By Paul Salfen
For Gareth Emery, touring may have stopped but the hustle has not. He’s got a new album to promote, live streams, a book to work on, more music on the way, and some pretty timely merch to sell. The British-born producer, DJ, and classically trained musician has been around music his entire life and it’s been his constant source of creative outlet and livelihood. Emery played in a punk band, ran a nightclub, and ran a record label before he broke through in 2002 to critical acclaim.
Now with The Lasers, his fourth album, Emery’s life is different. He just turned 40, he’s a family man living in LA, and he strives for better in the world with his charitable Electric For Life brand. He’s no longer incredibly outspoken about things that bother him in the industry and somehow maintains his sunny disposition despite the times. Calling from home on a summer afternoon when he would normally likely be playing a big festival in front of thousands of people, he says, “I’m doing my best to make the most of quarantine and lockdown, but I’m pretty good, man. Definitely an interesting year. Not one I would have chosen if I had a plie of options presented to me in January but we make do with what we’ve got.”
Here’s more from Emery:
Flipping From Collaborating to Writing His Own Music
Flipping From Collaborating to Writing His Own Music
With the release of his long-awaited and fourth album titled “THELASERS”, expect to hear a captivating change of sound from Gareth Emery on his upcoming project. Stepping away from traditional DJ routes of endless collaborations and songwriters, the artist is proud to have written every song on the album himself.
Additionally, Gareth will be bringing his highly anticipated “THELASERS” album to over 25 cities to launch a one-of-a-kind tour which will feature an unprecedented live setup and stage production.
Making this album felt like being in a band again, notbeing a DJ, It’s without doubt the best thing I’ve everdone.– GARETH EMERY
AMFM Magazine: The Lasers is a great album, but not entirely what we would expect from you – in the best possible way.
Gareth Emery: Thank you so much, man. This almost went back to my pre-dance music days of being in a band. With other albums there were a lot of different players and collaborations but with this one, I was like, “I want to write the songs myself, I want to write the lyrics myself – which I’ve never really done before, and have one vocalist for the whole thing to give it that consistency you get when it’s a band.” So hearing that what you just said is amazing.
AMFM: You’ve got to be pretty excited because the rest of the world will hear it all soon but the first few tracks out there have gone over really well.
GE: Yeah, which is mad because when you work on something for a long time, a lot of the excitement comes in the early stages when you finish the songs and you don’t listen to them for a while and you kind of forget about them. A couple of days ago, I listened to the whole thing from beginning to end, which I hadn’t done in a couple of months and I was like, “Shit, man, this is good. People are going to like this when it comes out. It’s just so easy to forget when you’re in that promotional grind.
AMFM: Is that one singer you mentioned Annabel?
GE: Exactly, yeah. She began just singing a demo for me and just had such a great emotional tone to her voice and whatever she sung, she just injected that feeling that she really believed those words, even if they might not be her words, which is what I was looking for and the moment I heard her I was like, “Yeah, we need to write more songs for her” [laughs]and it ended up becoming the whole album.
AMFM: Where did you find her?
GE: So I was working with a guy who was the co-writer of my whole album, just a guy to help me punch up a few of my songs – a guy named Anthony Galatis who is based in London, and I think it was “End of Days,” which is one of the last songs on the album, originally we were going to look for, like, three feature vocalists or pop stars to sing it or whatever and we needed a demo and we’re both terrible singers and I said, “Can you get a singer over here?” and he said, “Well, I know this one vocalist and she’s still in school – she’s only 18, but she’ll be finishing at 4pm but I’ll send her a text and see.” So she literally came over straight from school and when she sang the demo, it became pretty clear that nobody was going to sing it better than her and that’s how it started.
AMFM: One of the standouts is “Gunshots” and it is pretty striking given the times.
GE: Yeah, that is a song we’re releasing that I was not planning on releasing. That was a song I wrote obviously last year it it was written about various periods of civil unrest and I felt like we were hurting and was utterly depressing and I kind of imagined – being an optimist by nature, when the time came to release the song, the world would be happy [laughs]and we would all be doing well and everyone would be getting along with each other and “Gunshots” would just sit buried in the album where no one would notice it. Then when everything happened with the pandemic and obviously the protests and unrest we’ve seen over the past two weeks, I’m like, “Man, I just need to put that song out there” so we actually released that song on Friday and given the nature of the song, we didn’t make an official video and we won’t be doing any proper promotion of it because it’s not something I want to capitalize on but I’m just going to say with everything going on – and I don’t like being overly political and stuff because it’s not really why people follow me, but this song is all I can really say.
AMFM: And “You’ll Be OK” seems to be pretty timely, too.
GE: That one, funny enough, was written when a few times I was on a plane and thought the plane was going to crash. You fly a couple hundred times a year and you’re going to get a few scary occasions from time to time and I definitely had my few. One was an emergency landing and another was a cabin filled with smoke and in those occasions, I wrote a letter to my wife or girlfriend or whatever and basically said, “If this plane goes down, you’ll be ok” and that was kind of the theme or mood to take into the song. But obviously when we released the song, the world had changed and we had just gone into lockdown and this whole Coronavirus seemed way worse than we all thought and for a completely different reason, it turned out to be the song the world needed.
AMFM:You seem to know what the world needs. I like that you’re giving away a “stimulus check” of $1,200.
GE: Yeah, we’ve been doing various competitions and I’m always trying to find out the feedback from the people that support me and one thing that people consistently said is “Times are fucking hard. What we need is money.” [Laughs] So, ok, we’ll give away some cold hard cash. If that’s what the people want, we’ll do it.
AMFM: Also, it’s nice that you’ve been able to entertain people at home while they’re stuck there with virtual concerts.
GE: It is strange, it is tough. I don’t see it as a sustainable future. For me, it’s a band-aid and we’ll be fine this year. I like being in front of an actual crowd, I like traveling and all of the associated things that come with doing a real live show. Interestingly, we did two pay-per-view streams, which pretty much no one else did in dance music mainly because I wanted to explore how some sort of permanent solution would look. If it turned out that live gigs weren’t coming back for years and years, it would be very difficult to make money streaming on YouTube or Twitch or whatever. I was willing to step up and go, “You know what? We’re going to do a full production thing, we’re going to put together a full laser rig in my back garden, have multiple cameras, and do something that’s like a real concert. We’re going to do something above what anyone else is doing but it’s going to cost $10 a ticket.” We actually got a great response. What I was most happy about is that a lot of people in our industry, while the artists can’t tour, a lot of people behind the scenes are struggling – the people that work in venues or production- we managed to create a lot of work for other people who didn’t have work at that time just by doing those shows. It was interesting, it was a good experience, but I just can’t wait to get back in front of a crowd.
AMFM: Have you been able to do any kind of music you didn’t expect from yourself given the times?
GE: Not really, mainly because it’s not been a time when I’ve been making a lot of music. When I’ve made an album, I’m mainly thinking about that and not new stuff. The moment the album is done, that’s when I’ll shift back to a production standpoint so then I’ll be more in the realm of songwriting and I am interested in trying singing. I’m not the greatest of singers but I am quite a great vocal producer and with the arsenal of technology that I have, there are improvements I can make to my voice but right now it’s mainly promoting the album. But I have been learning new skills like video editing was a pleasant surprise that I picked up this year.
AMFM: You’ve always been authentic and pretty vocal about things that don’t make sense in the industry and people respect that.
GE: Yeah, for me, it’s really about balance to be honest and especially these days, I try to listen more than I talk, particularly in a public setting. I don’t go out of my way to make statements or be on the frontlines mainly because we have a lot of angry, angry voices – and a lot of them have a reason to be angry, but we have a lot of angry people telling the world what they think and we have a lack of thinking people who are listening to what’s out there and trying to learn from it. These days you’ll probably only hear me speak out if there’s something I’m incredibly passionate about or if I feel like I have an insight that no one else has, otherwise I’m trying to keep my mouth shut for the most part and let the music do the talking, as is the case with “Gunshots.” Most people follow me because of the music and my insights around music and everything else I keep away from.
AMFM: Well, you did have some comedy thrown in there with your TV series CVNT5.
GE: [Laughs] That’s the thing, sometimes if I do have a serious point to make, sometimes something funny can be a good way to do it and when we did the TV series CVNT5 (which he pronounces cee-vee-en-tee-five) it started out as a semi-serious point about things we perceived in the industry but very soon became just pure comedy where we were laughing at stuff we had done ourselves. If you’re going to go down that road in comedy, you have to be able to laugh at yourself as well.
AMFM: That’s the British way, right?
GE: It is the British way and not everyone appreciates the British way [laughs]. Most people do, but there’s always a few people…the British sense of humor doesn’t spare feelings and it’s a style of humor that would be called “mean-spirited” by Americans but there’s a pretty good chunk of America that enjoys the British sense of humor and there’s a few that do not and we certainly heard from them, too.
AMFM: There are so many aspects in which a young DJ or producer could look up to you. What advice would you give them?
GE: Focus on the art. There’s a tendency to be overly focused on social media and the online game and often people do it before the art is good enough. In those early stages of your career, you should be putting almost all of your time into getting better in the studio, learning new techniques, perfecting your craft, and making art that is amazing. Because honestly, when the art is amazing, all of the other stuff is much, much easier. You can be a social media expert with your Instagram and doing your 10 TikToks a day or whatever, but if the music you’re making isn’t good enough, you’re never going to get to where you want. I think that stuff takes care of itself a lot more than people think when the art is good and there’s not many people saying that. Most people in the industry are probably like, “You gotta be doing TikToks and your story” because that will become important, but in the beginning, make the tunes really fucking good. That will do the rest of it for you.
AMFM: On Drew Pearson Live, I always asked people their Hail Mary Moment, the moment in their life or career where they just had to go for it and it worked out. What was that for you?
GE: I feel there are so many and every year there’s a few. To do this new record, I left the record label that I was at the last five or ten years. That was a big deal leaving a very safe place whereby I knew that a certain success was guaranteed but I knew I wouldn’t have the creative freedom to release this record and probably wouldn’t be able to get to the heights that I had hoped I would eventually be able to get to. Definitely leaving that label was a big part in making this album but it happens often, right? Every time we choose to throw a big show, there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake and if nobody buys a ticket, we stand to lose serious amounts of money, so you gotta gamble. I’m a big believer in taking those gambles but one of my favorite business mentors, Richard Branson said that you have to take the big gambles, just cap the downside. Figure out that if it goes fucking wrong, minimize the damage to yourself as best you can but just go for it.
AMFM: So do you think we’ll get to see you tour for this album? Do you feel it’s going that way?
GE: I hope so, yeah. Honestly, I was nervous. When this whole virus thing kicked off – and I don’t want to understate the severity of the virus because it’s clearly really fucking bad and I’ve had people – friends, their parents and stuff die from it, so I take it seriously like I think everyone should do. That said, I’ve never seen a concerted global fear and I was fucking nervous. When would we be allowed to open venues again? We’ve been having this constant fear and projected speculations, some of which are speculative, like, are people going to want to go out again or are people going to be too fucking scared of other human beings? When we saw the Black Lives Matter protests over the last several weeks, whilst it was a terrible, terrible thing that led to these protests happening, it gave me some hope. With the younger generation, when it’s important to them, they’re going to come out and they’re going to gather in mass numbers and they’re not going to give a fuck what anybody says. That gave me some real hope for the future of our business. It’s going to happen hopefully sooner than later but we’ve got a lot of steps to climb down the ladder, like in California you have to wear a mask when you leave the house and there’s a long way to go from standing shoulder to shoulder with someone at a rave but I think we’re seeing positive signs and who knows? Maybe later this year or early next year we’re going to get there. And man, the tour for The Lasers is going to be insane.
AMFM: Just like your shirt says, “We’ll be OK.”
GE: We’ll be OK, man. And yeah, I’m always excited to get back to Texas. Amazing, amazing fans there no matter what the city is and we get a fantastic response. Part of the reason I’ve invented this new project The Lasers is because the production is the sickest laser production we’ve ever had and just as we started, I was having some real fun playing around with some new technologies which had never really been done by anybody else so we’ve been put back a year to a year and a half with everything that’s been going on but when we come back and do it, man, there’s going to be some crazy shit there.
For more information, go to GarethEmery.com.