Emeli Sande has toured with Coldplay, had a number one hit single on the UK charts, and been named one of Simon Cowell’s favorite songwriters, but stateside she’s practically unknown. “I’m really starting from scratch again,” is how the Scottish singer-songwriter puts it, but expect that all to change very soon.
Part of her success has been based on the fact that her songs are just plain good. At heart, she’s a songwriter, and Sande moved up the music world ranks by penning tracks for performers as diverse as Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle, and Tinie Tempah, before saving some of her hook-laden hits for herself. “Ever since I was young, songwriting was really important to me. The big thing is to be as poetic as possible with my music,” she explains, adding, “I guess it was always my ambition to be my own artist and bring my own stuff out, but just waiting for the right time. It took a while to get signed, and then when I did I continued to write for other people because I really enjoy it.”
Sande chose wisely—with the UK charts filled with soulful belters like Adele and Florence + the Machine, Sande fits right in (ironically, her first name is actually Adele; she began using her middle name as her stage name once the other one started doing well). There’s nothing flashy about them, but her songs, which seamlessly blend R&B and pop, all showcase Sande’s impressive vocal range and lyrical honesty. On “Next to Me,” Sande’s debut single now out in the US, she plugs away at the piano while crooning lines like, “You won’t find him trying to change the devil / For money, fame, for power, out of greed / You won’t ever find him where the rest go / You’ll find him next to me.”
It all comes together on Our Version of Events, which gets its stateside release next month. What’s goes on under Sande’s peroxide blonde mohawk? “I usually just write what’s on my mind at the moment,” she says. “This album has really been on the past three years, from romantic relationships to how I feel about people in my family to how the law is on us at the moment. I really just write about the natural thing, which is what I’m experiencing.” She just has one rule: Don’t try waking her up early to get work done. “It has to be late at night—I’ve never really written anything good in the morning,” Sande admits.
She’ll have plenty of late nights this summer when she joins Coldplay once more, this time for the band’s North American tour. Being invited back is more than an honor for Sande—it’s a real learning experience. When asked if Chris Martin & Co. taught her anything during their European dates, the musician says, “How to keep the performance really intimate, even though there are thousands of people out there. That was a big lesson for me to learn.” But circling the globe with one of the biggest rock bands hasn’t changed Sande, and that’s how she wants to keep it, if only for the good of her music. “For me, it’s really important that even though all these exciting things are happening, that I keep check of reality,” says Sande, pausing for a moment in contemplation before adding, “I want to be around people that really care about me and be really involved in their lives and know what’s happening and pay attention—that will keep me really grounded, because I don’t want to get to the second album and have nothing to write about!”