Interview: H3000’s Luke Steele on their debut album, collaborating with Jarrad Rogers and what a H3000 live show might look like

H3000

H3000 is a collaboration between Luke Steele of Empire of the Sun, The Sleepy Jackson and DREAMS fame, and Jarrad Rogers who has written songs for and produced for the likes of Charli XCX, Rita Ora, Lana Del Ray and so many more. Today they release their debut self-titled album, a cosmic collection of songs projected from the future, the year 3000.

The album was recorded in California, where the duo caught up in Lukes adopted hometown of Los Angeles. There is a common theme of loss, love and friendship across the tracks. It’s an emotional and uplifting journey.

Throughout 2021, they have dropped a few tracks, gently introducing the listener to the H3000 journey. It has come as no surprise, that fully immersive video clips have also been released for these songs. Luke and Jarrad have worked with an Australian company, Collider, to utilise gaming technology to take the viewer into the H3000 world.

So whilst the songs of H3000 and their video representations are lush and fully formed, I wondered what was in store for a possible live show for H3000. The Empire of the Sun gigs were memorable for their grandness.

Ahead of the album’s release, I had a chat with Luke Steele about recording the album with Jarrad, the challenges faced by both mankind in the future and artists today, and we mused on the joy of the Aussie bar-b-que, drinking beer and listening to Paul Kelly.

Hey Luke, how’s it going?

Yeah – not bad you know

You’re in LA at the moment?

I’m in Northern California. I bought a ranch up here at the start of the pandemic.

Nice – are things getting back to normal a bit?

You know – I think people are pretending it’s normal, but the cases are the highest it’s ever been. It’s a weird feeling. Half-normal. Invisible normal. Parallel universe normal.

Well – I’m in Sydney and that’s gone to pot the last few months. We thought everything was fine, then it wasn’t….

Sorry to hear that man. I watch it every day. At least Australia seems focused on it. Over here it was a shambles.

We can see the light at the end of the tunnel

Yeah – Aussies are pretty good like that. They’re pretty straight-up. They have the attitude of  ‘Ok, stop being a dickhead. Let’s get over this and get back to BBQ’s’

So – congrats on H3000. Exciting times ahead for you and Jarrad

Thanks man – it’s good to have something new coming out – it’s been a while

Jarrad worked with you a bit on DREAMS, how’d you end up hooking up with him for the H3000 project?

We were both in LA at the start of the California summer – it’s such a cool time there – and he sent me a track, it was “Running” and I instantly did this vocal for it, and that had such a good flow. We just went to the next track, and the next track, and then we had a record. I loved that. You can’t deny that, the good flow,

So it fell out easily then, it was pretty straightforward?

Yes – the process was pretty simple. He’d send a track he’d been working on. I’d write the lyrics, a couple of vocals, do some synths and guitars and send it back, and it would be in shape. Even though we were in LA, we pretty much did it all remotely.

So this was before lockdown?

It was done before 2019. It was going to come out in 2020, but then the whole world went haywire, everything got postponed by a year.

Are you tinkerers when it comes to knowing when the song is finished?

For something like this, you’ve got to have the body of it, then the finishing bits take a while. But it was relatively straightforward. Jarrad has a really smooth ear, he is a great producer, and the way he sandwiches it together, a lot of different sounds with acoustics, and electronic drums, and synths – I don’t know what he does, but he does some genius stuff that kind of glues it together.

He has worked with so many people, with different influences – no doubt he brings many ideas to the table

It’s a never-ending thing with music, cause it’s so fragile, it’s good to get it out so you can’t change anything <laughs>

So, the premise is that we are at the year 3000 – that’s pretty optimistic. Congrats to mankind for getting there…. You’ve got these common themes through the songs of love, loss and friendship. Are they the things that are going to get us to the year 3000?

Yeah, part of it was issues of the heart. It was a weird concept, but I was thinking about it. Are there going to be laws on what you think about?

At the time we were doing this record, there were so many mass shootings in America, and robberies and kidnappings, kids committing suicide because of social media. It was all these things that start from a thing inside the heart. The heart and the mind, then it’s a corrupted seed that grows.

I started thinking about that, what are the heavens are going to be like in the year 3000?, and what the issues are going to be? Obviously, there are going to be the same issues, but how deep is it going to be, and how wild.

You just referenced the burden of social media. There’s a line in your song ‘Quicksand”, that “Comparison and envy are the thieves of joy”, which has become so relevant with Facebook and Instagram demanding so much attention.

It’s such a fine line, between pleasure and pain. One minute you can be looking at something, and then before I even know it, I’m comparing myself to another artist touring, or why someone is making this as an NFT, and it becomes a thief you know. Even the labels talk about numbers, and it’s all about the algorithm. I mean, who is the algorithm? When did he become the coolest guy in the band?

Where’s the algorithm for dope art, and great records?

And joy?  The videos are next level. The animation – it really does immerse the viewer into the world you have created.

Aarrgh, awesome man. Andrew van der Westhuyzen and his team at Collider. That guy is a genius, when we put the concepts forward, to this world, it was so on point, and it’s hard to find people like that who are strict with the textures, and fabric and the layers and the graphics – there are not too many people who can do it right and nail it.

Yeah – you can tell that it’s a passion project for them

I think that’s what so great about this project. There’s a lot of favour on it. Things happened super naturally and easily. It’s always great confirmation that you are on some path that you’re meant to be on.

You’ve got a thing for grand-scale projects. Empire ended up being a big show – are you going to take this on the road – how would you present it?

I think it would be so simple. I actually did a 3D model of the stage and it’s basically like a really simple Chemical Brothers set up where we are together in a square spaceship thing. I think after being in Empire and building this moving movie with dancers and everything, it would be so cool to have something the complete opposite like Kraftwerk where you have your stations and it’s really quite simple. The touring world., I’m just so confused about what’s going to happen really. We are just trying to navigate that at the moment.

Probably a bit easier to manage than touring with a bunch of dancers and whatnot

I was doing an interview earlier and he was asking about the first Empire shows. We’d done three months of press before, so by the time we got to the first show there were elephants on stage, and tigers and we’d set the bar pretty high.

I saw the show a few times. I was impressed you took it to places like Maitland, which was a dust bowl and a bunch of pissed kids. Epic!

Aargh, sick, I miss those times.

You also reference the great producer Avicii in “Rest”, who sadly passed away. Was this a chance to take stock and give him a tribute on that track?

Yes – Jarrad worked with Avicii, then I was going to work with him with Empire, and it happened right at the time. I just felt a real affinity with him. When that happened it really hit me, because it seemed like something that is possible for any artist. The intensity of an artists mind is pretty unknown to a lot of people. It’s what you think about, and how powerful an artists mind is, and when it’s corrupted you can end up where you end up.

I think that I just felt a lot of affinity with him, and the song talks about that, when he is ascending to heaven, he talks to God and says ‘sorry for letting you down, time and time again’, but all he really needed was rest. We did that song and I watched the doco on him, and he looked so tired, and all he needed was to rest. That’s so sad. I think it’s been going around in the industry the last couple of years that artists need to look out for each other. You become so volatile because you are so fragile, you empty your whole soul into your art, and you have to be really careful because you are on the edge.

He would have had pressures from all directions.

Yeah – it’s the intensity – sometimes you just need someone empathising with you – saying that this record didn’t work but what you are doing is great. Artists don’t need much – that’s what I’ve realised. Artists just need someone occasionally saying this is great what you did here. Remember that, and what you are doing here is great, take a break. You don’t need much.

What have you been listening to that people should know?

The last Jónsi record, I don’t know if you know that, Jónsi from Sigur Ros. He put out an incredible record. I like the new Killers record, I like that’s is low-fi. It has a spirit to it. I always love hearing the new Pond tracks, being a Perth band. I also went through a pretty big Sufjan Stevens phase, Bon Ivor etc

When do you think you might get back to Australia?

I’ve been trying to get back for a year. It’s heartbreaking. It’s been a hard time. America got sick so hard. Half of the country is still debating about whether there is a virus.

Well, they are still debating whether the election was stolen…

We’ve got the big recall this week in California. I don’t understand it. I think I’ve come to terms that in America all you can talk about is the weather and toasted cheese sandwiches. You don’t talk about God, you don’t talk about politics, the virus, masks, going back to school. It’s just safe to talk about toasted sandwiches and the weather

Now I’m getting fired up Bruce.

I’d better not get you down that rabbit hole any further.

I tell you, after nearly 2 years of it …get me back to Australia, Paul Kelly and a BBQ.

On that note, all the best with the launch of the album, and great chatting to you.

Yeah – we’ll have a beer and talk about Paul Kelly

Justin Stewart Cotta

H3000 is out now through EMI/ Astralwerks. You can purchase the album HERE.

You can follow H3000 on Facebook, Instagram and their official Website

Bruce Baker

Probably riding my bike, taking photos and/or at a gig. Insta: @bruce_a_baker

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