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Matt Cardle: I felt like I was not really able to be me

Former X Factor winner Matt Cardle is back with record number four, Time To Be Alive, drawn from his alcohol and drug addiction recovery. Joe Nerssessian finds the singer-songwriter in a more content place and full of metaphors as he compares sobriety to being sent off and the reality show to spaghetti bolognese

When he left Simon Cowell's Syco record label in 2012, Matt Cardle was branded as just another male X Factor winner who had flopped.

Initially, it appeared he had managed to see off those accusations with two albums in two years.

But as 2010 runners-up One Direction saw their careers skyrocket, Cardle was in turmoil.

Addicted to a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, he spent two years dependent on prescription medication such as tramadol and valium before almost fighting with his drug dealer in December 2013.

Three albums in three years, the pressure of fame and, of course, winning the UK's prime-time singing competition seemed to have taken their toll.

But Cardle is used to comebacks.

A survivor of cancer as an infant, he also battled a severe fever during his time on X Factor, taking to the stage straight from his sickbed in the competition's semi-finals.

And now he's back again, releasing a new album on Sony, who just so happen to be the owners of Cowell's Syco.

Rehab saved him, he admits, as he struggles to answer whether he would be sitting here now, in Sony's Kensington offices, if it wasn't for intervention.

"I'd like to think, 'Yes of course I would', but I don't know," he says, pausing to exhale. "It's such a tricky thing.

"With valium and alcohol, if you drink too much, you pass out. At the worst, you might choke on your sick.

"Valium is a muscle relaxant, and your heart is a muscle, and with alcohol it amplifies its effect.

"It's so dangerous and that's what's killed so many people.

"Every day is another day of getting f*****, getting off your head, numbing everything, and sometimes it just goes too far."

He spent 19 months after rehab completely sober, but admits he is drinking again now.

Though he feels in complete control, he compares total abstinence to being like "sent off for fouling" in a football match.

"Being totally sober is not being able to touch the ball at all," he adds to the metaphor.

"I wanted to have complete control over the ball.

"I'm a very hedonistic person. I like to have fun and I just felt like I wasn't really able to be me."

His return to alcohol was also prompted by the crash of emotions that came with finishing his role in Memphis The Musical in the West End opposite Beverley Knight in 2015.

"I was buzzed up for six months in a row on adrenaline. When the show stopped, I was like, 'What am I doing?'" he says.

"I thought, 'Let's try getting a balance back', and I did and I have and I am now balanced."

It's eight years since 17 million people tuned in to watch Cardle take the X Factor crown.

Like all graduates of the Cowell show, he will always field questions about its fall from those high ratings, and he offers an intriguing critique that prompts an elevated eyebrow of confusion from his manager, who joins us for the interview.

"I love spaghetti bolognese, lots of people love spaghetti bolognese," he responds to being asked whether the show continues to be relevant. "If you have spag bol every day of the week, by Friday you'd be sick of it. So maybe take a couple days off spag bol.

"It needs to just go away for a year. Let us miss you, and we will as a nation miss it.

"It's an incredible TV show and it works and it pleases millions of people but let's just take a break."

Cardle is here, of course, to talk about his new album, the aptly named Time To Be Alive.

It's an exploration of his battle with addiction, journeying through the recovery process to his current contentment.

Billed as fusing electronica, gospel, rock and soul, he roped in producer Jim Eliot (Ellie Goulding, Olly Murs, Kylie Minogue) to help translate those personal battles into hits.

"I was the annoying little parrot in the studio, but I totally let him do his thing," he says of Eliot.

"It's so different from what I've put out before musically. One of my favourite bands of all time is Coldplay, and I just think they've gone on one of the best musical development journeys ... they're like the Madonna of bands.

"I'm not for a minute comparing myself to Coldplay, but I wanted to try and develop sonically.

"And seeing Jim do his thing with my songs was just f****** mind-blowing.

"I remember standing in the studio thinking, 'I would never in a million years thought of any of this s***'."

More important, perhaps, than the sound however is Cardle's own journey.

Although he took his guitar to rehab, he ended up not writing while he was in recovery.

It took a while before he was ready to put his struggles to paper, but he feels more worth as an artist for doing so on the album.

"I've always wanted to write an album that has weight and depth and meaning, and I think with the first album I had to draw on stuff pre-X Factor to write about," he says.

"The other two, I was writing about what was going on at the time, but the darker you, go the more you get out of it.

"Whether it's pop, a painting, anything.

"Artists are troubled, dark people, and I'm glad I went somewhere so dark and had somewhere to draw from."

Astute about how people may struggle to understand why he considered his struggles beneficial, Cardle defends himself quickly, insisting there was no "self-sabotage" involved.

"That was just how it went down and how it happened," he adds.

"And it's given me something to really stick my teeth into in regards to an album and saying something that really means something to me."

Matt Cardle's Time To Be Alive is out tomorrow

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