Our chat offers snatches of a suitably dark, at times self deprecating sense of humour which has bathed the world of leftfield guitar pop in an eccentric light over the last 20 years.
Luke is known as the perennial outsider, the britpop underachiever who flirted with the charts but never quite enjoyed the same successes as other, arguably less talented artists.
Despite this, through albums from various guises such as the Auteurs, Black Box Recorder and more lately as a solo artist on his latest LP New York in the 70s, he’s created a darkly rich catalogue of pop music. This latest doff of the cap to musical heroes such as Lou Reed and Suicide’s Alan Vega sits prickly alongside the recent vitriol of his autobiographical books such as Bad Vibes and Post Everything:Outsider Rock n Roll.
M recently had the pleasure of quizzing Luke on his music, his approach to songwriting and how he’s not a team player…
How did you end up making music?
I just wanted to make noise. I must have figured out that playing guitar was the route to a good noise. When I was 13 I badgered my parents to buy me my first electric. I never looked back.
Did you always have dreams of being a musician?
Yes although I never thought it was a career. I didn’t know how you were meant to make money out of it. I still don’t! I wanted to either be a musician or an artist. I was into painting when I was younger and still am now. Just not as a career.
How did you come to write about New York songwriters for the latest record?
It’s just what comes out of my brain when I’m writing and I’m walking around talking into my dictaphone like Alan Partridge. I don’t question it.
In some ways in I’m going back to a basic idea of what rock n roll is. This album is a homage to all those great New York rock n roll stars. Maybe that was the last really great period of music. It seemed so exotic to me when I was younger.
Which of your records has been the most satisfying?
The last three have been really good. I’ve been really productive, have a good relationship with Cherry Red. It means I put out records fairly quickly. I don’t like this album waiting list where you’re supposed to put out a record every two years. It’s far too much like the professional music business for me. I just want to release music as quickly as I can.
Were you more collaborative when it came to those first Auteurs records?
I wrote the songs and arranged everything. I’m not really a team player. I did some of that in Black Box Recorder and that was good. For a bit. But none of us could carry on in a team for too long. I’m the first to admit it. I have to take control of the records I make. The only difference is that those were made back in the days when bands made records in studios. Now I work at home and have the freedom to be more productive.
Have you got any highlights from your musical career?
The first Black Box Recorder album is good, as is the Facts of Life LP. Even though it is a pop album but we made it deliberately for that. I have good memories of making it. I’m not the kind of person to diss anything I’ve made. All the records have been good but some I like better than others. Not that I sit there playing them all the time!
Was the Facts of Life a deliberate attempt at having a hit?
It was – we felt we’d done Sarah, our lead singer a disservice as she was ten years younger than us and we’d dragged her out of the world of proper employment to sing in our band. With the first album, we got dropped immediately by Chrysalis even though it was a great record. We felt guilty that the first thing we’d done was show her commercial failure so for the sake of our appearances and a chivalrous gesture, we thought we’d better have a hit and try and get her on Top of the Pops. Which is what we did.
How has the music business changed?
In the nineties I could afford to do a whole tour because there’d be a big record label backing it. Luckily I don’t want to do that now but if I did it would be almost financially impossible. For me, it’s better because I’ve got complete creative freedom although I had a lot of freedom in the nineties. There was always someone somewhere in the corner of a record label who would be questioning this and that. But it’s the job of labels, in some respects, to say we need to have a hit.
I liked being outside of things. I don’t have to be competitive with contemporaries or peers. And certainly not with younger bands because I don’t care. It’s good because while I didn’t think I’d be making records into my 40s, the age we live in now means I can do it and no one questions it.
Are there any new acts you’re into?
The only new band I’m into are the Sleaford Mods. They’re great. Two old guys who work in a call centre in Nottingham. They do the angriest ranting over brutal, cheap beats. I love them.
Have you got any regrets?
Not really. It’s all been creative. Maybe at the point of the second Auteurs album I was too uptight. Lenny Valentino came out and they wanted us to do Top of the Pops and I didn’t want to. I was too serious. I was in my mid twenties and uptight but I think that’s a mid twenties thing. Nobody died.
What about the book Bad Vibes? It paints a miserable picture…
It was written as a comedy. I’m amplifying small moments into huge disasters for comedic effect. If you look at that whole period I’m writing about, it probably wasn’t the misery I make it out to be.
Have you any advice for songwriters?
Just do what you like. Don’t follow anyone’s instinct but your own. If people tell you it’s no good, then don’t listen. Don’t be a careerist. It’s not that important.