With one hour to go before sending the magazine to print Emeli Sandé calls VIVA HQ for a chat. After managing to bag the sky-rocketing Emeli Sande as our cover star at the last minute, we only have fifteen minutes to chat to her as she makes her way to rehearsal. Given Emeli’s past year of chart success, collaborations and the Olympics, we’re not the only ones with a packed schedule. No pressure then!
So, it really has been your year – the only artist to perform at both the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, your album is fast approaching triple platinum, (having been in the top 10 since its release in February) what has been your highlight and could you ever have predicted this kind of success?
There are so many amazing things that have happened. Opening up the Olympics was a big highlight for me as I never have and never will perform in front of such a big audience again. Releasing the album was also very big as I’ve dreamed of doing it for so many years and, in February when I got to release the album and it went to number one, that was major.
With performing at the Olympics, would you say you are patriotic?
Yeah, I think I am. I definitely feel very British and being there and being part of that meant I had that spirit even more, more than I would usually feel it. I was so proud of what Danny Boyle did and what we all put together – what we showed the world. I think it was so different and a very honest reflection of what Britain is.
A special edition of ‘Our Version of Events’ is being released with your cover of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine.’ How did it feel covering such a huge song?
Pretty intimidating! I remember when the BBC asked me to do it with the Olympics and at first I was very intimidated because it’s one of the best written songs ever; by such a legend. I loved being able to do my own interpretation and also introducing the song to a younger generation. I feel very honoured to be asked but also it’s quite a scary thing to do.
Your songs ‘Heaven’ and ‘Read all about it’ were incredibly popular but the charts are dominated by one hit wonders and passing musical trends. How will you manage to keep your music relevant and durable?
The main thing for me I think was when I released ‘Heaven,’ being my first single by myself, I really wanted to introduce myself as that kind of artist. I wasn’t really looking for chart success, I was looking for people to really start recognising me as an artist. I think, because I did it that way, you’re not pretending to be something else to get that one hit. I think you’ve got to be honest to stay relevant, and understand what people are going through and try to relate to people. That’s how I plan to go forward.
You won Best Solo Artist at the Q Awards against people like Florence Welch and Noel Gallagher. The Q Awards are typically known for giving lifetime achievement and Icon awards, how did it feel winning in that environment and against such seasoned artists?
Wonderful! I was there last year and was nominated for Best New Artist, so it’s great to come back and win it a year later. I just felt great and I didn’t think I would win it considering who I was up against so to get that acknowledgment was fantastic.
You have done a lot of writing for other artists such as Cheryl Cole and Susan Boyle. What differences do you feel there are between writing songs for someone else and those that you will perform?
I think when you’re writing specifically for somebody … I don’t know the difference really. I try and approach writing the same way. When you know you’re working for someone else you’re trying more to understand what they want to say, as opposed to what you’re going through. I’ve been able to sit down with people and get to know them as quickly as possible. You’re kind of more of a facilitator. You’re just trying to put what they’re saying into words.
Simon Cowell has said that you are “his favourite songwriter at the minute.” What do you think of the whole X-Factor phenomenon?
X -Factor isn’t a programme I would have gone on or something I thought about doing. I don’t think it shows people watching about song writing and developing artistry. But, some great talent has come from those programmes so I don’t think I would completely condemn them. I love James Arthur on this show and it’s given him great exposure for his talent. The industry just didn’t pick up on him before, so I think it’s great for giving people exposure but I don’t think it’s a good thing to win them.
Have you been watching this series? Manchester went crazy about our local girl Caroline’s eviction against Rylan, do you have an opinion on this?
I’ve been watching bits and pieces. I was on it last week so I got to meet some of the contestants and James Arthur just really blew me away from the beginning. I didn’t see the eviction but I heard all about it.
Fame aside, you did four years of Medicine at Glasgow University, specialising in neuroscience. Was it a difficult decision to leave this course and what sparked it?
It was a very difficult decision and, compared to music, it’s such a stable and respected career, and I loved it. It’s just that I couldn’t keep denying that I wanted to do something creative and I wanted to be a musician. It was a big step for me to move down to London but I think what sparked it was that it was a specialist degree and once I’d graduated from that I really felt like I’d achieved something in University. When I’d written Diamond Rings for Chipmunk, I got published over the summer before I went back into fourth year so I think that was a big catalyst – I think having a foot in the door with the music industry is kind of when it all came together.
Considering your rise to fame, you have managed to stay out of the paparazzi’s way. Do you think stars’ personal lives are something they have to give up at a certain level of fame? How relevant are their personal lives to their brand?
I think it just depends how you play it. I’m not out every night and I’m usually in rehearsal or in the studio, so I don’t think if you’re really famous you have to give up privacy. I don’t know how it is for people like Rihanna or Beyoncé but for me it’s about keeping music as your focus.
In a fairly controversial move, Glastonbury had Beyoncé headlining last year’s festival with Jay Z performing there before. What do you think of R’n’B acts such as these dominating what are typically rock festivals?
I think it’s great, it shows that Glastonbury is current and it’s relevant. So many people are getting into R’n’B and hip hop – it’s a very relevant genre of music at the moment so I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s a very British thing, in America they keep music very separated so I think that it’s great that in Britain we can integrate and introduce people to new types of music.
We saw you play at V Festival, you were amazing! What’s been your favourite festival you’ve played at this year and why?
God, there are so many. I loved T in the Park because it’s back home in Glasgow. So doing the main stage there was a big deal. I also really loved Bestival because it was the last one, it was such a great time of day, the sun was just going down and the crowd was just phenomenal. I think probably Bestival.
Who are your biggest musical influences and how can we recognise them in your work?
I think Nina Simone influences most things I do. I’ve listened to her since I was about eight and I think she’s just a genius. I think if you listen to my work, what inspired me about her is the way she wrote and the way she interpreted lyrics – it was very poetic and very effective in a few words. I think you can probably hear her influence in my writing and especially when I perform live, I try and channel Nina. Apart from that I love Anita Baker and Whitney Houston – I love hitting those power notes when I can. Also Joni Mitchell, I think it’s story telling and they all taught me that the writing has to tell stories in my music.
Are you working on any new material at the moment and when’s the next album coming out?
I haven’t thought about the next album yet or any new material. I’m interested in releasing a new EP in between that, so getting some new music out there without having to promote it too much.
You’ve collaborated with a few big names in the music industry, who’s been your favourite to work with?
Professor Green – he’s such a lovely person and he’s really believed in me from the very beginning, so I think working with Professor Green was a really nice experience and having my first joint number one with him was really cool. Everyone’s been cool but I really like Pro.
You’re playing in Manchester on the 12th of November at the Bridgewater Hall which we’re really excited about. Was the last time you were in our area when you did the intimate gig at the Peckforton Castle in February?
God that was a long time ago! Yeah, that was the last time I was there. It was wicked, I love doing more intimate gigs when you turn up with only a few musicians. I love Manchester, I remember when I went there as a kid. It reminds me of Glasgow, and the crowds are really cool usually.
What do you like doing when you get up here?
The shopping is great but apart from that I’ve only ever been there when we’re working doing shows or radio. I’d love a tour at some point if we ever get the time.
Interview by Johanna Dorey