Artist Helen’s musical building block

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YOU may not be overly familiar with the name but if you own a radio the chances are you’ll have heard Helen Boulding’s music.

And if you’re an animal lover it is even more likely – the PDSA used previous single It’s You for their TV advertising campaign last year.

“We re-released that to help them raise a bit more money,” confirms the Sheffield-born songstress.

After putting her melodic and lyrical pen to paper for a range of artists, furry or otherwise, Helen is back with her own new record.

Calling All Angels is the second album from a writer in demand by everyone from X Factor graduates to dance music’s biggest players.

And it sounds as though some of the fun she’s had elsewhere has filtered into her output, with bouncy electronic sounds underpinning some of her livelier moments.

“It’s stepping out of your comfort zone and not having the fear and going: ‘Actually I can do and be whatever I want’,” she says.

“The core thing for me is songs. My writing doesn’t change too much, but approaching the production I wanted to try something different, have a bit of an electronic thing.

“It is a risk because you lose a human aspect. It’s a fine line between keeping the emotion and having it exciting as well. But I always give it the ‘feel test’ – will it give me bumps?”

Whereas debut New Red Dress associated Helen with her piano and a mellower vibe, tracks such as Blown Away, Innocence and Jerusalem – from which the new album title sprang – have a fulsome synth feel that contrasts neatly with quieter moments in keeping with her roots.

“I wanted to create more space in there and have that juxtaposition of sounds to create a little excitement. I thought it might make it more emotional in different ways.

“When you have loads of beautiful stuff it makes it one thing. It makes it a little more exposed when you’ve got beats with something beautiful.”

Adult pop is arguably the most apt description for a result that sits well with her artist work and her other projects.

Helen cites the likes of classic female performers Joni Mitchell and Carol King in conversation but says Goldfrapp figured in her listening while writing Angels. There’s also a whiff of The Pierces and Ellie Goulding in the results.

While her début was very ‘song-based’ with strings, this one has put harder sounds and beats with lush songwriting. Helen has given her style a lick of electronic paint, enhancing rather than swamping.

At its heart are personal observations from a woman who has since got married and become a mum. In fact, she was pregnant while making the second half of the record.

Crooked Tooth, however, was inspired by husband Ryan. “You know when you really love someone and no-one else will do. Every little imperfection is what you love; Ryan’s bottom teeth are wonky and I’d go mad if he straightened them. It’s character.

“You go to LA and see these beautiful blonde birds with boob jobs, big lips, nose come back and people here are attractive. Technically it’s meant to be the other way around, but everyone is so plastic there it becomes unattractive.”

That’s a typical comment from an artist who, while working in London a lot, keeps a base in Sheffield. She even ensured her son Jack was born at Jessops so he would be a Yorkshire lad.

“I joke to Ryan that I can’t have him growing up with a southern accent... Ryan’s from Surrey,” she laughs, revealing how Jack had an impact on the album, not least a changed lyric on love song Long Time Coming.

“It made sense when Jack was born. Now it’s not a love song about anybody but him... I was definitely emotional this time around.

“And I thought my priorities might have changed more since but I feel more passionate than ever about what I’m doing, even though having Jack was the most amazing thing. I’m lucky I’ve got a chilled out baby. He’s just come along and joined in.”

Now a year old, it also helps Helen has three sisters and a self-employed husband to step in when she is gigging or she’s on writing trips with other artists.

Just as well seeing as Angels has stirred strong support from national press and brought TV appearances on BBC Breakfast and Lorraine.

Jerusalem also features in a film called Comes A Bright Day.

While her début garnered significant interest, not least from Canadian rocker Bryan Adams who did photography for it, it didn’t blow up but could prove a crucial building block in the long game.

“As a writer I’ve had hits so that part of my career has really taken off and I could have gone the road of doing that all the time, but I never started from that place. I was always an artist.

“My first record got album of the week on Radio 2, and playlisted. In my head I had started the first rung, set up the next stage and was building my fanbase. I work with so many pop stars who come out and have a massive hit and I know it’s hard to sustain.”

But Helen’s learned how to play the game, not least by stepping out of her usual environment. She co-wrote half an album for classical artist Mary-Jess Leaverland, a former Sheffield University student who won the Chinese X Factor. She’s also been working with former X Factor victor Joe McElderry and Janet Devlin from the recent series, and been asked to write for The Voice winner Leanne Mitchell.

Perhaps most out there was dance artist DJ Schiller’s German number one Everything, a product of her friendship with Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid. She’s also just done Fire & Rain with superstar DJ Paul van Dyk for his next album.

“Dance is one of those areas you realise goes beautifully with singer songwriters, especially on the purer side with the vocals. It’s that juxtaposition again.

“I’m not into trance but it really works and it’s something I would never had done on my own. They were nice accidents but I do believe in destiny as well. Sometimes you can control things too much and you miss opportunities that are just out of your box.”

Talking of which, there’s tongue in cheek talk of getting Jack on tambourine for the tour – and Helen is also pondering a possible ‘pop-up’ at Tramlines festival.

Calling All Angels is released on Monday.

“It seems to be flowing in the right direction,” adds Helen with a smile.