Live’n’loud: Ice, fire and Empire of the Sun
It’s been a long time coming, but the thaw has started for Empire of the Sun, writes Kathy Mccabe
LUKE Steele is having a mascara malfunction. As Emperor Steele, the supreme commander of Empire of the Sun alongside Lord Littlemore, he is immaculately uniformed, coiffured and made-up. But assuming his character on a Wednesday morning has its trials, including a new brand of mascara which is irritating his eyes.
‘‘Snaps (his wife) just bought it and it’s not working,’’ he says, laughing.
Not irritating at all is Ice On The Dune, the second record from these eccentric music makers. Steele and Nick Littlemore, alongside a team that includes Pnau’s Peter Mayes and electro-pop, go-to studio boffin Donnie Sloan, took their sweet time following up international success Walking On a Dream.
The Emperor was flat-chat touring it around the world while the Lord returned to his Pnau day job and hung out with the carney folk at Cirque du Soleil.
The Emperor is now back on the road while Littlemore slips back into his studio cave.
Ice On The Dune got its live introduction off-Broadway in the US before returning home for two concerts at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Vivid Festival.
Anticipation for the record in these heady EDM days is high, with their American label gunning for No. 1 and the band booked for all the big tonight shows there.
‘‘The shows in America were pretty awesome, hey. For me it kinda felt like the day before your wedding, there’s so much running through your brain like flowers, cars, speeches,’’ Steele says.
‘‘For the show, it was costumes, setlist, music, the lights, do we have enough gaffer tape? I’ve started chewing Hubba Bubba gum again, which will come in handy if we run out of tape.
‘‘We were like the only live band on this festival called Electric Daisy Carnival. We got to meet (David) Guetta right before we went on. I think we are going to do some music together.’’
You can’t doubt the possibility. Walking On a Dream got shout-outs from tastemakers including Jay-Z and Kanye West while Guetta has added his talents to the second album project with a remix for first single, Alive.
Steele admits it took a while for Empire of the Sun to hit their groove in the early recording sessions.
The Sleepy Jackson frontman dismisses any suggestion the awkward sessions had anything to do with Littlemore’s refusal to tour off the back of the first album or their conversations via the media after Walking On a Dream came out in 2008.
However, he admits being the only one in the Empire team who experienced the energy of the crowds on the world tour may have contributed to feeling out of whack with the rest of the crew when they sat down to create the second album.
‘‘With this one, everything felt backwards. I would go to sing and it would come out in the wrong key, play a chord and it would come out wrong, shake Nick’s hand and he would be on the other side of the room,’’ he says.
‘‘It felt like our heartbeats for a while weren’t in sync but once the tyranny of distance got washed away, all the kinks were ironed out. When we are in the same room, it’s like we are on the same electro magnetic frequency.’’
Steele and Littlemore have always spoken of their music, collectively and individually, in terms of the imagination rather than the monetisation. They may be classed as electronic artists but they stress their stock in trade are songs rather than technology. Ice On the Dune is a concept, an animated musical yet to be filmed. As Steele has explained, its story follows the theft of the Emperor’s headdress by the King Of Shadows, bringing chaos to the world. He doesn’t know why such high concepts should draw sniggers or cynicism because his music is so connected to a bigger picture in his mind and those of his fans.
‘‘I don’t know what that is; maybe some people’s ears are tuned not to hear and I’ve seen that happen so many times,’’ he says.
‘‘We wanted to do something that makes people feel good, something that has imagination.’’
Steele and Littlemore are already talking about the third record. They want to crank up the output even as their other respective music projects demand attention. Littlemore has Pnau, Steele has Sleepy Jackson (maybe) and his ongoing sessions with good mate Daniel Johns. (He jokes that he and Johns are into their third record even though none of them have seen the light of day yet.)
‘‘Nick and I want to pump out more records than The Beatles and have less time between drinks,’’ he says.
Ice On The Dune (EMI) is out now. Empire of the Sun play Splendour In the Grass, at North Byron Parklands, from July 26-28.
Above: Empire of the Sun’s Emperor, Luke Steele.
Left: Pnau’s Nick Littlemore (left) and Peter Mayes also worked on Ice On The Dune.