Dean Luke talks debut single, existentialism and music as catharsis

We’ve had Dean Luke’s earworm of a single ‘What Do I Know?’ on repeat ever since it was released in May. 

Spanning genres and featuring name-drops of Jung, Freud and Wittgenstein, the indie-pop gem is especially impressive given that it marks the Melbourne artist’s first-ever release.

We already got a lyric breakdown of the track from the maker himself, but we simply wanted to know even more.

Dean Luke interview

Below, Dean Luke swings by Happy to chat existentialism, mental health and music as a form of catharsis. Catch the full interview below, and scroll down to listen to Luke Dean’s latest single ‘What Do I Know?’

HAPPY: What are you up to today?

DEAN LUKE: Mainly admin today before I teach some guitar classes tonight.

HAPPY: What inspired you to write your latest single, ‘What Do I Know?’ 

DEAN LUKE: What Do I Know? was inspired by a depressive state I experienced that lasted a good 6 months. During this time I struggled a lot with existential despair and a feeling of being lost and confused within myself and the world. There were a lot of different things that brought this on.

I was becoming disillusioned with my job, I had just moved to a new place and wasn’t feeling comfortable yet, I wasn’t hanging around with people who made me feel fulfilled and I was recovering from a break up.

Dean Luke interview

HAPPY: You’ve mentioned bands like The Cure and Pavement influencing your sound. How have these bands shaped your music?

DEAN LUKE: I find most 90s indie bands to be pretty inspiring as far as music goes. I really like The Cure and Pavement, but I find the whole Indie movement of the 90s to be generally inspiring over any particular band.

I sometimes use those 2 bands to describe what my new song sounds like because I’ve had people say it sounds like The Cure or Pavement.

It’s funny what people hear in your music, I’ve had people come up to me and say things like “oh you sound just like this particular artist” and I think “really?! I never would’ve thought that!”

The artist who musically inspired this song the most is Paul Dempsey, before I had a name for What Do I Know? I was referring to it as my “Paul Dempsey song”.

Paul brought out an album ages ago called Everything Is True and all the songs on that album really inspired What Do I Know? musically.

HAPPY: The lyrics of ‘What Do I Know?’ touch on existential questions. How much of your own experiences did you weave into the song?

DEAN LUKE: A lot. It was all inspired by the one depressive period so I have to say most of the lyrics were inspired by personal experiences.

Ever since I was young I always had feelings regarding what I was doing here and what life was all about, I still have these kinds of feelings to this day.

Dean Luke interview

HAPPY: Can you describe how you recorded ‘What Do I Know?’ What was the creative process like in the studio?

DEAN LUKE: I recorded What Do I Know? along with a bunch of other songs at a studio called One.Be with an amazing engineer called Brent Quirk.

Brent also mixed the track. I wrote What Do I Know? just before Covid hit so it sat on a shelf for almost 2 years before I was able to get in a studio and record it.

By the time I got around to recording it, it felt like an old song. I was also worried I wouldn’t remember how I wanted it all to sound, which can sometimes happen if you wait too long to record something.

Fortunately the home demo I put together for What Do I Know? was exactly what I wanted the final product to sound like. Before Brent and I began recording, I bounced all the different tracks from the demo out and into a dropbox folder, then sent it to him.

He then dropped all the different demo tracks of the instruments into pro tools and we went through the process of rerecording each track.

When we were recording acoustic guitars for example, we’d turn off the acoustic guitar track and leave all the other demo tracks on so I’d have a guide track to play along with. This was something I requested and it actually worked quite well.

HAPPY: What do you want listeners to take away from ‘What Do I Know?’ Is there a specific feeling or idea you hope they connect with?

DEAN LUKE: Well, I suppose I’d like listening to the song to be as cathartic as it was for me to write it.

If anyone else is feeling a bit lost and confused within themselves and the world right now, I hope this song can be a form of respite and release. I also hope it makes them feel they’re not alone.

Dean Luke interview

HAPPY: As your first single, how does ‘What Do I Know?’ represent your musical journey so far?

DEAN LUKE: What Do I Know? is special to me because it marks the first song I’ve released under my own name.

I’ve been playing in bands for a really long time but I’ve never stepped out to pursue a solo project before, this song is the beginning of that for me.

HAPPY: You mention philosophers like Jung, Freud, and Wittgenstein in your lyrics. How did their ideas influence your songwriting?

DEAN LUKE: The song opens with the lyrics “Jung, Freud and Wittgenstein – I’d read them and reread them if I just had the time. Would they make much sense of what I see? would they translate me to me?”

These lyrics are about trying to find a solution to the pain I was experiencing at the time from people wiser than myself.

I’m not necessarily suggesting the ideas of Jung, Freud and Wittgenstein in particular will supply me with the answers I’m searching for, they’re just examples of wiser people I might seek help from. It could be the same with friends, a doctor or a therapist.

Dean Luke interview

HAPPY: What’s next for Dean Luke? Any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re excited about?

DEAN LUKE: I’d like to play a lot for the rest of the year, then I think I’ll release another single early next year. I’ve got the official single launch show for What Do I Know? coming up at the Tramway in Fitzroy North on Wednesday the 31st of July.

HAPPY: In a nutshell, what does ‘What Do I Know?’ mean to you personally, and what do you hope it means to your listeners?

DEAN LUKE: To me, What Do I Know? is basically a way of letting people in on feelings of existential despair that I had at one time, and still have to this day.

It’s like offering someone a little glimpse into myself, as if I’m letting them read from my diary or something. I don’t keep a diary, probably because I write songs instead.

For listeners, I hope it gives them a feeling of hope if they’re experiencing similar existential feelings. I hope it gives them feelings of relief and lets them know they’re not alone.

HAPPY: What makes you happy?

DEAN LUKE: Days off where I don’t have to be anywhere or do anything and I can play guitar all day.