Luke Steele of Empire of the Sun Unveils the Existential Inspiration Behind ‘Two Vines’
Empire of the Sun has released their much-anticipated third album “Two Vines,” the follow-up to 2013’s “Ice on the Dune.” The Australian electropop duo is made up of multi-instrumentalists Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore, who recorded “Vines“ partly in Hawaii and partly in the legendary Jim Henson studios in LA. Entertainment Voice had the chance to sit down with lead vocalist Luke Steele to talk about their throwback recording process, the impressive roster of collaborators on the album, and what to expect from their upcoming live shows.
Can you tell us a little bit about the environmental message of the album and how the concept came to you?
Yeah. I started having these dreams about these vines growing out of the ground and taking over the city and Mother Earth coming back. And that just ended up being a beginner concept we started talking about the whole time and became what we were writing about.
How did the vine imagery inspire you?
I think we’re always searching for something beautiful … working on the property of paradise in your mind, the sand gets whiter and the balcony on your property gets longer. The vision grows. Your imagination grows.
You’ve said that you create characters on each album. Can you tell us about some of the characters you created for “Two Vines”?
There are so many. There’s one who is a guy who is lost in the forest and ends up running into a human for the first time in like a month and kind of speaks to him through song, and it’s like how does that voice sound? For some reason, I kept having visions of a guy in Moscow in the snow. I think being able to tour the whole world in the last 10 years, I always sort of end up becoming the traveling character, you know? Walking down the long beach into the waves. That’s a good question because I’m trying to articulate the feelings.
Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham plays on the final track, “To Her Door.” How did this come about?
We just reached out to Lindsey and said, ‘you’re a genius, we love you, and would you be interested?’ You know, he was really down. He came down to the studio [in LA] and pretty much did a few days in the studio, and the rest was history. It was pretty natural the way it happened. He just emailed back and said, ‘Fleetwood Mac are off the road, I love your band, and yeah let’s do it.
You also worked with Prince’s guitarist Wendy Melvoin and both Tim Lefebvre and Henry Hey, who were members of David Bowie’s band for “Blackstar.” That’s a powerful combination of collaborators, even more so now given the passing of both icons Prince and Bowie.
Well, Timmy and Henry are kind of friends of ours. We’ve known them for years and always done sessions here and there. Wendy, we just met in the last week of the record, and we just did one short session with her. But yeah, we were very fortunate to be in the same studio in LA at the same time.
What did each artist contribute?
Just great music. You know, they’re all connoisseurs, so they all bring something, which is another magical ingredient.
Tell me more about your recording/producing process.
We started recording to tape machines at the Jim Henson studio. We were recording in Studio A, which is where Harry Nilsson and George Harrison and John Lennon and a lot of greats have worked in … we used to get about 32 minutes on a tape machine, so we would kind of have everything set up. And then pretty much roll the tape and experiment for 32 minutes, and then you hear the tape roll off the spools, and then you take a break. You come back and fill up the other side. That’s kind of exciting, because it’s a bit more of a ’70s way of recording. As opposed to computers, where you can just endlessly record, and then someone will be like, ‘alright, who’s going to cut it all up?’ … It all goes back to computers, but we’re trying to keep it as organic as possible.
What do you want your fans to get out of this album?
They can just get what they want out of it. We just try to make a good record. A great record … I think people just need to take what they want from it. You know, my brother just emailed me and said, ‘I really love this album. It makes me dream and think about things.’ That’s the first time he’s said that about any of the records I’ve made. So I think you just want most of all for the music to connect and to make people feel good.
Your live shows are a major full-blown production. What visuals are you planning to accompany this album?
We’ve found a guy in Australia called Andy Thomas who’s kind of like a CGI genius. Makes animals and birds and morphs them … we’ve been working with him building a new show. I can’t really tell you at the moment, because it’s all sort of in a brainstorming swimming pool.
What is your favorite city to play?
We played at the Hollywood Bowl last year, and I just love Los Angeles so much. I just think it’s such a vibrant city, and it’s where I live now.