After parting ways with former record label RCA back in June 2013, Alexandra Burke has been working hard on stage and in the studio.
The former of the two has seen her wow audiences with a starring role in West End musical The Bodyguard, while the latter has so resulted far resulted in two EPs, the second of which - titled Renegade - will be released later this month.
With a full-length third studio album pretty much finished, Digital Spy caught up with Alexandra to talk about her new music and what the future holds.
Hello Alexandra! Whereabouts in the world are you today?
"I'm in Newcastle. [The weather is] not that bad. It's been a little grey, but today is lovely. I'm hoping that as the week goes along it'll get better – right now, it's a bit cold."
How is the Bodyguard tour going?
"It's going really, really well. We have two more weeks and then I'm on a break for a month. The experience has been incredible – out of this world. The cast, crew, and company have been amazing, treating me like royalty. I love who I'm working with, I've just found myself a new family."
Congratulations on your new Renegade EP – how have you found the reaction since you started putting the songs out earlier this month?
"You know what, I'm surprised, to be honest. I put out the one track, 'Renegade', deliberately just to test the waters, because on the whole EP overall, [I thought it] was the track that would stand out – the sore thumb that's really different from what people were used to hearing from me.
"I've loved the reaction so far, I've been quite amazed, and it's taken me aback. I remember the day we put it out a couple of weeks ago, I was literally over the moon by the reaction, and then after an hour, I was like 'Okay, cool, onto the next thing'. I don't allow myself to celebrate for too long, because I like to make sure I'm on top of my game, so to speak, to keep making sure that I'm doing the best that I can do so I don't get complacent. It's still a fantastic reaction, and I'm grateful for understanding my vision."
As you said, 'Renegade' is a departure from what we've previously heard from you, so how long did it take you to settle on the sounds that you wanted for this EP?
"After I finished at the Adelphi [Theatre] last August, I took a week off and then went straight back into the studio and started recording. I got my in-house team into my home studio and I said, 'Let's just create'. I gave them my vision, I put a mood board out there, told them what I wanted to sound like and have people see me as the vision, and they got it. That's when we started writing and creating the music based upon my mood board."
Out of curiosity, what was on those mood boards?
"Funnily enough, I had a lot of rock sounds on there. Slash was a massive inspiration. Of course there was Whitney, Coldplay… I just wanted to mix sounds together, and make sure people still heard my voice without the production overpowering my voice.
"Vision wise, in terms of the look, I put a lot of images together. I put a lot of Naomi Campbell in my mood board, Ciara, Rihanna, and then went to my stylist and said that I wanted to mix all of those looks together, and fit it into who I am. That's where the new images came from."
You are touching on themes and experiences that you've never spoken about before in this music. Were you nervous about revealing that to the world, or was it something you always wanted to do?
"Absolutely. It was something that I've never had the guts to do, to be honest. It feels quite scary when you're giving your all to the world; you never know what to expect back. I think, for me, I always have high hopes and no expectations.
"When I put my heart out on the card and tell people, 'This is what it is, this is what I want to talk about, this is who I am', I can only hope that they can understand, and hopefully some people can relate. I've always said that I like to touch, move, and inspire people, and if I do that to one person, then that's my job done."
Did you give yourself any boundaries with what you would talk about?
"No. No limits. No limits at all. Just how I was feeling."
That must be quite a freeing experience. Was that the first time you'd ever allowed yourself to do that?
"On my last EP, #NewRules, I definitely allowed myself to do that, and it was special, but at this point, it's on a much deeper level. I'm 26 now, and I'll be 27 soon, and I'm at a point in my life where the life coaching helped me, and changed my views on life, changed my views on being open and connected with my fans. I'm at a point where I'm ready to put my heart out there and just create."
Did your time working on The Bodyguard inform any of your new music in any way, whether it was themes from that story, or the style of music?
"The Bodyguard definitely helped with my confidence. It allowed me to get in touch with my emotional side – seeing as you can't help but get in touch with your emotional side as you're performing every night. It allowed me to be free in that respect.
"I'm not afraid of emotions, is what I'm trying to say, and The Bodyguard helped me to not be afraid of that, and not feel silly if I need to shed a tear, or if I need to laugh. It allowed me to be free."
Is this EP going to lead into a full-length album in the future?
"It is. I've actually recorded my album. The EP is a real nice taster of what's to come."
When did you finish the album, and can you give us any hints of what we can expect?
"The thing is, I started the album in August last year, after The Bodyguard. It's not completely finished, but I've recorded a ton of songs for this album. Once I've finished The Bodyguard, I'm going to record some more. In my time off, that's what I'm going to be doing in May, back in the studio, and then again in September. My aim is to keep recording."
#NewRules and Renegade, what we've heard on them, are they a good indication of what we can expect from the album?
"It's a different level."
So how will it differ from Heartbreak On Hold, as that was your last full-length album?
"Heartbreak On Hold was quite pop-led, and this album isn't that. It's a mixture of pop, R&B;, soul, rock, and hip-hop.
"I would refer to this third album as similar, or in the same vein as Overcome, in the sense of genres mixed together. It wouldn't be a straight pop album, like Heartbreak On Hold."
What would you say is the biggest lesson you've learnt since winning The X Factor?
"To keep myself grounded, to never forget where I've come from, or to never forget who was there from the beginning. I always say that my team are my family, and I keep them very, very close to me.
"Keeping yourself grounded keeps you who central to who you are. That is the main lesson in this industry. You can easily be blinded by the light."
Back to your role in The Bodyguard - you've had a great reaction for that. Have you got your eye on any future roles that you'd like to have a go at, or is it just this one for now?
"I think, for me, I definitely want to take acting seriously, because I really enjoy it. I'm not sure what roles I would take on next, but I look forward to diving into that department, and having a great adventure with it, because it has made me really happy.
"I used to act all the time as a child, and I forgot the love I had for it until I started The Bodyguard again."
Is your heart on stage, or would you like to do TV and film?
"My heart will always be on stage, with my music and career. My music will always come first, and acting will always be something that would be on the same level as music, because I love it that much, but my music will always be a priority, and will always come first."
Alexandra Burke's Renegade EP will be released in the UK on April 27.