the insider: emeli sande

“when i moved to london i could do whatever i wanted!”

by jazzi mcgilbert

Yesterday, we sat down with Emeli Sandé, the R&B songstress who has been dominating the UK charts and igniting comparisons to Adele - and rightfully so. The singers share a first name (Emeli was born "Adele Emeli Sandé"), mutual adoration, and both have been crowned the Brit Award's "Critics Choice". Oh, and they're both incredibly talented. Read on to learn why Emeli is a star in her own right, as she fills us in on her childhood and her rad platinum hair…

I heard a lot of laughter before I came in! Having a good day? Yeah, really good! That was supposed to be very serious meeting… [laughs] We're just having a lot of fun and getting excited about the album coming out here [in the US] tomorrow. Building momentum here should be good fun.

Your album has been a huge hit overseas, do you feel any pressure to duplicate that success here in the US? Hmm, not really! I'm really facing it with no expectations. You know, the same way we started in the UK. Just really trying to get people to connect with the music and so far, for me, it all feels really natural and is building steadily so I'm happy.

Well, we love you and I've had "Next To Me" in my head all day, if that's any indication. Aw, awesome! Thank you!

You've actually been behind-the-scenes writing for some big name acts for a while. Did you feel prepared for the spotlight or does the solo success feel sudden? Yeah, it feels like there was a lot of work behind the scenes leading up to the album. You know, you sign, you try to make an album, you're doing all this stuff… I guess since the first single came out, it has all been really quick since then in the UK!

You've already won a Brit Award, so have you had to set some new goals? The goal now, well, it's hard to quantify. It's not about numbers, it's about feeling like an established artist. Like, when I look at people who really inspire me who have everyone wondering "What's the second album going to sound like!?" with everyone really supporting you as an artist and you're bringing something new to the table. That's a good place to be. Who has already gotten there in your mind? Like Kanye West, like Alicia Keys, Adele, and gosh, Amy [Winehouse]! Amy! I was, I'm still, such a massive fan of hers. People like that I listen to and think, "these people are really making important music." And I'd really like to work with John Legend! I'd like that a lot, too… Now, speaking of the Brit Award, where are you keeping it? It's on top of my piano at home! So, you play piano and sing, any other musical talents? Yes! I play piano, cello and I play clarinet. Do you play them all on the album? No, I don't play clarinet on the album and I'm not quite good enough at cello to be recording. But I do play piano!

Now, onto your hair. It's awesome. You've had the platinum swoop for a bit, but were there some awful hair moments before that? If you see pictures of me as a kid! I grew up in Scotland, so no one there knew what to do with my hair! I was just left to my own devices. But as soon as I came to London 4 years ago, I started experimenting with colors. It's all just so exciting to feel free to experiment. I was studying [Neuroscience] before, where I felt I had to be very conservative. So when I moved to London I could do whatever I wanted!

Does that seep into your wardrobe too? Well, I don't keep up with fashion much. My style is quite simple, but effective. The hair is enough! But I live in East London, which is creative madness! I love watching people mix things up.

You've been compared a lot to Adele, a total compliment I'm sure. Do you think there's something in the water in London? [laughs] Yeah, it really seems like it, doesn't it!? I think it's the freedom to experiment. There aren't so many strict genres; if you want to play with hip hop or dub-step, you can just mix it all up. I think that's reflected in the music coming from there.

You have such a powerful voice and a certain maturity about you. Did your parents influence your musical sensibility at all? My mom listened to a lot of 80's pop stuff, but my dad, he was the one listened to Mariah Carey and Nina Simone… he loves a strong, female vocal. So that's where I learned all that and fell in love with it. As I grew older, I found Lauryn Hill, then around 13 or 14 the neo-soul scene, then I found Massive Attack, Portishead, and ever since then, it's been my own education.

You're opening for Coldplay. That's really, really big. Are you psyched? Intimidated? All of the above? Any pre-show rituals? I try to be in a meditative state and remember why I'm there. It's an arena tour so the very first gig I was like "Oh shit! What's going to happen? Will people connect to this?" but it went so well. Coldplay fans are fans of good songwriting, and it's been really good.

How do you know what to keep for yourself? I'm still doing bits and bobs of writing… Sugababes, on Alicia Keys' new album, Leona Lewis… I definitely have songs that are just for me, but writing with them has been so collaborative. It's great to hear the stories they want to tell. Anything else we should know? Just that this is a really exciting time for me. It's a really big dream for an artist from the UK to have the opportunity to release an album in the States. And I hope you enjoy it! And as we said our goodbyes, Emeli hopped over to the piano in the corner of the room and started to play. Girl's got skills… Emele's debut album Our Version of Eventsis out today in the US and check out page 131 of our Music issue. There's someone special in there!