She might be the new kid in town but 24-year-old Emeli Sande has been making waves across the pond in the UK over the past year and is predicted to take the U.S. by storm. Born Adele Emeli Sande, the former med student, shed her lab coat 2 years ago for a chance at stardom. Her vocals are soul stirring and her poetic writing ability is innate. She's quickly becoming your favorite artist's favorite artist – having worked with Alicia Keys on her upcoming album and is currently touring with Coldplay during the US leg of their tour. As a writer, she’s penned songs for celebrated artists including Susan Boyle, Leona Lewis and Tinie Tempah. Her debut album was #1 in the UK and was recently released on Tuesday, June 5th. The Scottish born singer hosted an intimate performance at the Bowery Ballroom on Monday night, and a second one at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Tuesday where Selah Sue opened up. We caught up with her before the show:
You are a star in the UK. How have you been received in the US?
So far so good. I have been approaching the audience in the States the same way I did in the UK – small acoustic shows trying to get people to connect with the songs which is the most important thing. So far, everything is going well. People are really listening to the lyrics and connecting with the melody. So I am happy.
We read that lyrical content is important to you..
Yes, it doesn’t have to be “too smart” or over the top about. I was brought up on real classic songs. I really appreciated poetry and the power of words when I was growing up. I admire artists like Nina Simone, Steve Wonder, and Donnie Hathaway. Now I just feel like why can’t we still have good lyrics and good music that will last forever instead of just dance music. I mean I love dancing but I love it when people are poetic in their music as well.
Nina Simone is your favorite artist. What's your favorite song of hers.
Well the first song I heard from Nina Simone was “Why the King of Love is Dead” which was written right after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. It was written at a poignant moment. It was a live recording and it summed up the world around her.
When did you realize that you had a great singing voice?
I always loved singing as a kid. I think it occurred to me when I was 7 years old that I had a voice. My dad said “you’re getting good at this.” For my dad to say it – I really respected his opinion – so I thought, “okay, I think I might be a singer.” And from then on, I thought to myself, “I am going to be a singer.”
Were there ever moments where you wanted to quit school before you actually took a break?
I loved school as a kid. I loved knowing things and getting involved in science. The first rebellion that I ever had was when I was 22 years old - when I left Scotland. I moved to London. I got tattoos. I changed my hair. It was a real big liberation but before that I was a really good kid.
What do your parents think of you now?
They are happy that I am happy. I moved to London – not on a whim. I was already a published songwriter. I had a song in the top ten. They knew this is what I dreamt of doing. Even when I was in med school, they said, don’t forget you are a musician. They got me a little keyboard to play when in between studying. They were always really supportive.
Where did you first perform and what did you sing?
I was Mary once in a play. I used to do local talent shows in my area. Sometimes my parents would take me to London and I would do shows there. I slowly started to learn what it meant to be on stage instead of just making music for yourself but sharing it with people.
Where are you most comfortable?
I enjoy being on stage but I enjoy being in front of my piano. Just me a glass of wine, in a tiny room, in front of the piano, writing a new song. There is no feeling like it. For me the feeling of creation gives me such a buzz.
You don’t like to work on lyrics for more than a day. Talk a little about that...
I feel like if it’s going to come to me and be great – it doesn’t take much time. I mean obviously once you have got it together, it might take a couple of weeks to really iron things out. Musically things might need to change but I think the whole concept and the body of the song should be quick. When you start thinking about a song, banging your head on a wall getting more people involved its no good.
Who are your other musical influences?
Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, Joni Mitchell, Tracey Chapman, Bjork, Massive Attack, Alicia Keys.
How is your relationship with Alicia Keys?
I worked with her on her upcoming album. Alicia wrote a song for me on my album called Hope. She is like a big sister. She experienced so much as an artist and has gone through it all with such class and integrity. She is just like the perfect role model. It’s been a real privilege to have her insight. She has really been very supportive.
Do you play any other instruments?
I play the cello and the clarinet.
Who inspired "Next to Me"?
I wanted to make a song that was very soulful but very simple. Nothing gets too complicated. I was inspired about a lot of great men in my life. I have a fantastic manager since who I have worked with since I was 16. I am engaged, my fiancé is always by my side and has been with me through med school and through everything. And of course, my dad. The song is just about great men who I think should be praised.
Tell me about your Frida Kahlo tattoo.
When I first saw her art I was 16. She really stood out to me as a strong woman. I thought having this kind of feminine strength was really something to look up to. I loved her portraits. They were so honest. They weren’t like the women you see in magazines. All her flaws were there and her stories were just painted very graphically. I love her honesty and the beauty of all of it. As I got older I got more and more into her art. She just reminds me to be strong about my art and honest even if it’s not pretty.
How does your fiancé feel about your traveling and your career?
We try to see each as much as possible. He comes with me when he can. When we have to be apart I look forward to going home and telling him about my trips. He is very supportive of my career and I am of his. We both have our passions. He has his passion in science and I have my passion in music. We always said that we wouldn’t hold each other back. We are young, its time to go for things.
What’s important in a relationship? Passion or dedication?
Passion probably. Well it’s a bit of both. You can’t be dedicated to something that you aren’t passionate about.
Is there a song that comes to mind when you think about your childhood?
Elkie Brooks’s song, “What kind of Man are You?” for some reason it stuck in my head because I remember me and my sister did a dance around my dad to that song. My dad played a lot of her music.
Any mentors you have had throughout your journey?
My classmates in med school and my professors. Their dedication and work ethic is inspiring to me. If you want to be good at anything you have to be dedicated to it. Dr. Phil Cotton was very inspirational to me. My English professor as well. She introduced me to poetry and taught me to power of words. She is a big influence on how I write.