Luke James Steele (born 13 December 1979) is an Australian singer and songwriter. Steele is the vocalist and primary songwriter of the alternative rock band The Sleepy Jackson and is a member of the electronic music duo Empire of the Sun.
Steele was born in Perth, Western Australia, on December 13, 1979. Luke attended Mount Lawley Senior High School as a student.
Steele is a member of a musical family. His father, Rick, is a blues guitarist and harmonica player. Steele's sister, Katy, is the vocalist of Perth indie rock band Little Birdy. His brother Jake, also joined The Sleepy Jackson in 2008 playing computer samples, and has played keyboards for the now defunct Perth band Injured Ninja. Steele's other brother Jesse was an original member of The Sleepy Jackson.
In 2006, Steele became engaged to a magazine editor, Jodi (aka "Snappy Dolphin"), who also joined The Sleepy Jackson for the band's 2008 national tour. In October 2008, the couple had their first child, a daughter named Sunny Tiger.
The Sleepy Jackson (1998–present)
The Sleepy Jackson was established in 1998, featuring Steele on vocals and guitar, his brother Jesse on drums and Matthew O'Connor on bass. Both their self-titled debut EP and a subsequent single, "Miniskirt," were independently released. Jesse left the band in 2000 and was replaced by Paul Keenan.
In late 2000, The Sleepy Jackson began a national tour with Jebediah. In March 2001, on the eve of the band's deal with EMI Records, the band toured with Magic Dirt and Motor Ace, adding Ronan Charles on keyboard. Steele eventually completed the tour as a solo performer after the other band members left the tour and returned home.
In 2001, EMI released Caffeine in the Morning Sun, which Steele recorded in Sydney with session musicians. In addition to playing solo shows, Steele recruited Malcolm Clark (drums), Justin Burford (guitar) and Rodney Aravena (bass). The Sleepy Jackson relocated to Sydney where they recorded another EP, Let Your Love Be Love (2002). Songs from this EP, and Caffeine in the Morning Sun, were compiled into a self-titled mini-album for release in the UK market in February 2003. The band toured extensively in 2003, playing in Australia, the United States and Europe. Between live appearances, the band worked on recordings for their debut album Lovers. By the end of 2003, Burford and Aravena left the band.
The band released its second album Personality – One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird in Australia on 1 July 2006. It debuted at Number 10 on the ARIA Albums Charts the following week. The album was nominated for a J Award by Australian radio station Triple J. Joining Steele and Clark on this album were Dave Symes and Felix Bloxsom, as well as Lee Jones (formerly in the Perth band Spencer Tracy). Bloxsom has since been replaced by Luke's brother Jake and wife Jodi, a.k.a. "Snappy Dolphin."
In 2007, The Sleepy Jackson performed at the 2007 Big Day Out, the Southbound festival, the Falls Festival and the St. Jerome's Laneway festival in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Also in 2007, Luke provided slide guitar on the song "Waiting All Day" by Silverchair on their fifth album Young Modern. Luke also appeared on the Pnau single "With You Forever", leading Nick Littlemore to state on Pnau's website "... working with Luke Steele ... it was amazing; that inspired [me] to work on a separate project with him all together. It's another album we're doing." Steele and Littlemore subsequently formed the electroacoustic pop outfit Empire of the Sun in 2008.
Empire of the Sun (2007–present)
Steele and Littlemore met in 2000 when introduced by Steele's A&R executive Simon Moor, in a bar in Sydney, Australia. At the time, both were signed with EMI and had been working on independent projects. The two became instant friends and shortly afterwards decided to begin a collaborative music project together. Their first collaboration was "Tell the Girls That I'm Not Hangin' Out", which appeared on The Sleepy Jackson's 2003 debut album, Lovers. The pair only decided to get serious about making an album in 2004 when Steele went to Littlemore's studio north of Sydney and they began writing material together.
Steele was living in Perth and Littlemore in Sydney. For the next few months, the pair continued to write songs for the project independently and organised meetings in Sydney to decide on the album's overall musical direction and style. After several months of consulting on material, Littlemore and Steele went into the studio to record their debut album. Titled Walking on a Dream, the album was released on 4 October 2008. Prior to its release, six tracks were put up on the social networking site MySpace for fans to listen to.
The album opened at number eight on the ARIA Chart and peaked at number six. Their first single, titled "Walking on a Dream", was released digitally on 30 August 2008. The single received airplay from many Australian radio stations and reached #10 on the ARIA Singles Chart, breaking the record for the longest time taken for a single to reach the top 10. It was released as a free single on 21 April 2009. The second single released off the album, entitled "We Are the People", peaked at number twenty-four on the ARIA Charts. In September 2009, the song was used in an American advertising campaign for Vizio televisions. The third single, "Standing on the Shore" was released on iTunes on 12 June and then for general release on 23 June. Its music video was filmed in Lancelin in April 2009. Following the making of this video, it was announced that "Without You" would be the 4th single for Empire of the Sun. Remixed for single release, its music video was filmed in FOX Studios in Sydney, Australia. Its changed tempo and emotion earned it an overall positive response. It was released in late September.
Critical response to the album was mixed, generating a score of 60 on the review aggregator Metacritic. In his review for NME, Martin Robinson described their debut as "silly but their songs demand to be taken seriously, just like Prince, Ultravox and Bowie. And yes, they're like MGMT – in that they're great." Under the Radar also rated it favorably, describing it as "a highly visual experience".
However, some critics were less satisfied with the pair's debut. Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian rated it 3 out of 5 stars, applauding the duo's unpredictability, but wishing "they would calm down a bit". Popmatters were also underwhelmed by the album, stating: "Unfortunately, despite the well developed '80s image, the music emulated is not anything worth reviving."
The duo released their second album Ice on the Dune on 17 June 2013. The album's release was preceded by a trailer directed by J. D. Dillard of Kelvin Optical, Inc. (a division of J. J. Abrams's Bad Robot Productions). Lead single "Alive" was released on 16 April 2013.
Steele received global media attention following an interview with music publication NME at the Sziget Festival in Budapest, in August 2013. During the interview, he compared Ice on the Dune to Daft Punk's 2013 Random Access Memories, saying: "They had a great marketing campaign, but we’ve got better songs." Steele was featured on Japanese-American Steve Aoki's album Neon Future I on the song "Neon Future".
In October 2014, Empire of the Sun headlined Sandance at Dubai’s Atlantis the Palm and in fall 2015 undertook a brief world tour.
Steele cites his musical influences as including The Cure, Elliott Smith, Paul McCartney, Michael Dempsey, John Lennon, Robert Smith, Brian Wilson, Carole King, James Taylor, The Four Freshmen, Kool And The Gang, Roger O'Donnell, and Cole Porter.
Steele's first notable collaboration was the band Nations by the River, formed with Ohad Rein (Old Man River), Edo Kahn, and Dove Kahn (both from Gelbison) during a Gelbison/Sleepy Jackson tour in 2003. They released an album through EMI called Holes in the Valley on 7 June 2004.
The following year Steele provided vocals on a track on Paul Mac's album Panic Room. While in New York City in 2006, Steele contributed a track called "I'm Moving On" to Yoko Ono's 2007 remix album Yes, I'm a Witch. Pnau feature Steele on their track "With You Forever", from their third album Pnau, released in October 2007.
Steele and his father Rick collaborated on an album released in February 2008 entitled Through My Eyes. Steele also spent time in 2008 recording with Daniel Johns of Silverchair at Johns' home studio in Newcastle, Australia. Although no plans were made to release the recordings, it was revealed that the collaboration was named "Hathaway/Palmer". Steele described the project: "It kind of started out a White Album thing because we don't have a band, it was acoustics. And from there it kind of went a bit haywire. It's pretty pop. I guess it's quite low down; there's country songs."
In August 2008, Steele embarked on his first national solo tour and performed—in an intimate acoustic guitar mode—songs from both The Sleepy Jackson albums, as well as a selection of new songs from his other projects. Steele was also featured on "What We Talkin' About", the first track of Jay-Z's album The Blueprint 3, released on 8 September 2009.
In a 2010 interview with Sunday Times, Steele described his plans for the future.
I've definitely got a lot of recording planned for this year . I've got about 75 sketches of songs which I think are pretty cool. I need to get more serious with recording. A Sleepies within the year and an Empire record after that.
At 60, I want to look back at a solid body of work. You want to be remembered as an inspirational artist rather than someone who pumps out pop things to get on the next magazine cover.
Steele co-wrote and co-produced the track "Rather Die Young" on American R&B singer Beyoncé Knowles's 2011 album 4. He also appears on Usher's song "Looking 4 Myself", from the 2012 album of the same name. His vocals are featured on the Steve Aoki song "Neon Future" from Neon Future I as well, which was uploaded to the latter's SoundCloud profile on 2 October 2014.
The Sleepy Jackson
- Lovers (30 June 2003) #21 Australia, #69 UK, #117 France
- Personality – One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird (1 July 2006) #10 Australia, #42 Sweden
- From Lovers:
- "Vampire Racecourse" (7 July 2003) #71 Australia, #50 UK
- "Good Dancers" (13 October 2003 – UK; 24 November 2003 – Australia) #71 UK
- "Come to This" (23 February 2004)
- "This Day"/"Come to This" (22 March 2004 – Australia)
- From Personality – One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird:
- "God Lead Your Soul" (29 May 2006 – Australia; 17 July 2006 – UK) #25 Australia, #69 UK
- "Devil Was in My Yard" (25 September 2006 – Australia)
- "I Understand What You Want but I Just Don't Agree" (16 October 2006 – UK)
- The Sleepy Jackson EP (a.k.a. Glasshouses) (PMR 206C) (2000)
- Miniskirt (2000)
- Caffeine in the Morning Sun (12 November 2001)
- Let Your Love Be Love (4 November 2002)
- The Sleepy Jackson (self-titled EP; also released on double 10" vinyl as "Heart") (24 February 2003)
Empire of the Sun
- Walking on a Dream (2008) #6 Australia, #8 UK
- Ice on the Dune (2013) #3 Australia, #20 US, #24 UK
- Two Vines (2016)
- "Walking on a Dream" (2008) #10 Australia, #64 UK
- "We Are the People" (2008) #24 Australia, #14 UK, #1 GER
- "Standing on the Shore" (2009)
- "Without You" (2009)
- "Half Mast (Slight Return)" (2010)
- "Alive" (2013) #22 Australia, #83 UK
- "DNA" (2013)
- "Celebrate" (2013)
- "High and Low" (2016)
- "Two Vines" (2016)
Awards and nominations
Empire of the Sun
The ARIA Music Awards of 2009 nominations were announced on 8 October 2009 and Empire of the Sun received six nominations. The winners were announced on 26 November 2009 and Empire of the Sun won in four categories: album of the year, best pop release, single of the year and best group. In 2010, the band was nominated in three categories but did not win any awards.
|2009||Walking on a Dream||Album of the Year||Won|
|Highest Selling Album||Nominated|
|"Walking on a Dream"||Single of the Year||Won|
|Highest Selling Single||Nominated|
|Best Video (directed by Josh Logue for Mathematics www.xy-1.com)||Won|
|"We Are the People"||Nominated|
|Empire of the Sun||Best Group||Won|
|Best Pop Release||Won|
|Empire of the Sun and Donnie Sloan with Peter Mayes||Producer of the Year||Won|
|Aaron Hayward and David Homer from Debaser||Best Cover Art||Won|
|Peter Mayes||Engineer of the Year||Nominated|
|2010||"Half Mast"||Best Pop Release||Nominated|
|Walking on a Dream||Most Popular Australian Album (Fan-Voted)||Nominated|
|Accidents Happen soundtrack – Luke Steele, Empire of the Sun and The Middle East||Best Original Soundtrack/Cast/Show Album (Fine Arts Award)||Nominated|
The APRA Awards are presented annually from 1982 by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA).
|2010||"We Are the People"||Song of the Year||Nominated|
|Luke Steele, Jonathon Sloan, Nick Littlemore – Empire of the Sun||Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year||Won|
|"Walking on a Dream"||Dance Work of the Year||Won|
The Sleepy Jackson
- 2003 ARIA Award for Album of the Year (Lovers)
- 2003 ARIA Award for Best New Artist – Single ("Vampire Racecourse")
- 2003 ARIA Award for Best New Artist – Album (Lovers)
- 2003 ARIA Award for Best Rock Album (Lovers)
- 2003 WAMI Award for Most Popular Local Original Single or EP (Let Your Love Be Love)
- 2003 ARIA Award for Producer of the Year (Jonathan Burnside for Lovers)
- 2006 ARIA Award for Album of the Year (Personality – One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird)
- 2006 ARIA Award for Best Cover Art (Luke Steele and James Bellesini at "Love Police" for Personality)
- 2006 J Award (Personality – One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird)
- "APRA History". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 28 May 2010.
- "Nominations for Song of the Year - 2010". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 27 May 2010.
- "Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year - 2010". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 27 May 2010.
- "Dance Work of the Year – 2010". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 27 May 2010.