In January this year, Empire Of The Sun‘s debut song Walking On A Dream was picked up for a Honda Civic advertisement in the US. While they’ve had huge success on the festival and live scene, the duo of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore had never really managed to crack the commercial US market. But, eight years after its release, Walking On A Dream was a hit in the US.
It was a strange turn of events, which gave weight to the argument that the band should ditch the weighty, EDM-tinged of their second album Ice On The Dune and return to the melodic, sweeping sounds of their debut record. Two Vines, their first album in three years, feels like a natural return to the charm that permeated their debut. It’s gentler, warmer and, to be frank, a lot better than its predecessor.
You could call it a return to form but that would be underselling it somewhat. It’s an extension of form. As songwriter, Littlemore and Steele are wiser and more enlightened on this record, vividly exploring the concept of nature taking back the earth. Somehow, they’ve managed to package that into three to four minute dance songs that house feeling of euphoria.
Empire Of The Sun will return to the Australian festival circuit for the first time since releasing Two Vines, early next year as part of FOMO Festival and they’re now armed with a swag of new tracks that will spark the mind but also play right into the hands of anthem-hungry festivalgoers.
We walked through Littlemore’s dreams with him and dug into the core of the new record.
How are you feeling about the new record?
I feel really positive about it. I believe that we’ve put something together that’s warm and that’s full of good thoughts and good intentions and in this crazy world that we find ourselves in today we need more good thoughts. That’s all the I’ve tried to do ever with music. I’ve tried to put out good thoughts, even if some of them are crazy ideas like a bloody wild strawberry but the idea has always been one of positivity. BUt now I really wanna talk about putting good thoughts out about nature. I want people to return to the sensuous nature that’s inside all of us and listen to mother nature and stop mining this beautiful country of ours.
It’s an interesting concept to take something like that and translate it to dance music. Is it tough to take complex thoughts and pack them into a 3 minute song?
Yeah it is is something that I find difficult. I don’t think it’s particularly natural for art to have a length and particularly a shorter length. Through the process of making this album I started another project where instead of making three minute songs I made 34 minute experiences. That’s a project called The Two Leaves Project but with Empire everything is always difficult because we raise the bar quite high and Luke and I are quite intense characters. There’s a lot of passion there which can be misguided but we do try desperately hard to maintain a simplicity throughout the process so that the listener may only hear the best of us.
The imagery that you’ve put forward with the album in terms of nature taking back the city is really cool. Did you and Luke both discuss that concept?
I came to Luke with that because I had a dream like vision. I’d taken up meditation and things of those nature and I had a few visionary experiences through those states. If you listen to her, mother earth will talk to you. You just have to quieten down a little bit. It’s hard to do that with the roar of traffic and air conditioners. You have to go into nature to hear that.
Is there a process that helps you to think like that?
I think in someways I’ve always approached it the same way. I’ve always seen creativity on every level is not my own. I am merely a vessel for ideas to come through and I feel through my meditative practice I’ve gotten better at that. I’ve never had a shortage of ideas to come through me but now I feel it’s a river that is so mighty and so endless that I don’t see it ever stopping. It energises me in so many ways.
This record feels like you’ve got a strong message to deliver. Is this album different in the way that you’ve got a clear aim of what you want to tell the listener?
Yeah, I feel like I awoke through these practices and I feel like I’m taking control of this platform and I want to spread a real message. Before it was a raw understanding of what to say and it was love in a very big, bright rainbow but now it’s a more serious message about, let’s listen to the earth, let’s return, listen and watch and learn from the ancient cultures not from the modern ones. Let’s listen to our true elders, our indigenous. They are the real inhabitants of this earth and they can live on this earth freely and beautifully for ever if it wasn’t for the tyranny of the rest of us.
The Empire Of The Sun journey has been interesting. So often dance music can be disposable but the resurgence of Walking On A Dream recently has proved there’s a timelessness to your music. Could you have ever imagined you’d be doing it this long after the debut record?
I always like to imagine those things but the reality is, it was eight years after its release that Walking On A Dream found itself on American radio and started charting. It really was a strange feeling. I was in New York City and suddenly my song was on the radio and it’s not the new one. It’s been really, really strange but obviously wonderful. We’d always dreamed about American radio and trying to get into such an influential market. It just happened without any control, whatsoever.
Did it spur you on to make a third album or were you already well into that process?
We were well across it because we actually started this record around the time of doing the Dummer and Dummer 2 Soundtrack. I think the crux of the record came around going to Hawaii about a year ago now. It was such a magical journey to go there and everything started to solidify. It was like the arc turned into a circle and through that we warmed ourself at the fire of light and love. Everything started to make pure sense. It was almost, at some stages, like we could sing the universe into existence.
To me, the second record was big and festival-ready but this one sounds more intimate and personal. Was that a vibe you were going for when you started mapping out the record?
You hit the nail on the head. The second record for me was chasing something that was disingenous. It was trying to compete with the big festival headliners. But we can do that without the big drums and all the commotion. I wanted to return the sound to the one we had on the first record but with the wisdom we have from being older and learning and listening. We listened more on this record. We wanted to make something that was gentler. Turn the drums down and turn the music up. We wanted it to be about the effect of the sound.
Did the latter success of Walking On A Dream solidify the opinion that you should return to your original sound?
Yeah, it really did. And it helped me state my case for making a gentler record. I don’t think…dance is an interesting genre to work in and something I’ve been doing for roughly 20 years. Most people that work in dance, as you know, they write about pretty basic stuff. For me, dance music or 120 or the heartbeat of all humanity is the oldest music in the world. The simple four on the floor, just a beat, something to move your body to. Dance is a very, very beautiful thing and it’s something everyone can do and does in entirely different ways. I love that the whole world could dance with us one day.
You’ve got the same overarching aim for PNAU and Empire Of The Sun, but the latter has developed a complexity. When you were making those early PNAU records do you think you had the maturity to present the ideas you are now with Empire?
Well, PNAU has always been more bonkers, I would say. I think that’s what people have come to know PNAU as. It’s not so much a forum for a seriousness. PNAU has a new single coming out called Chameleon which carries on the bonkers nature of us. But Empire, because it was a fusing of Luke and I, he comes from a much more traditional songwriting sphere than I do with the Dylan and Lennon kind of references where as I come from acid house and everything after. It’s always been a collaboration or a conversation between two very different beings which is wonderful. The combination of two very different things is where you have the opportunity to create something new.
We talk a lot about the music with Empire Of The Sun but the imagery is just as important. Is that something you discuss while you’re making the music?
We do discuss it a lot and we try quite a few experiments along the way. We were lucky enough this time around to collaborate with a directing team out of New York who were originally from Brazil. I talked to them about visionary art and Peruvian art and they knew all about it because they were from that area of the world. We’d never worked with people on quite this calibre. The images that they were sending back to us were literally blowing our minds. We had no idea that such things could exist. You’ll see a few of them in the video and I hope to do more work with them in the future. It’s always a big part of what we do. We don’t necessarily write songs for the images but you can take a song like Two Vines which to me is a very clear image but everyone sees whatever they see. Every though that people have is very valid.
It must be good to have a team who sympathise or understand the concepts you’re throwing forward?
I think we’ve always connected very deeply on dreams, dreaming and imagination in its purest, rawest form. That’s where we are best, when we are in that moment of creativity. When we’re doing benign things we’ll switch off and maybe not even talk because we are so inside our own heads.
Catch Empire Of The Sun at next year’s FOMO Festival in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide.