“I’m still performing songs that came out 10 years ago in ‘The Golden Era’.
I don’t know what this is now… ‘The Bronze Era’.”
There are very few artists in the modern dance industry who can boast the unrivalled longevity of Elliot Gleave, aka Example. The British artist has proved the front man of multiple generations, bridging the gaps between electronic, rap, and pop, with his chart-topping singles, sell-out tours, and multiple platinum records. But like many, the energetic performer’s career has been far from plain sailing. Scoring 7 x UK Top 10 singles during a decadent 2010-2012 period, a chapter Elliot himself refers to as ‘the glory days’, the London-born vocalist soon found himself in a “downward spiral”, starting to – in his own words – “Make bad decisions and bad music, maybe out of desperation or frustration”.
Fast forward a decade, and Elliot has proved the – excuse the pun – perfect Example, of how an artist can kickstart their career in stunning fashion. Having just released his 8th – and self-confessed personal favourite – studio album, ‘We May Grow Old But We Never Grow Up’ alongside various acclaimed producers, singer-songwriters and rappers including JME, Tommy Trash, The Window Kid, What So Not, Nono, Local, Westneat, Bou and more, Gleave tells us how his life as a loving father, husband, and newly found spiritualist has helped him come circle, via a brand-new Ibiza residency, and ‘Try This For Example‘ arena at Creamfields. Approaching journalists with the same bubbling self-confidence and hugely authentic and forthright nature with which the Brit has spearheaded the music scene head-on in recent years, this is what happened when CULTR met Example…
“It’s something I maybe lost sleep over 4/5 years ago…
but now, I don’t really give a sh*t!”
Elliot, thanks for joining us! Your new album sees you delve into so many different sub-genres, even your rap roots! Did you consciously decide to head down this path with the album, and having made so many styles, which type of music do you enjoy making most?
“Well I guess I’m known for dance music in general more than the rapping, on a global scale anyway, but I’m always trying to something brand-new with every album. I wanna make timeless songs that I can still perform in 10 years because I’m still performing songs now that came out 10 years ago in ‘the glory days’. I guess that was ‘the golden era’ but I don’t know what this is now… ‘The Bronze Era’. The main thing is not overthinking it, my advice would be… Don’t have a concept. The thing I learned from the ‘Won’t Go Quietly’ album was that, really, that was my first foray into songwriting AND singing, because my first album ‘What We Made‘ was just all strictly rapping. It was wonky and laddish but I wasn’t polished, and I don’t think I was ready then. After that, I started working with a lot of pop writers, because I was working with Ministry of Sound at the time and they were in the business of releasing hits, so they wanted all these huge pop bangers. But the 4th album, ‘Evolution of Man’ was something I really wanted to make for myself because I told myself I wanted to make a rock album, on account of loving artists like Nirvana etc when I was growing up. Back then, I think I was very competitive, but as I started to come on this downward curve, I started to make bad decisions and bad music, maybe out of desperation or frustration. Now, it’s kinda funny, because although I’m based in Brisbane, this album is a very ‘U.K’ sound because it has a lot of drum & bass on it, there’s drill on it too. I had loads of fun in the studio on this one and I was getting songs completed within 2-3 hours. As a result, this is my best work yet.”
You mentioned this ‘golden era’ with all of your Top 10 singles etc. You’ve recently said you’re less bothered by the commercial stats etc now, why do you think that’s changed over the years? Is getting mainstream coverage on BBC Radio 1 etc now down to having a strong managerial team behind you to circulate those records?
“To be honest… I’ve worked with so many PR companies over the past 15 years and some work harder than others, but there’s not really a trick to it. In 2010 or 2011, it was very hard to market me to fashion magazines, like we would never get a look in at GQ, but we were in with FHM and Zoo at the time, and all that laddish culture. Ministry of Sound actually presented me with this ‘mood board’ of brands, and it was like, okay so this is where your fans are gonna be… We need to get you performing on ‘Big Brother’s Big Mouth’ etc. But now, TV isn’t as important as Instagram and TikTok. So now it’s a case of YOUR social media, your Instagram reels, that’s now become the equivalent of BBC Three, or MTV, or E4, or whatever. So you can dictate what content you wanna put out yourself. But certainly now in terms of radio, certain stations think they’re a lot cooler than what they are. So in their mind, they think… Right, we need to aim this at 16-23 year old students so we to feature all the coolest young rappers, but what they don’t realise is… The youth think they’re uncool. Because they don’t listen to radio, they just use Instagram and TikTok, and all their music is coming via pre-made Spotify playlists, so it’s a pointless battle. The three singles I released from this album were better than most of the stuff on the radio playlists, I know that for a fact! They should have been playlisted on all the big stations, BBC Radio 1, Capital, etc, and they weren’t… But I don’t really give a f*ck. I wouldn’t say they’re clueless, but at least 10/15 years ago, you had people like Zane Lowe and Pete Tong, actual tastemakers, who were out there in the clubs. Not only are they amazing DJs, but both had a big history of breaking new music. Some of these young DJs now have come straight from student radio, they can’t produce music, they can’t play instruments, and they’re under pressure on who to decide who they think is cool. It’s something I maybe lost sleep over 4/5 years ago, but now… I don’t really give a sh*t!”
“Most of the artists coming through now are all dog sh*t. They can’t perform, whereas I started by doing gigs in a pub to 11 people.”
So these days, would you say success is more about the ‘name’ of the artist, rather than the quality of the music itself?
“Yeah, most of these artists coming through now, they’re all dog sh*t. They can’t perform, to be honest. There’s 3 or 4 amazing performers but the rest are absolute rubbish because they didn’t have to start at the bottom. Singers, rappers, whatever, they might have a number #1 album and then they’re expected to go and perform at Brixton Academy, but it’s only their 4th or 5th gig ever. I’d done over 600 gigs by that point! So I knew how to work the crowd, I knew how to order my set-list, because you’ve been there, performing in a pub to 11 people and a dog. If I’d have done this interview 3 years ago, I’d have probably sounded bitter, but I’m absolutely on fire at the moment, so this is a lesson who anyone who wants to read it.”
And how does the production side of things come about for you? You’ve worked with so many incredible producers in your career, people like Calvin Harris, Laidback Luke, Dirty South, Chase & Status, Don Diablo, Sub Focus etc. Is it a case of following certain producers and hitting up them up via DM to ask if they’d like to work on your album or some fresh tracks?
“Nah I don’t really DM people to be honest, I just meet them organically at festivals and stuff. Like when I was working with Skream, or working with Calvin, that was because I’d supported him at one of his shows. Sometimes it’s a case of meeting someone backstage through a friend of a friend, that’s exactly what happened with Bou, who made ‘Deep‘ on my new album. That’s most people’s favourite track on the album, and he just came down to my Manchester show and that’s how we met.”
I listened to your interview with Steven Bartlett recently, in which you spoke about how you’re more into yoga etc now. Does this help aid your creative process, or are you more like a comedian, jotting notes down as you go and then using those for your next track inspiration?
“It’s funny you mention that, because I’m friends with a lot of stand-up comedians, and they all have different processes. I think as you get older, those processes change. It used to be the case that I’d listen to some old school US hip-hop and hear the storytelling, and I’d try to apply that to situations in my own world, expanding ideas I’d put down in a scrapbook. But then later I started writing the song title first and building around that. So by the time I made ‘Playing in the Shadows‘ I just had all these song titles and they became the hook. I remember in 2011, I was with Benga on a flight from Sydney to Perth. I was sat with him and Feed Me, who I later made two songs with (‘Midnight Run’ and ‘Perfect Replacement‘) and when I was on that plane, Benga played me this heavy dubstep beat, and I immediately looked through my book and said, okay, that’s ‘Come Taste The Rainbow’ so I wrote that song there and then on that flight. The tour bus is another good one. When I’m on the tour bus, I feel quite inspired ‘cuz you’re with other rappers etc, and you’ve just come off stage, so you just bounce off each other with all these good ideas!”
“If I’d done this interview 3 years ago, I’d have sounded bitter, but I’m on fire at the moment, so this is a lesson to anyone who wants to read it“
So in terms of relating ideas back to your own storytelling… With songs like ‘Birthday Card‘ or ‘Sicknote‘ for example, those are personal experiences to you? You really did forget to buy someone a card?
“With every song I’ve ever written, it has come from a real experience, but sometimes I might take the idea and exaggerate it. To be honest, I was still learning at that point, up until, really… I think ‘Playing in the Shadows’, which was one of the albums I’m most proud of. That, ‘The Evolution of Man’ and this most recent one, they’re all great albums from start to finish. But ‘Playing In The Shadows‘ really made some noise globally, and was actually sold worldwide, too, which was a big moment for me!”
Your early years were – as you recently spoke about – filled with drugs and girls, but now you seem much more mellow, perhaps on account of being a family man? You’re often posting these ‘random acts of kindness’ on your social media etc. Why is that, and how would you describe your own journey and evolution process over these past 10 years?
“I just make up life as I go along, really. Do things that make you feel good! 10 years ago, I don’t think I was really thinking about how my ex-girlfriend was feeling at the time, or any of the girls around me in that period, and maybe even some of my friends. There was a few people I really upset or hurt. Back then, I didn’t believe in energies and spirituality, and I kinda thought all of that was all a load of mumbo jumbo, I’d be like… Don’t talk to me about star signs you f*cking idiot, I suppose you believe in ghosts too?! But now, I believe in the law of attraction and good things happening to good people, dependant on the energy you put out in the World, and now, all things are working well in every area of my life! Funny enough… The first person I spoke to about this all is Goldie. He’s lived most people’s lives in the first 20 years of his, he’s literally done everything. But he reckons yoga saved his life. I didn’t quite have the patience for it like he did, but now I stretch at least 5 times a week and I use saunas and ice baths a lot. I just turn the lights off and listen to quiet music and sort of meditate. You wake up the next day feeling younger and hungrier, and just the amount of clarity you get from those hot and cold treatments is incredible! Like, Brixton, at the tail end of my last tour, my legs were so bad I almost couldn’t do it, I’d been performing every few days, I could hardly walk but someone came to work on my legs for about an hour before I went on stage. When you’re in your 20s, you think you’re indestructible, I was wearing the wrong shoes and not getting the right amount of rest. But now, I’m more conscious of looking after myself. I have a massage gun and compression socks and all this stuff, because it really takes it out of you!”
“I didn’t believe in spirituality, I’d be like… Don’t talk to me about star signs you f*cking idiot, I suppose you believe in ghosts too?!“
Finally… You’ve been living in Australia for a while now with Erin and the kids… But as a Londoner, is there any chance you’ll come back to the U.K permanently in future? I know how much you love your Monster Munch and Nando’s!
“Australia actually has Nando’s now mate, but to be honest… I’ve been back in England for 2 weeks, and I’ve missed the humour and culture but everything else is inferior to Australia. We do have some mad traffic over there though, so if you love traffic… Come to Sydney and Melbourne!”
A personification of the idea that ‘We May Grow Old, But We Never Grow Up’, Example is still the same assertive, tongue-in-cheek ‘geeza’ fans have come to know – and love – throughout his career to date, but like a fine wine, or in his now health-conscious case, refrigerated mineral water, his music continues to evolve and provide a refreshing outlook on an industry which has become stale in areas on account of lack or originality. Elliot claims his latest album is his best work so far, but don’t just take his word for it, you can listen below and let us know your thoughts across our socials!