Example: 'My womanising days are behind me'
Ahead of his appearance at the Belsonic festival in Belfast next month Elliot Gleave tells Chris Jones why marriage to a former Neighbours star provided the inspiration for his new album.
The last time we heard from genre-hopping west London boy Elliot Gleave, aka Example, he was treading that well-worn path of the newly established pop star and airing his demons in song.
His 2012 album The Evolution Of Man was – by the standards of mega-selling chart pop – a dark meditation on the pitfalls of fame. The classic trifecta of drink, drugs and women featured heavily, set not just to the beats, bass and synth soundtrack he is best known for through collaborations with Calvin Harris and Nero, but also some grinding guitar riffs played by Graham Coxon of Blur.
"We all have vices, but the thing about the music industry is that there are more vices and they are more readily available," he says. "It might be weed, cocaine, ecstasy, cheating on your partner, alcohol. With me, I was always battling with wanting to be the life and soul of the party and stay up later than anyone else. Because of that, it made me very unfaithful and made me lie a lot.
"I got all of that out of my system because that's not me. I wasn't brought up like that. The person I was when I was 27 was a f****** monster compared to the person I was at 21. I'm just glad that it didn't really affect my career. I used those times to write music – they influenced the lyrics – but I didn't end up in rehab or in really bad health, and I didn't lose my friends. I put my ex-girlfriend through a bad time and I'm not proud of it, but I feel like that had to happen in order for me to come out the other side."
Now, Gleave is in a much happier place. Last year, he married Australian model and former Neighbours star Erin McNaught, and his new album – the cheerily titled Live Life Living – sounds like the work of a happy man. "The main thing that the marriage has done is to make me a better person," he says. "Since I've been with my wife, I'm 100% faithful, completely honest with her and all my friends and family, and I'm just enjoying life a lot more. Now, I get as much sleep as I can, I love sitting on the sofa, I love making salads, I love training, going to the gym every day, getting a massage, seeing my chiropractor, spending loads of time with my wife when I'm not taking 100 flights a year. But, like any human being, you have to let your hair down occasionally, otherwise you'd go crazy."
'Pop star gets married and happy' isn't the most enticing sell for a new record, but fear not, because Live Life Living is far from staid. Although he confesses that a few songs are essentially paeans to his wife, with whom he is clearly besotted, it's full to the brim with club bangers, many of which tip the hat to 1990s stars like Faithless and The Prodigy, with a little hard dance and piano house for good measure. After an album which even he describes as "depressing", he was keen to get back to his signature sound.
"Live Life Living is very much a positive album – for the most part it's about escapism and hedonism," he says. "I've been lucky enough to spend the last few years flying all over the world, but no-one really wants to hear songs about aeroplanes, airports and hotels. So the only thing I can do is take the experiences of my friends, who work 9-to-5 and look forward to those festivals or that one Ibiza trip in the year, and think about what they want to sing about; what they want to listen to. This is a pure dance album, so for every song to work by the pool or at the barbecue or in the club or at a festival, it needs a much more straightforward message."
Gleave's chat is a winning combination of 'normal guy made good' humility and the unmistakeable confidence of someone who has spent the last five years at the top of the pop game. He talks in terms of 'Top 40s' (ie singles), and drops in mentions of airplay charts and shows-per-year. But he also feels a strong responsibility towards the people that put him in this position, particularly those that pay to see him live.
"A lot of bands stop performing their popular songs and they would rather do something weird and obscure," he says. "I've never felt that that's fair to the audience – I always feel they deserve to hear the big tunes. I went and saw Radiohead once, and after the fourth song their lead singer was like, 'I'm not playing any songs for you lot tonight. We're playing all the songs we've always wanted to play'. And I thought, 'Everyone's paid sixty quid to see you!'. That's pretty f*****g disgraceful. In his head, he probably thinks it's artistic ..."
Thom Yorke and co will probably lose little sleep over how many top 20 singles Example has had, or how many times he might play Ibiza this year. Likewise, he's unlikely to be holding out for a '10.0' Pitchfork.com album review or a Mercury Prize nomination any time soon. Each to his own, and the thousands of people who will pack into Belfast's Custom House Square next month will be ready for a big, brash, memorable pop show. And Gleave is certainly ready to give the people what they want.
"I view myself as a entertainer, first and foremost," he says. "There are people out there who regard me as a really good singer or songwriter or rapper and there are other people who write me off, but that's bound to happen. It doesn't matter whether you're an actor, a footballer or a director or whatever, you're going to have people who sing your praises and other people who think you're useless. That's bound to happen to anyone in the public eye.
"Let's not forget that Mr Blobby and Bob The Builder both had a Number One. Just because I've had 20 Top 40 [singles], it doesn't mean I'm good. The only thing I know I'm good at is performing, and I know that I've got one of the best live shows in the country. We've got a great band and a great production on stage, and most people who come and see us leave converted. They're like, 'I never knew you were that good live'. I don't expect to go down in history as the best songwriter of all time. I've never tried to be the best rapper of all time. I just know that no-one can mess with our live show!"
- Example plays the Belsonic festival, Belfast, on August 15. For details, visit www.belsonic.com
Rock and dance stars to light up Custom House Square
Example is just one of an impressive array of stars set to light up Belfast's Custom House Square for this year's Belsonic. Other highlights include:
- Biffy Clyro, August 17 – the Scottish rockers have made it the hard way over the last 15 years, from the UK toilet circuit to festival headliners and beyond. They've even been covered by X Factor winner Matt Cardle. Expect jagged riffs and towering anthems full of heart and soul. And don't miss support band Little Matador, featuring Snow Patrol's Nathan Connolly
- Chic feat. Nile Rodgers, August 19 – disco godfather, raconteur extraordinaire and producer to the stars, Nile Rodgers is enjoying a remarkable late-career revival. Chic are now regular visitors to these shores, having brought their hit-laden disco party to Electric Picnic, the Mandela Hall and Derry's City Of Culture celebrations in recent years. Dance, dance, dance
- Queens Of The Stone Age, August 20 – Josh Homme and his merry men are the undisputed kings (sorry, queens) of Californian desert rock. Having laid waste to a packed-out Odyssey late last year, they might find Belsonic's 5,000 capacity intimate by comparison, but their grinding riffs, pummelling drums and soaring vocals deserve to be heard in the great outdoors