As gaudy, airbrushed personae Emperor Steele (Luke Steele) and Lord Littlemore (Nick Littlemore), this Australian duo makes fantastical pop music informed as much by glam rock as it was JG Ballard. Debut Walking on a Dream was a crossover success that went gold in the UK and double platinum in their homeland – a much bigger success than Luke’s indie rock band The Sleepy Jackson and Nick’s left-leaning electronic outfit Pnau. You’d think that would mean the two would focus more on their incarnation as Empire of the Sun, but that album was released in ’08. It’s only this year that they finally recorded follow up Ice on the Dune, five years after the fact. In that time, Luke for the longest time took the band on a tour on his own while Nick was busy playing Music Director to Cirque De Soleil’s show Nirvana, which considering their image, doesn’t sound as bizarre as you’d think it is. Recently, JUICE took a bit of Nick’s time and discussed the waning myth of pop and rock stars, the band’s cinematic eye for a medium that rouses our hearing, and the destructive potential of pop music.
It’s been five years since Walking On A Dream, that’s quite a big gap from debut to sophomore. Was there a fear of sophomore slum? Is that why the big gap?
Well you know, Luke was on the road for a long time and I was working, I ran away and joined the circus, so those things take time. We’re not a normal project, we’re not some band that will have their whole life cycle in 5 years – Empire of The Sun is a much loftier vision than that, it goes on and on.
You mentioned the circus just now; you’ve worked with Cirque De Soleil a bit. Has that influence Empire of The Sun in any way?
Well, no. I think the influence is more on the discipline and the kind of understanding of putting things together and trying to tie in a concept. We have the growth that we do as we age and we explore as we experience.
The album was recorded in a world tour of studios. Did each of the cities you recorded at affect each of the songs in a specific way?
I think environment can influence things, I think environment doesn’t influence the sound as much as the individual, and then therefore the music that comes out from the environment. But we always try to create very resonant spaces, very comfortable ones. You know, we love the imagery of old opium dens, not that that is something we do, but certainly that kind of lush environment, very comfortable, and kind of closed and cloaked, it’s a special thing to create. In order to conjure up all this magic, we need to create a space within a house or a studio that exists; we like to work on spaces with different types of people and place ourselves in and out of our levels of comfort, to see where we may find things and how the world can look differently from one window through another.
But you guys had to travel from New York to New Zealand to record your album; can’t it be at one place since it’s all about the people instead of the environment?
Well at the time I was living in New York and Luke was living in LA, we were just about to settle. So it only seemed fair. Over the Christmas period, he had to go back to his family so we headed over there and I was with my family then we worked in Australia… There’s more of the matter of the course our lives have changed [than a conscious decision made for the album].
We haven’t heard the new album, but if you could describe to us the raw sound, themes, and emotions, what would it be?
A technicolour dream unlike any vision you’ve ever experienced. Imagine a world beyond the world, light years from now, generations above and beyond explosions.
… okay. From the way you describe it just now, it seems like Empire of the Sun is very conceptual. Also, the title track ‘Ice on the Dune’ is actually based on a movie that you guys are working on? Could you tell us more about that?
We’re in the spirit of kind and creation and we love to create and we love to explore, we continue to make things and make friends in the pursuit of something greater than our spells and yes I would imagine the film is certainly something that’s part of that. We’re talking about a Vegas style show that we tour separate from the live band, with a play of sorts with the intergalactic interplay, not just the play. I don’t know how many things are coming your way [actually]… from the children’s book to the toys.
The film is a collaboration with Bad Robot, right? How did that happen?
These things just happened through chance and luck in pursuit of honesty and earnestness.
Were you guys big fans of JJ Abrams before this or was it purely coincidental?
Well it turns out I was a fan, but I wasn’t aware he was the man behind so many things that I love, and one of the lesser known things [by him] that I love was this wonderful film that he wrote when he was 23 called Regarding Henry with Harrison Ford in it. I mean I saw the movie the other day and it’s such a wonderful piece. It’s unbelievably tough and true all of the same time, often emotions can stir up things maybe that’ll come true in real life and in reality in the same way, but he has this uncanny ability to tell two things at the same time.
Although the band’s name is purely coincidental, has these always been a cinematic side to your creative process?
Well I think that Luke and I went to art school and I was very interested in cinema, making movies, and doing soundtracks, which was how I got into making music. I think, we’re both interested in cinema because it’s so epic and there are so many more colours that you can explore in a pop song. We don’t like to limit ourselves in any way, I don’t think you can limit a dream, can you? So why would you limit a song.