listeners, with enchantment, curious romance and, somehow, a sense of vastness, of travel, of space and time. It's pop, Jim, but not as we know it.
Ellie's songs are built around big proper tunes that lift you up and spin you round, yet there's something off-centre about them, something sparkly, filmic, haunting, odd. She mixes heartfelt emotion with other-worldly atmospherics, spins cool electronica into dreamy warmth. Her insistence on putting her guitar in every song, whether an acoustic cover (she has done some amazing versions of Passion Pit's Sleepyhead, Wolves by Bon Iver and Roscoe by Midlake) or a gorgeous song about new love (I try out a smile and aim it at you/You must have missed it, you always do) gives her soaring electro-folk an earthed rootedness. We note that she hasn't changed her name, that she doesn't hide behind a stage persona. She is who she is. And in person, Ellie is direct. Honest to a fault.
'I like simplicity,' she says, 'which is why I'm not afraid of pop, or dance music. I just look for the hook, the centre. And it can be the words or the melody, just the one thing that can relate to everyone. Even in alternative music, or classical, if it's good, there will be something direct about it.
But I also like to dig deep when it comes to lyrics. I'm aware of how I'm feeling all the time, so it's impossible for me to write words that are contrived or meaningless.'
Ellie's sound is given an extra twist by her voice, an unusual, warbling instrument that recalls The Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Frazer. 'I mostly get compared to Kate Bush or Bjork,' she says, 'only because people think, Ooh, it's pop but it's a little bit weird! I dont know who I sound like because I tried to sound like so many people when I was starting out. I taught myself to sing, like I taught myself to play guitar. Like I taught myself to speak, too!'
Ah yes, Ellie's speaking voice. Born Elena Jane Goulding in Hereford on December 30th 1986, brought up in Kington, a small village on the Wales-England border, she decided to change the way she spoke because she felt different: now her neutral tones mean she gets mistaken for a posh gel. In fact, her background was anything but cushy: brought up by her mum and step-dad in various council houses, she shared a small bedroom with her two sisters and spent most of her young life outside.
Without formal training, Ellie's first musical inspiration was the hands-in-the-air rave music that her mum and uncle used to listen to; then, the classical tunes she heard on the soundtracks to Disney films. In her teens, Ellie sang one of her own compositions to a friend of the family and he introduced her to folk music: Alison Krauss, Jim Moray, Seth Lakeman, even Fleetwood Mac. But the idea of being a performer seemed very far away from Ellie's life: though she joined a band at 16, she was too shy to put herself forward as the main singer.
It was at Canterbury University, where she studied performing arts, that Ellie first found the confidence to sing on stage: on a whim, she entered the university talent competition and won first prize. But that was with cover versions: realising she needed to write her own songs, she sat down with her guitar and had a go. The songs came pouring out.
In a friend's room, she heard Frankmusik (Vincent Frank) and got in touch with him, via his MySpace page. She sent him her acoustic version of Wish I Stayed and he swirled it into a thing of cool and classy beauty. Soon after, again using MySpace, Ellie hooked up with Fin Dow-Smith, aka the electro-don Starsmith, and something clicked. A talented musician in his own right (he;s about to release his own LP), Fin and Ellie have an amazing rapport: he sent her just a few la la la sounds and she was instantly inspired to write Starry- Eyed.
Live, Ellie has moved on from her talent show debut: she gives her gigs her all, as those who saw her mesmerising performance on Later will testify. But she doesn't like to speak between songs.
'Perhaps I should just hold up cards saying, Thank you so much for coming, because I am grateful,' she laughs. 'It's just that I want the music to do the talking. I don't want to detract from the songs. I don't want to break the spell'.
And we don't want her to, either. It's lovely to have Ellie's magic wafted over you, wonderful to be caught up in her enchantment. Spell-bound indeed.