Beach parties and barbeques and rock music
As The Sleepy Jackson hit Ireland, Luke Steele discusses the departures from the band since their last interview, the progress on their upcoming debut album and the problem with Australian audiences.
The man at the bar is drunk, very drunk. Although this may be a normal occurrence in the average Dublin pub, the fact that it is 5pm on a dreary Monday evening brings an element of an almost entertaining quality in watching him attempt to light his cigarette more times than I can count.
It's three hours before the Australian boys, The Sleepy Jackson, take to the stage in Whelan's. As I sit there, I scan the scene. Three journalists, one record company executive, one barman, one intoxicated vessel and an abundance of alcohol. It is here I conclude that something is wrong… Yes!... No Sleepy Jackson. Half an hour later we are informed that Mr Luke Steele, singer of the Australian quartet, has been happily strumming away on his acoustic for some radio show and the tour-bus driver 'misjudged' the Dublin peak-time traffic.
When finally the monstrous silver tour bus pulls up outside the venue, I down my drink expecting to be greeted by a rather jittery and frayed lead singer, as a result of the stress of travelling in Dublin rush-hour. However, this presumption could not be further from the truth. Upon my introduction, the diminutive singer seems almost radiant with enthusiasm and friendliness and only too happy to talk to anyone who wants to talk to him.
The Sleepy Jackson are about to become one of those bands that burst onto the music scene so impressively that you wonder where they cam from so suddenly. The release of the EP 'Let your love be love' earlier this year caused a media frenzy in the UK. However, a shock was not far off when just as the band began to pick up momentum two of the members left citing 'cabin fever' as the catalyst for their departure.
"I don't know; I'm still a bit confused about that. I think 'cause Malcolm (drummer) and I were on the road separately for ten years playing in jazz bands and blues bands. Whereas when they came into the Sleepy Jackson, within the first six months they were flying to London and there was a real majestic quality. Flying places and working with international producers, so it was kinda like they got a bit greedy and it was working against them," he says taking a gulp from a bottle of Ballygown.
Since then two new members have been recruited, one of whom was originally a guitar technician for the band. "Yea, it's much more relaxing now", he nods in confirmation.
Obviously still perplexed by the departure of the former members, one of whom Luke says has been his best friend for the last three years, he continues to site his inspiration for some of the tracks. "See that's the thing that really annoyed me. I set up this whole project; I signed the deals to my name and then they came in, trying to run the band and steer it this way and that way. But now it's good to have the main vision of what it was before."
Smiling ear to ear, Luke gushes over his hopes for this, the first Irish date the band have ever played. "The live show is really important to us. The more stuff that's written about it, the more you have to keep on re-establishing yourself. It's not like you can just do one good album and a few good tours and that's it."
Suddenly adopting a more serious stance, he continues, "And more the fact of talking to people as well, just the general personality of the band. I used to be in that phase of, 'Oh, it's more interesting if you don't talk to people and just put on this blank face and have this weird avant garde speech' but it just kinda kills you in the end. Like when I saw Badly Drawn Boy and he was just drunk and some girl shouted something and he was like 'How dare you, don't you know who I am' And I was really into his music and now it's just got no energy, it's got no power."
As the band prepares for their first full-length release in the summer, Luke reflects on the reception of his music in his homeland of Perth, Australia, and comes to a conclusion, which he has stated many times before. "I think the level of maturity in the listeners' ears in Australia is a bit diluted. I think it takes a lot longer; they're kinda driven by beach parties and barbeques and rock music."
Not to denounce the former style, the Sleepy Jackson have just come off the back of a support slot with their natives Silverchair. "It was pretty amazing," he enthuses. "We were the only band supporting them. It was like twenty dates and, yeah, it was really good. Me and Daniel got on really well and we're thinking of doing a double record. That was a cool thing that came out of the tour."
If it is even possible, Luke becomes even more animated as the questions turn to the completion of the new and as yet unreleased album. "The EP was showing off a bit, I guess," he laughs. "The record is a lot more along the lines of what we do live. It's just more roadworthy. It's just a bit more kinda positive and on a bigger scale. I know the cliché of 'oh, we have matured as songwriters', but we have y'know. Well, I know I have. I've been through a lot with people leaving and people trying to rip you off. A lot of that has gone into the album tracks."
Luke exudes sheer excitement and anticipation as he awaits the release of the album which features, amongst other things, a ten-year-old girl singing on a song titled 'Morning Bird'; a six-piece choir and a rapping Japanese visual artist! "Yea, we wanted to do that whole Yoko Ono/John Lennon thing," he laughs. "We got this Japanese girl. I wasn't even there when it was done. It was the producer that got her in and it just sounded good."
The first track to be lifted from the album is titled 'Vampire Racecourse' and it is at this point that Luke pulls at his fringe almost shyly as he recalls the shooting of the video by director Ken Saunders. "We had these three hot models dressed in these pink satin dresses and we were playing this real punk style thing. They were trying to seduce us with these big vampire teeth." He smiles triumphantly!
So what of the future for the Sleepy Jackson? Well, if Luke gets his way, it's going to a very very busy one. "Just to advance our music y'know. Bigger and bigger and higher and higher, till it's in the clouds. We're going to start the Sleepy Jackson Show soon."
"What, like the Jackson 5?" I say in all seriousness.
"Nah like a theatre production. Hopefully this [album] goes good and then we'll have enough money to do a theatrical record, which is kinda like big vocal harmonies and like a screenplay on a record and do a whole live production. We just wanna get it to horror movie kinda status."
As Luke gets ready to soundcheck, I suggest that it seems like things can't get better for him. "Yea, it can't really. No wait... well, it can get better if we sell a whole lotta records! But, y'know, it's kind of a bit of a blessing really. I've been at this for five years now and putting up with crap, but, if you put faith into it, then people will acknowledge that - the good guys. And that's what we have now," he smiles as he heads down to the stage.
As I leave the venue, I pass by the monstrous tour-bus and it's easy to see how this elaborate vehicle make many people associate the music business with over-indulgence and superficiality. However, as I hear the first fading chords of the sound check as I walk away, I am reminded that inside lie a very grounded, very real and ultimately very talent bunch of guys. Although their names may not be on everyone's lips as yet, I smile concluding that it won't be very long before they will be.
by Bernadette Johnston