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Gareth Emery Opens Up on New Album, Sobriety & Drugs in Dance Music

Gareth Emery 2016
Courtesy Photo

Gareth Emery 

English trance artist dishes on his past drug use and the dangers of social media

To talk about his new album, 100 Reasons To Live, transplanted Angeleno Gareth Emery suggests we meet at Mel’s Drive In on Sunset Blvd. deadmau5 is also a Mel’s fan and Emery mentions over breakfast how he can’t compete with Joel Zimmerman in social media. Perhaps not, but Emery is starting to rival the intelligent and candid Zimmerman and Moby in terms of interviews.

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During our conversation, Emery, now a family man, opens up on why he is now sober when he DJs but doesn’t fault fans who do party (“So, for me, to spend a night around drunk people when I’m stone cold sober is pretty f--king difficult. So I think there’s just the peer pressure thing, if you’re sober and all your friends are drunk they’re gonna piss you off.”), his steps to self-improvement and why he's had enough of social media management.

We were just talking about sunrises. I feel like watching the sunrise has got to be one of the hundred reasons to live.

Hundred percent, I’m very into the bookends of the day, sunrise and sunset. I tend to see more sunsets than sunrise due to my occupation. If I see sunrise it’s usually because I’ve still been up from the night before. But most clubs in America finish at 2 am, so even if the club closes at 2, I’m probably in bed by 2:30. I’m not generally an after party type person these days, very few occasions.

But I know sometimes it can be very hard to unwind after a show and go straight to bed.

That’s why, if I have an interview, I always try and schedule them after the show cause you have a natural high after the show, the adrenaline is pumping, and it’s pretty f--king impossible to sleep. You start doing these boring things like not drinking caffeine during the shows, that definitely wipes off half an hour. If you drink Red Bull, that shit does its job far too f--king well, I’m not getting to sleep before 5 or 6 am, I’ve f--king learned that one. The reason all DJs drink during the shows is it makes easier to sleep afterwards. Walk off stage and you’re sober, it’s f--king hard to sleep when that adrenaline is going.

So give us a few more DJ secrets.

If I never had to wake up the next morning, a pint of red wine would be my preferred thing to have before bed. But honestly I’m so boring these days. I used to drink every show when I first started. I’m British, we like to drink. At that time it was just like twenty shows a year cause I wasn’t playing much, then it became like 50, then it became like 100. And I was like, “F--k it, I’m drinking a hundred times a year for work, plus how many times I go out socially, this is far too much drinking.” So I kind of learned to break the connection in my head between DJing and drinking and now unless I’ve got friends coming out, I'm stone cold sober. I play a better set and I have more fun as well. My rider is like coconut water, no alcohol beers. Promoters laugh at me.

I feel like most DJs these days are more like you.

I feel like you have to be these days because of the way the industry has changed. You used to be able to rage and have a great career 'cause that’s how everyone was. These days, because the industry has become so big and mainstream, there are so many incredibly talented and hungry kids who are 17, 18 years old, as talented as us old f--kers and willing to work harder than we ever did at their age. And they want it so much that they’re not drinking or taking drugs, they’re working 24/7. So we have to work hard to still be relevant and have careers, which is a good thing. It’s raised the standard in a massive way and anybody that didn’t have enough talent or didn’t want to work hard enough is now gone. It's honestly made my music better because it’s so much more competitive. I used to release one or two records a year and that was enough. These days, not anymore. So the main reason for not drinking and partying too hard, I want to be up 8:30 or 9 am the morning after and either working on some music or working out what I’m going to do next. It’s a hustle.

When so many of the artists in the scene don’t do drugs and party why do so many fans still do so?

There are two answers to that. First, if you look at molly, it's a pretty f--king amazing drug. I haven’t taken it myself in over a decade, but I remember it was pretty unbelievable the times I took it. It wasn’t a good drug for me because I didn’t like the other side of it. I didn’t like feeling like I wanted to kill myself on a Wednesday afternoon. And I realized that going out and taking that drug every weekend led to certain other things in my personal and professional life not going as well as I would have liked. But I do totally get people doing it, and it makes music sound f--king amazing. It also means you can go out and listen to music that’s not amazing and it still sounds amazing. So that’s why people do that drug. When it comes to alcohol, most other people, at least in nightclubs, are doing it. If you’re going to a club, I think it’s fine to be sober if most other people are sober. But if you’re sober and everyone else is drunk, it’s pretty f--king annoying. 

What were some of the things that made you realize drugs weren’t good for you?

There’s a point you realize the additional high you get from the drug is not worth the additional low you get from the comedown, it’s just not worth it. I do also think, and I don’t want to sound anti-drug cause I’m not, you get a more pure enjoyment of the music when you’re not f--king wasted. You are more discerning when you're sober. You make better musical choices and better choices for the future with a clear head.

Are there lessons you hear on this album from past mistakes you made or past things you did?

Yeah, I think life is a lesson. It took me a long time to realize that, for a lot of my life I’d been, "I shouldn’t have done that,” whereas now I try to learn lessons every day about how to be a better producer, musician and better person, better family man and enjoy life more. And that was partly where the album was coming from, I was trying to enjoy my life a little bit more. Surrounded by all this success I wasn’t always that happy, so I’ve become very, and it sounds like a weird, Californian thing to say, into self-improvement over the past few years. And you make these small incremental steps and it works. And after two or three years on my team say, “You were a nightmare to work for three years ago, but now you’re a pretty cool boss.” 

What are the areas you feel you’ve improved on this album?

I think the songwriting is a lot better. For this album, I wanted every track to touch somebody in some way. I realized my passion for making music was to make tracks that people play at their weddings or their funerals or whatever, music to accompany life, like the best music has been for me. So we had a real focus on writing more like timeless music, but a lot of that was just getting back to being a musician. And it’s the music industry, not the social media industry and not the touring industry and it’s really f--king easy, once you become well established, for your life to become Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat. For years, I would say I spent more time being a social media persona than being a musician. I’ve asked myself some pretty tough questions over the past two years about what I wanted to be and I was like, “What are my strengths? Is it being somebody on social media? Is that really my strength, being a social media socialite, whatever you’d call it?”

There are people out there that do that a lot better for me. deadmau5, for one, is f--king exceptional at always being online and always being first to comment when some shit goes down and he’s done very well. Why I am trying to compete in an area that ain’t really me? So, really in the past couple of years I handed over anything that I could hand over to other people. I reclaimed that time back for myself and used it for music. So I probably spend ten times more time in the studio now than I did before.

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