Ellie Goulding has staked her claim as someone who's willing to take a risk.
After all, the 26-year-old British singer stepped up to serenade Prince William and Kate Middleton at their royal wedding reception in April of 2011, singing her version of Elton John's "Your Song." And Goulding's second album, "Halcyon," is different enough from 2010's hit-spawning "Lights" to confirm a certain creative fearlessness on her part.
So we shouldn't be surprised that during a recent holiday stay in Dubai, where she played a concert, Goulding decided to make her first skydive.
"I launched myself onto the planet Earth for the new year -- because I'm basically afraid of everything, including heights," Goulding says with a laugh. "I wanted to do something that would squash all those fears in one, and sure enough, when you launch yourself out of a plane at 14,000 feet onto one of the most incredible cities in the world, you sort of realize you're a bit more invincible than you think.
"It was incredible. I'm going to do another one in March in Australia."
But, Goulding adds, she finds stepping on stage to sing "still scary as hell, still nerve-wracking. It's a different kind of fear, really."
Goulding does have reason to be more confident than that, of course. "Lights" topped the U.K. album charts and has sold 1.6 million copies worldwide, spawning the hit title track (which was also No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100). Goulding also won a BRIT Award for Critics' Choice and the BBC Sound of 2010 prize amidst a slew of other nominations. She also appeared on singles by Tinie Tempah, Calvin Harris, Zedd and former boyfriend Skrillex.
"Halcyon," released in October, followed at No. 2 in her homeland and No. 9 on the Billboard 200.
"The only real rule for me was I was going to try something different," says Goulding, who made the first of those changes in geography. While most of "Lights" was written in "a very small bedroom studio" in London, she created the songs for "Halcyon" in the English countryside.
"It was peaceful and beautiful," recalls Goulding, who grew up one of four children in rural Lyonshall in Herefordshire, England, and was signed to a recording contract in 2009 after studying briefly at the University of Kent. "It was cold and wet and rainy. It was a situation where I felt like I could be more honest and more open and feel less pressure to restrict myself in what I was writing. I'm so attached to the country and to my particular home town and the surrounding area, and when I'm writing there that nostalgia ends up finding its way into the songs.
"If I had written in a different situation, back in the city, it definitely would have sounded different."
Goulding and her "Halcyon" collaborators -- primarily Jim Eliot of Kish Mauve -- also felt more comfortable this time to create more spare and even sparse arrangements, from the atmospheric soundscapes of "Don't Say a Word," "Hanging On," "Atlantis" and "Dead in the Water" to "I Know You Care," on which Goulding is accompanied only by piano.
"I was afraid of space and nothingness on the first album," Goulding notes now. "I was afraid of having gaps. Any time there was something kind of open, I was afraid of it. I wanted to fill it with something. Not this time."
Throughout the process, Goulding says she was conscious that "Halcyon" would sound different than "Lights," but she worked hard not to be a slave to others' expectations. "Some people might say it was a risk to do something very different than 'Lights,' which was quite popular," she acknowledges. "But I went with it.
"Saying something like 'I can't change what I do because I feel like my fans would be alienated is probably the wrong attitude. I mean, I love Pearl Jam for years, and they bring out a different kind of album every single time, and I appreciate the different directions and understand it. They're a great example that you should never really stop experimenting and doing different things and just following your hear and being an artist.
"I'd like to think I can keep doing different things 'til the end of my career -- which hopefully will be a long, long time."
To that end, Goulding is thinking about "more collaborations with electronic producers," and she has a wish list of those she'd like to team with -- including Diplo and Prodigy. She also says there's "stuff I haven't finished with Skrillex," with whom she remains friendly (they teamed up for the track "Bittersweet" on the soundtrack for "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2). But, she's quick to add, "I have no idea how this year will unfold, so we'll see what happens."
"Right now," she adds, "it's pretty much constant touring. Then when I'm done with this I'll write another record eventually and then be on tour again. Hopefully that's how it's going to be for me. I just want to be able to keep working, but also have no ideas what's going to come. That's what keeps it fresh and exciting."
Ellie Goulding and St. Lucia perform Monday, Jan. 28, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are sold out. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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