24 Hours in LA with Empire of the Sun: Vodka, Robots, and Lots of Lasers
"I was drinking cocktails made by drones."
All photos by Todd Williamson
It’s not often someone offers to fly you to LA for 24 hours to attend a house party with a special performance by Empire of the Sun. A day-long adventure involving Absolut Vodka and one of my favorite bands to dance to? I obviously accepted. While I’m used to low-key New York City parties, this was something really different. When I entered the Absolut Electrick House (inspired by the brand’s latest limited edition bottles), I was given a bracelet that showed how much energy I was giving off—it also unlocked different room features of the house party. I was drinking cocktails made by drones. Everything there looked like it came from 2115.
What got me even more excited were the rumors I'd been hearing about Empire of The Sun’s upcoming album. It's been a hot minute since we last heard something new from the duo of Nick Littlemore and Luke Steele. While sipping (Who am I kidding? Downing) cocktails, I chatted with Luke Steele (aka Emperor Steele) about his most spiritual music experience, the duo’s upcoming album, and if we can expect more headdresses from him.
Noisey: I hear you have a new album coming out soon. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
Luke Steele: I think we’re 75 percent there. We started writing this record after the Dumb and Dumber film. We’re just traveling to different studios. We started recording in Hawaii, which is our new favorite place to find songs for us.
Is there a different theme on this record than the previous records?
I don’t think so—I’ve discovered it’s better to come up with the theme after the record is done. People say “this is a concept record,” and you make it a concept once it’s done. It’s kind of like trying to tell people what the finished project is while you’re in the process of curation. I’m in my thirties. I’m not doing that anymore.
Your last record Ice On The Dune didn't perform as well as expected. Are you concerned about this record not performing as well?
No, I’m not at all. The last record was a progression and this is again another progression for us. We don’t really worry about what people say. We mainly worry about doing our absolute best at that time as an artist.
What’s the most spiritual experience you’ve had as a musician?
I think it might have been at the Hollywood Bowl, which we just sold out. All of my idols performed there including Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. The minute we came on stage was actually the most comfortable I’ve ever felt on stage.
Why do you think that is?
I think it was maybe the Holy Spirit just being like, this is where you belong. This is the habitat that you’re going to be in, and this is where the greatest songwriters in the world—guitarists and artists—have been. It felt like you were home, basically. With the dancers, I always use the term “angel helium” on stage.
Do you think you’ve gained most of your fans through festival experiences?
No, I don’t think so. My music is just kind like the wind—it’s captured in any kind of way. I’ve got emails from people who have heard our songs on cruises or in restrooms in Yugoslavia.
Whenever you perform, you always flaunt a really vibrant outfit. You’re known for that alongside your music. What can we expect in your upcoming performances?
We’ve been working with some designers downtown like Jessica Huerta who runs Madam Black—leather stuff. She’s been making these coats that have been becoming more dramatic. They’re going more future but they’re also going back. They’re more fashion—like asymmetrical cuts. I always want to go more current with fashion.
Can we expect more headdresses?
Yeah, maybe more sapphire or abstract [headdresses].
What music has been fueling the inspiration for the record?
I love The Chemical Brothers, the Brandon Flowers record and the Leftfield record is rad. Wave Racer, and I’m going through an Eagles phase. Korean music and Kitsuné: I’m always into that strange foreign music.
Do you think there’s any public misconception of you guys?
I think sometimes people think it’s a bit more fairytale than real. It comes from a place of Kraftwerk, [Jimi] Hendrix and [John] Lennon. I guess it comes from the fanfare of our shows. It’s intricately designed and it’s meant to be like a moving cinema piece.
Do you worry that you’re known too much for your shows as opposed to your music?
Sometimes I do. It’s a bit annoying, but what are you going to do?
Do you ever want to change that?
Yeah. I think in the future we have to be a bit more spontaneous and explore what we can do. After this tour and wrapping up the record, there’s a whole new world to explore.
Ilana Kaplan is a writer living in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter.