Luke Steele on discovering his solo sound with debut album ‘Listen to the Water’

Luke Steele

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 fresh experience.

The debut album from Luke Steele Listen to the Water was written and recorded at his new home dubbed the ‘Eccentric Farm’, an environment that inserted itself into Steele’s sound as a solo artist.

We chatted to Luke about the farm’s impact on the record, recurring symbols, and buying slug masks on the internet.

Luke Steele

HAPPY: To anyone who hasn’t seen it, how would you describe the Eccentric Farm where Listen to the Water was written.

LUKE: A magical but pretty wild and unpredictable place to be. There’s squirrels, black bears, deer, eagles scorpions and snakes etc all under the blanket of these trees like big giants. The seasons are intense from scorching summers to deep winters with heavy snow. Its pretty isolated so the distractions are very minimal and you feel like you’re on another planet sometimes.

HAPPY: I read that your journey to owning the farm is pretty interesting. How did that come about?

LUKE: Our place in LA was kinda talking to us saying move on. Everything just started breaking from the fridge to the AirCon to this and that. The message felt so obvious it was time to leave the city.

HAPPY: How much of an influence did the landscapes around you have when you were writing 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 to find the quietness when my mind was racing.

HAPPY: I love the way you’ve used nature to create coloured themes in each of the videos for the album’s singles, is visualising colours to match sounds part of your creative process?

LUKE: Yes, the colours are the clothes the song is wearing, it’s the representation. It really is quite a mellow album so we wanted to saturate the videos to give it edge, a bit of 90s colour/a bit of the future. A sort of Cowboy travelling in multiple timezones.

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

LUKE: I’ve always had this sound and the guitar always been my closest friend. I like all the genres, but it’s just now is the time for this.

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

LUKE: Yes and no… It was always there I just kinda needed the right songs and sonics to fit together and synchronise. It’s similar to life and patterns you get into. It may take 20 years to switch direction and find the keys to freedom.

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

LUKE: I love symbols. They represent something without the language of it having to be spelt out. Prince, the cross, someones smile like a symbol of joy. While i was writing these tunes i took a deep dive back into painting canvasses again. I just kept seeing 555 everywhere on clocks and things. So the tally began as a symbol i used on my art pieces.

HAPPY: Lastly I just wanted to ask: Where on earth did you get the Mr Slug mask you posted on Instagram?

LUKE: Ha, we find some pretty weird things out there searching for different wardrobe concepts. The slug was a great find. Postage was real slow but. Ha!


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Luke’s debut solo album Listen to the Water is out now on all streaming platforms. Get a taste for the album below.

Photos provided

Interview by Lochie Schuster