Words by Christopher Thompson
In 2008 Summer’s just weren’t summer without some kind of Empire Of The Sun track playing in the background. I remember when ‘Walking on Dream’ came out that T-Pain and Flo Rida were in full force, and there was an opening for a positively driven sound minus the auto-tune effect.
Empire Of The Sun came as a truly multi-sensory project – The Australian duo comprising of Nick Littlemore and Luke (Emperor) Steele developed an incredible visual sensibility, which stretches through their music videos, seeping all the way to their captivating live shows.
Spiritually driven with a knack for creating utopia induced electronica, the power of two cast out thumping tracks that scream for sweaty dancing, glistening under the sun. Two Vines comes as their third installment to the EOTS universe – calling upon the elemental sphere, throwing caution to the wind, they venture through the age of innocence and awareness rounding home base with a nostalgic rework to ‘Walking On A Dream.’
The 15 track Album has some pretty magical guests in the form of Fleetwood Mac singer-songwriter Lindsey Buckingham and Wendy Melvoin who was guitarist and vocalist of Prince’s band The Revolution; as well as pianist Henry Hey and bassist Tim Lefebvre, who both laid works for David Bowie’s Blackstar.
With their newest offering ‘Two Vines’ fast approaching its release – I spoke with Nick Littlemore about the spiritual journey behind their release and what it’s like to dream-walk in today’s society.
What were some of the themes you and Luke (Steele) wanted to explore through ‘Two Vines’?
I think essentially, we’ve always been talking about the same kind of stuff. In some ways, it’s more of a personal record for both of us. The songs and things like that aren’t so fantastical. I think they’re mainly based on normal things like having an argument with someone or the loss of a friend. Things that are quite universal. We weren’t talking about the more out there concepts or dimensions and things like that.
You tend to steer away from negativity which I think’s a refreshing approach. Where a lot of artists would go dark you’ve chosen light – what was behind that move?
Yeah, I just didn’t know if that’s something where we should be doing. I always feel with music that it’s such a positive uplifting device or form of communication. It feels like to really serve it well … I don’t know, it feels like a celebration. Music is a beautiful thing that should bring people together.
I’ve listened to the album and it does give you a feeling like it’s an exploration of life and nature, love and unity as well. Is that what you want listeners to associate with the album?
Yeah, I feel like we have somewhat of a conscience on this one in terms of just awakening to the world and how many things are going wrong right now. I think most people can agree obviously with the political side of things, but also just in terms of what is happening to our planet. It’s really scary and obviously, we can’t make a huge change in terms of legislation and things like that, but at least, we can start to talk about it. Obviously, there are a lot of other people talking about it as well but I don’t know. It felt very pertinent for us to raise that. There are a few songs that are kind of an homage to nature or the connection between humanity and the planet that we live on. A song like Two Vines would have that pretty strongly running through it.
Spirituality has been a key feature to what we have come to know as Empire of the Sun. Has this always been a focal point for you? Even from back in the Pnau days?
I’ve always believed in a transcendence when making music or performing it. That feels like you’re getting an energy source or something other than what is visually or physically available to you. That some kind of spirit or, I don’t know. Spirit is not the right word but some kind of energy just runs through you. I like that. I’ve always been fascinated by shamanism and other forms of where people can lose it, like voodoo and other things. Where you go into a trance. I think music can do that even just to an audience or to people dancing for hours and hours and hours on end in a warehouse or wherever really. There’s a kind of conjuring.
What’s been your most spiritual experience to date?
I’ve had a few moments. I’ve never really believed in the organized thing that most people subscribe to, the seven major religions or whatever. I was in Israel one year and went to Palestine and went around, and went to the supposed birth-place of Christ. There’s a star there on the floor, it’s metal, and I touched that. You’re coerced into doing by the people standing around. I did feel a crazy thing run through me, this energy of … A real stillness. There’s a very quiet feeling that comes over me when I’ve had those moments. It’s like you forget and you remember all at the same time. I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it exactly but there’s been that. Through trying meditation and lucid dreaming and things like that, you have these moments that then come back to you in memory, even some weeks later within you know, I don’t know. It’s really like a flashback I guess.
You’re been known to step away from the limelight from time to time – Would you ever consider going off the grid completely?
I would love the idea of having a property out in the middle of the countryside that could be self-sustaining. I’ve been looking into it and trying to find out more about living that way. I know a few people that do live completely off the grid. Obviously, I don’t see a whole lot of them but it’s very interesting to me. It feels like that could be a great way for the world to go.
For me touring is something I’ve never really got into on this project. I know it’s important to do that and the audience really love it. If you go back further in time when there wasn’t transatlantic travel and all that stuff wasn’t really available. The songs would still find their ways around the world. Other people would just play them, people in any given family would play the piano and they’d all get around and sing together. There could be other ways of music living out the other side, the more formal ways of touring. Luke’s doing a fantastic job with tours and I’m not trying to say anything untoward him in that region.
What was the story behind your track High and Low?
Well, I knew a girl in school called Alice D who was a pretty wild kid and there’s a little bit about that. I mean, a lot of the songs are more like amalgamations of a bunch of things. Like, walking back from a rave when you’re 14 or 15 and all these crazy lights and everything are still going on for you when you’re walking down the road. You remember these little moments, and they tend to come out in a verse form.
I think we can all relate to those moments where you’re coming across your own liminality, your threshold between boyhood or childhood and adulthood. I love those areas to write about in terms of Empire. Everything always feels like it’s right on the cusp and there’s something about the way Luke sings. That at some point, he opens out his voice and it becomes unbelievable in a way. It feels right to write about those pertinent moments. Well, I don’t know. I look at authors and people like that who write and a lot of their stories do end up being around those years. Those earlier years of life and you’ve had all of this time to think about them and they’re are still a lot of things that shape me as an older person now which I can … Well, getting there. Come back from youth. Even when I have dreams and things like that. A lot of the times with kids from school and shit and I haven’t spoken to them in years but it’s all there in my dreams, in my subconscious.
You’ve got a pretty unique production style. Tell me a bit about that?
We collaborated with a guy called Donald Sloan, or Donnie Sloan, and obviously, Peter who I’ve been working with for. Well, way too long frankly. We developed this sound for Empire. It does adhere quite a lot of rules, I guess. Then, we want to break those rules with a new record but then end up checking yourself. There’s a service there where we want to retain that sound. There’s bands we’ve loved, who tour, three albums in will change their sound and a lot of what we love about certain bands is the sound and the production, as well as obviously, the message and the performance.
With Empire, we’re quite specific about trying to stay in it. Trying to stay in that hazy glow and use most of the older gear that might be not as sharp or as tight as the newer sounds coming out today on the radio. It feels very important and again, going back to dreams or memories of childhood and stuff, that had a sound to it. It had a softer warmer glow to it than current production techniques.
Walking on a Dream seems to be the gift that keeps on giving – Do you feel EOTS was ahead of its time when it was released?
Well, I think it was actually so far behind the times when it came out. That I don’t know why it’s come back. I think it’s like a message in a bottle. If you put something out there and you send it out to sea, it’s going to find somewhere and maybe one day, someone will read it. If they even speak English at that point. We’ve been really fortunate that that song has wrapped around and America’s always been this very elusive mistress to us. This happening over January, February, March with the Super Bowl ad and since appearing on Ellen, it’s opened up a whole new audience for us. It’s been really amazing.
I don’t think we’re ahead of the time. I really think we were always trying to be so far behind the time or in another place entirely. Pnau’s always been different with that we’ve always tried to create something really out there and different and not really adhere to what was happening at the time. As long as it was different to what everyone else was doing, even if it was completely the wrong move we would do it anyway. Empire is … We’re trying to stay on course, so to speak.
Well, that’s just good to hear that America’s embraced you with open arms. Because I think everyone down in Australia would agree that the summers weren’t the same without Walking on a Dream playing in the background.
Yeah, It’s amazing. That image I’ve never really got to experience since the record came out. I’ve been living overseas and it’s a really beautiful thing for you to say that. Because I haven’t really experienced that with the music. We made it then we both fled the country and got swept up in the whirlwind. Eight years later and it’s still a fucking whirlwind. I mean, it’s a great whirlwind and a good one to be on.