Tuesday, February 10

Words with... Empire Of The Sun

. Tuesday, February 10

Written for Gigwise

Ambition, it’s a big word in music. Stadium sized bands have it used as a stick with which they are beaten whilst anyone repeating themselves two albums in a row is seen to lack it and tossed mercilessly upon a pile of rejects. Perhaps it’s the idea of what ambition actually is, is it the ability to transcend sticky floored toilet venues and make music that touches large numbers? Or is it to do something beyond the confines of the norm, to have a vision that can’t be confined to an 18 month campaign of re-releases, key festival slots and TV montage scenes.

Empire Of The Sun are a band who have ambition, they are a band who see a lack of magic in the music scene and want to inject it with a shot of surreal beauty. There vision is, according to Nick Littlemore, “The one joining emotion that binds all humanity together from the enlightened to the ignorant. Until life itself it questioning its continuation, for humanities lessons are contrary to the world. For me the term greed is led by it’s failings since the dawn of time and we must turn humanity against itself like a jealous angel. There are heroes, Empire Of The Sun, who must make sacrifices in order to save the free world. Our heroes the wise travelled, having assimilated civilisations from all four corners of the globe, to gain a depth of understanding and enlightened path to give up their mortal dreams and becoming animals, taking the form of a flock of black cockatoos”. To put this in context I asked a member of Franz Ferdinand a similar question last week and he said “Well we just want to make things a bit more dance orientated.” Empire of The Sun certainly have ambition.

“That’s pretty much what it’s about. We (Luke Steel of The Sleepy Jackson comprises the other half of Empire...) were basically just travelling around the world and learning and the one binding emotion that seemed to be coming up in humanity is sadness. So many of us are doing what is vital to out existence. I met Luke back in 2000, we met in a bar and at that point Luke was always carrying around a suitcase and every time you saw him he had something different in there like an umbrella or a kid’s doll, bricks from a chimney or just full of parking tickets. Anyway the day after we met I took him to the bush just North of Sydney and we wrote three or four songs. It’s incredible to meet a mind that you connect with so quickly and strongly. We didn’t get to record anything for another six or seven years though, perhaps because it took us meeting about fifty other people before we realised our connection was so strong and we needed to explore it further.”

The subsequent result of that exploration is the album ‘Walking On A Dream’ released on February 23rd. Surely though for such a high concept project the ten track LP format must be incredibly limited? “Well the live show is going to be like a twenty five track show. The live show is going to be like a play, we don’t want to do a rock show, we both got so bored of that in the past. I see myself more as an artist than a musician; if I had to compare the live show to anything it would be Laurie Anderson (American experimental performance artist) where it’s a much more visual thing. Luke and I both talk visually when we write songs, you’ll not a lot of colour in our music and emotions and those colours can’t be ignored when performing our songs. We chose those initial ten (tracks on the album) because they best represent us. We’re writing songs all the time and in the past (Nick is a member of Pnau) I have always tried to fill the full amount of space on a CD but on this one we just said like let’s just do a ten-tracker you know and have ten songs, like the Ten Commandments. We don’t need anything other than these ten.”

One of the most memorable tracks on ‘Walking On A Dream’ is the haunting end-track ‘Without You’ Nick sites this as a favourite moment too, “I actually wrote it at a very low moment, I was very deeply depressed and it was great to channel the weight of tears, the weight of all that welling up inside and create something out of all the madness and the sadness. I often reference it now when I am feeling sad or lost. It works for me, there’s a lot of heart in there”. Is depression something that aids a lot of your song writing? “I try to channel it into a joy but on ‘Without You’ it just came as it was. It was the vocal that took the longest to record; I think we recorded it forty times to get it right. It had to have the right feeling and that was hard to achieve. There was a real sense of quiet when we finished it, like when you’re fishing in the ocean and you catch that silver light and when you know you’ve got that moment you hold on for dear life and channel that wisdom.”

With theatre shows in the pipeline, elaborate costumes and a make up bill that must run into the thousands how do Empire Of The Sun get these things past their label under the current economical climate? “Well having Elton John’s management company looking after us certainly gives us some clout! We’re driving this from the normal confines of the label where they tell you what to do, it’s really extreme. Elton got involved with us when he picked up my Pnau album in Australia and then rang me to say it was the best album he’s heard in ten years and we became fast friends. Then, about six months ago, I asked him to manage us and he’s just been amazing ever since.” Does Elton John give good advice? “Yeah, he’s a fantastic mentor. He tells us to believe in ourselves and who better to listen to than one of the most successful recording artists of all time, a master of melodies? We got great advice from Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth) too, he said a ‘Always ask yourself ’Is it necessary?’ and I think that’s a great thing to bear in mind, so many people do things because they can not because they need to. It all comes back to the self and wanting to channel something positive, I guess what do we need in the world right now? The world is such a dark place and we need positivity and something to lean on, we need goodness, we need enlightenment, we need a guide.”

That guide could well be Empire Of The Sun. Whatever happens to them in 2009 you can guarantee it won’t be anything less than magical.

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