Nadine McBay

It's barely mid-morning and Nina Nesbitt's first working day of 2019 is going well. Her record company are just off the phone, having told her there's already been 150 million streams of songs from her new album. Songs such as the sophisticated Somebody Special, Taylor Swift favourite The Best You Had and belter Loyal To Me – each spun tens of millions of times and playlisted on radio stations across the world.

Those numbers mean the Balerno-raised artist feels confident ahead of the long-awaited The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, her first album since 2014's Peroxide.

That title was a reference, she later admitted, not to her teenage blonde hair but her "love-hate" relationship with Ed Sheeran, who she toured with back in 2012. Those times are behind the 24-year-old.

Instead, The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change is driven by the wit and experience of someone who has spent much of the past few years determinedly raising her game. Belied by her elegant, almost gentle sensibility, these songs are immediate and bold, complex and often surprising.

If she was known to some in the past mainly through that ex-boyfriend or the old John Lewis ad with her cover of Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop, in 2019 they will know her for these songs.

But first, she has to grapple with an animal.

"I'm on my way to Norway to shoot a video for one of the songs from the album," says Nesbitt, sitting with her luggage at Prestwick Airport.

Since last year's impressive video for Loyal To Me, in which she collaborated with director Debbie Scanlon to dance en pointe, Nesbitt says each subsequent promo film involves her taking up a new challenge, doing something that's "a bit terrifying".

"With all the music videos for this record I've had an idea of what I've wanted to do,” she says. “This one involves a large animal. I'm very excited, it's going to be great.”

In videos released to coincide with Loyal To Me, Nesbitt starred as news anchor and a weather reporter – deadpan presenters of a show outing the tactics of of who she refers to as “f***boys”, those who'll pick up a girl just to drop her next weekend.

The track is a doozy: a strutting r'n'b cut about not giving your heart to those who “ain't tagging you on the [Insta]Gram”. As well as showing off her dazzling vocal range, it affirms her as an empowering figure for young women especially, from her super-fan “Nesbians” and beyond.

A target of trolls in the past, Nesbitt gave a speech at the Women in the World Summit about the impact of social media on body image, a subject she addresses head on in the opening lines of Sacred, the first track on the album.

In March last year she marked Women’s History Month by teaming up with young American artists Sasha Sloan and Charlotte Lawrence for the sassy Psychopath. Looking out from on a massive billboard in New York's Times Square, trio's picture recalled the cover of CrazySexyCool, the 1994 coming-of-age classic by r'n'b megaqueens TLC.

Like Dua Lipa's New Rules, Loyal To Me is inspired by the “advice songs” of the era.

“I've been listening to a lot of 1990s/early 2000s r'n'b,” says Nesbitt. “It's a kind of modern take on No Scrubs by TLC or Destiny's Child's Bills, Bills, Bills or Doo-Wop (That Thing) by Lauryn Hill. I wrote that for my friend Claire, who was dating this guy and wasn't sure what was going on. They would go on amazing dates and then she would never hear from him.”

Nesbitt draws on the experiences of her friends elsewhere in The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, which she says is “about 75% autobiographical”.

Earlier single The Best You Had channels the acidic tongue of acknowledged influence Alanis Morissette to relate the seething jealously felt by a dumped friend at seeing her ex with another girl.

The slick heartbreaker has been championed by Hollywood actress Chloe Grace Moretz and Taylor Swift, the woman who inspired Nesbitt to focus on music at the age of 15 and ditch her fledgling career in rhythmic gymnastics.

The two paths had been competing for her energy since Nesbitt started writing songs five years earlier. Gifted at both disciplines, her gymnastic skills had seen her picked for the Scottish team and training for the Commonwealth Games. But rather than compete in Glasgow 2014, Nesbitt was busy at festivals, performing songs from Peroxide. She'd long abandoned the ribbons and hoops for her notebook, piano, flute and a £20 Argos guitar.

Hearing Taylor Swift's song 15 at the same age had changed everything.

“I remember ... being like: 'Oh, my god, it's a girl with a guitar writing her own songs',” she said in a recent interview. “I wanted to do that. I don’t come from a musical background or a wealthy background, so I needed to find a way of getting out there and that thing of writing your own songs felt affordable and doable.”

That DIY ethic and a sharp sense of drive – something she credits gymnastics with having developed – were qualities needed when she was dropped by Universal Island. The calls from producers wanting to work with her stopped. Having moved to London, the 21-year-old questioned whether she would make music ever again.

Months later, in May 2016, she told social media of the pressures she'd been under to “have a hit, to sound like other people, to keep it safe, become someone I’m not comfortable being”.

While the last few months had been “extremely difficult” she wasn't giving up, however. Instead, she would take her career “back into my own hands”.

“I'm here to make great MUSIC, the part that so often gets forgotten, so that’s what I’m going to do, whilst keeping my integrity,” her statement continued.

She took to working in Niightwatch, the name she gives to her home studio in London. Just as she had done years before in her parent's house, she continued to play and compose from her bedroom. In summer 2016 she launched her Songs I Wrote For You project, writing songs based on real-life love stories sent to her by fans, and would go on to contribute three songs to an album by country-pop duo The Shires.

More co-writing credits would follow with Jonas Blue, Norwegian DJ Matoma, Goody Grace and a troupe of young female artists including Olivia Holt, Jasmine Thompson and Jessie Ware.

Nesbitt found the work liberated her from preconceptions she'd imposed upon herself as a songwriter. Like the songs inspired by the experiences of her fans and friends, writing from someone else's perspective has stretched her as an artist. Some of the strongest, dizzyingly good songs on this record were written with others in mind. Loyal To Me was intended for Little Mix (“I think they're great,” she says warmly) and the raw Is It Really Me You’re Missing was put on hold for Rihanna.

“A lot of this album I kind of wrote by accident,” she explains. “I would write songs and not really think they were for me. You write in a different way when you're not thinking about yourself. Though I love pop music, I would worry, especially coming from a singer-songwriter background, if a song is too pop for me or whether I would I say a particular lyric. But when you're writing for other people you're not thinking about all that, you're just trying to write a song that you love.”

Becoming a gun-for-hire raised her spirits in the period between getting ditched and signing with savvy veteran independent label Cooking Vinyl, she says.

“It took a year, which felt quite long to me,” she remembers. “I didn't know if I wanted to be an artist and make albums again. But I knew I still wanted to write songs. When I started to get cuts for other artists I found it a really fun thing to do.”

Without that time, tough though it was, there might have been no follow-up to Peroxide.

“Through doing all that I found I wanted to write my own story again, and write about things that meant something to me,” she says. “That was the reason I decided to do the album. It really built my confidence and made me realise I wanted to do it again.”

Nesbitt produced much of the record at home, and would take very high-quality demos into sessions with producers Red Triangle (James Arthur, Little Mix and The Vamps), young writer-producers Jordan Riley and LostBoy

and Fraser T Smith, the much-respected hitman behind

Stormzy's Brit Award-winning Gang Signs & Prayer album and Adele's mega ballad Set Fire To The Rain.

“It was amazing working with him as he's so experienced,” says Nesbitt of Smith. “He brought Loyal To Me into a different world, and we worked on another track, Love Letter together too.”

Nesbitt is champing at the bit to release the record. The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change comes five years to the day since Peroxide.

“I am really excited about it,” she says. “It's a special piece of work to me. I've been making it for about two years but I've been waiting for it to happen for five years. It feels quite rare to be putting an album out, something that is a body of work which tells a story and has a theme. I'm really proud of it, I think it sums up my life in my early 20s and all the things that people generally experience at this time.”

As well as the passion and pain of dating and the joy of a genuine love match, the album explores the transitions we all need to make at that time of life; of putting aside childish things, allowing old friends to move on and recalibrating our priorities for the road ahead.

“The songs I've put out so far have been the poppier ones, which are more about relationships, but the album is about a lot of different aspects of life,” says Nesbitt. “It's really all about personal growth. You go through so much in your early 20s as you're coming out of adolescence into adulthood. There's loads of different aspects, and I think it covers the reality of a lot of people's lives around this age.”

The affecting, affectionate Chloe is written about Nesbitt's best friend starting a family. Looking at her happily pregnant pal, Nesbitt sings how she knows she's “found the answer”.

“When I looked at her, she was so happy to be starting a family,” says Nesbitt, noting that her friend approves of the song. “For a lot of people from where I grew up, they leave school and have kids and I think there's something really nice about that – that was the answer to what she was looking for. But for others, they might want to travel or focus on their career, it can be more complicated.”

She's unsure of the answer for her, she says.

“I don't know what it is yet, that's why I wrote the song I guess,” says Nesbitt. “I always thought I would move to London, and after that I would be content, but I feel never feel quite contented. I'm happy but I'm always looking for the next thing. I think in this industry especially, and with my generation especially, things are so fast-paced.”

You hope at least part of the answer for Nesbitt is continuing to make music. As she heads out to Norway before touring Europe with hit-makers Rudimental, she seems genuinely thrilled. In making the record she set out to make, she's followed her own words of advice on the suitably epic-sounding Empire; of “putting in the hours till I've earned it”.

“I wrote that song just after I was dropped,” she says. “I knew I was ambitious and wanted to do music, but I had no idea of how I was going to get back on my feet. Empire is about the most important thing being that having a vision and following through with it until it starts to materialise. That, whatever your ambition is, having that self-belief will help get you there.”

The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change is out on February 1 on Cooking Vinyl.