In some ways Emeli Sandé’s five-storey, east London abode is just what you’d want from a multi-million-selling pop behemoth. The first thing you see when you walk through the front door is a grand piano, there’s a framed Lauryn Hill poster on one wall, and another wall isn’t a wall at all – it’s a fake bookcase that leads to a secret room.
Other aspects of this house you’d definitely want to live in are more surprising, and the property’s proximity to one of Shoreditch’s busiest streets, just ten seconds away from an extraordinary amount of hustle, bustle and footfall, seems somewhat at odds with this rather private popstar. Mind you, the artist officially known as Adele Emily Sandé is letting it all hang out – lyrically, at least – on her new album Long Live The Angels.
It’s the follow-up to Our Version Of Events (the UK’s best-selling album of 2012, and second-best-selling of 2013), and documents an intense period in Sandéworld, particularly the end of her marriage.
She invites BEAT to her basement – a former wine cellar converted, over the course of a year, into a home studio by “a guy called Nigel who I basically trapped down here”. Nigel has since been freed, and our chat begins, as all chats should, with some seating-based awkwardness.
Where shall I sit?
Wherever you like!
See, that would have been a great opportunity to burst into ‘Next To Me’.
Can we rewind? Can we start again? (Thinks for a bit) Why don’t you just take the comfiest chair?
Thanks! Now, you’ve got all your awards down here. Three Brits, a couple of MOBOs, Ivor Novellos… How many sales does that big presentation plaque represent?
Six times platinum I think. Or is it seven?
Are they not intimidating when you’re working on new songs?
I did contemplate putting the awards somewhere else. For a while they were in storage but then I started reminiscing about all those amazing experiences so I thought, no, I’m proud of them.
It is nice to visit a musician’s house and not find awards faux-modestly placed in the toilet.
(Laughs) I actually have put a really important photograph in the bathroom…
I did notice that – it’s you with the Obamas. What does President Obama smell like?
Confidence. (Laughs) He’s just super cool. He’s like a star. He just has that real presence. His whole thing is building everyone else’s confidence – on that day, when I was performing for the Obamas and Carole King, everyone was so nervous. But he made us feel relaxed and really great, socially.
There’s also a Beauty & The Beast print in your toilet…
I love Disney! My best friend’s brother gave it to me and I just thought it was a lovely gift. It felt like that was the right place for it.
What’s the best Disney film?
The Little Mermaid. When I was three or four living in Cumbria I would just watch that film on repeat. My dad wrote out all the lyrics to ‘Under The Sea’. I’d play it rewind it play it. I was so obsessed – I learned a lot about singing from Ariel. I think it was an introduction to music and songwriting.
You recently visited your grandparents’ village in Zambia – how easy is it to explain the scale of your achievements to people who don’t have a TV?
My dad actually played them the Royal Albert Hall DVD – we were all sitting around this generator with his little DVD player. I think they were pretty shocked. We had this talent show at night one time and everyone got up and sang these beautiful harmonies. Then I got up and sang ‘Next To Me’.
Back in London, what’s a great night out for Emeli Sandé?
I just love a good, deep, discussion. Chatting with people who don’t look at you like you’re crazy means you can get spiritual, you can get deep, I just love that level of conversation. We’ve had some good discussions in this room actually. I’m not an extrovert – I like being quiet and I like having just a few people around me.
It’s strange, isn’t it, when so many songwriters are so insular, that the standard response is to push them onto a world stage and tell them to get on with it.
It’s a different thing on stage because I want the songs to come alive, so that’s easy enough. Off stage, I always thought being an extrovert meant going around going ‘HEY! OKAY! YEAH! LIKE OH MY GOD!’ And then I realised, that’s annoying – I’m talking but I’m not saying anything. So I just thought, let me be quiet for a while. I built up what I wanted to say. I don’t want to try and push this album too much or force it on anybody.
Have you found any value in being able to separate Emeli from Adele, like Adele’s a character you can get into?
Yeah. I mean it definitely felt like, ‘Okay, Emeli needs a bit of a rest, let me go and be Adele.’ When my mum once called me Emeli it felt so weird. But I feel like I’ve come to this nice balance because both names, or both parts of me, are still me.
On the topic of not pushing the album too much, last time round there was a lot of chat about you being overexposed. Is there a way to get around that, while still letting people know you’ve got an album out?
It’s hard. Sometimes you do have to be able to say no, but on the other hand I remember how important it was for me, growing up, to see Eternal on TV. I never saw black women on TV as a kid. I just need a team around me that understands who I am, and that I am quite shy, and that I want to do certain things that make sense for my music, but I never want to dilute the music.
Thinking it through, your regular appearances were possibly as a result of there being relatively few huge artists with broad demographics, which probably says more about record labels than it does about you.
It’s very hard now. The internet is amazing for exposure to new artists, but there’s so much new music that it’s hard to really get your own lane and break through. I also think labels may have lost a bit of confidence. If I was running a label, which hopefully one day I might, I would say: ‘This is amazing and we’re going to develop it and if it doesn’t enter the chart we’re going to keep telling people this is amazing.’
What’s your favourite Eternal song?
‘Angel Of Mine’. I was obsessed. They were my first concert, in Aberdeen, when I was 8! I remember ringing into Live & Kicking, trying to ask them questions.
If you could ask them a question now, what would it be?
I’d like to ask them something now I have more insight into the industry. I think I’d ask: ‘How was it? How was your experience in the industry specifically?’ Maybe one day. SEE FOOTNOTE
Are you happy with your broadband provider?
Er… Yeah. Why? Has something happened?
Well, it’s a bit slow in the basement…
You want to get yourself an extender. Do you ever call your house Sandéringham Palace?
Like Sandringham Palace.
You appeared on The X Factor a lot as a performer, but you also criticised the show for exploiting contestants’ ambitions. How do you reconcile those two things?
I just want people to feel empowered that they’re singing songs that are them. When I’m on those shows I hope that I’m showing as many people as possible that you can write your song and you can go a different route and still get that platform. You don’t have to make so many compromises to get such a big platform.
So in a way, what you’re doing – appearing on those shows but saying people don’t need them – is quietly anarchic?
I guess it can be seen the way you see it. I wanted, really, to showcase that it’s been a hard journey to get here, and that I’m proud to be here, and I’m proud to sing to people.
How did you fire your manager?
Nothing really happened. He didn’t make some crazy mistake. It was a discussion really. It was a sad discussion, but it was a case of ‘I have to grow up now and I want you to come on this journey but I can’t force you to.’ It feels weird being out there without him, but, as an adult, it feels right.
And now you have your own management company, through Roc Nation. Will you be managing other artists?
Hopefully! I’d love to manage a great writer or a great lyricist – someone who’s in it not to be famous, but for the sake of the art. I just want it to feel magical.
Can you start a girlband please?
Yeah! I’d love to. I was thinking about that actually – I think that would be a really fun thing to do. Think of the dance moves!
Is this album your way of putting a lid on what’s happening in your life over the last couple of years – or is dealing with that an ongoing process?
It feels like there’s been a lid, yes. It feels like a real journey. Definitely a chapter has ended on this album. It’s like: “Okay, cool, onwards and upwards, let’s head towards the future.” I mean it’s all in there. I feel like the past three years are probably the most emotional of my life and it was therapy just putting it all in there. I would almost use my situation as an excuse not to be a responsible adult because I always had someone around me, whether it was my manager or my ex- partner. So I never had to learn to grow up. And then when I was just by myself, I had to face the real world. That’s when the real journey began.
BEAT only went and got Kelle from Eternal on the phone!! “Sometimes it’s hard, but my advice is take the pressure off yourself and don’t worry about sales. Who enjoys your music? Who buys your music? WHO CARES! The only way to make it through this business is to have real relationships and real friendships around you. If Emeli would like mentoring, she’s welcome to drop me an email!”
Interview by Peter Robinson
Photographer – Clare Shilland
Assistant – Liam Hart
Fashion – Michele Rafferty
Hair – Charlie
Make up – Rebecca Wordingham @ Saint Luke’s
Ma1 patched Jacket – Stussy archive / Striped turtleneck jeresy – Top Shop / Head scarf – fabric from The Cloth Shop / Yellow ‘inside out’ sweatshirt – Aries / Necklaces – Emeli’s own