Sometimes you need a break. In Ellie Goulding’s case, after spending months holed up in London writing her much-anticipated fourth album, her chosen form of relaxation was playing to more than 20,000 fans at the Mawazine Festival in Morocco.
In her first major gig of the year, the 30-year-old English pop star headlined the opening night of the nine-day world music celebration in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.
As she delivered a slick, 90-minute set full of dark electro-pop hits including Burn, Something in the Way You Move, and her blistering collaboration with fellow UK producer Calvin Harris, Outside, Goulding seemed like a bird released from a cage – she was highly engaging as she stalked the stage, clad all in black.
She also used the occasion to present the debut live performance of her latest hit, First Time. The single, a collaboration with Norwegian beatsmith Kygo, landed in the top 10 of the United States charts last week. It is easy to see why, and the track continues her embrace of EDM – as heard on her chart-topping 2015 album, Delirium.
Recalling her 2011 hit Lights, there is an ethereal quality to First Time, as throbbing beats are married to cascading synthlines. Floating above it all are Goulding's smouldering vocals which deliver another pinpoint earworm of a hook.
Goulding says it was the immediacy of the track, which clocks in at just over three minutes, that caught her interest when Kygo sent her the demo.
“I get sent things often for collaboration, or song demos, and a lot of them often act as food for thought,” she says.
"Then the song that became First Time came into my inbox and I just liked it within the first 10 to 15 seconds.
“I also like Kygo and what he does with dance music. It is really as simple as that. I try to not overthink things as much.”
However, she points out that First Time is not necessarily an indication of what to expect from her upcoming album.
With a release still to be announced, Goulding says she is still deep in the writing process.
She is cagey about revealing details of the new songs, but says it will not be a continuation of the endorphin-releasing club sounds on Delirium. That album, she says, served its purpose.
"The next album will be quite different than Delirium," she says. "That was my biggest pop venture and I think the next album will perhaps not be that. That's the only way I can really describe it."
Pressed further, Goulding says she is interested in a more guitar-driven record. This, she explains, would be a reminder to fans – and herself – that before she became a club siren she was an introspective singer-songwriter.
“It is definitely important for me to go back to that – that’s where it all came from,” she says.
“I taught myself guitar and wrote a lot of songs in my teens and early 20s, and then somehow it turned into electronic music. That’s because I met a producer in London [Starsmith] who took my songs and mixed it in what he was doing.”
One principle that hasn’t changed is Goulding’s hands-on approach. She credits her songwriting skills for maintaining her influence.
“I know now more than ever, the importance of writing your own music,” she says.
“Before, I was writing without thinking – but now I understand that it is so important for it to come from me. I have sung songs before that I didn’t write and it just didn’t feel the same as opposed to when it comes from your heart. I think you can definitely hear a difference between songs I wrote alone and those done with others.”
While we await the new album, Goulding has developed a reputation as a big gun for hire for film soundtracks.
Previous credits include The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (Bittersweet) in 2012, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Mirror) a year later, Divergent (a dance remix of her cover of American singer-songwriter Active Child's Hanging On) in 2014, and last year's Still Falling For You, from Bridget Jones's Baby.
The film world was also responsible for Goulding's career high with Love Me Like You Do.
Nominated for a Grammy and a Golden Globe, the pop number – produced by Max Martin – was part of the soundtrack to 50 Shades of Grey in 2015, and has clocked more than a billion views on YouTube.
Unlike working on a solo album, where most of the decisions rest on her shoulders, Goulding enjoys the collaborative nature of film projects.
“If I get approached to do a song for a film I normally watch it, as that helps. I also usually meet the director,” she says.
“I love being part of it. The films I grew up watching, I always paid attention to the music – and I pay particular attention to the last song. I like the idea of giving voice to a character and providing a soundscape for a story.”
• First Time by Kygo and Ellie Goulding is out now. For more information about Mawazine, visit www.festivalmawazine.ma
Check out Arts and Life for all the latest news and interviews from the Mawazine Festival in Morocco, which continues until May 20. For more information go to www.thenational.ae/arts-life