We caught up with Luke Steele of H3000 to chat about the duos debut self-titled album, their sonic marriage, visual identity and more!
Image: Jon Shoer
Luke Steele (Empire Of The Sun, The Sleepy Jackson) and Jarrad Rogers (Charli XCX, Lana Del Rey) have joined forces to fuse deep emotional states with advanced technologies, creating transcendental works of music and art within their new musical project, H3000.
Last week, the duo unveiled their debut self-titled body of work, featuring the singles Flames, July Heat, Running, Human Heart and three brand new tracks. Across the collection of songs, H3000 bring their sensational hyper-pop production to the table, with Steele's auto-tuned, mesmerising vocals taking centre stage. Conceptually, the record traverses themes of love, loss and camaraderie, that slowly reveal themselves as you make your way through the record.
The transcendental release is available in two colour vinyl pressings, with both editions including a bonus track, Stay Looking At Me, exclusively available on vinyl. Fans can score a signed copy of the sky blue and white swirl vinyl here.
H3000 is out now! Read our interview with Luke Steele below.
Congratulations on this amazing release, H3000's self-titled debut album! How did H3000 come to be? What brought you and Jarrad together for this creative project?
I was working with Daniel Johns, the famous Daniel Johns, and a great old friend of mine at Henson Studios. We were finishing the DREAMS record and we needed some production help. So I asked M-Phazes who we both know and love, a great Australian producer, if he could come in and he brought Jarrad along to that session. So we met there and Jarrad actually did some production on a couple of tracks. So fast forward to after we'd done the DREAM shows, we connected again. He sent me a backing and I just sort of had a real affinity with it. I put down the track running and that was the first track we did, and then we did another track and it just sort of flowed, you know? It was a real great process. We kind of did the whole thing in a couple of months, and then take five years to put it out.
We've been a fan of all your musical projects for so long. How did you approach creating this collection of songs that differs your other projects?
Well at this time I'd just been to Japan, and I think for the last 20 years anyone that knows me, my flair and the things I love will say, 'have you been to Japan?', and when you say no, it's like that thing. Like, 'have you seen that movie?' and when you say no, they go, 'oh my God, well let me tell you about the movie for about five hours', you know? So for the last 20 years it's been, 'oh my God, you haven't been to Japan'. So after going there, it just kind of blew my mind, you know, all the gadgets and toys and sounds. Everything about it was like another planet, like everyone said. I didn't think a place like that ever existed on the earth and that inspired me with all of the vocal techniques and bending the human voice. The most natural thing to a human is the voice. Like when your child's born and they hear your voice when they're in the tummy, it's what resonates. And when you bend that, it's kind of foreign for people. It becomes futuristic and a little bit alien. To me, that kind of excited me because it was something that may happen a lot in the future. You know, when people are unhappy with how they look, similar to plastic surgery, they just bend it and they become a different thing. So that was some of the musical, sonic aspects. Lyrically, Jarrad and I were both living in Los Angeles when we made it so much stuff was happening, there was so many mass shootings and people getting kidnapped, to all this stuff that was happening with the tinders and all of that. It was a really scary time for humanity.
At the time, did you find it an important task to reflect all those conceptual themes within the songs?
Yeah, I think you just sort of, it's not really important. It's just what is on your heart. You just write about it and it happens in some instinct kind of thing.
When it came to honing in on the overall sonic sound of H300, how did you and Jarrad navigate arriving at an overall sonic sound that brought together and represented your own individual influences and styles into one new exploration?
It was a cool process because Jarrad such a dope producer, you know, I'd send him half-time vocals, acoustic guitars, field recordings. I'd send him all kinds of stuff and he's a real sonic shaper, he does some things that great producers do where they do things certain things, certain ways that make it married together. That's what a good producer does, and that was what was cool about it. It was kind of simple. He'd sent me a track, I would write lyrics and the melody, cut the vocal, send it back and then you go and have lunch. I love that process, you know, when each party does what they're meant to do. It's like a great marriage, you know? You work as a good team.
That's such a lovely way to put it! How did the album evolve and change as you were creating it? Was there anything that didn't make the final track list that you think will have its day in the sun?
Yeah, there was one track we had which is a really great track that will probably come out after this. It was only a seven track record and it was like, they were the songs that were done and then it felt like it was done. It was a really obvious confirmation. Seven is like the number of God, you know? So it was, it just felt like, these days you could do a 35 track record and people would only probably listened to the first 40 seconds of the record. We wanted to keep it precise and quality.
Yeah, straight to the point and concise. You’ve released some great visuals throughout the albums rollout, heralded by the avatars that feature in the releases. Talk us through your process when it comes to conceptualising the music videos and imagery and how involved are you with the development of the visuals and creating the avatars...
Andrew van der Westhuyzen is a genius. He's a great director who heard this music and affected him and he built this world after hearing that. There's not many artists that can get it, and get it right and nail it and cross the line. A lot of people get to a certain point in these art houses and then they stop, and then they demand more money [laughs] and it's like just finish the creation, you know? He was so good about how specific was with the concept. We had ideas, but he really was the one that made the videos, and brought the whole look across the line.
How significant do you think the visuals are when it comes to building the identity of a record?
I think it's so important, I've always thought it's just such an important aspect. It's literally that 50%. Always, my whole career I've always used this Chet Atkins this quote that he said, "a lot of people hear through their eyes", and it's so true with the world. People see, and then they hear, and if both of those two mediums, like God didn't give us eyes to look at garbage you know? He gave us eyes to look at beautiful things. So it's important that the sensors of the eyes get just as much quality as the ears.
That is so true! Especially now, we are visual creatures, I guess. We take in so much information in a visual way. So much time is spent scrolling through curated feeds and apps. I think definitely, like you said it's like a 50/50 thing, people are equally responsive to visuals as they are to the music.
Yeah, of course.
Which three songs off H3000 would you pick to play to someone who had never heard your music, to make them an instant diehard fan?
This is a really good question. I'd probably say Running, because Running is about the tongue. It's about people have to be careful about what they say, you know? Kids are committing suicide these days because of what people say from their tongue. But that song was about hearing the words, but then if you can get past it, then you feel like you're back at the start, but you're actually glorified further on than where you were before. So yeah, Running, Quicksand and Rest.
Love those choices! Are there any lines or lyrics from the album that you'll find are ringing in your head more than others? Like you'll be walking down the street, or doing the dishes and there's this one line that always seems to kind of pop into your head?
Such a good question. Like I love the chorus of Flames. "The light goes up in flames in front of me". That was about when someone dies, there's always confirmation from the other side and across the Rubicon. I've had a lot of people pass away in my life and either the lights are all flicker, or when my grandmother passed away, I was driving back to my place in New Zealand and this rainbow, which was just like the biggest rainbow I'd ever seen appeared right at this time where we were listening to the final track of The White Album and it was such a confirmation. There wasn't a shadow of a doubt that it wasn't a confirmation.
I've had a few moments like that myself, especially after my grandfather passed away.
Yeah. I always sing that course, I think that chorus is just so special.
It's a good one. The world of touring is up in the air at the moment. Do you have any tentative touring plans and what would a H3000 live show look like?
Yeah, I want to tour, and this show looks great. I've already built the stage, I do a lot of the 3D stuff, so I built the stage. But it's so risky right now. My father always my whole life, he said to me, "don't take any unnecessary risks" and touring right now is an unnecessary risks. You know, you don't need that unnecessary risk.
Obviously the past eighteen months have taken its toll on the music industry, specifically the touring sector, but also in terms of making that in person connection with audience members and creating a shared feeling and experience. How important do you think live music is not only for yourselves as musicians showcasing your art, but also for the audience members who resonate with your music?
It's so important. In the Bible there's the whole book on music and Psalms. Music is a wonder, it's like a God-given one that is like a remedy for people's souls. It's so important and I've noticed more and more how beautiful it is. Occasionally on socials I get stuff from people and they say, 'I heard this song like 10 years ago' and they write me letters and they say, 'it changed my whole life, I'd just met my girlfriend and now she's my wife'. I always try and put myself in the position of someone else, like of the music I look up to and what I would say to that person, and that puts you back in place and makes you realise you have to respect it because it's something that's so integral in our lives.
Probably John Lennon and Brian Wilson.
I'd probably like to work with Sufjan Stevens.
Album that has had the most impact on you?
Maybe Daniel Lanois Shine.
If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?
Ooh, that's a hard one because the films you love, the soundtrack is already so good. Maybe like Flight of the Navigator.
Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus?
Oh Miley Cyrus.
What was the first song you loved to sing?
Probably You Belong To Me by Bob Dylan.
First concert you went to?
Midnight Oil at the Perth Entertainment Centre.
Best concert you have been to?
Maybe Al Green at the Hollywood Bowl.
First album you ever bought?
It was around Sonic Youth time, but I really don't know
Would you rather be a Spice Girl or a Backstreet Boy?
I'd have to be Backstreet Boy. Come on.
What’s your favourite back street?
Probably Steel Lane, in New Zealand.
Most memorable show you’ve ever performed?
Selling out The Hollywood Bowl.
An artist you think has had the most influence on the music industry.
What advice would your current self, give your future self, for a year from now?
Worry less, stress less, focus more on God.
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
I think in high school being at the blues club which my dad ran and would perform out. I kind of got engulfed in the kind of excitement of performing and all that.