Joe McElderry talks new album, X Factor, Simon, Cheryl and Gaga!

Words by Jon G

A boiling hot afternoon in some rather posh record company offices. Diet Coke for Mr McElderry, strong cup of tea for Maximum Pop!  No sugar, please. Let’s talk…

Here’s What I Believe is your fourth album. How would you describe it in three words? You are allowed to elaborate on each of the words.

Personal – I did a lot of songwriting and it’s the first album I’ve had writing input.
Growth – with what I’ve learnt since Popstar To Operastar and touring, my vocals are a lot stronger now and they’re showcased quite a lot on the album.
Emotional – the lyrics are strong and I think people might cry a little bit!

Do you have a favourite track?
‘What Have I Done’ is about when you’ve ended a relationship with somebody and before you can move on you need the answers. It can be a girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend, family member. There are some lyrics in there that wouldn’t relate to a family member –  “lying by your side”…

That would be a very different type of song, Joe.
Haha! When you’ve had a row with somebody and the contact goes, sometimes the most difficult thing is that you just don’t talk to them anymore and it’s ended horribly.

Do your lyrics come from your own experiences?
Sometimes you don’t want to write all about you. With ‘Here’s What I Believe’, the song, so many of my friends had been cheated on and I’d heard so many stories: “he was seeing another girl for six months”, you know. I’ve experienced that as well, it’s horrible when you get cheated on. So that was more taking in information from other people.

Well now they know you’re listening for gossip, they might not tell you everything! In the writing process, is it lyrics or melodies first?
I did a writing camp and a lot of that was melody first, then lyrics. I prefer to write lyrics first because you’re not as limited. If you have some lyrics down you can’t say “well that doesn’t fit to that tune”; you make the music fit to the lyrics.

As your writing develops are you looking to include less cover versions on future albums?
I think so, but with the covers on this album we’ve been really clever and not picked obvious ones that people would expect me to do.

‘Skyscraper’ by Demi Lovato will be known by obsessive pop fans but it might be a new song to most listeners.
That song had slipped under the radar in the UK and it’s so powerful that it deserves to be well known. I hope people enjoy it! Also, I said that if we’re going to do covers on this album, they have to be completely different to the originals. I’ve done the carbon copies now. With these ones I wanted to totally change them.

Well, it’s difficult with opera or Christmas songs to stray too far from the versions people know…
Yeah, those two albums were kind of concept albums so you had to fit to the concept. With the Christmas one you couldn’t start doing a disco version of ‘Mary’s Boy Child’!

The album reminds us of your time on X Factor in that it’s quite a “mature pop” sound.
This is the album that I always should have made. It’s poppy but it’s not overly produced. I suppose it’s what I am! If you come along to my live show I’m very much about not trying to dress things up too much, just belting some tunes out and I wanted to do that. The inspiration for lots of this album was Lady Antebellum and Carrie Underwood and those country and western, hooky melodies with clever lyrics.

On X Factor you were more of a George Michael, Will Young type artist, all about the vocals, etc. Then the Wide Awake album came out and it was very…
…overproduced! It was quite Europoppy with some American pop ballads. I’m really proud of that album, I love it and there’s some great songs on there. At the time we fit to a brief because we’d found ‘Ambitions’ and we were going for it as the single. Had that song not been found the album probably would have been totally different. That happens sometimes. You get a song you think is going to be a hit and make everything fit to it. If I was to do it again I wouldn’t have had the vocals produced as much.

Yes, on ‘Someone Wake Me Up’ there was a really ludicrous Auto-Tune moment before the final chorus that felt rather unnecessary.
Yeah. I think we just tried to test things out a bit. It’s a great pop album but it shocked a lot of people. They were like, “where’s his voice?”

You did a video shoot the other day for ‘Here’s What I Believe’. How important is the visual side of your music? 1 being “I suppose we’d better do a video if we want the song to be played on TV”, 10 being Lady Gaga’s attention to image.
I’m very precise with my image but I’m quite a laid-back, reserved person so you’d never see us like Lady Gaga because I’m not that type of artist and I sometimes feel it does distract. There’s times I watch Lady Gaga, who is incredible, and I just wish she’d wear a plain dress. She’s got such a good voice that she doesn’t need to do “all of that”. Image is important and I got creatively involved in this video. I suppose I’m a 10 but in a different way. I’m very “on” with what I want to look like but it’s not as full-on as Lady Gaga!

You’ve won X Factor and Popstar To Operstar. What do you think about talent shows in general?
People will disagree with this and say “X Factor ruins the industry” but it’s hard to come from the North East and get into the music industry. It’s not as plain sailing as “I’m going to put a band together” so talent competitions are a way in for a lot of normal people who have a bit of talent. I don’t know how that’s become frowned upon. It’s quite shallow to slag it off because every popstar started off as a normal person with a dream.

You’ve been quite vocal recently about former X Factor contestants who’ve dissed the show.

I don’t want to say “you used the show” but they used that show as a platform to get where they are and it’s quite nasty and spiteful to then go, “well actually I don’t want to be associated with it anymore”. I also think it’s pretty stupid because your fanbase voted for you on that show, so are you calling your fans stupid? I think it’s silly.

Having moved on from Syco, was there ever a point where you felt let down by the X Factor?
No. Simon Cowell never was responsible for my career. I’m responsible for that. He was a business partner in my first album, like any label is! They invest money and put time in and if it works it works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. I didn’t feel let down, I just thought, “thanks for the opportunity. I’ll see you around!” I still feel like that now. If I see Simon there’s no hard feelings between us.

Did it annoy you seeing the trailer for the new series with Alexandra and Olly and you hadn’t been invited to be in it?
Errrmm, you know, I’m signed to Universal and everybody that’s part of that trailer is part of Syco.

For now.
Well for now, for however long… Would I promote somebody that wasn’t signed to my label and could be seen as competition? Probably not. I’m not really that bothered. I take all these things with a pinch of salt and if there’s any underlying reasons why I’m not in there you’d have to ask Simon! I’m proud of X Factor and I have no issues with it.

Do you think the significance of being the winning contestant has changed?
Yes. The runners up can get on with what they want to do without much judgement. It’s becoming much more of a pressure for the winner. I work well under pressure so that was never a problem for me! But for some I think that’s where the problem lies.

Who do you predict will do well from last year’s lot?
I hope Little Mix will do well! I like Amelia Lily as well. She has a good song.

How have you changed since X Factor?
I’m stronger, gutsier and I enjoy myself more than I used to instead of stressing. At the end of the day, we’re not saving lives! We’re singing songs. I love what I do but I enjoy it, I don’t take myself too seriously.

Are there any aspects of fame that you dislike?
When people are negative. It used to be hurtful but now it’s annoying. Why would you bother? When people base their opinions on untrue facts it’s the most annoying thing EVER. People say I haven’t sold any records but it’s like hang on a minute, I’ve worked my backside off for two years and I’ve sold quite a lot of albums. But people base their opinion on the story that I left Syco nearly two years ago. It’s like, get over it! We’ve moved on from there, so when people keep dwelling on negative things from the past, I sometimes think, yawn! It’s really boring.

How is Hugo the rabbit getting on?
Hugo is really good! I feel guilty because I’m away all the time and he’s been staying with family friends who own his brother rabbit, but he comes home all the time. They’re very cute!

The deluxe edition of the new album includes a Joe McElderry tea towel. Please explain this.
That’s like a merchandise thing, a souvenir that people can have, and wave them around at the concert.

Has your mum got one yet?
She hasn’t. I would find it a little weird having a Joe McElderry tea towel in my house. It would be a little self-indulgent!

But it’s self-indulgent having that tea towel from primary school where everyone draws their portrait.
That’s true, haha!

Let’s talk Newcastle icons. Why is Cheryl Cole amazing?
She is a down-to-earth girl, she represents the North East, she’s a dignified lady and an amazing performer.

Newcastle Brown Ale?
I’ve never tasted it but apparently it’s an acquired taste. I’ve been all over the world and I’ve seen it on the top of a mountain in Colorado when skiing and in a beach bar in Florida. It’s great to have something that’s world famous!

Byker Grove?
Oh, I love Byker Grove. I used to live over the road from somebody from Byker Grove and I was obsessed with that fact. The one who fell out the window and ended up in a wheelchair.

Somebody seemed to die every series. It was quite traumatic.
It was very traumatic for children. I wish they would bring it back. I’d like a cameo!

Do you have a message for Maximum Pop! readers?
I hope they enjoy the new album and thanks for the support!

Thank you very much, Joe!

Here’s What I Believe (the album) is out on 10 September. ‘Here’s What I Believe’ (the song) is out now! Joe performs in Newcastle and London in September.


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