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Example: 'I Ended Up With A Brisbane-produced, UK-centric Album'

17 June 2022 | 10:09 am | Carley Hall

“We're still kind of struggling to let Australia know not only that I live there but I pretty much consider myself Australian,”

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After nearly 20 years on the scene, dance icon Example has notched up album no.8. In between family life, squashing toads and appearing on cooking shows, he tells Carley Hall his latest is his best so far.

The textbook expat life in Australia didn’t end in the usual fashion for British-born lad Elliot Gleave – it’s a cliché (but hardly atypical) for Brits to see out their working visas after a few seasons of farm work or marry a local. However, it’s not far off what really transpired for Gleave, better known now as hit maker Example. He did indeed get a few years of gardening under his belt, and he did tie the knot (with a former Miss Universe and Neighbours star no less). 

But there’s a vast difference between how other expats played their cards and what Gleave ended up achieving for himself. Capitalising on his natural musical ability and quick wit opened the doors to a music career that has spanned nearly two decades, seven albums and brought thousands of sweaty punters to his feet – and theirs – at major headline slots around the world.

Despite all this, the jovial inner London native said even his adopted country still seems to be unaware that one of hip house’s biggest names lives the life Down Under. 

“We're still kind of struggling to let Australia know not only that I live there but I pretty much consider myself Australian,” he laughs.

“I’ve even learnt to run over cane toads when I drive down to my parents on the Gold Coast.”

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His ascent to the top of the charts and top of the minds of hungry ravers has seen him work alongside major players like Fraser T Smith (Adele) and Calvin Harris for standout albums like Playing In Shadows , and notch up slots at Glastonbury, the O2 and Global Gathering. Not to mention take on comedian Matt Lucas in a recent season of The Great Celebrity Bake Off - and winning.

But Gleave more often has one foot firmly planted in family life these days. School runs and beach trips with wife Erin McNaught and their two young boys are now the norm in between albums and shows. In fact, when The Music chats with Gleave he’s in London for a short run of gigs around the UK but missing the chaos of family life.

“You see other people with their kids and you’re missing yours, you’re watching kids’ TV shows without them, you hear a baby screaming,” he said. 

“It's like Stockholm Syndrome, isn't it? They drive you nuts but you can't live without them.”

The steady stream of music making and touring since his first humble release back in 2004 came to an abrupt halt once the pandemic struck, as it did for many artists in Australia and around the world. For some creatives, lockdowns meant that feet were much taken off the gas when it came to producing tracks. For Gleave, it instead provided an environment to fight the mundanity through music. And tattoos, notching up his first between lockdowns then ending up on an ink bender.

“I got seven in one go. And then another 10. And then more. so now I've got 39, one for each year I've lived so far. But I'm gonna have to get another six or seven. Because otherwise it'd be weird if I just stopped at 40 tattoos,” he laughs.

“If you don't get them until you're this age, you've actually had time to think about them - think about what they mean, sketch up some ideas, and they'll still look good when I'm 106. Most people that get them younger, by the time they're 40, they've got a Bart Simpson tattoo that looks like a Minion.”

With touring out the window as lockdowns closed borders around him, work began on his latest album, We May Grow Old But We Never Go Back. With producer James Angus (Last Dinosaurs, The Veronicas) at the helm and a co-writer in Brook Toia, aka Penny Ivy, at Angus’s studio in Brisbane, Gleave said his most Australian-produced release is his best to date.

“I was blown away by James,” he said.

“I'd say the best producers I've ever worked with are the ones who play keyboard or guitar or both. They’re just always very quick in terms of their plug-ins, you know. 

“The way they treat a vocal, the way they choose to start; it’s very intuitive. 

“But also, I've always enjoyed working with people where I can hum something usually out of key or very badly - the bass line or a string section, you know – and they just get it.

“So, I ended up with a Brisbane-produced, UK-centric album - it's garage, drum and bass, drill, it’s got big bangers, ballads, everything.” 

Despite the humble set-up of Angus’s studio – “it’s kind of like the cleaning cupboard in a school, you know?” – Gleave and the crew made the most of it, producing 25 songs in 18 months. Among the 15 tracks making the cut for album no.8 was new single Deep featuring vocalist Nono. It was a jam-packed recording experience, but Gleave insists it slotted in conveniently with his day-to-day life.

“I dropped the kids at school at like 8:30am, was in the gym by 9:30, in the studio by like 10:15 – most days I'd write a chorus or verse within the first half-hour, then break for lunch and get a pizza or steak or burger in a pub downstairs,” he explains.

“So, a lot of pizzas and burgers went into this album.”

“I think COVID was good to me in the end - I got an album out of it, which felt like it put me back into mode.”

We May Grow Old But We Never Go Back is out June 17.