LOOKING at Emeli Sande and her rocking platinum quiff, you might not guess that she writes emotional, tender songs for the likes of Leona Lewis, Cheryl Cole, Cher Lloyd and Susan Boyle. Nor would it be obvious that she trained as a neurologist, and gave up on being a doctor just before she qualified.
But 24-year-old Scot Emeli is a renaissance woman, who relished the opportunity to learn about the human brain.
“I’m so happy I took time to study,” explains the singer, who made her big breakthrough while featuring on Professor Green’s No 1 single Read All About It late last year.
“I feel a lot more in control now that I have a degree. It meant that music wasn’t the be-all and end-all, so that takes some pressure off.”
Perhaps if she’d studied music it might have taken away some of the magic of the art to dissect it?
“Yeah, I’ve always thought that. I’ve always kept music and school very separate because I knew that music was something very natural to me and I didn’t want it to become a science, or for it to become – like you said – dissected.
“I had a lot of friends who studied music and by the end if it, they’d lost that magic and the spark for it, so I definitely wanted to protect that. Because it came so naturally to me and I’ve always been able to educate myself with it, I just wanted to save school for something that I really couldn’t learn by myself, so that’s why I wanted to learn medicine, because I think it would have been impossible to do that alone.”
Emeli never worked as a professional neurologist, instead studying for three years at medical school, then a year specialising in neuroscience, before coming down south after graduating.
She won a competition run by BBC radio DJ Trevor Nelson, but turned down the contest’s prize of a recording contract, preferring to do things herself.
Record labels quickly started competing for Emeli’s songs. Simon Cowell says she is his favourite songwriter, penning hits for some of the biggest-selling artists in the UK.
“I don’t ‘sell’ songs, as such,” she adds. “I give them to people. I love the reinterpretation, and the fact someone can change a lyric to mean something I’d never thought about or intended.
“Some people think it might be odd writing for other people, but I haven’t felt like that. There’s no-one who’s sung a song of mine that I haven’t respected, and no one who made me think they didn’t understand what the song was about.”
She’s written with her childhood heroine, Alicia Keys.
“I try and think of how if I went back and told 14-year old me what’s going on now, I don’t think she’d quite believe it,” laughs Emeli. “It’s really incredible, and very surreal when people that you’ve looked up to for so long appreciate you as an artist, and respect you as well, it’s an incredible feeling. We wrote some great songs; we wrote some songs for her new album, so I’m really looking forward to people hearing them all.”
In terms of genre, Emeli’s timing couldn’t be better – there’s a huge market for soul at the moment.
“I think it’s been coming back for ages now,” she says. “People love soul music, and the stories and the simplicity of it all. Definitely in Britain it seems like there’s been a major comeback. I love it, I mean, I grew up listening to lots of soul and I just love it. I don’t think there’s any type of music that compares to it really.”
Emeli has been writing songs since she was seven, and her school friends stole her song for the school talent contest.
“I was in the audience and thought, ‘I recognise that!,” she laughs.
“They had a dance routine and everything. It was flattering I suppose, and we’re all still friends now, so I like to tease them about that.
“When you’re a kid you’re listening to so many things and you’re picking up things on the radio when you’re young, so I’ve had a lot of different influences. Maybe my mum and dad were playing that kind of thing when I was young, but I think I missed that scene the first time it came out. I really kind of got into it more when I was working at Virgin Megastore in Aberdeen, when I was like 16 or 17 and that’s when I really started looking into different genres.”
Emeli’s album, Our Version Of Events, was released last month.
“I definitely knew I’d release an album,” she says. “But I didn’t think there’d be this much anticipation, or acknowledgement of what I was doing. That said, I’m happy people are talking about the album so much. I love getting the attention, because I have experienced the other side of that, when no one cares.”
Her tour calls in at the O2 Academy Liverpool next month.
“I really wanted the live show to reflect the record, so we kind of mixed it up a bit,” she enthuses. “It’s quite a dynamic show, full of energy, but then we have the real quiet moments where it’s a bit more intimate. I’m just really looking forward to getting on the road now the album’s out.”
She’s already won the BRIT award for Critic’s Choice, the gong that heralded Adele’s success.
“It’s great to get that kind of acknowledgement and it’s encouraging to see that the industry really believes in what you’re doing and appreciates your music, but people change their minds all the time, so you can’t get too caught up in it, or take it too seriously,” Emeli shrugs. “I’m so happy I have a BRIT, you know, I’m over the moon, but you have to keep making music and keep your focus on being creative more than anything. It would drive you crazy, I think, if you started to get too concerned with awards and that type of thing.”
EMELI SANDE plays the O2 Academy Liverpool on April 9