Early in 2016, 16-year-old Belgian singer Ellie Blanche Delvaux, aka Blanche, auditioned for The Voice Belgique with a show-stopping rendition of Adele’s ‘Daydreamer’. Husky and powerful, her voice seriously impressed the judges. She went on to compete for team Cats on Trees and made it all the way to the live shows. That same year, she was selected to represent Belgium in the Eurovision Song Contest. Performing the brooding electro-pop track ‘City Lights’, she surprised audiences with a refreshingly understated performance and achieved fourth place. The track became a big hit in Belgium and spread throughout Europe, leading to Blanche being awarded a European Border Breakers Award in 2018. This is no small feat, as the EBBA, which annually highlights the success of ten emerging artists who have reached audiences outside their own countries, has previously been awarded to the likes of Dua Lipa, Years and Years, MØ, Hozier, and Christine and the Queens. Now, Blanche has come through with her much-awaited debut album, Empire, a compelling indie-pop offering, featuring a varied array of shimmering, hook-filled tracks expressing a deep swirl of emotions. Wrapped in gossamer synths and lush electronic production, the album’s vibrant, digital soundscapes are the perfect sonic environment for Blanche’s mesmerising vocals to really take off.
We caught up with Blanche for this edition of our Artist Spotlight series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk about their music.
When did you first fall in love with music?
I live in quite an artistic family because I have an older brother who is a singer and plays piano and my mum is a painter who also plays piano and is an architect. It’s the surrounding I’ve grown up in, it was just always artistic. When I was younger, I was just like, ‘My brother is making music and he’s almost ten years older than me’, and when you’re small like that, you just kind of copy an older figure. At the beginning I was like, ‘Oh he makes music, I’ll make music also then!’ And every little child was looking at Disney Channel – it’s my generation, you know? Hannah Montana and stuff like that. So all these things made me like music.
Who would be on your dream festival line-up?
James Blake, Lorde, SOAK, Beach House, Kings of Convenience, Lana Del Rey, Alt J Christine and the Queens, Feu! Chaton, Lapsley, Radiohead, Jacques Brel and I have to say One Direction because I was such a huge fan a few years ago and I never had the occasion to see them in concert. Then Banks and Adele. That’s it, that’s my list!
Who are a few of your influences?
Well, all of the above! But also, a band who really inspired me when I was like 14/15, who helped me find confidence in my voice was London Grammar because I really was completely obsessed with them. When I recorded ‘City Lights’, we went to record it with Tim Bran in London with the producer that worked with them, so I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy’. It was really one of the bands to get me started in a certain type of music.
How have your experiences on The Voice and Eurovision shaped you?
Well, I don’t know exactly how to answer. What I know is that it definitely made me realise and see how I deal with stress or unreal situations. Being in Eurovision when you’re 17… It’s really hard to realise that it’s Eurovision, this big thing and connect that with reality. It’s strange and it made me realise that I have a sort of problem with connecting to reality, to be in the moment, where I put some distance between myself and things that are happening to me and it’s something I have to fix – so that’s maybe a small negative that I learned.
Obviously, there are a lot of positive things because The Voice was more of an adventure and a fun experience. Maybe I gained some self-confidence because I had a lot of nice comments and nice messages and I could see that people were touched by my music and I realised that there was something in me that people felt really strong things. I was like, ‘That’s really nice, I wanna use that’, and because on The Voice you get a lot of feedback from the judges and the public and everything, it just helped me realise what I should focus on.
In Eurovision, it’s the same kind of thing where you’re showcasing yourself and your music and people are automatically telling you what they think about it, and so you get a lot of reactions and then you realise that people are liking your music and your personality. I’m an honest person, but sometimes it’s hard to be really be yourself in these kinds of situations and The Voice and Eurovision helped me to find a way into who I really am.
What was the inspiration behind your latest album Empire?
It’s always hard because there are so many things in art that you cannot explain and it’s funny, because I’ve been talking with some friends who make movies and stuff, and we always get asked, “Why did you choose this title or this image at this moment”, and sometimes you can’t answer because it’s just it’s your feelings that make you do things. So it’s hard to answer this question because I have a lot of things to say, but in the end in music and in art a lot of things just come from your soul.
I think for sure what inspired me the most for this album, really simply, is people and their lives, their feelings and their history. You know this big mystery of life we have people not really knowing what it’s all about – but trying. Meeting new people, creating connections and how you’re affected by that, how you deal with it, how you build yourself as a person and what you learn… I have a big focus in the album on honesty and authenticity and sincerity with yourself and with others. For me, the most important thing is authenticity; it’s the only way for me tor me to really get somewhere and I talk a lot about that in my music. It makes me so sad to see a lot of people being fake, faking the way they live, not at all doing what they want and they’re lying to themselves and to others. So many people convince themselves that they’re better off alone, that they don’t need people and I put a big focus on the album on like creating people who try to really find how they feel deep down and just help themselves through others… What I mean is really meet new people, create connections and try to move like that in life… And to not lie to themselves and try to always face their truth.
Sometimes I talk about other people because it’s not really a problem I have – I’m always facing my truth, but I talk a lot about pressure, questions I have in life regarding music or other things, how I deal with all that, how sometimes its really hard and how I feel. I obviously talk a lot about love because this is one of the most important things as well for me. It’s a super strong feeling and everybody knows what it feels like and this is a subject that I have a lot of things to say about because I experience a lot because I’m a really sensitive and I can fall in love really fast and feel really strong things so it really inspires me. Yeah and I talk about the pain and the hurt. I guess… That’s it! (Laughs).
I also got to work with a lot of people. I would go to London and then I would go to someone’s studio and then meet them and then we’d write songs together. Rich Cooper and François Gustin, the producers of the album – just grateful that I met them because they helped me so much and they really brought what I was missing in our old songs and made it into something coherent. Without them, I wouldn’t have made an album that I’m proud of.
What did you do during lockdown?
Well, honestly it was really not so good. Like I said I have a problem with connecting to reality – I know it sounds strange but it’s a really huge thing so I can’t explain it in a few words but… It really blocked me on a lot of things. It really got me frozen and before the pandemic I was really getting a lot of energy and ambition and I wanted to achieve a lot of things because I knew that the album was gonna be released in a few months and I wanted to be 100% ready for my first album and the release party and festivals and stuff. I was in a super good energy cycle let’s say and I was really doing a lot and feeling amazing and then there was this lockdown thing and really I tried to keep a positive attitude but at some point it got really hard and yeah, I got quite sad and I lost a lot of confidence in the project and stuff… But at the end when I released the album, I was super happy to see all the reactions finally and it was so strange as I was waiting so long to release the album and then it was released in such strange conditions. Yeah, it wasn’t amazing, you know, but in the end, the album is there and people who are listening to it are feeling things and honestly that’s the most important thing. And now I’m way better, I went on holiday and got back into rehearsals and everything is going good again. In the end I did a lot of interviews on the phone talking to a lot of newspapers in Belgium and stuff so that was cool.
We all hope that 2021 goes a bit better than 2020! What are your hopes for next year?
Well, my hopes are that I can play some concerts and being on stage, singing songs from this project I’ve worked on for years now. To be able to share it with people in a room and at festivals because at festivals a lot of people can discover your music. That’s probably the most important thing, to tour now. I would love to be the first act for an artist I really liked, that would be amazing.
What’s up next now that your album is out?
I’ve just moved out from my parent’s place – it’s the first time I’m living with friends. I really want to make the Empire album live more now and try to share a bit more about how I created it with people that follow me and to just work on more music, try to focus on what I want to share and write new things. I’m now able to play my songs on piano which is something new for me, I would like to improve that and… Oh yeah! I have another thing! I’m doing a 3 month course, it’s like a performing course, but it’s not only for singing, it’s for dance and acting movement and stuff. I’ll have that every day for three months and I’m super excited because it could really improve me… It’s called… I’m not sure how to translate into English but… ‘Play in Full Presence’, it’s like so you can really BE there when you perform and be fully there. And it’s really what I’m missing, it’s exactly what I need.