Exotic, gaudy and lavish, Empire Of The Sun brings together two unlikely collaborators from Australian pop. LukeSteele, the enigmatic wunderkind behind The Sleepy Jackson, first met Pnau’s NickLittlemore via a mundane hook-up instigated by the latter’s record company.
Luke: “Most of the record was done when I’d be in town for a day, so we’d have to finish a whole song in a night. Then, two months later, I’m back, and we’d do it again. So it was spontaneous writing, which was good. A lot of the Sleepy [Jackson] stuff was quite laboured. This was the first record where I could have a bit of a break. It all just happened.” Above and beyond actual music-making, the duo bonded over shared outlooks and inspirations from other artforms. Movies were a major passion. They would eventually take their name from the Spielberg-directed movie version of JGBallard’s novel, Empire of the Sun, which is set in occupied Shanghai during the Second World War. However, a pivotal moment arrived when the duo watched AlejandroJodorowsky’s legendary avant-garde masterpiece from 1973, ‘The Holy Mountain’, in which a Christ-like character withdraws from society with a flock of disciples to quest for eternal life. Nick: “About a quarter of the way into recording, we actually wrote a treatment for a film that we’ll make for the album. We wrote the whole script, so then we just wrote songs to fit into places within the script. It’s a journey of discovery, like a road movie, but one you’re not seeing on the road.” Thus, the album which eventually emerged from their collaboration, ‘Walking On A Dream’, was inextricably filmic in its conception. Just as its synthesized pop sound harks back in some measure to the early 1980’s New Romanticism of Gary Numan and DuranDuran, so Empire Of The Sun harbours a similar ambition to transcend the mundanity of pop in the MP3 age. Though their music is packed with catchy hooks, which grab you right off the bat, it also has conceptual coherence. Perhaps the most positive sign that Empire Of The Sun are onto something good, is that they’re hard to pin down with easy reference points. For a fleeting moment, you might hear an echo of Chic’s hi-tech disco, or Fleetwood Mac’s sheeny pop, or even the dream-like phantasmagoria of Mercury Rev…but then it’s gone, and other sound and images coalesce in its place “We’re like vessels to bring music back to the future, back to entertainment and colour and and all the otherworldly kind of things. A lot of the record is us out in the galaxy, looking back at the world. We wanted to talk about much more prophetic things than just cars and girls. (pull)There’s one word that Luke uses through the whole record – surrender. We really wanted to surrender to the higher calling, to the project as being the motivator.(/pull) We wanted to put something back into the world that people could really believe in, and we will not let them down on any level.” So, in the months ahead, the duo are preparing to carry through on their audio-visual vision for their band, their creation. They have already shot a video for their album’s title track in Shanghai (location of Spielberg’s movie). Luke: “It was pretty technicolour. It was done pretty renegade style, it’s illegal to film there. We had to do the make-up in the car.” Their exotic costumes naturally weren’t best suited to such undercover work, and at one point they nearly got arrested. There are now plans to film further clips in Mexico, Iceland and Las Vegas, with the ultimate goal of using them all as a backdrop for the duo’s debut live extravaganza, which should kick off some time in 2009. Given the unusual track records of both the band’s constituent members – not to mention the jaw-dropping magnificence of their debut album together – it’s safe to assume that those shows will bring entertainment, colour and all the otherworldly things in abundance.