“A beautiful triumph at the end of turmoil”: I Know Leopard chat their debut album

I Know Leopard chat their debut album, 70s soft-rock, and the many faces of love.

When I Know Leopard unveiled their video for Landmine last August, it marked a significant turning point for the band. With a glittery new stylistic direction and Jeff Lynne-style vocal harmonies, Landmine signposted a bold new era for the Sydney music mainstays.

The track was the first single taken from their yet-to-be-released debut album Love Is A Landmine—an album three years in the making. So shortly before they released the record in full, we caught up with frontman Luke O’Loughlin to chat about the making of the album, 70’s soft-rock, and the many faces of love.

HAPPY: Firstly, congrats on getting the new album done! It feels like a long time coming…

LUKE: Thanks! Yeah man, it was about three years of writing the thing… but really only about six months of recording and mixing it. I think the recording and mixing process was quite a short space of time. I think that was a good thing, because it made the sound far more cohesive.

HAPPY: Yeah, because over those three years, there’s been an EP and the singles… so you’ve always been putting stuff out.

LUKE: Yep.

HAPPY: When you were putting that stuff out, was there always a vision of this album in mind?

LUKE: There was, yeah. We wanted the album to separate from the EPs, and we wanted it to be its own thing.

HAPPY: Do you feel you were writing ahead?

LUKE: Yeah I think so. There are a couple of songs on there that are from really early on, but those songs ended up fitting into the world of the album because we recorded them at the same time as the others. But yeah, we always wanted the album to be its own thing. Even Rather Be Lonely, that was a song that we thought was going to be on the album, but because it wasn’t recorded at the same time, we decided it didn’t fit.

HAPPY: The material on the album sounds pretty different from those earlier singles and EPs… did you always have a vision of how you wanted this album to sound?

LUKE: Yeah, we did. I suppose a lot of the influences on the record are influences that I’ve always had musically. It’s stuff that I grew up listening to. You know, a lot of that 70s soft-rock stuff. It’s always been in me. So I kind of knew that this album would be a chance for me to really get all that out of my system, once and for all. But it wasn’t really until we got into the studio with Jack Moffit, playing it as a band, that we had a clear idea of what we wanted it to be. But yeah, it’s an interesting question, because I don’t think we knew we were going to make a 70’s soft-rock revivalist record back then. We just knew that we wanted it to be a separate entity from the I Know Leopard EP and singles.

HAPPY: I’m always looking for an excuse to talk about one band, and that’s my favourite band of all time, Electric Light Orchestra.

LUKE: Oh really? Sick!

HAPPY: When it comes to vocal harmonies, nobody can touch Jeff Lynne.

LUKE: Oh yeah, absolutely.

HAPPY: With that old-school style of songwriting, do you feel it’s an approach to songwriting that gets overlooked these days?

LUKE: I think so. I think that right now we’re living in an age where there’s a lot of music being made in an Ableton session. There’s a lot of music being made electronically, with soft synths and programming… and I think that’s great, I’m all for it. It’s a method we’ve used previously. But I think that those classic albums, made by people like ELO, you can kind of hear that the songs have been written from start to finish. There’s a purity in them. And I think that’s what we aspired to do on this record. Recording them live as a band, which we’d never done before, also helped that. But yeah, I think that in this day and age, it’s becoming something that’s not as common. Not that we’re against that, but one thing I love about those old records is that you can hear the purity.

HAPPY: So that process of writing a song from start to finish before taking it to the studio… that was something new you brought to this record?

LUKE: Uhh, yeah, that’s a good question. I don’t think it was necessarily new. There have been songs we’ve written that way previously, but pretty much the whole album was written like that. So that was new—the fact the we endeavoured to go out and do that. That was definitely a new approach for us. And it was great, because by actually learning to play those songs as a band before recording, it meant that the songs were opened up to all sorts of new possibilities. So that was really exciting.

HAPPY: I remember when you released Landmine… for me at least, it was a big “holy shit” moment.

LUKE: Oh cool.

HAPPY: It felt like a really big change in direction. Was it intentional to have that really bold moment, where you signposted this new sound?

LUKE: Yeah I think so. Because the album is so sonically different to what we’ve done before, we had to make that statement. We had to get everyone clued up so we could make that transition.

HAPPY: When an album’s been in the cooker for three years, what does it feel like at this point in time, when you’re about to drop it?

LUKE: It’s really scary, yeah. Because you get so close to it, and you develop such a relationship with the songs. So you begin to worry. Because you’ve gotten so close to it, you worry that it might actually be rubbish. So yeah, that is scary. When you’re writing, I feel like you lose objectivity so quickly. You can lose objectivity on a song within the first six hours of working on it. Because you fall in love with something so quickly, and you fall too far into it. It’s something I’ve always battled with, losing that objectivity. I guess that’s the same with every music maker. But we’re all really happy with the record, so no matter what happens, we’re going to hold it dear to us.

HAPPY: I want to talk about love, because you’ve said that album is a collection of love songs… however, you’ve explored some of the darker sides of love.

LUKE: Yeah, I think that a lot of the songs reflect on some pretty troubled times I’ve experienced. And other members of the band have experienced. You know, a lot of us have had battles with mental health issues, as you do as a young adult. I suppose that one of the things that’s been quite triggering to me, has been romantic experiences. Because love is one of those things that can bring a lot of joy, but also a lot of pain. In my case, I found that a lot of those experiences left me feeling quite alienated as a person, so there are a few songs about that. Also, the big general theme of the record is learning to love yourself. It’s about learning to love yourself before you can successfully love another person. There’s that one lyric in Landmine: “You better pray it isn’t true, there’s a landmine waiting out there just for you.” Love is a beautiful thing, but I also view it as a landmine. It’s something that all of us will step on at one point in our lives… or several points in our lives. So yeah, the album’s about celebrating love in all its forms.

HAPPY: Do you feel like the process of writing this album has helped you navigate all these things?

LUKE: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been really therapeutic in that way. I think one of the big things… we weren’t talking about it for a while, but now that the album’s out, I think it’s okay… is that there was a lot of confusion and turmoil throughout the making of this album. Rosie and I are in a relationship now, but that’s something that’s only happened towards the end of the making of the record. When she first joined I Know Leopard, we were always kind of in love with each other, but we never admitted it. We were both in relationships, so it was very much a forbidden love. We both went through some pretty difficult times, and then at the end of that, we officially found each other. That was a beautiful triumph at the end of turmoil. It was a really beautiful way to round off the writing of this record.

Catch I Know Leopard at the following dates:

Friday 17 May – Jive, Adelaide, SA
Saturday 18 May – Mojo’s, Fremantle, WA
Sunday 19 May – Clancy’s, Dunsborough, WA
Thursday 23 May – Workers Club, Geelong, VIC
Friday 24 May – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 25 May – The Foundry, Brisbane, QLD
Sunday 26 May – Soundlounge, Gold Coast, QLD
Thursday 30 May – Cambridge Hotel Side Bar, Newcastle, NSW
Friday 31 May – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 1 June – UOW Uni Bar (Stratton Room), Wollongong, NSW
Sunday 2 June – Transit Bar, Canberra, ACT

More I Know Leopard info