Aberdeen’s Emeli Sandé got her break via a shortlisted spot for a showcase in Soho, which introduced her to producer/writer Shahid Khan, aka Naughty Boy, and resulted in a publishing deal when she was just sixteen. Having turned down a major label recording contract in favour of finishing her academic studies, she supplemented her student income while at college by performing jazz standards on piano in hotels around Glasgow. But the lure of doing music full-time became too strong as she got older and she left her degree course in clinical neuroscience after more than four years of studying to pursue her dream career.
Emeli’s passion for timeless, classical pop and edgier urban sounds give her songs a strong crossover potential. She’s been courted by emcees such as Tinie Tempah, Professor Green and Chipmunk (she had a hand in ‘Diamond Rings’, his first top ten single), as well as mainstream power-pop singers Leona Lewis, Christina Aguilera and Cheryl Cole. Her solo material bridges both of these worlds, with striking, emotive vocals and bold arrangements that meld contemporary beats with subtle orchestral elements. This thrilling, soulful sound is captured nicely on her debut single, ‘Heaven’, out next week on EMI.
Wears The Trousers caught up with Emeli to talk about her beloved cello, the strong, artistic women she’s inspired by and her idea of the perfect afterlife.
* * *
Tell us about your favourite instrument
My cello! She’s called Joan, I bought her in Soho and will love her forever.
Who was your first crush, and did you ever confess?
My first crush was on a very eccentric boy called Tom. I did finally confess after years of speculation and we kissed at our high school leavers’ party!
If we gave you an elephant, where would you hide it?
In my small town in Scotland, probably at the campsite.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever worked and what was so bad about it?
I worked as a perfume girl in Boots. I was awful; I didn’t sell anything and was politely asked not to come back.
What’s your biggest fear?
Do you have an instrument you’d still like to learn?
Well I only started the cello around 6 months ago. It doesn’t make the sound I want yet but I’m trying hard!
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
Supporting Alicia Keys at the Royal Albert Hall was just incredible!
How would you define your personal politics?
What would you be if you weren’t a musician?
I would have been a doctor; I studied medicine for four years. I would have loved to specialise in neurology.
What would you tell your teenage self if you could go back in time?
Things will get better, believe in yourself.
What’s your favourite poem and how much of it can you recite from memory?
I love ‘Vinegar’ by Roger McGough. It’s so simple but so beautiful. I can recite all seven lines of it!
I feel like a priest
in a fish & chip queue
as the vinegar runs through
how nice it would be
to buy supper for two”
What’s your favourite joke or quote?
“Writing comes easier if you have something to say” – Sholem Asch.
What’s the first material possession you would rescue in a fire?
JOAN! My cello. If I had more muscle it would be Iris (my piano).
Name the last good book you read and tell us how it affected you.
I’ve read it a hundred times but I recently re-read A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf and this time it affected me on a much deeper level because I’m older and I’ve experienced being a woman in both the medical and musical industries.
Are you a dog or a cat person?
Cats all the way!
What are your biggest obstacles as a musician?
Always trying to improve and to find the perfect lyric, also trying to get everyone to believe “This is a good idea, trust me!”
What are your views on feminism?
That it has changed the world. It was and still is necessary.
Which women have most inspired you?
Jacqueline du Pré, Frida Kahlo and Nina Simone. All these women put their art first and exposed themselves entirely through it. They were completely unapologetic of who they were and were all masters of their trade. They created art which will inspire generations!
If you were to be remembered by just one of your songs, which would it be?
I have a song called ‘Clown’. I think, line for line, it sums my life up.
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
I said no to the dessert, even when they had trifle!
How are you most likely to die? What would you want written on your headstone?
I think my death will be ironic, like hit by an ambulance or something. My headstone should read “Oh heaven”.
What’s in your pockets right now?
Three pounds in change, iPhone, four biros, lots of receipts
Do you have a tattoo?
Yes I have many! My newest one is on the back of my neck. It says “Did our last castle look like this?”The idea stemmed from a fascinating conversation I had about people you are certain you’ve loved and created with in a past life.
Describe your vision of the afterlife.
Every evening there is a recital – Nina Simone on piano and Jacqueline du Pré on cello – with lots of wine.
* * *
‘Heaven’ is out August 15 on limited editon 7″ vinyl, available to pre-order now, and as a five-track digital EP featuring two acoustic songs plus live and instrumental versions of ‘Heaven’. Keep up with Emeli on Facebook.
Tagged emeli sande