(Empire of the Sun perform at the Doritos #MixArcade at E3 2016. Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images)
Luke Steele, frontman of Australian space-rockers Empire of the Sun, jokes that he’s “slowly becoming an American” after living in Los Angeles for several years. “L.A., they say, is the storytelling capital of the world,” he says, chatting with Yahoo Music backstage before Empire’s concert at the Doritos Mix Arcade event at Los Angeles’s E3 Gaming Expo this week. “It’s an imaginative playground for all ages. I think it’s the gateway to the world, really. That’s what’s exciting for me. The opportunities are endless.”
However, after the tragic massacre at gay nightclub Pulse last weekend (along with the gunning down of Voice star Christina Grimmie in the same city, Orlando), one has to ask what the Perth-born Steele thinks of America these days. After strict gun-control laws were instated in his native country 20 years ago, the chances of being murdered by a gun in Australia plunged by 72 percent, according to Reuters – and the country has had no mass shootings since. Many gun-control activists cite Australia’s policies when criticizing the more lenient gun laws in America.
“No one has guns in Australia – except for the police, or farmers. That just seems to make sense,” Steele says. “Why does everyone need a gun? That’s just what I do not understand. It’s kind of scary, the way the world is going… I just don’t understand why they don’t just ban guns [in the United States]. Like, if someone wants to be President, why don’t they make that one of the things they’ll do?”
For now, though, Steele is still living the American dream: His group’s fittingly titled debut single, “Walking on a Dream,” has surprisingly become their first U.S. radio hit a full eight years after its original release, thanks to its inclusion in a Honda commercial. The unexpected revival of the title track off Empire’s debut LP hasn’t derailed the group’s plans to release their yet-untitled third album, which they just completed last week – but, Steele admits, it certainly has “turned up the stakes a bit.”
Steele describes the forthcoming album, which was partially recorded at two iconic American studios (Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood, and Island Studios in Hawaii, where Kanye West recorded 808s & Heartbreak), as “a warm summer breeze, a warm record, a record that feels good. Everyone says it’s our best record – but I suppose people always say that!”
Most exciting, however, is that the album will feature two American rock icons, one of which is Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham. Considering that “I’ll Be Around,” from Empire’s 2013 sophomore effort Ice on the Dune, basically sounded like an outtake from Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage album, this new collaboration makes perfect sense.
“One of my favorite things to do is sit with my wife, drink white wine, and just listen to records once the kids have gone to bed. And I always end up emailing my manager and saying, ‘I wanna work with this person,’” Steele chuckles. “Nine times out of 10, they never get back to me. But Lindsey got back to us and said, ‘I love the band; I wanna come down to the studio.’ We jammed for about six hours, and then he came back the next day and we wrote this amazing song, ‘To Her Door.’”
The other collaboration on the third album, recorded just two weeks ago, is with Wendy Melvoin from Prince’s Revolution. “We were in Jim Henson Studio and she was there; we just happened to be in the same building and we said, ‘Do you want to play on this song?’ She loved the song, but she said, ‘There’s a certain part of the song that should go to your heart, like a post-chorus. This is the part I’m missing.’ So she added a bass part that goes to that deeper kind of level. It’s pretty amazing.”
Buckingham wasn’t the only collaborator on Steele’s late-night email wishlist. He’d love to work one day with Brian Wilson, but most of all, Steele’s dream duet would be with another American legend. “I’ve always loved Carole King since I was a kid. I’ve had so many adventures and experiences with Carole King, starting with my mother and father playing [her albums],” Steele reveals. “Or like, my first girlfriend was a Norwegian girl and then she left and I was heartbroken, and I just listened to Tapestry over and over. And the other day, my daughter had a music day at her school and the first song they sang was ‘You’ve Got a Friend.’ I kind of can’t escape it!”
Steele jokes that he’s “still waiting” to hear back from King, so perhaps that hoped-for collaboration won’t happen until album number four. In the meantime, Empire of the Sun’s Buckingham/Melvoin-assisted third album is slated for a “September or October” release, and fans can still hear “Walking on a Dream” pratically every time they switch on their TV sets.