Soundtrack Of My Life: Empire Of The Sun’s Luke Steele

Aussie dance-rocker, karaoke partner to Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson

The first song I remember hearing

Bob Dylan – ‘Like A Rolling Stone’

“My father’s a musician and he’s always played a fair chunk of Dylan‘s catalogue. In Australia they have lots of beer gardens where various shows go on. He’d always play this tune in his set. It reminds me of pretty much being the only kid in a smoky beer garden and growing up [in Perth] around musicians in pubs and clubs.”

The first song I fell in love with

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John Lennon – ‘Watching The Wheels’

“My dad had a huge vinyl collection. I’d go through every one, from JJ Cale to John Prine, but I’d always come back to The Beatles and to Lennon. I always loved this song. In the early ’70s, my mum was throwing a big party in Perth. The police got called and it was like, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ She said, ‘I just got John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ record. Why don’t you come in?’ And the police said, ‘Oh my God, you’ve got Lennon’s new record’ and they came in and they drank ‘til five in the morning. I want to live in that world.”

The first album I bought

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Electric Ladyland’

“Before high school, and into high school, I was really addicted to Hendrix. His whole energy and flow and how abstract and mental he was. I used to do the playing with my teeth and behind my head. I think the only thing I haven’t done is set a guitar on fire. He was my guitar blueprint, and growing up in the blues club, every second guy either wanted to be Stevie Ray Vaughan or Hendrix. I probably bought [this album] from a little record store called The Purple Ear in Perth.”

The first gig I went to

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Midnight Oil, Perth Entertainment Centre, 1990

“I was about 11 or 12. The Entertainment Centre was a great venue, a big round dome. I remember the sheer power of that band, one of the greatest Australian rock bands and [lead singer] Peter Garrett was always like this electrified lizard on stage, bringing out moves from another planet.”

The song that reminds me of home

GANGgajang – ‘Sounds Of Then (This Is Australia)’

“The hook is ‘this is Australia’. Growing up I’d surf heaps down the west coast of Australia and they always use the song in surf films. It was always shots of surfers on these road trips around Australia and the lyrics describe a feeling in Australia which is quite unique – the sun over the cane fields and the humidity. Anyone that’s been there knows that feeling. Every time I hear this song, it takes me back to all the surfing trips.”

The song I wish I’d written

The Beatles – ‘Help!’

“It’s just such a such a banger, a banger of the times. It’s like you can feel the whole world screaming in the track. To be in that band, singing that…”

The song I do at karaoke

Empire Of The Sun – ‘Walking On A Dream’

“A few years ago, I was here in Malibu and a good friend of mine, Pete Farrelly, who’s a director [Green Book], invited me to a dinner party. I got there and Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson were there. We had this crazy great dinner and as I was going, Pete said, ‘Steele, you’re not going home, you’re coming to the bar on the corner’. So we walk into the bar and it’s a packed Malibu bar. All of a sudden ‘Walking On A Dream’ starts up and someone pushes a microphone into my chest and says ‘you’re on’. There I am in a packed Malibu bar singing ‘Walking On A Dream’ with Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Pete Farrelly doing back-up vocals. They were pretty good, funnily enough. I didn’t have any make-up on, no get-up so no-one knew it was me, they were just like, ‘this guy knows this tune’.”

The song I can’t get out of my head

Dragon – ‘Young Years’

“During the early parts of the pandemic, I was in Santa Monica with the kids. It was the start of summer it was getting pretty hot, so I designed the homemade Steele family waterpark out the back. We had the water slide, a swimming pool and then the hose on the trampoline. And I had the stereo blasting. Playing this song always reminds me of going back to New Zealand and Australia. In a way I was trying to let them know [lockdown] was going to be over soon and we were going to be back home.”

The song I can no longer listen to

Kool & The Gang – ‘Celebration’

“Recently every casino ad, every water park, every family commercial has that song on it. Just shut up! I can’t stand it.”

The song that makes me want to dance

The Killers – ‘The Man’

“My son has just discovered The Killers and all he listens to all day long is ‘The Man’. In the car, at the dinner table, all you can hear is ‘I’m the man’.”

The song I want played at my funeral

Gene Wilder – ‘Pure Imagination’

“From Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. They say imagination is the scissors of the mind. It’s forever cutting and piecing things together that eventually become real in the outer world. And every time I hear that song it’s so trippy. It’s a place where everything is possible. Maybe at my funeral it could be like a song of resurrected eternal hope or something.”

Luke Steele’s debut solo album ‘Listen to the Water’ is out now via EMI

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