A quick look at previous winners of the BRITs Critics’ Choice award reveals just how beneficial this peculiar gong has been. First awarded in 2008, its recipients read like a who’s who of British female pop over the last four years. Adele, Florence & The Machine, Ellie Goulding and Jessie J have kept the men completely on the sidelines – and now Emeli Sandé completes the five card trick with a win of her own in 2012.
Following the launch of her debut album Our Version Of Events, we caught up with Sandé for a quickfire spot of Q&A.
musicOMH: When you are writing a debut album, is it all about stamping your personality on it, and showing people what sort of person you are?
Emeli Sandé: It is, kind of, but I never had that in my mind when I was making it, as I was picking out the best songs I’d written in the last two to three years. Each of the songs has to be something that represents me.
OMH: Has it helped that you have appeared as a guest on songs by Chipmunk, Wiley and Professor Green?
Emeli: Yeah, definitely, that kind of experience helps and gives me insight. It showed me how to do things, how not to do things, and how to make music videos. I was quite nervous going from being behind the scenes to being on top of a block of council flats! It’s much different now that I’m getting a lot more attention, and it’s great to have full control.
OMH: On your debut album Our Version Of Events, would it be fair to say there is a club sensibility in there, as well as a very direct emotional input about relationships?
Emeli: Yes, though I didn’t really necessarily want it to be just about romantic relationships – I wanted it to cover a lot of things besides that.
OMH: You also make some strong lyrical observations, such as on Lifetime, where you talk about how “money only lasts until it’s spent”. Do you work a lot on lyrics?
Emeli: It’s funny because with the best lyrics, I don’t really know exactly where they come from – they are often from conversations I have with other people. I find that when I sit down and try and write something clever, it never comes.
OMH: You’ve previously said you write best at 2am in the morning. What are the ideal conditions for songwriting?
Emeli: It’s true, I have never written before 10pm. For me the essentials are to have a glass of red wine, for it to be a late hour, and for there to be a crowd of people that I trust, where I completely trust their opinions.
OMH: Is it important that there are other people involved?
Emeli: Yeah, because usually the songs come from a good conversation or someone says something like they did for the lyrics to Heaven, where it goes “can I get my heart clean”.
OMH: Do you write the melodies at the same time?
Emeli: Sometimes, though often they come around later. Usually you have to trust your instinct with melodies.
OMH: Judging from the lyrics in Next To Me, music is your first love by some distance.
Emeli: It is, although when people ask me about the words in Next To Me, I actually wrote it about men. A lot of men it’s like an ode to loyalty. Every time we sing about men we sing about something.
OMH: Mountains is more of a moody song – maybe thinking more along the lines of Massive Attack?
Emeli: Yeah. I love classical music and string arrangements, and love putting that in my music when it’s right. I love singing about an ordinary story but using that drama that strings bring.
OMH: There have been a line of girls to win the BRITs Critics’ Choice award. Do you think it’s a sign the men need to get their fingers out?
Emeli: Yeah, something like that! I don’t know why it’s been girls though, I have no idea as I’m not dishing the award out. But it’s a great thing to win and celebrate.
OMH: Has the TV promo been an eye opener for you?
Emeli: It has. It’s interesting, it’s really good fun, and I love how you can represent your own music through it. It was quite nervewracking meeting Madonna the other week, and singing to her, but she was really nice. I gave her a copy of the album but she hasn’t got in contact yet. The only thing it does do though is to remove the creative side, and if I’m doing a lot which I have been lately, it means I can’t get up to Aberdeen as much. I’d love to get back more often, my mum is up there.
OMH: Would you say your roots are in an upbringing of soulful music? Do you feel comfortable with rappers too though?
Emeli: Yeah – I really fell in love with Nina Simone to start with, she has been a really big influence along with Mariah Carey. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned a lot from listening to Lauryn Hill, Donny Hathaway and Joni Mitchell.
OMH: What are your hopes for the rest of the year?
Emeli: I hope to always be improving and making progress. I’ve been writing songs for a lot of people, and I’m looking forward to continuing that. I love collaborating with people, you learn so much when your mind is opened like that.
Emeli Sandé’s debut album Our Version Of Events is out now through Virgin. For further music, diary and videos, head to emelisande.com.