Emile Sande (photo: Simon Emmett)

Me by Emeli Sande

Chart-topping singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé (BSc 2009) has sold 6 million albums, performed at the Olympics, the Royal Albert Hall and the White House, and been appointed MBE for services to music. Avenue caught up with her just as her long-awaited third album was about to be released.

How would you describe your new album, 'Real Life'?
It’s very joyous, very soulful, and kind of like a celebration for me. I’ve tried to keep it as positive as possible. I hope it will give people energy, remind them of their true worth and potential and by the end of the album it’s made people feel good and confident.

How does it compare to your first two albums?
It’s quite different in the sense that I really wanted to approach everything with this album in a very authentic fashion, so it’s all live instruments, there’s nothing that’s been done on a computer.

What’s your favourite song on the album?
It changes every day. Today’s favourite is a song called 'Survivor'.

Is writing songs for other singers different to writing for yourself?
Yes, I’d say so. I think you have to be a little bit more controlled when you’re writing for other people, because you’re trying to do two things at once. You’re trying to write a song, but you’re also trying to understand them and what they want to say. When I’m writing for myself, I feel there’s a lot more freedom, so I can be a bit more experimental and explorative.

What have been the main highlights of your career so far?
I really loved performing at the Royal Albert Hall. When I look back on that gig, it represents a time that was so happy and exciting, when everything was still new, but really growing. Being able to share that success with the fans meant a lot to me. The Olympics was great, too – having moved from Glasgow, trying to get into the music industry, to be put on that platform and just to represent my country as a whole was a real, real privilege. To be part of that show was fantastic. 

Where do you most looking forward to performing?
Glasgow is always a lot of energy – every time we go there it’s like this wave of love which is just so nice to perform to. When I perform in Atlanta I get a similar vibe. It’s just a very loud response that feeds on what you’re doing on stage so much.

Do you have any other projects on the go this year?
Yes, I’ve just started writing a musical with a writer in the States, which has been a big dream of mine. And I’ve been filming a documentary, 'Emeli Sande’s Street Symphony', which started in Aberdeen and went to Perth, Dundee, Edinburgh and then Glasgow, just looking for talent on the streets. We picked our finalists and put on a show with them and the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. There was so much talent, it was incredible.

What’s your most treasured possession?
Probably my piano – when we were kids, we couldn’t afford a piano, then we managed to get one for free and it just became literally my best friend. I’d be on the piano all the time. So when I had enough money to buy my own, I really appreciated having it, and I treat it very nicely.

And your happiest memory?
Recently, my sister had a baby, her first child. I was in Switzerland performing, so sadly I wasn’t there for the birth. But it was perfect timing because the show was the last one of the tour. I got on the plane home, knowing I was going to see my new nephew. That was probably my happiest moment. I have a free licence to be a completely fun auntie. I’ve been given the role of creative director – my sister just wants me to teach him music. He’s only a year old but is really drawn to the piano, so that’s a good sign.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
I’m a big fan of Zawe Ashton. She just has such a lovely energy, very talented. I’d feel I could trust the role in her hands, I think.

Emile Sande (photo: Jason Richardson)

Photo: Jason Richardson

Medicine, music and memories of Glasgow

I chose to come to university here because I really loved the School of Medicine and the curriculum. I loved that it was problem-based learning. I also love the city – it’s exciting, full of music and just has a vibrancy that really pulled me in. I did quite a few interviews to get into med school and the one in Glasgow felt really different to the others. I felt very welcomed and the building was beautiful. There were just lots of things that appealed to me about the city and the Uni as a whole.

I have so many fond memories from my time here. Performing – I’d do a lot of talent shows, like the Med Show talent shows at the GUU, so being able to share my music was important. I don’t know if Tchai-Ovna is still there? [It is – Ed.] That was always a place I loved performing. Even being in the library – although at the time it was stressful, when I look back I’m like, oh, actually, I quite enjoyed being there! I was in Murano Street halls for first and second year and had a lot of fun, very interesting times there.

I changed course towards the end of my time at Glasgow and graduated with an intercalated degree in Neuroscience. I think doing my degree gave me confidence. When I first arrived from Aberdeen there were a lot of other people on the course who had more confidence in what they were saying and doing, and they knew how to study. Even tackling problem-based learning was daunting for me because I’d never done that before. But I think the University and also just the city and the way people are led me to blossom and open up, learn how to attract people and find my voice.

It was a really tough decision to give up medicine and become a singer. Even though I loved music and it was always on my mind, I really fell in love with medicine and studying it. The further you get through the course, that’s when it starts becoming a lot more real in your head, how you would be as a doctor. So I fell in love with the idea of that future. It was only because music had such a strong pull on me and it was almost like an obsession to continue with it that I had to make that very difficult decision. But I just loved my time in Glasgow.  

Emeli’s new album 'Real Life' was released this month. She is touring Europe and the UK in November and December 2019 – the full list of dates can be found at emelisande.com

This article was first published September 2019.