Empire of the Sun’s Luke Steele: “I Want To Get To That Point Where I Could Be Kanye”

“Sagittarius. Memory. Psychedelia.” These are the words that Empire of the Sun frontman Luke Steele would use to sum up their new album Ice on the Dune. With five years between their two releases, Luke says Empire weren’t worried about the so-called ‘sophomore slump’. “We kind of did everything the same but we did it with a way longer process, I guess. It just sort of didn’t happen quickly and we had to sort out different roads of how to get there. We went exploring a bit further, you know? We did a lot of different collaborating and exhausting of sounds and experiments with songwriting.”

The collaborations on Ice on the Dune are varied and interesting, and speak volumes about the respect they command in the industry. “I still really liked working with the Neptunes [Pharell Williams and Chad Hugo], even though we didn’t get a track out of those sessions. It was really interesting to hear the way chords were put together. One was John Hill [Kings of Leon, WuTang Clan, MIA, Santigold], who is an LA producer who we did DNA with… That was great. He’s sort of got a lot of synthesisers and he gets amongst the band.”

Known for their outlandish costumes and unwavering attention to detail when telling the story of the Emperor and the Prophet, Steele beams when talking about the other half of Empire of the Sun, Pnau frontman Nick Littlemore, and says his influence is the biggest difference between his work with Empire of the Sun and Steele’s other bands. “I don’t have Nick in my other bands. I’m so fortunate to be working with him. He’s such a great lyricist and visionary. He’s kind of like a wizard. It’s always quite natural working together and I don’t have to do as much as I do in my own bands.”

LA-based Steele and Littlemore are both veterans of the Australian music industry – Steele has been the frontman of The Sleepy Jackson for over ten years now, and Littlemore is known for his work with Pnau and Teenager, as well as his production work with Robbie Williams, Van She, MIKA and Groove Armada to name but a few. Despite this notoriety, Steele talks about how different elements combine to makes a song fit into the world of Empire of the Sun. “We can have a great song, but if it doesn’t have the right flavour or impulse or texture to it, it doesn’t fit into the Empire world. It’s the flavour and the essence of everyday life. The sun is just coming to life and there’s a crackling of light right at the precipice.”

However, Steele isn’t terribly preoccupied with the comings and goings of the music industry, saying he doesn’t pay too much attention to what’s happening outside his own space. “I’m not too attached to what’s going on. It just seems like rock music – the aggression and danger – and the attitude of rock music is filtering back into electronic music.” When asked who he would most like to work with he takes a moment to think: “Kanye would be the one musician I would want to work with. He’s kind of like Stanley Kubrick; he’s naked. I wish I could just get to that point where I could just… be Kanye. Be completely naked and just put out what’s brewing inside of you. He just has so much attitude and goes beyond any rules whatsoever. That’s what makes him dangerous and relevant.”

Going forwards, Empire have both American and European tours lined up for 2013, but first they will play Splendour in the Grass back here in Australia. “We’re touring across America then a European leg, to Vienna and down to Budapest. I really love Splendour; it’s an amazing festival that’s drawing influences from all these great festivals around the world. It reminds me a bit of Glastonbury, Coachella, festivals like that.” He speaks excitedly when discussing what audiences can expect at their shows this year: “People can expect to step into another vortex, to experience something that maybe they haven’t seen, like colours and shapes, to step into another world.”

Empire also have a collaboration of a different kind lined up for the next year or so: working with director Peter Farrelly on the soundtrack to the sequel to Dumb and Dumber. “We’re still in the brainstorming phase. It’s our first time. I guess it is a bit daunting. We’ve done a few records now and enough collaboration to get this done. We met Peter Farrelly in New York and he used some of our songs in Hall Pass, one of his latest films, and he kind of fell in love with the band and we’ve become friends since then. It’s strange because Dumb and Dumber was always my favourite film growing up.”

A show that stands out to Steele as one where the band and the audience alike were ‘taken to another world’ was in Colorado on their last US tour. “We did a show at a place called Red Rocks in Colorado. It’s like an amphitheatre that’s built into the rocks 10,000 feet above sea level. It’s where the dinosaurs used to be so there’s huge dinosaur prints around the venue. It was Elvis’s favourite venue and same with Jimi Hendrix. It’s just so mind-blowing, this amphitheatre. Where I’m standing on stage the walls of the amphitheatre are pretty high, so the middle of the stage is dead quiet. It’s so strange. The American Indians used to say it was a really special spot on planet earth. It has a zen to it.”

Despite the outrageous costumes and stage shows that Empire are known for, “zen” also seems to be a pretty fitting word to describe Luke Steele, a man who delights in the musical worlds he creates.

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