"Love is not just a duty" Luke Brennan
Luke is one of my oldest friends. We both grew up in the outer south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, often connecting through music and a feeling of unease about our surroundings. He made me spaghetti the other day and we sat down to chat about what it was like growing up on the outskirts, his upcoming record and the feeling of heading back into the studio after a challenging year.
All photos are courtesy of Paige Clark, taken during the studio sessions for Lover’s Leap.
We both grew up kinda wide eyed in the far south-eastern suburbs, taking exciting trips outta there into the city, seeing bands and forgetting that we got an hour long train ride home. How do you look back on your time there?
Ummm… It’s a really good question because this topic relates so well to my music in general. When I look back at growing up out in the suburbs, in hindsight I realise that it simultaneously oppressed me and forced me to be free. When I say oppressed, I think it’s the kind of place where growing up if you had any form of creative impulse or diverse interests, those interests were sort of oppressed by a very homogenous culture that I felt was very forceful. People were not necessarily mean to you, I just think that unless you were different you didn’t realise how much that homogeneity reigned and how difficult it was to find any kind of diversity. That’s exactly what made me explore further afield.
That’s how I feel too. It took me a long time to articulate, but not having many folks out there with the same values as you, or inspiring or even relating to you, means that you’re going about what you do in a very silent kind of way.
It’s not necessarily that you’re discouraged, it’s that you’re not encouraged. There’s no encouragement to discover who you really are. There is discouragement sometimes, like I feel like at school it was discouraging to be met with hostility if you didn’t just fall in to line. But maybe all schools are like that? It was a combination of that disciplined upbringing at school and the monocultural experience that made you feel like you were some kind of weirdo or something.
Do you think about it much?
I used to think about it a lot more than I do now. Probably because I’m through most of my growing pains - they were the kind of growing pains where you’re sort of leaving behind the place you grew up, migrating to a new sense of belonging somewhere else. Nowadays when I go back home for family events and what not, I feel comfortable being there. I think that comfort has something to do with ceasing to relate to the place now, where as years gone by I’d feel really uncomfortable there because the place was still part of my identity that I was trying to leave behind.
I make it sound a lot worse than it actually was.
It’s just if you really wanna grow up in a meaningful way, sometimes you have to leave things behind, and it can be painful outgrowing something.
Now that we live here I find myself always really interested to meet somebody who’s from the south-east.
Most people here don’t even really know where it is.
Right. I feel like I can pick up on some of these personality traits that we have that are maybe different from someone who grew up in Fitzroy.
Yeah maybe if you identify some kind of resilience in someone then maybe they’ve come from further afield. There’s all kinds of things that I think probably made people like you and I stronger or more well-rounded having grown up in a place that wasn’t really sympathetic to your interests. Because you had to build those connections yourself. You had to spend a lot of time on public transport, and make a big leap moving out of home to somewhere where you didn’t have family and friends around. That leap must be hard for people growing up in the country too. Strange for us because growing up in the suburbs was always like being in between the town and the country and you didn’t really know which one you were in - for me there was very little appeal in that.
I always felt like for kids growing up there persuing music or art or any kind of creative endeavour, from an early age you need to believe in what you do because, and there are exceptions, but it’s not necessarily going to be nurtured in that area. You gotta be the one to push it.
I remember being totally cool with the prospect of spending three or four hours on public transport just to spend two hours in the presence of something interesting. So I think that’s the kind of quality you develop; that if you’re cool with it - you’re doing it because it inspires you, at a young age - then you’ve developed a resilience or a confidence that you maybe wouldn’t have developed growing up in a more sympathetic environment.
Can you tell us a bit about Lovers Leap?
It’s an album that I started making I think… three and a half years ago. It’s made of a song called Lovers Leap and seven other songs of similar themes. The album really exists because of the title track. I wrote the song out of an idea which then extended to everything - the artwork and the way I conceptualise the whole project. It’s a conceptual album.
Holly tells me in the press release that One True Love is inspired by the “duality of fear and attraction in love”. Can you expand on that?
The press release is talking about that particular tune, but it’s what the whole record is based on. Love is like this scale that can take you to a place that is your happiest - but in an instant you can experience the greatest sadness. It’s like the stakes are so high, and you have to be brave to commit to that risk. I think for many people love is like the ultimate human experience. It’s been talked about in all kinds of literature, films, music - it’s one of the great tropes in our culture that love is all you need, or love is the answer.
I believe in love and I think one of my highest purposes in life is to love as truly as possible, so it’s like a duty to myself, and I imagine it’s the same for many people. Love is not just a duty; you also need love - and people who are willing to love have to undertake this risk that involves putting your heart on the line. In that there’s this duality between joy, because your heart might be safe when you give it, but if it doesn’t work out, you have to fall just as far.
I like the title because, the image in my head is that the way that love grows or shrinks is not in a consistent fashion - it’s more complicated and jagged and sometimes it gets to a point where there’s not a smooth path - you’re required decide whether or not to jump over something.
Well yeah they talk about a leap of faith. There are all these metaphors that just mix themselves up, people talk about falling for example, this notion that you don’t know where you’re gonna land. That’s the meaning of Lovers Leap - it’s a metaphorical name for a landform that’s like a cliff, a sheer drop. The way I envision it in my mind and depict it in the song is that there’s a gradual incline to get up to this point where you have to take a leap of faith - and at that point it’s a sheer drop. You’re either gonna fall or reach a new territory. I think about these things very geographically.
After everything that happened last year, how was it being back in the studio with Tim and Alex?
It was amazing. We were three fifths of the band Big Smoke. Funnily enough though Alex and I had started making Lovers Leap before we joined Big Smoke. That band was a huge chapter in our lives, but it was as if once that chapter ended we just picked up where we left off making this record. It was great involving Tim in it. He ends up involved because he’s just such a consummate musician, he’s just so brilliant at guitar and understanding music. He’s also such a good friend - he works so hard but just takes in his stride. But otherwise it was something that Alex and I had started and that we decided to continue with. The studio experience was great. We had some other people in from time to time, like Jim Lawrie who played drums on a few tracks. It was all a very fun experience. But Alex and I ended up mixing it together - it felt very much like bookending something that started all those years ago.
So, you’ve played in a heap of bands, Big Smoke, Truly Holy, as well as backing up Fraser A. Gorman and Leah Senior - but your music to me has always squeezed into this smaller niche that has built up a following a little slower but in a really consistent way. How is it different working as Luke Brennan than as a member of those acts?
Well it’s really different because I don’t really see my own musical act as central to all the music I do. A lot of people have suggested to me over the years that I should start doing that more often, actually work really hard on it, but the truth is I just love collaboration. Since a young age I’ve always thought producers were the coolest people in music, because they were able to optimise ideas and mix songwriting with sound and think about the overall experience of music. I just think that so much of the therapy of enjoying music and having it as part of your life is something that comes out of a collaborative process - I’ve always been attracted to that. Like when I think about the way Adrian and I worked together in Big Smoke, Adrian would write a song and he’d have lyrics, music and an idea of how it’d sound, but he’d come to me excited that it could be this choose your own adventure kind of thing. He really enjoyed embracing the ideas of mine and the other guys in the band because he wanted to be surprised by how his song could end up sounding. The same goes for Truly Holy - it’s a really interesting collaborative process working in that band. Yeah, I just love doing it, whereas with my own music I actually kind of got used to being everybody, like playing every role in the process. Obviously there have been some really important people that I’ve collaborated with - at the moment I’m in a band with Alex, Tim and Fabian who are all real collaborators and I’m loving the real group work experience - but you know up until now I just got used to locking myself in a room and doing everything. That’s great as well. There are musicians like you and I who are jacks-of-all-trades, who like having diverse roles, playing different instruments and helping people produce records so they can realise their potential. But yeah, I just have such a multiplicity of passions and interests in music and I’m just always trying to follow them. I should probably focus on something one day… but the real answer to that question is that I’m just too easily distractible.
Yeah, but you’ve clearly got a lot of focus if this is album number four?
Yeah, I guess the reason I’ve been productive over the years is that I enjoy working with limited resources and I like doing things that are kind of special - and that’s more important than resources, like studio resources or time even. So the albums I have done have taken remarkably little time to make and have been made with very few resources.