An Interview with Example

Photo by Anoosh Djavaheri

Walking around the back of the Barbican, I approached two blacked-out buses. As anyone would, I peered into the window of one of them; football was on the television. Alas, no sign of human life. I then moved towards the door (which took me a while to find, might I add), and was approached by a middle-aged man, who had a look of authority plastered on his face. Indeed, this was Example’s tour manager. I was escorted to a door, placed on a seat, and told to wait for my opportunity. Tens of minutes went past before I was allowed to enter the room. Then, suddenly, my time came. I walked through the door, down into another room, where he was sat, one leg up on a sofa, one leg on the ground, chewing his thumb. Here was Example.

With five studio albums and millions of records sold, he stood up, shook my hand, then sat back down. “Where are you from?” he asked me. “Wimbledon, near Putney”, I told him. “Ah yeah, I went to school near there.” It was at this moment that I knew Example was a cool guy.

He has had a pretty normal life; from going to school in Fulham, then Putney, and finally to university in London, where he studied film directing. He began his musical career as a garage MC, and even made his first concept-album in his uni’s film department. What were his influences, I wondered? “I suppose life-wise, my mum and dad have been a big influence. They’ve got a really strong work ethic, and my dad did very well in business against all the odds. That’s quite inspiring. Music-wise, I could go on for hours. It just changes every day, to be honest. It’s not like, I look at Jay Z and The Prodigy and Blur and go “Oh, I wanna be like you”. And there’s no similarity between any of those people with my music really.”

He was first introduced to hip-hop by Snoop Dogg. Or, more precisely, Snoop Dogg’s album artwork – “I bought it because of the artwork, but it was because I’d always loved poetry as a kid anyway, so when I heard his rapping, it was so fresh and different to anything I’d heard, and it was kind of naughty because I was year 11/12 listening to those lyrics. So it feels special, you know what I mean?“ But Snoop Dogg is not what first made Example rap. What made Example rap was “acceptance in the playground.”

His fifth album, ‘Live Life Living’, was recently released and criticised heavily, with NME giving it a 5/10, amongst others. It starkly contrasts with his first album, ‘What We Made’, but Example, real name Elliot Gleave (get it?), wasn’t bothered by this: “The first album, I’d say, was ‘interesting’, because I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I think even to listen to now it’s such a mess, but maybe that’s it’s charm. A lot of people like the fact that it’s just completely random; like all the subject matter, all the production. It’s a bit of an ‘all over the place’ album. The new album, I’d say, is the complete opposite. It’s more polished, you know what I mean? Maybe too polished, and not enough edge and excitement in places. They’re totally different. The three in between that were totally different. I think there’s a similarity between all my singles across the last album, but when you delve into the albums there’s so many songs that are completely different. There’s acoustic piano songs on one album, then thrash metal on another album.”

The majority of people see Example as the rapping-pop-singer who makes catchy radio and club songs. However, he wasn’t always in this lane; in fact, he used to be a grime artist. What is grime, you ask? Grime is a genre of underground UK hip-hop (which is becoming less and less underground), with garage-sounding beats, and typically harsh lyrics. Indeed, that was Example’s old-style. However, his new-style is primarily singing, and a lot less rapping: “The whole point of this album was kind of like, I wanted to see if I could do an album without rapping on it, and try and make it an album with just singing.” Not only this, but he also produced a lot more of his new album: “I tried to have my hand a lot more in the production as well. You know, it’s like an experiment in a way, but going forward I think I may just stick to the lyric side of things, and try and let the beats be completely done by someone else. I’m already getting ideas for the sixth album, but I kind of take it by a track-by-track basis now because no one’s really interested in albums anymore. Everybody wants the singles”, he said. “The die-hard fans want the albums, but by and large people just want singles to put on a playlist. So I could go and make the most exciting and interesting album ever, and do loads of rapping on it, and loads of reviews might say this album’s amazing, but people still won’t by the album; they’ll just buy their favourite songs off it.” He had a point. But, isn’t this quite a similar situation for all artists? The “die-hard fans” are found for every artist, and those who occasionally listen only tend to like one or two songs.

I sensed he had a slightly negative attitude towards this new album, and towards the music industry in general. Did he have any problems creating this new album, I wondered: “Mmm. Only with the label. Because I’ve got a certain idea about what I wanna do, and like, “yeah let’s do this”, but the label are like “nah, let’s do this”. Whereas I didn’t really have that problem before. When I made albums two, three and four with Ministry of Sound, there wasn’t that much interference. It was basically just working to make certain songs better. Whereas with Sony, there was probably three or four people having an opinion, which I don’t think really works for me. I’m not that kind of artist. And I think even now they’ve all realised that they’re best to just leave me to my own devices, and let me kind of do my own thing. With an artist like me, as well, I’m kind of an oddball artist, with my look, my sound, my appearance. Where I fit in the music industry, I’m a bit of an anomaly. So I’m not the sort of artist that can really be guided. I’m the sort of person who needs to find their own way.”

But this shouldn’t bother him too much. Example tours across the world, and plays a huge amount of festivals every year. In fact, he was more recently announced to play the Future Music Festival in Australia, so I enquired as to how he was feeling about that. “I’m excited, yeah.” I then asked him the obvious question, who’s better: the UK crowds, or the Australian crowds? “They’re quite similar to the UK crowds. I mean, the best crowds in the world are usually Ireland and Scotland, just because they’re completely bonkers wherever you go, you know what I mean? But you know, if you go to a gig in Manchester, it isn’t that different from going to a gig in Sydney. People are just a bit more tanned over there, and you know, less clothes. They don’t have all the rain and the storms, and the mud like our festivals. I just love it because it’s such an amazing country to tour. It’s amazing scenery, good people, great food. You know, they really look after you over their on their festival circuit. It’s amazing” – I’m going to leave that fight undecided… UK 0 – 0 Australia.

Photo by Anoosh Djavaheri

Example worked with award-winning producer Stuart Price on this album. Price has worked with some huge names, such as The Killers, Coldplay, and even Madonna. I asked Example how this came about, and how the experience was: “It came about because I just met him randomly. I was introduced to him, and I said “let’s get together”, which is quite a unique approach because a lot of people nowadays are put in with people like him. He’s not the kind of guy you meet out and about. He’s not like a big DJ on festival circuits, because a lot of people I’ve worked with over the years, I’ve met them on tour. He’s not the sort of guy you’d expect to meet on tour, because he’s got his family, and he lives at home, and he produces from home. He’s not like on the road on a laptop. Yeah, he’s probably like one of the most successful British producers over the last ten years. So it was an honour to work with him.”

The gig itself was great. Example had mountains of
energy and enthusiasm, and was great at interacting with the crowd. Not only this, but his performance was also on point – his singing impressed me a lot more than I expected it to. The only downside, however, was the crowd itself. Don’t get me wrong, they were loving him, but there weren’t that many of them. It was a small venue, I understand that, but there was undeniably a small turnout. However, I suppose this was to be expected; it’s York, not Leeds or London.

Indeed, Example is thinking about his sixth album at the moment. Not only this, but he’s also approaching his eleventh year in the music business. What would he tell his younger self? “I don’t think I’d change anything, you know. Because, I’ve kind of, I’ve made loads of mistakes, but I’ve learned from all of them. I’ve never made the same mistake twice. Arguably, I could go back to my younger self and say “don’t do drugs”, but then some of my best songwriting came out of taking drugs, you know, four/five years ago. And likewise, I might have said to myself “don’t make a song like that”, but then without making that song, I wouldn’t have learnt from it, and bounced back with a completely different song. So, creatively or personal-life wise, there’s not really anything I would have done differently, because I wouldn’t be who I am now, and I’m really happy now, you know what I mean?”

Would he ever go back to his roots? A while back, Example did a song with grime artist Mikill Pane, and also with Scroobius Pip. I wanted to know, not only would he ever go back to doing grime, but also would he ever do more collaborations with grime artists: “I’m up for collabos. The thing with collabos is, people don’t really hit me up for collabos any more, and then I bump into them, and they’re like “ah damn. If I had known you’re up for it…”. I think people just assume I’m too busy, or I’m constantly travelling, and haven’t got time for collabos. Cos’, you know, if you look at my Instagram, I’m always on a plane, or in a foreign country, or busy. So it’s like, maybe people think “I’ll get someone who’s not so busy”. But, with Mikill Pane, I met him through Ed Sheeran. I thought he was really talented, he asked me into the studio to go and record that, enjoyed doing it. But you know, there’s other people, whether it was Jammer, or Giggs, or P Money. These people wanna do tunes, then you know, I’ve already done a song with Giggs, I’ve done a song with P money, which is unreleased at the moment. But anyone in the grime or rap world, there’s a lot of people I rate. Like Skepta, and P Money, and JME. People have asked me in the past, but I’m either too busy or maybe they don’t wanna work with me at this particular moment. I don’t think people have someone on their hit list. It’s just whatever feels right at the time, but I have admittedly been too busy in the past to do these things.”

I could see he was in to his grime, as I expected. “How do you think grime is doing at the moment?” I asked him. “I think it’s having like a second coming, isn’t it? There’s some exciting records out there. I think the good thing with grime is like, to listen to lyrically, it’s not only impressive, it’s really funny. Because some of the shit they say is hilarious, because it’s so different to everything the Americans talk about. A lot of the grime artists might take their careers seriously, and their ambitions, they don’t really take their lyrics overly-too seriously, you know what I mean? They have fun with it. It makes them seem down to earth and accessible, which is good. It’s interesting to see, we have this second wave now, because the first wave was Dizzee and Lethal Bizzle, and off the back of that was Tinchy Stryder and that, and now there’s the second wave. But these people coming in the second wave have been around since the first wave. It’s one of my favourite genres. I listen to it all the time.”

Example has had massive hits, and massive albums. All of his albums have differed, and all have different sounds. I asked him how he thinks his newest album will differ from his most recent: “I don’t know. I think there will definitely be more rapping on it. But I just want to go away and make something exciting. I’m not necessarily worried about making an EDM song, or a pop song, or a song for radio. I’m just going to go away and make the most exciting music I’ve ever done and see what comes out of it. The thing with my style of writing is, I’m always going to try and write something catchy, so I’m never going go and do something that isn’t good, you know what I mean? That isn’t accessible.  But lyrically and musically, I want to do something exciting. When I think back to where my frame of mind was at when I wrote ‘Stay Awake’, I didn’t try and write a pop song, or even a club song. I just tried to make an exciting song, and ‘Stay Awake’ ended up being number one. So I kind of need to get back to that head space. Cos I think with the pressure from my label on this last album, there were certain times where they were trying to feed my ideas of “you have to go write a hit”, and that’s not right for me.”

It will be interesting to see what direction Example takes with his new album. His mindset, I believe, is right. He doesn’t want to make a ‘certain type’ of song; all he wants to do is make exciting music. Whether this music will be good or bad is another question, and I suppose it depends on where his creativity takes him. It will be interesting to see who he collaborates with in the future, and whether he will incorporate more rap or grime in his music, or whether he will take a more deep house, EDM, or dance route. However, there is one thing I can safely say about Example’s next album: there will not be much rapping on it, but there will be a lot of singing.