If you barely blink when a Hollywood legend is next to you in line for ice-cream, you know you’ve settled into life in Los Angeles.
“The other day, I took (daughter) Sunny for an ice-cream and next to me was (Steven) Spielberg, you know, getting a single scoop of chocolate-chip cookie dough,” Luke Steele laughs.
“It’s a constant movie, and it never fails to amaze you.”
The Empire of the Sun and Sleepy Jackson frontman has called Santa Monica home for nearly eight years.
The success of Empire’s debut album Walking on a Dream literally transplanted Steele, wife Jodi and daughter Sunny Tiger from a caravan parked outside his parents’ Yokine home to LA, where he could capitalise on touring opportunities in the US.
“LA is the gateway to the world,” says the 38-year-old, who also has a four-year-old son, Cruz. “They say it’s the storytelling capital of the world. It’s filled with so many big thinkers and artists — it’s an addiction.”
Hollywood was where Steele recorded No One Defeats Us, the debut album for Dreams — his abrasive electro-pop duo with former Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns.
The double act of musicians, boasting 10 million album sales and 29 ARIA Awards between them, were so hot that Dreams were booked to play their first gig at California’s massive Coachella festival in April before a song had been released.
The pair, who refer to themselves as Dr Dreams (Johns) and Miracle (Steele) for this project, have since played two gigs at the Sydney Opera House — shows Steele rated on a par with Empire of the Sun’s sold-out performance at the Hollywood Bowl.
The collaboration dates back to 2004, when the Sleepy Jackson supported the ’Chair on their epic Diorama national tour, which included a memorably rain-sodden WA show at Belvoir Amphitheatre.
While their fortunes have fluctuated since they became fast friends, the pair have always dabbled in making music together — Steele played this writer demos evoking Prince-meets-Fleetwood Mac at his parents’ place a decade ago.
Steele explains that when he and the Sydney-based Johns caught up, whether it be in LA, Australia or New Zealand (where he also has a home), they’d party to a soundtrack of electronica ranging from Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder to Burial, Venetian Snares and the Ed Banger crew.
“We wanted to make stuff that fit into the playlist of our parties,” Steele says.
The oldest track is Love to Live, a list of motivational mantras set to uplifting electro-pop melodies that would effortlessly slide into an Empire of the Sun album.
Elsewhere, the album explores more bombastic and weird territory — there’s a murky instrumental track appropriately called Odd Party.
“It really is a documentation of our wild unorthodox journey together over the past 14 years,” Steele explains.
“There’s a lot of light, but also a lot of dark. It’s been really clear, but also foggy. It’s been sane, but then completely insane.
“It’s been a myriad of emotions,” he adds, “and I guess that’s why it’s such an eclectic, eccentric record.”
While admitting both men are “extremists”, family man Steele’s risk-taking is restricted to music while the more freewheeling Johns has admitted to battling anxiety and addiction.
The Perth musician says that, like all true friends, they have supported each other through good times and bad.
“There’s a lot of light, but also a lot of dark. It’s been really clear, but also foggy. It’s been sane, but then completely insane.”
“It’s a dangerous industry,” Steele says.
“To say it’s quite emotional is a bit of an understatement. You’re playing with issues and dynamics of the heart.”
Mutual respect and humility were important qualities as they made No One Defeats Us in Henson Recording Studios in Hollywood, where the pair worked with the rule that “if it’s a maybe, it’s a no”.
That meant that many of the old demos have been buried — literally.
The press release for the album states that Johns hid unwanted recordings in a graveyard, which you’d assume is fancy publicity lingo for deleted off a hard drive.
“They actually got buried,” Steele laughs. “We were smoking so much weed at the time.
“I used to always send my demos to myself in the post because that was the only way to copyright it. I just thought this would be the next best thing.”
And speaking of unreleased music — even if Dreams’ management rather we didn’t — Steele confirms that the first Sleepy Jackson album since 2006 is in the can.
Also enduring a long gestation, the new album was recorded with John Hill, the Grammy-nominated producer behind hits for Shakira, Santigold and Portugal. The Man.
“It felt like such a great bunch of songs but they’re living in the wrong era, you know,” Steele says. “It feels like they need to go back and be dunked in the water, thrown on the bonfire for a bit and brought up in another time — next year, maybe.
“But it’s all there, it’s a great album.”
No One Defeats Us is released on September 14.