Ella Henderson On ‘Chapter One’, Writing “Ghost” With Ryan Tedder & Her UK Tour With Take That: Idolator Interview
As 2014 drew to a close last month, we singled out Ella Henderson as one of the 21 new faces of pop to be aware of, and for a very big reason — you really should know who this UK powerhouse is by now. She first grabbed attention in her home country of the UK as a contestant on The X Factor in 2012. And though she didn’t win, Ella came back in a big way last summer with her debut single “Ghost,” which she co-wrote with hit-maker Ryan Tedder. That paved the way to the release of her debut LP Chapter One, which will be available stateside tomorrow (January 13).
One day ahead of that, we’re celebrating Henderson’s 19th birthday today by posting our recent chat with the singer. Head below to find out all about Ella’s road from The X Factor to Chapter One.
You performed last month on The X Factor UK finale. What did you think of the final outcome?
ELLA HENDERSON: There was no clear winner [going into the finale], which is always quite exciting. I think it was interesting. Ben’s a well-deserved winner. It’s amazing to hear when you come over here [to the States] that people watch a show like that.
Speaking of The X Factor UK, people in the States might not realize that you are a former contestant from a couple years back. Can you talk about your journey from leaving the series to putting your debut album Chapter One together?
EH: When I left the show -—I left halfway through — within 24 hours I was invited into the Sony building in the UK, and I was pitched by four major record labels. All of them wanted me to join them, and to be part of my campaign, which is so exciting, at the age of 16, to think that I’ve been pitched by record labels. I thought I’d have to beg for a record deal, not the other way around. It took me a long time to decide. I had my dad by my side at the time. He was definitely my rock at that point. It was a big decision to make, you know — you’re putting your career into other people’s hands. Just as much as I can do the work, I want to make sure I’ve got a solid team around me.
It all seems to have worked out well in the end.
EH: I went with Simon Cowell’s label, SyCo, and eventually signed with Columbia over here. I feel like I’ve got a solid team going on. To have [Simon’s] backing and his faith — he knew I wanted to take my time; he knew I wanted to find my sound and really focus on my music — to have his backing and his advice, that’s quite priceless.
How would you explain Simon’s involvement in the whole process of getting your debut album, Chapter One, released?
EH: He was there for me all the way through it. If I wanted to write with certain people, if there was anything I needed, I always had someone to phone up. I have an incredible A&R girl, as well, who works alongside me.
You really took your time with the album, which is not a luxury many singing competition contestants experience.
EH: It began in the UK. I worked with some amazing writers and producers — I wrote TMS and with a guy called Josh Record, who’s an upcoming singer-songwriter. Also, when I came over to the States for the first time, I spent a month out in LA. And in that period I wrote with Al Shux, who wrote “Empire State Of Mind” with Alicia Keys, and Salaam Remi, [who worked on Amy Winehouse’s] Back To Black album, and Babyface. These are all people who I admire so much. To be there and see them in the flesh, it was very surreal.
How did your debut single “Ghost” come about?
EH: It came to a point where I was almost finishing up the album and I had more than enough songs — I wrote about 50 songs — and we wanted to start chopping them down. But in that period I uploaded a Drake cover online and Ryan Tedder heard it. He got in touch with the label and they were going back and forth. He sent a hilarious email that was full of swear words of excitement, and we met in London in a studio. It was so weird, you know — I was so nervous, because I know the roster of people who he’s worked with, from Adele to Beyonce. For little old me to then walk into the studio, I was quite nervous. But when I met him, it was like we were old friends catching up. We grabbed a drink, we had some food, and the next thing you know we were sat around a piano writing this chorus called “Ghost.” Instantly I knew this was going to be my first single. I felt something huge about it.
What do you remember about recording “Ghost”?
EH: [Ryan Tedder] invited me back in the new year of , on my 18th birthday, January 12th. I flew out to Denver and we finished writing and recording it. We did three takes altogether of me singing through it, and then I ad-libbed over the top. We pieced it together and got an amazing gospel choir — actually, it was just a handful of women and two guys, I think, that we put on it — and that was the record! I knew that whatever happened when I came into launching it, I felt so proud and so confident of that song. Whatever the outcome was, it didn’t matter. There was this feeling [in the UK] that it was a risk for me to take my time, especially coming off the back of a talent show. Normally you rush into doing something very quickly. But for me, I would feel terrible handing you over that album of songs right now if I didn’t feel proud of it.
“Ghost” first blew up in the UK. What were you doing when it went to #1 last summer?
EH: Literally, the night of releasing it in the UK, within two minutes of the song being on iTunes, it was #1. I remember that moment — I was about to go do a gig, and all my family and friends were there at the gig with me. They came into my dressing room and we all started screaming, because that was my first realizing of, oh my gosh, people don’t care about you coming back or you taking awhile; it’s about the music. It’s about the song. It’s about how it resonates with people. Seeing that reaction and that support was amazing — and positive support, too, which you don’t often see from the UK media.
One thing we should point out is that you had a hand in writing practically every song on your album but one. What did you learn about songwriting just from the process of putting Chapter One together?
EH: Songwriting is something I’ve always done. We always had a piano in my house, and I’m the only one in my family who’s musical. So songwriting for me has always been my own form of therapy. I would go and shut myself in a room and I would use [songwriting] as my diary. Going to write this album, I did sessions on my own. Some of the tracks are all me, then there are tracks where, yes, I’ve been in a studio and co-written — but I’m still a part of the process. That was nerve-wracking at first for me, because I was sharing personal things with people. But the moment I realized we’re all here for the same reason, to get a great song no matter how it comes about, I was so comfortable. You just grow and you experience new things and talk about new things. The best thing about it is you create these amazing relationships with people. To think that Ryan Tedder, I can call him a close friend now, it’s crazy. And that’s all happened through music.
You’re going on tour and opening for Take That in the UK this spring. Do you have a favorite song by them?
EH: I love “Rule The World.” I think that’s a song that, globally, just hits a chord with people.
That’s a song you’ve performed, as well.
EH: Yes! I performed it my first week on The X Factor. I’m obsessed with their new track, as well, “These Days,” because they do a little boogie in it. But I can’t wait to go on tour with them. They’ve got such a spread-out fan base, from a new generation all the way to [an older crowd]. To have that kind of audience — also to be performing in arenas, night after night — the experience of that is just priceless in itself. Also, guys like them, they’re so nice. I’ve been at a couple events with them recently and they’re so lovely. I actually got to write with Mark Owen, as well, during the writing process [for my album]. Nothing really came of it, but we built up a relationship there, so it was really nice to know I’m going on tour with people who I get along with.
“Ghost” is just now climbing the American charts and your album is about to released here. Any plans for live shows in the States?
EH: Nothing set in stone, but that’s not to the say it’s not going to happen. I mean, if I look at my last six months, it’s been mental, so god only knows what could happen in the next 12 months!
Ella Henderson’s debut album Chapter One will be released tomorrow (January 13). Grab it at iTunes.