Ellie Goulding on ‘Higher Than Heaven’: “We forget that the purpose of pop is to escape”
Ellie Goulding has spoken to NME about new album ‘Higher Than Heaven’, her Calvin Harris-collab ‘Miracle’ riding high in the charts and the possibility of representing the United Kingdom in Eurovision.
Goulding’s fifth album ‘Higher Than Heaven’ was released on Friday (April 7) – and was written intentionally as purely escapist pop.
“My new thing is acknowledging the things I’m good at, and I’m good at writing pop songs,” Goulding told NME. “I’ve made a classical album, I’ve made electronic music and I regularly give my vocal away to producers like Four Tet. There are so many genres of music that I’ve been lucky to explore but when it comes down to it, I really just love making big pop songs that you hear on the radio.”
Work began on ‘Higher Than Heaven’ in the early days of lockdown restrictions being lifted. “It was such a unique time and everybody was still trying to process what the fuck just happened, so we cracked open some drinks and made some music,” said Goulding, who worked with the likes of Greg Kurstin, Andrew Wells and Stephen ‘Koz’ Kozmeniuk for the record.
“We just had so much fun but [because of the constantly changing restrictions] there was still this feeling of being stuck. We didn’t want to write serious songs, we wanted to write about silly things and dancing.”
Goulding went on to say that early on in her career, she’d always take the same 10 songs into a session and say “I want to sound a bit like this, and this”, but instead “ended up sounding like none of it because my voice is too weird to possibly emulate anyone else.”
For ‘Higher Than Heaven’ though, “there’s a lot of ‘80s influences, there’s some The Weeknd, some Dolly Parton and some ABBA. It’s all rolled in together and that was the best thing about making this record; there really weren’t any rules. We weren’t trying to make a cohesive body of work.”
Last week, Goulding made headlines when she claimed ‘Higher Than Heaven’ was her “least personal album” yet.
“That got people talking,” Goulding told NME. “I’d been doing so many interviews that it got to the point where I started making things up about what the songs were about. I just thought there’s no point in doing that, so I came clean. [‘Higher Than Heaven’] is not really that meaningful.”
She added: “I’ve made plenty of meaningful songs in the past and I’ve struggled to perform them live because they’re so melancholy and sad. Right now, I don’t want to sing those songs.”
‘Higher Than Heaven’ is being released at a time where pop music has become predominantly introspective and often cut with indie or rock to give it an extra level of perceived authenticity. Goulding said that releasing an album of pure pop should feel like a gamble but “I haven’t felt any risk.”
“Releasing music has only ever felt like a risk when it’s super personal,” she told NME. “It’s scary putting your life out there, it’s scary being vulnerable and it’s scary showing the world your weaknesses. In the past, I’ve written songs about how maybe I’d been manipulative in a relationship and I’ve always felt nervous about going that deep into my own life. With this album, I’ve felt a sense of relief. I don’t have to wait for people to interpret what’s going on in my personal life.
“This is the least pressure I’ve ever felt releasing an album. I know that people are already enjoying the music so I can’t think of a reason why I need to be stressed.”
While ‘Higher Than Heaven’ was written about “silly things”, Goulding said that joyful, escapist music is important as “we forget that the purpose of pop is to escape.”
“I realised that a lot of the songs that brought me joy when I was younger were the ones that made me want to move my body,” she said. “I didn’t know what the lyrics meant, but I’d sing along anyway.
“I didn’t intentionally make an album that people can dance to and forget their worries, it’s just what we needed to do for ourselves coming out of a really bizarre, surreal time.”
With 2015’s ‘Delirium’ and 2020’s ‘Brightest Blue’, it felt like Goulding was trying to find a balance between introspective ballads and big, radio-friendly pop songs after a string of early-career successes that included Number One singles and BRIT Awards.
“My first album ‘Lights’ was so heavily interpreted and analysed, it made me think that I was supposed to be doing something that perhaps wasn’t in my instincts,” said Goulding. “I was writing all the songs myself so people assumed they must all be deep and meaningful. A lot of those songs [on ‘Lights’] were about stuff I’d gone through, but it was also a love letter to the electronic music that I grew up listening to.”
She continued: “With ‘Delirium’, I was in Los Angeles with some of the best songwriters and producers in the world. I was at the point in my career where I got carried away with how big I could go and how far I could go as a vocalist and a performer. There was nothing about the tour I didn’t enjoy and they’re all good songs, but a lot had happened to me at that point in my career and I didn’t know what I was trying to do.
“I wish I had the same sense of peace that I have now.”
As well as releasing ‘Higher Than Heaven’, Goulding’s recent collaboration with Calvin Harris ‘Miracle’ is Number One in the UK Singles Charts.
“It feels really good,” said Goulding. “’Brightest Blue’ streamed really well, despite being a lockdown album, but I haven’t really thought about the Singles Charts in a while. I watched Calvin play it in Hong Kong the other night though and everyone was singing along. You can’t not find moments like that really thrilling.”
‘Miracle’ is the third time Goulding and Harris have teamed up, following 2013’s ‘I Need Your Love’ and 2014’s ‘Outside’. Goulding confirmed to NME that a fourth collaboration was recorded alongside another artist but was scrapped when Harris felt there “wasn’t something quite right with it.”
“He’s so instinctual and he’s so consistently brilliant at what he does,” continued Goulding. “He’s just got something special. There’s something about the combination of his music and my voice and lyrics that clearly resonates with people.”
Before it was confirmed that Mae Muller would be representing the United Kingdom at Eurovision 2023, Goulding was rumoured to be in the running alongside the likes of Rina Sawayama and Birdy.
“I think I’d be too nervous,” Goulding said when asked if she’d ever consider it. “I genuinely enjoy Eurovision. It brings me great joy and I often love the Swiss, the Norwegian and the Icelandic entries, so I really enjoy watching it. I think it would be too much pressure for me to take part though. You might think that I’d be able to handle that pressure by now, but I really couldn’t.”
‘Higher Than Heaven’ was originally meant to be released in February before it was delayed several times as Goulding struggled to source eco-friendly materials for the physical release and her October headline tour is set to be “more ambitious” with its sustainability after the carbon-neutral ‘Brightest Blue’ tour.
Finally! 🥲 The Higher Than Heaven tour is happening AND we’re going to be visiting even more places! Pre-order any format of #HTH from my official store before Mon 3rd Apr @ 5pm BST to get access to the pre-sale. https://t.co/rziltKPkXW pic.twitter.com/llvl11cX3H
— Ellie Goulding (@elliegoulding) March 30, 2023
Goulding explained: “It’s the least I can do. It’s too easy to turn away from what’s going on [with the climate crisis]. It’s too easy to make merchandise from the worst possible materials for the environment. It’s too easy to fly everywhere, and it’s too easy to wear a different outfit everyday. Fashion is one of the biggest polluters in the world, alongside aviation, shipping and the meat industry.”
“There are certain things that I can’t unhear or unsee, so for me to embark on a world tour without taking any of that into consideration would just be ignorant. I truly believe a greener world is a better world, so why would I do anything different?”
Tickets for Ellie Goulding’s ‘Higher Than Heaven’ tour are available here. Check out the dates below.
Monday 16 – Dublin, Ireland, 3Olympia Theatre
Wednesday 18 – Glasgow, Scotland, Barrowland
Thursday 19 – Newcastle upon Tyne, England, O2 City Hall
Friday 20 – Manchester, England, Academy
Monday 23 – Birmingham, England, O2 Institute
Tuesday 24 – London, England, Roundhouse
Friday 27 – Paris, France, Bataclan
Monday 30 – Utrecht, Netherlands, TivoliVredenburg
Tuesday 31 – Brussels, Belgium, Citque Royale
Thursday 2 – Milan, Itay, Fabrique
Monday 6 – Cologne, Germany, E Werk
Tuesday 7 – Berlin, Germany, Huxleys Neue Welt