Back in his native UK to tour hit new album Drive, LA-based DJ Gareth Emery is one of the hottest properties in dance right now. Ahead of his show at the O2 Academy Leeds live shows, he spoke to Mark Butler about the epic road-trip that inspired him, winning back disgruntled fans, and why he almost quit music eight years ago.
Hi Gareth. How’s the tour going?
“It’s been good! It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been rewarding. The shows have been amazing. It’s been nice to come back for so long: to be able to go to my favourite restaurants and enjoy the trappings of home.”
Would you say it’s a particularly special run of shows for you, then?
“Definitely. It’s been a hard 18 months finishing the album, so to have had it successfully received and now be touring on home turf is great.”
You seem to be greatly in demand these days. How are you finding the whole ‘superstar DJ’ lifestyle?
“That depends! It’s glamorous to a degree. You get to go to a lot of nice places, and I’ve flown in private jets. But there’s so much hard work that goes into it. I’m often surrounded by glamour, but there’s actually no time to enjoy it!
“I might be staying in the most beautiful city on Earth, but I’m usually sat in my hotel room writing music on my laptop or doing my radio show.”
You swapped the UK for LA a little while ago. How’s life out in California?
“It’s great. The main reason I did it was to cut down on all the travel. Things blew up in the US for me, and I’d been flying out there on weekends to play a few shows, then coming back, then flying out again a few days later etc. It made sense to be out there. But my office is still in Manchester, and most of my crew are still here.
“It’s great out there. So chilled, and so many talented people and top studios. You’re definitely spoiled as a creative person in LA. Plus the weather’s not too bad either!”
Your new album Drive has been a big hit. Have you been blown away by the response to the record?
“Yeah. Definitely. In terms of my relationship with my fanbase, it came at a difficult time. We’d had two years of not getting on very well. Since my first record, if you’d have asked one of my fans at the beginning of the year about me, they’d have said: ‘He hasn’t released anything for ages, and the stuff he has released I didn’t like’.
“I’ve gone back to doing things I’m really passionate about. It’s amazing how well it’s re-connected me with people who were into my music.
“I think it’s because it’s genuine. It came from the heart, and the story behind it came from a very real place.”
What is the story behind it?
“An American road-trip. At the beginning of 2013, me and my wife flew to New York, rented a hire car, and then drove across the entire country to LA.
“I’d never seen the middle of America before, and it was an amazing thing. The scenery blew me away. It was like being in a film. We came across old motels in the middle of nowhere; we were the only car on the road for hours. We drove through snow, desert, mountains, prairies. The visual aspect was very inspiring.
“During the road trip my head was full of all these melodies. I was singing into my phone at every hotel. We literally just set off and ended up wherever we ended up from one day to the next, and I think that spontaneity and sense of adventure really comes through on the record.”
For the last few years you’ve been widely regarded as one of the best DJs in the world. Is that a lot of pressure on your shoulders?
“Yeah. There’s definitely pressure to deliver. I don’t feel it behind the decks though: I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m comfortable that my show is good. We work a lot on the production, and really try to make it a concert rather than just a dude playing records.
“But the industry definitely puts pressure on you. Half the battle is making it, but then you’ve got to stay there. The people on the business side will make it difficult for you as an artist.
“Since finishing Drive, I’ve started to change my life. I spend most of my time writing music, and far less worrying about social media and the business side. You don’t need to be in a rat race. Just get back to basics – and focus on the music.”
May 25, O2 Academy, Leeds, 10pm, £22.50, http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/ZDH2505?brand=o2academyleeds&camefrom=AMG_LEEDS_DIGITALSOCIETY