2012 was a massive year for Emeli Sandé.
At the beginning of the year, the Scottish singer/songwriter released her masterful debut album, Our Version of Events, to soaring critical acclaim. The record, which overtook Adele’s 21 to become the UK’s top selling album of the year, paved the path for Sandé to win the prestigious Critics Choice Award at the BRITs (the British equivalent to the American Grammys). She also was the only artist to perform at both the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics.
After being embraced so warmly back home and across Europe, Sandé has set her sights on America and is currently in the middle of a headlining tour that brings her unique and cinematic blend of pop, soul and R&B stateside. Taking a night off from her busy performance schedule, Sandé stopped by the Beats by Dr. Dre store in lower Manhattan last Wednesday evening to participate in the latest installment of the music website Arjan Writes’ ARTIST#TALK series.
Produced along with HP and Windows, Arjan Writes’ ARTIST#TALK series shines the spotlight on a particular artist by combining an in-depth interview with a listening party. During these events, writer Arjan Timmermans sits down with the featured artists and challenges them to unpeel the various layers of their music in an intimate and almost talk-show like setting.
Discussing the early stages of her career, Sandé – who plays the piano, cello, and clarinet – revealed that she wrote her first song, “Tomorrow Will Come Again,” at the age of eight. She described growing up in a household that played the likes of Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin as the catalyst for her artistic impulse to start writing music and thus try to gain “the power to create something out of nothing.”
Despite Sandé’s lifelong love affair with music, there was a time that she had pursued an entirely different route: medical school. While their daughter was studying to become a neurologist, Sandé’s parents sent in a CD of her recordings to a BBC Radio show that sometimes played the music of local, unsigned artists. From there, BBC asked Sandé to participate in a live showcase, where she caught the attention of music producer Naughty Boy. Soon after, Sandé signed with Virgin Records and EMI Records. The rest is history.
Talking about her single, “My Kind of Love,” Sandé revealed to Arjan that the ballad was heavily inspired by her time spent working in a hospital. She explained that when people are sick, there’s nothing left but raw emotion. The songstress talked about how illness shows “people as people,” and that when “the one thing you take for granted, which is your health” is gone, we are grounded in a distinct way that reveals what’s really most important to us. And to Sandé, that deep and true type of caring is her “kind of love.”
It was narratives such as these that prove that Sandé is an artist whose music and the messages it carries are something she truly values. Her poignant storytelling abilities don’t just translate into good songwriting – they also resonate in the way she describes her craft, providing a unique insight into the work and creative process of this multi-talented musician.
When asked about current single “Next To Me,” Sandé gushed that she wrote the song as a tribute to her husband, a man who has loyally stood by her side since she was sixteen.
“When the skies are grey and all the doors closing/And the rising pressure makes it hard to breathe/Well, all I need’s a hand to stop the tears from falling/I will find him, I’ll find him next to me,” Sandé romantically sings on the upbeat track.
While discussing the various other musicians she’s collaborated with over the years, Sandé singled out the rappers who have influenced the way she writes her own lyrics. The rhythmic structure of rap, she noted, forces songwriters to be very precise with their language in order to tell their stories.
“I love rap,” the singer said to the packed room. “You have to be efficient with your words. I learned a lot from them.”
What she’s learned has certainly been paying off. Sandé, who has already opened on tour for Coldplay, has also written music for and/or with the likes of Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Cheryl Cole, Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle, and English MCs such as Professor Green, Tinie Tempah, and Chipmunk. Even contemporary legends such as Stevie Wonder and Beyoncé Knowles have expressed interest in working with the singer/songwriter.
Responding to questions from the audience at the end of the evening, Sandé explained why she goes by her middle name Emeli rather than by her first name, Adele. She said that deciding to go by Emeli helped her develop her artistic identity in a way that separated it from her previous life as a medical student, where she went by her first name. And, of course, there was that other British singer named Adele who was “doing her own thing;” she didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.
But a name is not all that Sandé has in common with Adele. With American radio starting to really take to “Next To Me” and a phenomenal performance of the track on Late Night With David Letterman last week, Sandé is positioned to become one of the UK’s next great musical imports. Once she winds up her current tour this spring, her plan is to start working immediately on her sophomore album. This is an artist who has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.
Click here to purchase Our Version of Events on iTunes.