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      EMELI SANDE


      With a Brit award tucked under her arm and a No.1 debut album, 2012 is shaping up to be Emeli Sande’s year. It’s been quite a journey for the 24 year-old Scot, who started out writing songs for the likes of Alesha Dixon, Professor Green, Cheryl Cole and Tinie Tempah, and collaborating with Chipmunk and Wiley, before enjoying a worldwide hit herself last year with the epic Heaven. Her European tour kicks off on Monday, where she’ll be playing tracks from her outstanding album Our Version Of Events.


      TO SAY IT’S BEEN QUITE A YEAR FOR YOU IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT...

      Tell me about it. Right now I’m in Moscow with The Kooks and Baxter Dury. It’s crazy, the people are quite eccentric - I’m loving it. And every day is like this at the moment. There’s always something really bizarre happening. I definitely couldn’t have imagined being in Russia doing this, a year ago.


      IS THERE ONE FAVOURITE MOMENT THAT REALLY STICKS OUT?

      There are so many. Opening up for Coldplay in Glasgow in front of 16,000 people was incredible - it was basically a homecoming for me, but I was coming back as A Pop Star. That was genuinely weird. And sitting at a piano with Alicia Keys, writing for her. That was a proper, “woah, is this really happening?” moment.


      ALICIA KEYS, OF COURSE, HAS SOLD OVER 30M ALBUMS. ISN’T IT REALLY NERVEWRACKING TO WORK WITH SOMEONE LIKE THAT?

      Well, not any more, because we’ve now done so much writing together. But definitely, when I first met her it was very daunting. She’s really chilled out and we have a pretty cool relationship. But I still have to remind myself that the 14 year-old me would never have believed this could have happened.


      WHAT’S THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WRITING SONGS FOR OTHER PEOPLE AND WRITING THEM FOR YOURSELF?

      That’s a hard one. If I’m in the room with them, you have to bring their feelings and emotions at that moment to the forefront of your mind, and try and help channel that. Whereas of course when I’m writing for me, it’s just what I’m going through. But having said all that, usually when I’m writing songs for other people they’re not in the room. And so then it is the same approach as it would be if it was a song for me - and at the end of the process I figure out who it would be a good song for.


      THERE MUST BE A SONG YOU WISH YOU’D SAVED FOR YOURSELF THOUGH?

      Ha! That genuinely hasn’t happened yet. And I think that’s because when you write something for someone else and then they sing it in their own way, it really starts to feel like it’s their baby rather than yours. You have to let it go, let it live.


      SO WAS THERE A MOMENT WHERE YOU SAID TO YOURSELF, I DON’T HAVE TO WRITE FOR OTHER PEOPLE, I COULD DO THIS MYSELF?

      I can see how it might seem that way, but actually, it was much more gradual than that. I guess when I wrote Heaven I really did realise that this could be a really good introduction to me as a recording artist. But you do just have to get out there and do it, get chucked on stage and see if you sink or swim.


      HEAVEN IS QUITE INTERESTING ISN’T IT, BECAUSE YOU USUALLY WRITE SITTING AT A PIANO AND YET IT’S A MASSIVE, EPIC POP SONG WITH SWEEPING STRINGS.

      It just started as a late night conversation really. Naughty Boy, the producer I work with all the time, had a beat running in the background, I got the first line, and it started from there. I love how songs like that develop: before we knew it we were putting strings on with a synth, Naughty Boy suggested the Funky Drummer loop and it came together really organically.


      A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY HEAVEN REMINDS THEM OF MASSIVE ATTACK’S UNFINISHED SYMPATHY. DO YOU TAKE THAT AS A COMPLIMENT?

      Absolutely. I’m a big fan. I don’t think the song is lyrically or melodically that similar, but because the Funky Drummer loop has been used so much and it has strings on people do make the connection. I don’t mind though: the whole Bristol movement was really exciting, so I’m actually glad if people get the same vibe from the song.


      THE ALBUM ISN’T JUST 12 VERSIONS OF HEAVEN THOUGH IS IT? WHAT DID YOU WANT TO TRY AND ACHIEVE WITH A DEBUT ALBUM OF YOUR OWN?

      Well I guess I just wanted to try and take it back to how I wrote songs in the beginning. I had quite a classical training as a songwriter: I play piano, so it was important to make sure I got that across. But more than that, I wanted people to see every side of me as an artist, so it was important to have songs there where there could be a real connection with the lyric, rather than there just be throwaway pop. That was the main thing for me.


      SO IS THERE A SONG ON THE NEW ALBUM WHERE YOU FEEL LIKE ALL THAT CAME TOGETHER IN ONE PERFECT FOUR MINUTES?

      I love Clown. I felt with that song that every line says something important, which is what I aim for when I write. Clown mentions life being a circus. Being a pop star can be a vicious circle, can’t it - in your case, you’re known for being a songwriter but it doesn’t leave you any time to write songs. And I suffer from writers’ block just like anyone else! But yes, I do have to be chilled out, not thinking about shows or anything like that, so I can properly tune into writing. I need to be around inspirational people who make me think about things in a different way. Which is why I love working with Naughty Boy because we can be having these really interesting conversations which start the creative juices flowing. And they’re usually late at night!


      AND AS SOMEONE WHO HAS WRITTEN FOR YOURSELF AND OTHER PEOPLE, WHAT’S THE KEY TO WRITING GOOD SONGS?

      Simplicity. When I think back to stuff I was writing when I was 17, it was too complicated, there were too many words and parts. The key to a classic song is keeping the melody simple and the lyric effective. It’s much, much easier said than done. But if you can get that right, then, well, you’re there.


      SO IF YOU LOOK BACK TO YOUR 17 YEAROLD SELF PENNING THESE COMPLEX SONGS, IT MUST HAVE FELT AMAZING TO WIN THE CRITICS’ CHOICE AWARD AT THE BRITS.

      I was so excited. It meant so much in terms of my confidence because my album wasn’t out yet, and no matter how happy you are with a new record, there will always be doubts lurking somewhere. I’d spent so long behind the scenes writing for other people and featuring on other people’s records so it just felt so good to get the acknowledgement for me as an artist in my own right. And then the doubts come back a bit, because of course winning the Brit doesn’t predict anything - it’s not a surefire guarantee of success. At best, it’s a guess!


      DID IT FEEL A BIT LIKE A VICTORY AGAINST THE ODDS THEN, IF IT WAS GREAT TO FINALLY GET SUCH ACKNOWLEDGEMENT?

      Well, yes. It was a long journey to get signed - once you get established as a songwriter it’s quite hard to get people to recognise you as an artist in your own right. It felt like a long battle to get people to see me and believe in my music. Lots of labels didn’t want to sign me. So it was great to prove people wrong in that sense. DID


      YOU HAVE TO CHANGE ANYTHING TO GET THAT DEAL?

      Well, I think I’m the same person as I was, and they’re definitely the same songs. A lot of people didn’t see the potential in them or perhaps me. I guess I had to become more confident. When you get knocked back so much you kind of learn to believe in yourself, stand up for yourself, because you can bet that nobody else is going to do it.


      IS THAT WHY YOU’VE GOT A FRIDA KAHLO TATTOO ON YOUR ARM?

      Absolutely. I first saw her paintings when I was 14 and I’ve just always been blown away by her art. It’s very honest, very brave. She’s such a strong woman. So I wanted her on my arm to continually remind myself to be brave about what I was doing and do put my whole self out there. That’s what I love about her art, her honesty is completely inspiring.


      AND NOW YOU’VE HAD SOME SUCCESS, HAS IT MADE YOU REALISE WHAT SOME OF YOUR HEROES, AND SOME OF THE PEOPLE YOU WRITE FOR, HAVE TO DO TO MAINTAIN IT?

      Oh yes. When I speak to Alicia Keys she gives me so much advice because she’s seen it all a hundred times. Things like making sure I have a day off, which seem simple but probably keep you sane. I’m even more impressed with Alicia now because I understand what goes into a career as a pop star.


      DOES THAT MEAN THAT IT FEELS ODD TO BE STILL WRITING FOR OTHER PEOPLE? YOU’VE BEEN WORKING ON STUFF FOR SUGABABES, HAVEN’T YOU?

      Yes, but to be honest I haven’t met them or anything. They’ve just taken some songs that I’ve written. So it’s not like I’m bashing out stuff in the studio with them.


      IT’S A STRANGE SCENARIO ISN’T IT, BEING A SONGWRITER-FOR-HIRE. WOULD YOU EVER TAKE SOMEONE ELSE’S SONGS YOURSELF?

      Well, only if it was by someone I really, really respected. Otherwise I’d be like, let’s see what I can do myself.


      OK THEN, WHO WOULD MAKE YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND?

      Now you’ve put me on the spot! Who could it be? Maybe Tracey Chapman.


      HAS THE SUCCESS OF OUR VERSION OF EVENTS MADE YOU EXCITED ABOUT WHAT YOU COULD DO WITH A SECOND ALBUM. HAVING A NO.1 ALBUM GIVES YOU A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF POWER TO GO IN THE DIRECTION YOU WANT, DOESN’T IT?

      I guess so, but to be honest, I haven’t felt trapped or forced into things that I didn’t want to do anyway. The second album I need to approach with the same spirit I think, if I want it to succeed. But that is a long, long way off. I have a lot to do for this record first.


      INCLUDING PLAYING LIVE. DID PLAYING WITH COLDPLAY HELP YOU WORK OUT WHAT KIND OF LIVE SHOW YOU WANT TO PUT ON?

      What is really amazing is that they make it seem like they’re playing just for you, even though it’s actually a massive arena. It was a big learning curve for me because I was probably most worried about how I make some of my more intimate songs work for that many people. But watching Coldplay - not just the sheer energy of the performance but even the way they warm up beforehand - makes you realise that there are so many little things you need to think about if you want to get your live show right. I learnt so much from them - and in fact I’m touring America with them in the summer, so I must have done something right.

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