Empire of the Sun: The Emperor’s New Clothes

source: Dominic Phua / Universal Music Singapore

From the many years JUICE has been in the music circuit, we have patronised all sorts of concerts; local ones and international ones, big stadium concerts and small pub crawls. We have seen some bands that are rigid as a street post onstage, some with soaring performances but awkward crowd interactions – and even some with none at all! As Robbie Williams once said, “Let me entertain you,” Sydneysiders Empire of the Sun sets out to do just that at every show they have. We speak to lead Luke Steele on a collective that is not only musically talented, but fashionably entertaining as well.

Empire of the Sun has a few hit songs under your glittering belts, such as ‘Alive’, and ‘We Are the People’. What do you think is the secret recipe in making a hit song?
It’s that song that does so many things all at once. That song that energises you, that gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside, that starts up this electricity in you, that makes you feel better about yourself, that gives you liberation and power… A good hit song, it has to be more than just an investment; you have to be able to sing the song in the showers 30 years down the road, and it would still mean as much as it does now.

Every once in a while, a great music act will emerge from Australia and hit international fame: Powderfinger, Savage Garden, The Saints, The Go-Between, The Temper Trap, to name a few. Right here and right now, it is Empire of the Sun. What do you think it is about Empire of the Sun’s music that makes it work during this era, not only in Australia, but throughout the world?
When we first started in ‘08, it was back home in Sydney in this small inner-city suburb called Waterloo. Back then, it was not that flamboyant just yet in the industry. After we were through with grunge era in the ‘90s, people were still playing that “we’re just like everybody else” game. Nick [Littlemore] and I decided that we’re not going to be “just like everybody else.” We want Empire of the Sun to be more than music, to be about entertainment. You know, something that draws inspiration and aspiration from Las Vegas. People love that, people love to dress up. People want to let go and loose themselves at our shows!

Empire of the Sun definitely loves to dress up! How would you describe Empire of the Sun’s fashion sense, and how do you think it plays its part in the music you make, much like how fashion has played its part throughout the eras?
I think we are all caught right in the middle of the digital and the analogue. You know, something akin to what you see in Zoolander, with people experimenting with various fabrics, and those getting more inventive and innovative, and incorporating real plants and food in their fashion. Like a digital sandwich (laughs)! I think that would describe Empire of the Sun’s collective fashion sense in a nutshell. We’re caught in between the sane and the insane. When we’re up onstage, we play characters in each song, and we go on this journey throughout our set. We’re like a time machine, like the Delorean from Back to the Future (laughs); we’re not only revisiting the Samurais and the Red Indians from the past, but also going into the future with the looks of biotech and neotech. We even portray live creatures in our costumes, maybe a live mouse scurrying about, or a headpiece filled with live beetles!

Who or what would you say are your fashion influences?
As of right now, I’d say all God’s animals. It’s like taking a walk in the zoo. Also, I love crazy designer brands like Alexander McQueen and Givenchy as well.

Last but not least, what makes you feel ‘Alive’?
Oh, a lot of things! My family, my wife and my daughter, making music that not only changes my life, but changes others’ as well. When you write a song, you want it to come through for people, one time or another along the way.

Empire of the Sun played at Fort Canning Park, Singapore on Friday 21 February ’14.