Luke Steele on finding his solo sound with his debut album

Empire of the Sun and The Sleepy Jackson frontman Luke Steele is no stranger to Australian music fans, but his new chapter has been a completely new experience.

Luke Steele’s debut album Listen to the water was written and recorded in his new home dubbed the “eccentric farmhouse”, an environment that became embedded in Steele’s sound as a solo artist.

We spoke with Luke about the impact of the farm on the disc, recurring symbols, and buying slug masks on the internet.

HAPPY: To anyone who hasn’t seen it, how would you describe the quirky farm where Listen to the water was written.

LUKE: A magical place but quite wild and unpredictable. There are squirrels, black bears, deer, eagles, scorpions and snakes etc. under the cover of these trees like great giants. The seasons are intense, from scorching summers to deep winters with heavy snowfall. It’s pretty isolated so distractions are very minimal and it feels like you’re on another planet at times.

HAPPY: I read that your path to owning the farm is quite interesting. How did it happen?

LUKE: Our place in Los Angeles spoke to us a bit, saying to move on. Everything just started to break from the fridge to the AirCon to this and that. The message seemed so obvious that it was time to leave town.

HAPPY: What was the influence of the landscapes around you when you wrote the record?

LUKE: The songs are more like a personal therapy session, me asking questions and finding answers, being surrounded by these giant trees and animals made it easier for me to find calm when my mind was racing.

HAPPY: I love how you used nature to create colorful themes in each of the album’s singles videos, is visualizing colors to match sounds part of your creative process?

LUKE: Yes, the colors are the clothes the song wears, it’s the performance. It’s a really sweet album so we wanted to saturate the videos to give it a bit of a 90s/future flavor. A kind of Cowboy traveling in several time zones.

HAPPY: You’ve covered quite a few genres throughout your career; dance with Empire of the Sun and Dreams, alt-rock with The Sleepy Jackson, and now this record experiments with folk. Are acoustic sounds something you’ve always wanted to explore?

LUKE: I’ve always had that sound and the guitar has always been my closest friend. I love all genres, but now is just the time for that.

HAPPY: Did you struggle to find your sound as a solo artist?

LUKE: Yes and no… It was always there, I just kinda needed the right songs and the right sounds to fit together and sync. It is similar to life and the patterns you enter. It may take 20 years to change direction and find the keys to freedom.

HAPPY: A recurring visual on the album is the 5 score marks, is there a particular story behind them?

LUKE: I like symbols. They represent something without the need to spell out the language. Prince, the cross, someone’s smile as a symbol of joy. While I was writing these pieces, I dove back deep into painting canvases. I kept seeing 555 all over the clocks and stuff. So the count started as a symbol that I used on my artwork.

HAPPY: Finally, I just wanted to ask: where did you get the Mr Slug mask that you posted on Instagram?

LUKE: Ha, we find some pretty weird things looking for different wardrobe concepts. The slug was a great find. Postage was really slow though. Ha!

Luke’s first solo album Listen to the water is now available on all streaming platforms. Check out the album below.

Photos provided

Interview with Lochie Schuster

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