Recently, the British singer Ellie Goulding was in Paris, watching the city pass by outside a car window. “I never get to enjoy this stuff,” she said. “But it’s beautiful.”
Goulding, 25, has seen a lot of scenery go by since the 2010 British release of Lights, the glossy, synthpop-oriented debut that made her a star in her native England. Goulding collected new-artist plaudits from the BBC and the Brit Awards and even performed for Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton, at their royal wedding reception, Now, after that album’s eponymous single spent nearly a year and half ascending the Billboard Hot 100, Goulding is enjoying the stateside spotlight and even appearing in the tabloids after beginning a relationship with the American dubstep producer Skrillex. Her current U.S. tour includes a stop Wednesday at the Fillmore Miami Beach.
Her new album, Halcyon (Cherrytree/Interscope), was mostly recorded in a barn near Lyonshall, the village where she grew up. Halcyon is nostalgic and frequently very sad — a deeply felt swirl of synthesizers, piano and slowly building crescendos. The lyrics dwell on pain — “Letting darkness grow,” as she puts it on the album’s first single, Anything Could Happen — and redemption in equal measure. Goulding recently spoke with Zach Baron by phone from Paris about her unlikely writing idols and singing Christmas carols with the first family. These are excerpts from their conversation.
Q. Your father comes from a family of undertakers, which makes it sound like you grew up in a Victorian novel.
My great-granddad, whom I never met, had an undertaking business. And everyone got involved — my dad, his dad. I think my mom even helped out with embalming. I have always had very morbid fascinations, and my dad does too. I’m not afraid of singing about something quite dark.
Q. Your single Lights was on your 2010 debut, wasn’t released in this country until 2011, and only reached the Top 5 here this past summer. Were you watching the song’s slow climb?
I didn’t have a bloody clue. When I was writing Halcyon out in the countryside, I was isolated. Every so often I would check my e-mail, and there would be people saying Lights had been added to this station and that station, and it’s become really popular. I’m like: “This is quite cool. But it’s a bit late!”
Q. Last year you performed at the White House for a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. What was that like?
I turned around and I was just singing a song next to the president’s daughters, and I thought, this is quite mental. This is quite surreal.
Q. Did the president say anything to you?
He said he liked my coat. I was wearing quite a special coat. I looked a bit like a polar bear.
Q. Were you ever self-conscious about your interest in running, which is not exactly a cool rock star thing to do?
Not really, because one of my writing idols is Haruki Murakami, who writes some of the darkest things I’ve ever read in my life. He runs pretty much every day. And I figured that the best way to interact with fans, that isn’t weird or awkward, is by going out running with them. I don’t like the idea of being better than anyone, so I liked that we were all in the same sweaty mess.
Q. You’ve said that Halcyon is a breakup record.
Basically I’d already started writing the record, but it annoyingly, tragically came alive when I’d broken up with someone. I was sort of lost and all over the place, and that’s where a lot of these songs came from. But you know, then I wrote Anything Could Happen because suddenly my life changed again, and I met someone new.
Q. That someone new was Skrillex. Is he a romantic guy?
I suppose he’s flown quite a long way to see me once.
Q. That’s it?
[Laughter.] He was supposed to be flying back from Ireland straight to L.A. And he took a diversion and flew to Spain. It was pretty extreme.