Luke Steele Enters The Fourth Dimension In The Pursuit Of Happiness

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  • Friday, 13 May 2022 12:11
Luke Steele's debut solo album is titled 'Listen To The Water'. Luke Steele's debut solo album is titled 'Listen To The Water'.

Australian musician Luke Steele (Empire Of The Sun, The Sleepy Jackson) eschewed the consumerist trappings of Los Angeles and moved his family to a northern Californian ranch he dubbed the Eccentric Farm to write and record his debut solo album.

'Listen To The Water' is the sound of Luke, one of Australia's most colourful and eclectic musicians, finally growing up.

"It's funny, I turned 40 and I had a big party in Santa Monica. I had all these amazing friends come, Pete Farrelly and Owen Wilson came," Luke explains.

"It just felt like the final chapter in the storytelling capital and then I had to leave, I think I was worrying too much about my hair and fashion.

"It was like I was becoming too city-orientated. So, that's when we bought the ranch in northern California, and we basically just left the city and it ended up really solidifying that new chapter where I became a man for the first time," he laughs.

'Listen To The Water' is Luke's first solo venture having spent the past 20 years writing and touring with The Sleepy Jackson and Empire Of The Sun.

While he has always wanted to make a solo record, Luke says the timing had never been right until the end of 2019. Amid turning 40 and his growing discontentment for life in the city, the looming global pandemic accelerated Luke's decision to relocate to the Eccentric Farm and refocus his energy as a musician and a father of two.

"For me it was all aspects – not just my songwriting but as a father – and once we moved to the Eccentric Farm there were bears coming by every day and scorpions and snakes.

"It was like 'how do you do this?'. There was a lot of art imitating life being lived out, so it'll be exciting to see what comes next," he says.

In the wilds of northern California, among the hills below Mount Lassen, Luke worked with Nashville pedal-steel veteran Dan Dugmore and renowned LA percussionist Brian Kilgore to write and record 'Listen To The Water'.

Accompanied by a retro Japanese synth, acoustic guitar and Luke's distinctive vocals, it's a relatively simple orchestration that belies the rich sonic textures and lush atmosphere of the album as well as its optimistic intent.

"I have always had a really strong vision and I think when the pandemic hit, that was my cue to work out how to transform that vision into hope for my kids," Luke says.

"Especially music has a fourth dimensional quality, which means you can break into a realm that makes the impossible seem possible.

"The more you can live in that fourth dimension, in a way you can ignite hope and vision for the future. We live a lot in that creative kind of space and keeping that hope that once the pandemic is done it's going to be a new world; like the world is shedding its skin."

It was the first time Luke was able to exert full creative control over the music he was writing, a new experience for him after working within the confines of bands for so long.

"I loved it because I've done a lot of collaborations and as much as it's like having a gang and having friends making music, things start to creep in.

"There's a routine that you do things, there's a process," he says, "and I liked the fact I had no one to answer to if I wanted the vocals to be as loud as hell.

"That to me felt so good because I could stick it to the man a bit and go where I wanted to go.

"I've always loved the thing with the band, and I've always wanted to have bands because you're there with your friends making music.

"I was never that beer pong kind of guy – when you hang out with friends, you're making art and making something dope. But especially when the pandemic hit, it was like you're not hanging out with anyone, so you have to stand on your own feet."

With the new album and the ability to travel again, Luke says the dream of returning to Australia for some live shows is getting closer to fruition. "I think it's time to get back out there," he says.

"I wish I had something planned that we could book in now, but we're looking at getting back down to the motherland pretty soon, so hopefully not too long.

"I've got a lot to write about and talk about, so hopefully [there is] a whole bunch more music coming."

That is unless the wildlife in NorCal gets to him first. Between hungry bears, giant insects and raging bushfires, life in the wild for Luke is a far cry from partying with movie stars in the city.

"I've been writing a song called 'What Happened In The Night' because the other night I woke up and my running shoes and my daughter's boots were out in the forest," Luke recalls.

"It was like a bear came by and dragged these shoes out there and then realised it wasn't food. Or a giant Jerusalem bug [cricket] in the studio or a scorpion on your guitar pedal; in comparison to where I'd been in Santa Monica where all you had to worry about was waxing your surfboard."

'Listen To the Water' is available.



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