I KNOW LEOPARD Glam landmines

Sydney four-piece I Know Leopard have been offering up punchy, 70s inspired pop tunes for over five years, and now they begin their shift into uncharted sonic territory. Ahead of the release of the band’s first first full length studio album Love Is A Landmine, lead singer Luke O’Loughlin spoke to CAITLIN NORRIS about his earliest inspirations, the dichotomy of love and the musical journey the band has been embarking on since 2014.

So Love Is A Landmine is I Know Leopard’s debut album. Has this been a long time coming for you guys? 

So long. It’s been – I think it was three years that we kind of wrote it and then re-wrote it and messed around for a while. A bunch of stuff happened and then basically we got to the point where we were happy with the songs. The recording and mixing only took about 6 months really, so that was all done quite quickly but the actual conception of it and the writing took ages.

This entire record feels super nostalgic in the best way possible. It seems like you’re pulling from past decades and blending that kind of sensibility with modern production. Was that intentional? Did you set out to channel that kind of old school 70/80s glam vibe?

Yeah, I think so. I think those sort of influences have always been a big part of my musical education. It’s what was on my parents’ vinyl players when I was a kid and it was just like a rotation of an ELO record and a 10cc record and you know, John Lennon. There was just a few artists, it wasn’t too many vinyls but they were always playing so I just soaked that up and it stayed with me throughout my whole life. It’s always been there but I feel like on this album I finally got it out of my system. I think I’ve been meaning to for a while and I just thought, “yeah, I’m just gonna lean a little more heavily on these influences than I have before.” But whilst still obviously trying to kind of find a place for it in the modern music climate at the same time.

I really liked what you said about it being somewhat impossible to experience true love without pain. Was that something you aimed to capture and articulate throughout the record?

Yeah I think it’s one of those things – you can’t really appreciate full light without darkness. I’ve experienced heartbreak quite a lot in my life and it’s one of those things that you never really get better at dealing with. It hurts the same every time but I think that the album is not just about that – it’s about being on both sides. It’s about love and its many forms and how it affects you when you get hurt and how it affects other people and I’ve been on both sides of that. And it’s also about self love as well. There are members of the band including myself that have had experiences with mental health issues and so it’s exploring love when it comes to those kinds of issues as well. Love has that kind of dichotomy of pleasure and pain and it’s just exploring that.

I feel like you captured that contrast really well with the instrumental and lyrical balance on the record because musically it’s so boppy and you’ve got these light hearted synth melodies and dancy grooves, but beneath that there’s these lyrics expressing this turmoil that you’re experiencing in a really raw and honest way. Was it difficult at any point to be so honest and upfront about what you were feeling?

No, it was quite therapeutic really. It’s nice to be honest – it’s interesting though because I feel like half the record comes off as – they’re love songs, you know, and that’s how I’ve always connected with music, through love songs. I think it was Nick Cave or someone that had a really great quote about like, the only love songs he likes have irony and that’s what makes a great love song. Something like that – I’ve probably really badly misquoted (him). I suppose it is an album full of love songs but just not in that classical sense. It’s mixing the kind of lighthearted with the sombre.

Yeah, definitely. So I read about how your producer Jack Moffit really encouraged you to let your voice free rather than to try and control your vocal performance as much as you have in the past. Was it scary to let go like that and give such a personal thing so freely?

It was at first but I think just like with everything else on the record, we came to embrace things that were imperfect because they kind of made up some of our favourite moments on the record. I think it’s one of those things, like pretty much every singer that I know hates the sound of their own voice and I’m no exception to that. I think because previously the way that we’ve made I Know Leopard music in the past has never been tracking live as a band in a room together, it’s been just making music in headphones and the demo has slowly become the real thing. So by making music in headphones it means a lot of time with me just really hearing my voice very intimately and trying to make it sound as soothing as possible – and that’s not how I naturally sing live, I try to belt it as loud as I can to get above the band and I think that’s why we tracked it live as a band this time to get that energy on the record. I think Jack really pushed me to do that and I’m really happy that he did because I’ve kind of learnt to just be more objective with it like, “oh, yeah. It sounds cool and it’s got character.”

How do you feel like Love Is A Landmine differs from your past work? Both sonically and lyrically?

The band’s been around kind of trying different things since like 2014 really and there’s been different line up changes but I think one of the main things is that we’ve really stripped back over the years. We used to kind of be about layering as much as possible and having a big wall of sound but I think that now it’s been more about the space. This album was really kind of focused on keeping things as minimal as possible. I’ve gone through a big love affair with synthesisers, I’m obsessed, so that’s coming through quite a bit. One of the main things is just that minimalist approach, that less is more. I suppose we used to call ourselves like a dream pop band and although some of the melodies and progressions are quite dreamy I don’t think that the textures are as dreamy as they once were. A lot of the stuff is a lot dryer and punchier and that’s one of the major differences on this album to our other singles and EPs that have come before it.

So with the album dropping, were you apprehensive to get it out there or would you have preferred to hold onto it for a little bit longer? 

No, hell no. Definitely keen to get it out there. Keen to move onwards. Definitely going to celebrate it and enjoy it but yeah, definitely keen to keep moving. There’s already new ideas in the works for follow ups and other projects that’ll stem off this.

Playing these songs live I can imagine will be super high energy. What have you guys got coming with your tour and your live show that you’re really keen for?

The way that we present it live will try to keep it as true to the album as possible. But the one thing we like to do is to extend certain sections in songs and you know, aesthetically we’re building a show which is true to all of the photo shoots and videos that we’ve been doing. Sparkle, lots of. We wanna play most of the songs that are on the record on the tour. I think the live show at the moment has more energy than we’ve ever had before. We’ve really grown as performers as well from our EPs to this album so I hope that shows.

If there’s one thing you want people to walk away from listening to this album feeling, what would it be? 

I suppose if I can put it in a different way, I kind of want the album to be a therapeutic experience as it has been for us. One of the things that you always hope for as an artist writing songs is that – you want just somebody somewhere to connect to it and to relate their own situations to it. I think music is a wonderful thing as therapy and it has definitely been for us. So yeah, I suppose a therapeutic experience or feeling kind of rejuvenated in some way would be what we would hope for.