Luke Steele has had a tough year. Isolating in LA during the coronavirus pandemic, the Empire of the Sun and Sleepy Jackson vocalist found himself in unchartered territory. Touring and returning to Australia were no longer possibilities. Instead, he began spending more time with family and exploring less-than-conventional creative outlets such as textiles and painting.
And, of course, recording. Inspired by futurism and Japanese gadgets, H3000 is Luke’s latest recording project. In bringing his vision to life, Luke is assisted by Jarrad Rogers.
Luke’s first meeting with the Australian producer came by chance. The two crossed paths while Luke was collaborating with Silverchair’s Daniel Johns at The Muppets creator Jim Henson’s Hollywood studios. Clicking during sessions, the two quickly struck a chord. After, they began hanging out as friends.
When the pandemic hit, they continued trading ideas online. The result is an album the pair describe as “beyond” what they had imagined. One capable of “flying over the top” of the coronavirus pandemic. Two lofty claims indeed. Both of which, alongside many other things, the dynamic duo will now explain.
MUSIC FEEDS: How do you two know each other?
LUKE STEELE: I was at Jim Henson Recording Studios in Hollywood. The best studio in the world!
JARRAD ROGERS: It is actually. Best cookies in the world.
LS: The best cookies. The best staff! I was working with Daniel Johns and we needed help on some production. And our good buddy M-Phazes, came in and brought Mr. Rogers along. That was our first meeting.
Then Jarrad went upstairs, got some pens and pencils and started making beats on his laptop. He came back down no more than an hour later. We were played something and it was like, “Drop mic!”
JR: It literally was with pencils because I didn’t have anything else, remember?
LS: And that was it. That was the start!
JS: After we finished off the DREAMS stuff, we were out of entertainment. So I came over to Luke’s place, and that is when we started becoming mates. And eating lovely cookies, you know? I feel like there was a bit of a personal connection there too.
LS: We went from Henson Studios to Santa Monica, where we had 30 to 40 dollar sandwiches…
MF: 30 dollars in US or Australian dollars?
LS: US Dollars!
JS: They are ridiculous. There is this one sandwich shop right near Luke’s house and it’s amazing, beautiful. But every time you get one it’s 30 bucks! It’s ridiculous!
LS: But it is Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades. It’s a rich neighbourhood. So you have to charge more. If you charge less, it will go the opposite way. People will go, “Why is it so cheap!?” Not a good turnout.
JS: It’s always better when it’s more expensive.
LS: Tastes way better bro!
MF: What can you tell me about these recordings?
LS: I had come back from Japan. And I had found all these amazing gadgets. It was such an eye-opener, being in such a foreign country and having all these inventors of sound and all these kind of different things. So that inspired me a lot on my side of things – like the vocals, and just trying to create a new and a lived-in world that was syncopated. One that relied on AI and all that kind of stuff.
And with Jarrad’s production, we built this thing that – I think it’s great when you don’t know how it’s built. It just sort of builds itself and…
JS: And I think – connecting the sandwiches to it – we had hung out as mates first and then started sharing a few ideas. It started with one song that we thought was pretty wild.
I remember the first day Luke sent something to me. He had done it over a sketchy beat. And I was like, “Wow! This is magic.” We just kept rolling with it, right Luke?
And then we were like, “Hang on a second. This is starting to…” H3000 is something that was beyond what we had imagined. I don’t think we designed it like, “Hey let’s start this band. Let’s go talk about it over a sandwich.” It was the other way around.
MF: A question for Jarrad. You have worked with wide range of artists including Delta Goodrem, Charli XCX and Lana Del Rey. How is Luke different?
JS: Well I think it is extremely different because it’s Luke! Every creative, every artist, every collaborator or creator is different. Though there are similarities that run through them as well. Luke, I think, knows exactly what works for him. He has a very clear vision.
Which is similar to some of the other people I’ve worked with. But the one thing that always sticks out to me about Luke is that he’s such a genius with his writing, how he records his voice and how he treats it. Lyrically, there is always something that is being said. It is never just “chasing a pop song for a pop song’s sake.” Which happens a lot.
His contribution beyond the vocals was a very similar work ethic to mine. He is always contributing across the board. There definitely wasn’t a line drawn in the sand.
It wasn’t just like Luke was doing the vocals and I was doing the writing. It was proper collaboration. He’s contributed so many great ideas.
I hope that answered your question. I think it is Luke that is different. And Lana. They are all different, you know?
LS: Thanks man!
JS: No worries bro, no worries!
MF: A question for Luke. You are best known for your work in Sleepy Jackson and Empire of the Sun. How is H3000 different?
LS: This had speed. We were surfing a different ocean you know? We have gone off the surfboards and we are on foil boards now. I think we were both working at a similar kind of pace.
We were both really busy with family and everything. So we had to prioritize and be focused. If you want something done, ask the busiest person you know!
I think that adds a really strong element to the music. Because it’s always fresh and it’s always moving. Some of the other projects I have, you just work on a song forever and by the time it comes out it’s like 120 years old and you’ve got grey hair!
JS: It definitely was a bit stream-of-consciousness wasn’t it mate?
LS: Yeah, definitely.
JS: And when the flow is good, it’s undeniable. It’s addictive. Stuff just happens.
MF: The pandemic has been such a difficult time. How have things been for you two?
JS: Well for me, it’s different. Luke has done so much touring. I can assume not being able to tour is a big change for him. But essentially I’m in the studio often. I’ve been stuck in the same room for 20 years!
On the international side, not being able to jump around has been an impact. But that’s the beauty of the H3000. We didn’t create the majority of this in the same room together.
We were in the same town together. We were both living in LA. But it wasn’t like we sat in a studio together.
I am not going to say “stuck.” Because it would sound like we wanted to get out. We didn’t.
We didn’t sit in the studio together day in and day out. We worked in our own studios. And that’s what made us able to be productive.
We were able to contribute and have a flow that didn’t require us to be in the same room. With the pandemic, the lockdown of international borders, H3000 could fly above the top of it. We didn’t need to be in the same room together.
LS: For me, everything has been different. I miss so many things. It’s just kind of at the point now where it’s just a bit sad to even talk about it. It’s clear that the old world is gone and the new one is beginning. And it’s really unpredictable.
I miss people. I miss touring. I miss going to restaurants, galleries, travelling… It’s been crazy. And I know everyone is going through the same thing.
But like Jarrad said, H3000 has been a project we did a lot of online. Which doesn’t always happen. I have done so many projects where that would never work. So that’s one bonus. We could keep the band going until the end of the world.
MF: So you think things will be different moving forward?
LS: Yeah! In America the whole of 2020 was one big lockdown. So I just ended up creating so much art. I was getting back into doing big canvases and paintings.
And making a whole bunch of new records and recordings. It was also bringing the family a lot closer together. And I was diving into other things. Like sewing and textiles. A whole other world!
So, as always, you have to make the best out of a bad situation. I reckon there will be a lot of great records that come out of this time. You know?
And it’s fortunate for the creative ones. If you’re not creative you can’t use that time you never really had before. It could have been pretty daunting.
JS: It’s hard to predict how it’s going to be in future. I think there is going to be a period of time where we try and get back into the old way of doing things. Where we try and get back to all these festivals. We’ll try and do all that, the way it used to be done, in some kind of hope that we can return to normal.
But I’m not sure whether it will ever return to normal. I think it will be a bit of a pendulum, happening back-and-forward. We are just going to have to be flexible and nimble.
I think the creative ones will do some interesting stuff and see it in a different way. They will still be inspired and keep producing. It’s like Luke said, he’s gotten involved in forms of expression other than music.
And it has been amazing to watch that. That’s exciting. That’s cool!
LS: And along with all that deep and meaningful stuff, as long as the football keeps going! That seems to be the general trend around the world. There could be 50 million people dying but as long as you’ve got the footy going. The world is still on its axis apparently.
MF: Many artists have expressed frustration that stadium sports have gone ahead while they have been unable perform. Does that kind of thing affect you?
JS: It frustrates us.
LS: I think it has been such a revealing time. I think I have had, here in America, about 100,000 moments of that. At one point they shut down Grand Central Market in LA for vaccinations. And all these people from South LA were getting transferred there to get vaccinated because they were filming a movie.
That is just one out of 100,000 examples. But I think there’s going to be some pretty cool records coming out of it. There’s definitely a lot to write about. The madness!
MF: Do you have a message you want to share with your Australian fans?
LS: I guess I just miss The Motherland you know? We’ve been trying to get back for a year. It’s just crazy being stranded outside your home country.
And I guess it’s like that for everyone. It’s just a time for reminiscing you know? You start looking back at all the things you love about your country.
MF: What do you miss most about Australia?
LS: It’s the simple things. It’s going to the beach, listening to Paul Kelly and then having a barbeque. You forget when you’ve lived in America for a while, Australia is pretty relaxed. One of the most chill countries in the world. You just miss home.
JS: I think you always miss where you’re not. I’m back in Australia. It is great to be back. It’s been different coming back because most of it has been in lockdown. But I definitely resonate with what Luke has said. I was away for 15 years.
I can empathize with him, that’s for sure. And I don’t know what it would feel like wanting to come back but not being able to. That would be frustrating.
MF: Is there anything else you want to throw out there before we close off?
LS: I just hope that people discover the record. Take the time to dive in, check out what has been an important part of our lives.
JS: I think that there is something to learn from it too. H3000 has depth and meaning.
LS: It has a lot of heart and soul to it.
H3000’s cosmic self-titled debut album is out today. Listen and download here now.