LUKE JENNER IS DONE WITH BEING COOL
You make an anthem of the noughties; a track spanning English indie discos and Lower East Side loft spaces as skinny white boys and girls hack a very deliberate route to the dancefloor to lose their mind. And that cowbell. Man, that cowbell. Forget disco sirens and klaxon calls: ‘House of Jealous Lovers’ was a catalyst; the beginning of the rise and rise of the all-conquering DFA Records, dance punk and, latterly, the crystallisation of LCD Soundsystem. As DFA’s first ever release, The Rapture were at the forefront and Luke Jenner’s characteristic yelp came to represent the early battle cry of the legions that weren’t there to just passively appreciate, they came to fucking dance.
Almost a decade – and a five-year hiatus – later, The Rapture are still here. Following the euphoria surrounding debut album, ‘Echoes’, their history has been a tumultuous one scarred by band disruption and personal tragedy, but lounging on the sofas at XOYO ahead of a rare London show, the conversation with Luke is a long and astoundingly candid one about suicide, mental illness and reflection. Reformed and re-signed to DFA, recently released new album ‘In the Grace of Your Love’ marks a new, “peaceful” chapter for Luke and the band, and with the recent end to the LCD Soundsystem story, there’s a mantle to be re-taken up. But at 36, and with a wife and young son, Luke’s challenge simply seems to be maintaining the balance that eluded him first time around and threatened to destroy him and the band.
L&Q: So, five years. A lot’s happened. Do you feel energised for making a return?
Luke: “Peaceful is a better word. I used to feel quite energised, but we’ve been doing this as a band for years so we’ve done everything and been everywhere and met everybody, so it’s been like having a sort of a normal life for a while, which is amazing because I’ve never really had like a normal life. Even when I was growing up my family was really broken and detached from the community, so for the first time in my life it’s like being part of a community.
“I spent a solid 10 years of my life trying to prove to people that I was cool, and that I was important, and I did that, but it was good to just take a step back and be around people who didn’t know who I was and be part of this sort of social experiment. When I met my wife I didn’t tell her I was in a band because I wanted her to love me for me, because being on tour last time, I got further and further away from that and was surrounded by people who didn’t know me and have no chance of knowing me. Being a father now, my kid doesn’t care if I’m a rock’n’roll dude and I’ve found that it’s been really important to me to find a bit of balance.
L&Q: It’s been a disruptive few years both musically and personally. You’ve had a lot to deal with…
Luke: Yeah, my mom taking her own life as a result of her illness sort of forced me to get real and this whole Ziggy Stardust child-like fantasy got nuked. There’s more to life than just being on a tour bus and chasing some kind of dream and trying to manipulate the world into thinking you’re a cool guy, or trying to prove that. It’s not something you can easily shake off. It’s heavy.
“I never expected that to happen and even though she’d tried to do it before, I’d never taken it seriously. My grandma took her own life too. She actually took off all her clothes and walked into the ocean in Swansea, escaping from a mental institution, so my family’s been ripped apart by mental illness. In a protective way, I felt like my making music was trying to make sense of growing up with my mum being so ill and having to take care of her and my dad not being there. It’s a lot to process.”
L&Q: It’s obviously a tragic thing to happen at any stage of life, but do you feel that with your mother’s suicide happening at this time in yours you were able to deal with it better than you might have been when you were younger?
Luke: “Absolutely. I think I would have killed myself, not on purpose, but if it had happened the day ‘House of Jealous Lovers’ came out, being on tour for the first time and being surrounded by loads of drink and drugs and hedonism, with the amount of hedonism that was available at that point and my level of maturity at that time, I think it would have killed me. I was already hanging by a thread at that point and it probably would have done me in.”
L&Q: Looking back, that must have been a wild period for you with the surge of dance punk and being a prominent figure in it all. Has your attitude to the way things were back then changed over time?
Luke: “Oh you mean Dunk? (laughs) I’m really grateful for all that time. I mean, to have a record that impacted on the history of music is a dream come true and even though it was kind of ushered aside by the press, that record changed everything for us and made some things ok. I never wanted to be famous, I just wanted to be important and I was really confused after that because I was sort of handed the keys to the kingdom, like I had all these people I really looked up to coming and telling me, ‘Wow, you’ve done it, you’re really important’, and that this record was going to write its name forever.
“I felt a bit lost because I’d achieved what I wanted to do and I think that it became a little half-hearted after that. The second record, we wanted to make a pop album and it was kind of exciting. Justin Timberlake was interesting at the time and it felt like indie could cross into pop and it was all so pregnant, but in hindsight, it just seemed a bit flaccid. I became addicted to the high of changing history and there was just too much pride involved. But when we did make a record that changed history, it wasn’t a conscious thing, it just kind of happened, it was like a Nirvana moment when ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ came out and changed everything. We weren’t trying to do that, we didn’t expect to do that and I became obsessed with doing it again. They were heady times.”
L&Q: So it was a case of being undone by your own aspirations?
Luke: “Yeah. Also we’d just signed with this huge band management company who had U2 and I think you then get anointed by a certain label; you go on tour with a certain band and it’s like stepping stones. But you get to a point and you want to get off that and we went all the way to the top of the pop world in terms of being anointed. I mean Justin Timberlake used to walk out on stage to ‘House of Jealous Lovers’ for three years in giant arenas and we’d hang out with him after the show and we did a one off with Timbaland and they were going to sign us to their label… so we’re managed by U2, we’re hanging out with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland… you can’t really get more tooled out than that.
“But I didn’t start making music to do that, and that’s when I realised, between ‘Pieces of People’ and this record, with the mental breakdown and my mom dying, I got to see myself in that blinkered trajectory; harder and farther and faster. I was able to see that I achieved what I wanted when ‘House of Jealous Lovers’ came out and then it was after that I could see I was lost and had been lost for years of my life, and my mom died and that cracked me open. Then with my son being born, and coming off tour and not knowing how to be a partner to my wife with my son involved it forced me to take a look at my own mortality and evaluate what I want to do. Hanging out with Justin Timberlake is not important to me.” (Luke bursts out laughing).
L&Q: Away from everything that’s happened to you personally, you seem to have returned at quite an interesting time with LCD Soundsystem ending and you re-signing. It almost feels like a cycle’s just finished…
Luke: “Oh, completely. At least once or twice. I couldn’t have planned it out that way but it feels like full circle, especially with LCD, but I didn’t think James was going to suicide his band. The process of this record was very different, it’s like there’s been two really divergent paths. I guess the lesson we’ve learned musically, and in life, is that you can’t control anything! (laughs). And it wasn’t an immediate thing. I think when my mum died, it accelerated me wanting to control things until I quit the band, and it came down to me wanting to express my ideas because I started the band as a vehicle for my own song writing and then Matty joined the band and he was just a really young kid who grew up in the band and wanted to be the song writer. It just came down to space and I didn’t feel like I had it and I couldn’t control that either and it reached the point where I had to let go. It wasn’t comfortable but it was very necessary.”
L&Q: Despite everything, you’re still here and seem to have earned veteran status. Do you feel a sense of pride in seeing it through to this point?
Luke: The thing I’ve always respected the most in music is resilience and I think we’re a really resilient band and we always have been. We’ve been through a lot and I’ve known Vito since I was nine years old and that’s been a core relationship for the band. When I was going out to write my own music, I was like, ‘I can’t do this without Vito!’ I think there’s knowledge in that you’re not an island and you need other people. That’s true resilience in a way.”
L&Q: Not to dwell on the band issues too much, but was there a motivation to prove a point when you quit the band?
Luke: “I think it was a necessary thing and it was motivating. I think if you stare a relationship dead in the face with the prospect of living without the person then you can’t truly be involved. For me, coming to terms of what it would have been to make a solo record, I think ultimately I didn’t want to do that and I’m glad I didn’t do that. Going the whole way and quitting the band and having the moment of being on my own and thinking, what am I going to do? who am I going to work with? where am I going to go and tour by myself?, I think it was very healthy in the sense that I got to see what the relationship really was as opposed to dealing with it in a fearful way. I didn’t want to lose Matty and I was just like, in an unhealthy way, I was very co-dependent and it was very much, ‘I’ll give you whatever you want if you don’t leave,’ as opposed to, ‘I want to be with you and if you don’t want to be with me I’ll have to accept that.’ When I came back to the band, it was very much the latter and I think my relationship with Vito changed a lot because that had never happened. I literally followed him to San Francisco to San Diego, in tears, because I couldn’t imagine losing him.”
L&Q: So in terms of the band now, do you see this as a return or a continuation?
Luke: “The word that comes to me is depth. It’s not really a retirement or a new start, it’s like there was a floor and it cracked and we sort of made a new floor that was lower. We were standing on something that wasn’t very stable so instead of continuing to build on it, we let it crumble and started again. And I think you do something because you want to do it. To me, albums are like diary entries and the great thing about putting out a record is you can move on from it and totally let go. You capture yourself at that point and it almost allows you take the next step. Now, I just felt like it was time to share what we had.”
By Reef Younis
Originally published in issue 31 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. September 2011.