Jim Car­roll meets medic and singer Emeli Sandé to talk go­ing it alone,

She put her med­i­cal ca­reer on hold to pen hits for Tinie Tem­pah, The Satur­days and many oth­ers – but now the 23-year-old Scot is launch­ing her de­but al­bum. Jim Car­roll meets Emeli Sandé

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

THERE’S DEF­I­NITELY an old head on those shoul­ders. Emeli Sandé’s de­but al­bum may be most peo­ple’s in­tro­duc­tion to her, but the 23-yearold Scot al­ready had had a very suc­cess­ful run as a song­writer. You’ll find her name on the cred­its for hits by The Satur­days, Tinie Tem­pah, Tinchy Stryder, Ch­eryl Cole, Cher Lloyd, Leona Lewis and Su­san Boyle. If you’re a pop star look­ing for a su­per-duper soul­ful tune, you called Sandé’s peo­ple and they hooked you up.

The time was al­ways go­ing to come, though, when Sandé would swap the song­writ­ing (and a would-be ca­reer in medicine) for the smell of grease­paint and the roar of the crowd.

And that time is now, as Sandé’s de­but al­bum Our Vi­sion of Events puts her soul­ful, emo­tional, raw heart­break­ers and an­thems on pa­rade. When you hear the rich, clas­sic, beau­ti­fully pitched pop, you’ll be re­minded of Nina Si­mone and Joni Mitchell.

“I re­mem­ber the first time I heard Nina Si­mone,” says Sandé. “I was eight and we were at the beach out­side Aberdeen. My dad played this song called The King of Love, which is a song she’d been given af­ter Martin Luther King died.

“Her voice was just as­ton­ish­ing and stopped ev­ery­thing. It’s her voice which draws you to her.” She be­gan writ­ing songs when she was grow­ing up in ru­ral Scot­land.

“I was a very se­ri­ous young girl so I was never go­ing to write a love song if I could write about world peace in­stead. I sup­pose I was like that with my songs be­cause I was lis­ten­ing to se­ri­ous peo­ple. I was also read­ing a lot of po­etry by strong women like Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, who also had very se­ri­ous sub­jects. I was al­ways much older than my age.”

But the songs were good and the tal­ent was there. By the time Sandé was 16, she was ap­pear­ing on ra­dio and TV shows, win­ning tal­ent com­pe­ti­tions (Trevor Nel­son’s BBC Ur­ban Mu­sic) and at­tract­ing at­ten­tion from the mu­sic in­dus­try.

“It was ex­cit­ing, but I was not as fazed by the ap­proach from the in­dus­try as maybe other 16-year-olds would have been,” she says non­cha­lantly.

“I never thought ‘oh my God, I’m al­ready fa­mous’. What I wanted to do was­make amaz­ing mu­sic, I wanted to learn what I was do­ing.

“I grew up in ru­ral Scot­land and my first ex­pe­ri­ence with the in­dus­try in­volved peo­ple with very London per­sonas and I didn’t have full trust in what they were say­ing. It was very in­stinc­tive. They didn’t know what to do with me and I felt it wasn’t the right time. There wasn’t an of­fer from me at the time that was bet­ter than be­ing a doc­tor. At that point, I had been ac­cepted for med school and I said I wanted to wait un­til the mu­sic was right.”

Many other teenagers wouldn’t have been so log­i­cal when ap­proached by record la­bels seek­ing to but­ter them up. “Well, I al­ways had a plan in my head about what I wanted to do, even though I’m quite head­strong. It’s be­cause of my dad. He was al­ways on about the im­por­tance of get­ting an ed­u­ca­tion.

“Mu­sic’s great, he would say, we’re all very proud of you, we’re go­ing to sup­port you, but make sure you have an ed­u­ca­tion. So I knew I was go­ing to go to univer­sity at some stage.” Sandé headed off to Glas­gow to study medicine and spe­cialise in clin­i­cal neu­ro­science.

“The body is fas­ci­nat­ing, but the brain is in­cred­i­ble and I wanted to learn more about that. It was an aca­demic chal­lenge. I loved sci­ence in school but I didn’t want to go into re­search, I wanted in­ter­ac­tion with peo­ple.”

By night, she could be found play­ing pi­ano and singing in ho­tel bars and restau­rants. “It was lim­it­ing, though, be­cause I was so busy study­ing. I just didn’t have the time to write more or de­velop as an artist. I could never find a con­nec­tion be­tween sci­ence and song­writ­ing.

“When I talked to pa­tients, I would hear their sto­ries and you’d get to meet peo­ple at their most vul­ner­a­ble as a med stu­dent so that was in­spir­ing.”

It was her mother who in­ad­ver­tently moved things on. She sent a CD of her daugh­ter’s songs to BBC 1Xtra and Sandé was fea­tured on DJ Ras Kwame’s Home­grown Ses­sions. This lead to a show­case in London and a meet­ing with pro­ducer and song­writer Shahid “Naughty Boy” Khan.

The pair clicked. “With ev­ery­one else, it was ‘great voice’, but with Naughty Boy, it was ‘wow, you can write’. He wanted to work with me on songs and that was the dif­fer­ence. No one else had no­ticed or re­marked on that be­fore. He re­ally got it. He wasn’t in­dus­try, he wasn’t London, he was a great mu­si­cian I wanted to work with. He trusted me when it came to writ­ing.

“I grew up in ru­ral Scot­land and my first ex­pe­ri­ence with the in­dus­try in­volved peo­ple with very London per­sonas and I didn’t have full trust in what they were say­ing”

“We both learned from each other and met in the mid­dle. It was not my jazz pi­ano or his ur­ban sound, but pop. I taught him about mu­sic and how to struc­ture songs and he taught him how to sim­plify ev­ery­thing and just chill out. I was re­ally up­tight, a proper nerd, and he was this cool pro­ducer, but we def­i­nitely had chem­istry.”

Sandé en­joyed be­ing a song­writer for hire. “There are not that many fe­male song­writ­ers so it was great to meet fe­male singers and ask them what they wanted to sing about. I could un­der­stand where they were com­ing from. I’d al­ways feel sorry for these young fe­male singers who are signed to la­bels and were never given a chance to ex­press them­selves as writ­ers.”

The more Sandé wrote and co-wrote with Naughty Boy, the more con­fi­dent she be­came in her own abil­i­ties. When they weren’t writ­ing hits for hire, the pair worked on songs for Sandé’s own project. A sound be­gan to emerge which you’ll hear on Heaven, her first big sin­gle.

“That sound just de­vel­oped from work­ing to­gether. I was com­ing from a mu­si­cal point of view and loved all that or­ches­tra­tion and strings and Shahid loved ex­per­i­ment­ing with drum ’n‘ bass and

Funky Drum­mer loops so it was a com­bi­na­tion of that mu­si­cal­ity and that ur­ban sound. It wasn’t pre­med­i­tated, it just hap­pened.”

With the med­i­cal ca­reer on hold (“I have a hon­ours de­gree in neu­ro­science and I’ve about 18 months left to fin­ish in my med­i­cal de­gree”), Sandé’s fo­cus is now on that al­bum which is about to be re­leased bear­ing her name.

“This is a stage of my life where learn­ing stage­craft and learn­ing how to play and play­ing these lit­tle songs which I wrote in Eal­ing to peo­ple is the most im­por­tant thing for me. “But I’m a song­writer and I need to keep mak­ing time where I can write or I’ll go in­sane. When I hear a great song, I’m in­spired to write, but not to write a song like that be­cause it’s been writ­ten, it’s done.

“Ed Sheeran’s The A Team is amaz­ing, Lit­tle Dragon’s Twice is beau­ti­ful. Songs like that are what in­spire me to write.”

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