An Interview with EMPIRE OF THE SUN’S, Luke Steele!
Posted On 15 Sep 2014
Tag: Alive, All Access, All Access Music Group, Artist Interview, Australia, Coachella, Disneyland, Dumb And Dumber To, EDM, EMI Records, Empire Of The Sun, Farrelly Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Hi-5, Ice On The Dune, Korea, Lindsay Buckingham, Luke Steele, Nick Littlemore, Nobu, PCH, Peter Farrelly, Skrillex, Ultra Music Festival, Walking On A Dream
Formed in 2007, Empire of the Sun is an Australian electronic music duo from Sydney Australia. The band consists of two longtime collaborators, Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore.
Their award-winning, 2008 debut album Walking On A Dream shot the duo to international success and to date it has been certified double platinum in Australia and gold in the UK. Then in June 2013, they released their second album, Ice On The Dune.
Fresh off the treadmill, at 10:00 in the morning in Perth, Australia, Empire of The Sun front-man, Luke Steele took my call to discuss with me where the band has come from and where they have their eyes set off next.
Have you had any favorite festivals that you’ve played at so far or any great crowds that you’ve experienced?
I think that the show at Coachella. That festival of the year was kind of completely ridiculous and that stage was set from 2040 or something like that. You know, there’s that kind of that electricity that’s for the desert and there’s really nothing else like it.
AA: I actually have not been in all these years I’ve lived in LA. I know, it’s awful!
Oh Really? Wow… What are you doing?! That’s like living in Anaheim and never going to Disneyland!
So, you guys were recently in Korea? How was that? What did you guys do there?
It was really great. We played a show at the Ultra Music Festival. Actually, my buddy was there and we caught up a bit. I kinda went around Korea with a cinematographer and shot a lot of things.. like the Emperor in Seoul and that was really great. But yeah, it’s really exciting for the Empire because we are getting to be known in parts of Asia so it’s really interesting for us. The culture and customs. We are actually going to Malaysia in a few weeks. Yeah, we are starting to play a lot more places in Asian countries so it’s just great.
How long were you guys in Korea?
It was only 4 days but that’s kinda good for a tour because you usually are in a place for half a day only.
So how did you guys get involved with the Dumber and Dumber 2 soundtrack?
You know what, I was in New York City and I get this phone call from Peter Farrelly, you know, one half of the Farrelly brothers. And I was pretty shocked. And I said, is this a hoax? And he said no, it’s me. I’m in the same hotel as you. And he was chilling at the bar and he said he’s been a fan of our records.
We spent some time in New York so he came around the next day and we caught up at the hotel and we just asked and he kind of said, that would be awesome if you guys had the time. So yeah, he stuck to his word.
Were you a fan of the first film?
Oh yeah, it’s kind of like my favorite film! Yeah, I think they were my favorite movie director team. We’ve been fortunate in this band to have blessings like that happen.
How did you two first come together and decide that you wanted to form this band together?
We got introduced by a mutual friend who was actually the first guy who signed me at EMI Records when I was about 20. I guess he’s a bit of a musical matchmaker. He knew Nick through the dance music scene and he kind of organized for us to meet at a bar. We really got along and began work the next day. And that was back in about 2000. And then we sort of didn’t see each other for about 5 years. And then bout 2006, we decided to do a few more sessions. And by that point, both our respective bands had kinda grown a bit tired and needed to go into semi-retirement for a bit. And it seemed like a good chance to do something a bit more free. You know.. and without rules and regulations… I think in your 20s, the world or the jungle or the industry tries to conform you, or transform you and I think in our late 20s, we started Empire and we thought you know, we are trying to be cool and we work and we don’t care anymore.
How do you think your friendship with each other has grown over the years?
You know, I think its just getting stronger and stronger. We’ve been through a lot. Our second record was like, it wasn’t fun for either of us. It was a real wrestling match in every possible way. It was..The perils of success, fighting with the integrity of your soul.. It was really challenging and I think that was the biggest test. It really was. It was tense and if you can make it past the second one, you know you really have something.
We kind of understand now how it works a bit more. I think on the first record, we were pretty lucky, we were just having fun. We did the record for nothing and gave it to the company. The second record, we had the opportunity to travel to any studio around the world to work with anyone we wanted to and we kinda did. We recorded everywhere from The Neptunes in Miami, to Rico Love in Los Angeles to my studio in New Zealand and London. All these parts made it great. Everyone is the sum of it’s part made it great. I write melodies and chords. We dabble in each others paintings and we kinda realized that we all have a distinct role.
What music are you listening to? Any new artists that you are enjoying?
Well, I’m kinda a bit out of touch with what’s happening musically right now… Oh god, hmmm.. I can’t really think… I like sort of snippets of artists all around the world. I do love the stuff Skillrex is doing now. It sounds like something from 2060 or something…
I’ve read that you guys have said that Ice On The Dune is about escapism and like an exploration of the imagination. Can you explain a bit further? How is that different then the theme of Walking On A Dream?
Every song has a different kind of story to it. That’s kind of been what the band has been about. You know, there’s magic moments everywhere. When a boat has been shipwrecked and then the tide comes in and then it begins dancing again on the water. Or you know, there’s someone who has been paralyzed and then healed by the dancing hands of god and they walk again. Or a sickness being cured or a bird with a broken wing takes off. You know, we kinda of like want that sweetness. When you hear a song, it makes you feel warm,. Everyone has their song that takes them to that other place. We kinda just began the band like that. Let’s make songs that are sweet as the heavens, you know, the land of milk and honey. Lets make it full of color, let’s bring all the colors of the rainbow, all the riches of heaven and give it to people. It’s about everything that is about all that. Bring it to people hearts.
There seems to be some kind of a EDM shift on Pop radio now. With this new album, you seem to be moving toward a more radio-friendly sound. Do you agree? Was that always a goal?
Yeah, I guess.. That was a progression that came with the first record. When we toured with Walking on a Dream. We were right in the eye of the storm when EDM was really all around. So, on this latest album, we’ve made it a little more Hi-5. I guess we were influenced by living in America at the time when we recorded it.
I have heard that your stage shows are quite the production- the outfits, the dancers, the LED visuals and more. How much fun do you guys have doing all that?
It’s kind of like a dream. The dancers and everything.. We kind of spend a lot of time thinking of all the possibilities…
Tell me about your clothes. What are the concepts for them? What inspires you?
I guess everywhere. It kind of begins before time. We have all of these cultures that are just waiting for us to use, from Aztecs, to Geishas, it’s all just there.. You just gotta become the inquisitive scuba diver and pull out the lobster.
Ever think of starting a fashion line?
I’ve been trying to start that for about 5 years! I need to do it. Maybe this will inspire me to just do it!
What’s a favorite memory or something interesting that’s happened with the band on-stage, in the studio or elsewhere? Recall a moment that has really stood out for you.
Oh yeah, I have a favorite experience! So I always ask my manager, “can you get in touch with this guy? I wanna work with this guy or can you reach out to this director?” and one that I’ve always asked him a bunch is, “can you see if Lindsay Buckingham wants to work with us?” He came back and said yes. So this guy is so cool. He recently got back in touch and he emailed Nick and I together and just said you know, guys, Fleetwood Mac is taking a break, so I’m around, so let’s get in the studio. So, Lindsay came down to our downtown studio by himself and jammed with us for two days. And this guy is like the coolest rock star in the entire Earth. He would say, “I don’t know why you guys want an old guy like me playing with you”… That was a total high. I’ll never forget it.
Do you guys have any pre-performance rituals before hitting the stage?
Yeah, there’s personal things. Like a mental patterns you do in your head. We have a pre-show breakdown. Lately before every show, I’ve tried to wait for a word… sometimes, it might be like “United”, “or we need to bring electricity to the crowd”, “there needs to be lightning in the performance”, or “it should be unpredictable”.
When you guys aren’t writing new material or performing, what do you guys like to do for fun?
I think one of my favorite past times is surfing and riding in a convertible up the PCH.
Then you would love where our office is! It’s Malibu just off the PCH!
No way? Really? That’s so cool! My favorite thing is just getting up early and crusing up there. Wow, that’s awesome. What a great place to work! You gotta hit up Nobu! A couple weeks ago I was in LA actually.
Where do you see the band in 10, 20, 30 years? What do you see happening?
You know, I have pretty big visions. I see maybe having a giant amusement park where it’s just has everything from a cinema, restaurants, Empire clothing factory. There could be a giant studio. Where the world can come and watch the music being made. I really want to connect worldwide, start a family of believers. I wanna start our own world. That’s probably in the next 5 years.
We have 5-10 shows till the end of the year and well probably end up touring through next year. And I think that’s important. There’s such demand for live music right now. People want to get away from their phones and lives.