Emeli Sande talks tour life, new music and dream concerts ahead of Birmingham show
Multi-platinum selling singer Emeli Sandé is setting off on a 18-date UK tour this November.
The Real Life Tour – named after her new album Real Life, which is out on September 13 – kicks off at Stoke-On-Trent’s Regent Theatre on November 15. Emeli will perform in cities across the country including Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow and Newcastle before closing in Hull on December 13. The tour hits Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on December 2.
Sunderland-born Emeli, now 32, grew up in Aberdeenshire from the age of four and later went to the University of Glasgow to study medicine before pursuing her music career. The four-time Brit Award winner currently lives in East London.
Writer Rob McGibbon caught up with Emeli in London to talk about the new tour and life on the road, as well as the album and new single, Extraordinary Being, which came out last month.
So, Emeli, a big new tour on the horizon, how are you feeling about it all?
I’m feeling very excited because it has been such a long time since I have been able to perform a lot of new music live. That’s an exciting prospect and the tour is happening really soon after the album is released, so it will be fresh for the fans. Hopefully, if they’re digging the new tunes, we will get a nice reaction.
What can fans expect from the shows?
There’s definitely going to be a lot of soul and I think people will see me singing in a way they have not heard before. I also really want the freedom on this tour for us to create a new song each night by jamming into different riffs and melodies. We will improvise for a couple of minutes and have it recorded at every venue. Hopefully, by the end of the tour, we will have a compilation of original material, which will be a nice souvenir for everyone. But this is just an idea in my head at the moment – nobody knows about it yet!
I love improvising – that’s where a lot of my song-writing comes from. An audience doesn’t often get to see that spark – they only hear something that is completely polished and finished. So if we jam on the night, I think we could make a magical connection with the audience and capture the mood. I have never done this before, so it will be the thrill. Sometimes when you rehearse something so much, your brain is not being challenged, but this will keep us on point every night.
How are preparing for the tour?
Today is the first day of starting to eat right and to not drink any alcohol. Even this far out [five months!] I’m getting focused physically because, if I get it right now, then I will feel the full benefit later. I really want to increase my stamina and take care of my voice, which involves going teetotal for this period. Well, that’s the plan and I’m going to try my best!
I hear that yoga and meditation are now part of your health routine. How’s all that going?
Well, I’m enjoying both. Yoga is really bringing my mind and body to a more peaceful place.
Meditation is a bit more of a challenge, but I try to do it most days because I notice such a difference when I do it – even if it’s just for five minutes. It is good to find that stillness.
Do you suffer from nerves when performing?
Yes, I do, but it’s something that I have been working on because some of my best shows have been when I feel completely relaxed. That’s easier said than done, because sometimes you get it into your head that you should feel nervous. I’m trying to eradicate that and accept that people have come to share the music with you.
I’m a big fan of Jacqueline du Pré, the cellist, and I read in her biography recently that as a child she would skip along to auditions and cello exams because she simply loved playing. All the other kids would be nervous. I’m trying to get into a similar thought pattern and just enjoy performing. You always want a show to be perfect and you want to control it, but letting go of that is quite a break-through because it allows me to be more present as an artist. It allows me to be in a place of true channelling. Nina Simone used to say that having no fear helps you be a much better performer.
What do you enjoy most about touring?
I love the camaraderie that builds between you and the team. You get closer than ever before because you’re on this adventure together. And, for me, the ultimate point of making music is so I can share it in person and bring people together to experience it. When I go on tour I am reminded of what the music is doing. Unless you meet people in the street, a show is the only time you actually get a true connection. It is mind blowing for me to see thousands of people coming to share a certain energy and a love for music.
And what do you dread?
Losing things! Half way through I usually find that I have lost everything I came with, so this time I will try to get into a better routine of keeping organised and not take so much stuff. It can also be difficult when everyone gets to that exhausted phase. Things start unraveling a little bit, but that can still be fun because it makes you tighter as a team.
What is always the key moment for you in any show?
I always enjoy performing Clown. It’s usually just me at the piano and I look forward to all the noise stopping and bringing the crowd into an intimate moment. Usually people sing along. It’s the same with Read All About It, so they are always really special moments. My Kind of Love always makes me think of my parents and my sister, Lucy.
What is your top of tour bus playlist?
I really love listening to classical music. When you have been singing so many lyrics throughout a show, you need to cleanse your head, so it’s lovely to listen to melody. I play a lot of piano music to help me unwind, mainly Debussy and Chopin. On the bus, we have a bluetooth connection and people take it in turns to DJ. If it’s the backing singers, then it’s usually Maria Carey or anything with great harmonies. A lot of the band grew up learning to play in church, so we listen to a lot of gospel music. I have been educated about great gospel artists while on tour. When we really want to celebrate properly, we play hip-hop and R&B. It can be great fun.
Can you give me an insight into your routine on the road?
After the show, you go from complete elation to rushing for a shower and then you are in a tiny cubicle on the bus, which can be a difficult change of mindset. We travel to the next city through the night and you can lie there thinking, Wait a minute, wasn’t I just on stage in front of thousands of people!? That’s when it is good to meditate and warm your mind down. If the show has gone great, then we might celebrate, but I want to keep healthy and look after my voice on this tour, so I’m not sure how much partying I will be doing. We will check into a hotel during the day in the next city. If anyone has any energy we will go to the gym, or basically just relax. Sometimes there will be press interviews to do. The sad part is that there is very little time to explore the cities. We usually get to the venue about four hours before the show starts. We will soundcheck, do vocal warm ups and hair and make up. I usually have about an hour to myself to just to be quiet, pray and meditate, and generally focus on what I am trying to do. Making music has always been such a spiritual thing for me, so praying is important. No matter how big things get, if you lose that connection it kinda doesn’t make sense. I need to make sure I am rooted correctly. Before we go on stage we also pray together as a band, which is very important.
The new single is Extraordinary Being. What is its principal message?
I want it to be a daily mantra for people and serve as a reminder to them of their individual greatness and their magic. We are all special. I feel free when I sing it.
The new album is called Real Life. How does it compare to your other two albums and what does it mean to you?
It is quite different and I feel that this is my best album. It has always been my dream to make an album with no computers or digital instruments and this is what Troy [producer Troy Miller] and I have done. Everything has been treated as if it was a live performance, as opposed to trying to cut and edit everything into a perfect pop record. Because of that, it has been a lot more of an emotional approach and I feel very proud that we have captured that emotion in the songs. I feel that this is my most confident album to date, so I hope it resonates with people and inspires them. It really describes where I am at right now.
What do you mean by “at”?
I feel that I’m at the age now where I feel very secure in who I am and where I am emotionally. I feel that my relationship with myself is healthier now than it has ever been. It’s a great feeling and I want to share it. It has been lovely to create in that mind frame.
Looking back to your younger life, what was your first concert as a fan?
I saw Eternal in Aberdeen when I was eight. I was such a huge fan and I was so excited to be there - especially as not many artists ever went to Aberdeen. I wore my favourite Fruit of the Loom grey sweatshirt. I had to stand on the seats and I remember their hair and being amazed that they were right in front of my eyes. I was so thankful to my mum for taking me because she knew it was a dream of mine.
And seeing Alicia Keys in Glasgow had a big impact on you when you were 16?
It was my first arena concert and I was right at the back with some friends and we were the only ones dancing. I really related to Alicia because she makes so many elements of the music I love. I remember watching her and thinking, that is what I really want to do. I ended up working with her years later, which was surreal and felt like a dream. I wrote with her in her studio. Years earlier, I had been one of thousands in the crowd and then I’m in her studio and she is respecting me as an artist. How often does that happen! She was lovely and was like an older sister to me because she knew what it was like to come into the music business. She has always been very encouraging and supportive.
What is the dream gig from yesteryear you wish you had seen?
Nina Simone. I wish I had seen her live, but in the right setting, on the right day – and when she was in the right mood! And Bob Marley, for sure.
What is your fantasy venue to play in the future?
Wow, I would love to play Madison Square Garden. That would be a dream.
If money were no object, what would you include in your shows?
Definitely a big gospel choir and a full symphony orchestra. And I’d really like to have a real piano, but it’s hard to take one around and keep tuning it.
l Tickets for Emeli Sandé’s Real Life UK tour from 15th November-13th December are available at Live Nation – www.livenation.co.uk/artist/emeli-sandé-tickets
l Emeli Sandé’s third album Real Life will be released worldwide on September 13 by Virgin EMI.