Band: The Luka State
Album: More Than This
Label/Vertrieb: Thirty Tigers / Membran
Hailing from Winsford – a forgotten town between Manchester and Liverpool – The Luka State aren’t overly concerned with the loftier heights of the rock’n’roll dream. Their gritty new album, ‘More Than This’, is an unapologetic state of the nation address, and a record born of the only world they know.
“Music has always been therapy for me,” says Conrad Ellis, frontman of rising UK indie-rock powerhouse The Luka State. “You do feel like there’s a weight lifted, but for people with mental health struggles and people from working-class towns, you feel like you deserve more than the cards you’ve been dealt – those feelings don’t go away.”
Ellis, along with his hometown childhood friends Sam Bell (bass, vocals), Lewis Pusey (guitar) and Jake Barnabas (drums), dropped their self-funded debut album ‘Fall In Fall Out’ in 2021 to media attention and critical acclaim, but also a world gone quiet due to the pandemic. “It was hard to connect with the wider world when we were all stuck at home, so we couldn’t see what impact we’d had on the scene, the industry and the wider world,” remembers Ellis.
When the world opened up and the band could return to the stage, they found legions of fans who had connected with their debut album’s punchy stories of hometown life and knew every word. But by then, they’d already been at work on the follow-up and were evolving as a band both musically and lyrically.
“This new record was written at a time when we were feeling very claustrophobic because the world was shutting down,” says Ellis. “We were closed in and frustrated. I lived on my own and was writing constantly 24/7; all we had was each other so we just jumped in headfirst to see where the music took us. It was our only form of escapism”.
Bell agrees: “We weren’t allowed to do anything like go to a football match or go to the pub, so this whole process just reminded us that this is what we love doing and what mattered.”
The bulk of the album was recorded at The Motor Museum in Liverpool (previously used by The 1975 and Bring Me The Horizon) with producers Dan Austin (You Me At Six, Pixies) and the Grammy Award-winning Adrian Bushby (Foo Fighters, Muse). It’s a small space, chosen to reflect the claustrophobia and tension that the songs were written in. The results are the most aggressive, visceral and immediate work of the band to date, fearlessly exploring the darker shadows of modern working-class life.
Take ‘More Than This’ the fiery title track. Imagine early Arctic Monkeys multiplied by the breakneck urgency of Biffy Clyro and the sharp tongued worldview of Paul Weller. It’s a damning portrait of a hungry family in broken Britain, as Ellis sings a song ‘For the broken hearted, from a broken home, let down on the breadline, and this ain’t the first time’.
“That one’s about me delivering food for a foodbank to a single mother of two who lost her job, felt let down by the system and just wanted more,” says Ellis. “She was late on the rent, had no money coming in, no food and just felt forgotten about. I just wanted to say, ‘Don’t judge people without knowing them, always treat people with compassion’. Love always wins.”
The scorched desert rock of ‘Oxygen Thief’ spits back against an arsehole who sent Ellis’ mental health into a spiral, the wall-of-sound of ‘Losing Streak’ acts as what the singer calls “a warm hug for anyone else battling addiction and trauma”, the rushing angular indie of ‘Two Worlds Apart’ speaks to anyone “feeling a little bit lost” and the arena-ready ‘Matter Of Fact’ is a lovelorn yearning for a company and a little healing. “Does my love decay when I’m not OK?” Ellis asks on the track, the centrepiece of a very human record that runs the gamut of anxieties that come from needing to know what’s next in life and love.
Speaking of the band coming together and realising the narrative of the album, Bell says: “It was quite a touching moment. A lot of us were internalising what was going on around us, but once we read Conrad’s lyrics and heard the music he had written, we all instantly related to them and realised we were all feeling very similar. We’ve got our own personal battles going on but none of us were talking about it’. It was a really great moment for the four of us to realise that we are actually the same people.”
The world is open again now and The Luka State can take their new material out on the road with live performances that have been described as “exuding pure gasoline”. At every show, they’re approached by fans who have been touched by their music and are grateful for feeling less alone – regardless of where they’re from in the world. Despite most people not knowing where Winsford is, everyone knows someone feeling what The Luka State are singing about…You’re gonna be hearing a lot about the need for empathy, understanding and action on mental health and general welfare from this band.
“If it’s not something that people are turned on by straight away then I’ll fucking make them, because I’m not gonna shut up about it!” laughs Ellis.
‘More Than This’ is a huge album that came from a very real place. It’s the record The Luka State were always meant to make, and one that will finally set them on the right path. As Ellis explains “The album title says it all – people just need to realise and fight for what they’re worth”.
“This album is a rebirth for us,” concludes Ellis. “Like every other band, we want to take over the world, but we want our message to be heard. We’re not just some standard rock’n’roll band. No one out there must feel alone. There’s a way through everything and we can do it together. We can take over the world together.”
Band: The Luka State
Album: Fall In Fall Out
Label/Vertrieb: Shelter Records / BMG
THE LUKA STATE ... a biography
“What’s Winsford famous for? Fucking nothing! Apart from salt and salt mines; we are all the
salt of the earth up here.” Conrad Ellis, The Luka State.
Who or what is The Luka State? Indeed, is this tightly-sprung coil of a band so close-knit you need a passport to enter its confines – like some kind of independent state (Passport To Pimlico, anyone?) existing outside the confines of the natural order of things? Or does the name originate from the fact that those of a Northern disposition greet one another with the expression “thee look a state”? The truth is naturally more pertinent: The Luka State spent several “incredibly inspiring” days and nights with a uniquely sanguine guy called Luca in Toronto – where they were playing five gigs a week - and wanted to disseminate his laissez-faire message to the rest of the world; Luca was a free spirit who believed in positive energy and living for the moment and, correspondingly, The Luka State is the state we need to be in to excel as a human being.
“Tragedy made me equipped for modern life. Modern life is a nasty place.” Conrad.
The Luka State are Conrad Ellis (voice, guitar), Sam Bell (bass, voice), Jake Barnabas (drums) and Lewis Pusey (guitars) and they hail from Winsford in Cheshire. The town is famous for salt mining but, just as interesting, is the fact that its half way between Liverpool and Manchester – hence, every kid in the town wanting to be a footballer or pop star the minute they can kick a ball or play a guitar. The Luka State chose music, although it was a close call for Jake who was a semi-professional footballer before Conrad and Sam saw him playing drums at a festival and said ”we are going to steal him” and, empirically, you’ll sense this by the energy and originality of the songs they perform live and on record: Bury Me - a two chord thrash of a song about meeting a girl in a bar and going back to her house to fuck - and Girl – about lusting after a girl you see walking down the street - have the intensity of early incarnations of The Jam (who are a huge influence) and The Clash. Indeed, guitarist Lewis remembers his dad playing London Calling and it marking a seismic change in his outlook on life. In contrast, Conrad is just happy that his father let him be a musician at all, although it is the death of his mother, whilst in his teens, that has informed his life ever since: “I think about her death every day”, he says now. “I am not religious but that tragedy made me equipped for modern life. It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” “It’s the worst thing that’s happened to both of us,” says Sam who was there for Conrad at the time – they are so close they often finish each other’s sentences – and literally saved his life, encouraging him to continue pursuing music and songwriting.
“Basically I write about lust and sex and there are elements of danger in my lyrics.” Conrad.
If Girl is about lust, it’s also about the culture of materialism – “every girl round where we live has a roll-ed gold watch” – and not knowing how to clock a girl who is all glammed-up and possibly too posh to hang around with. Nonetheless, Real Thing betrays the band’s roots at the flotsam and jetsam end of real life relationships further still “It’s about an older woman who is the talk of the town ‘cos she’s been with everyone,” says Conrad. “So I went with her.” There’s more, of course, and Feel It is even more revealing. “Basically,” says Conrad, “I write about lust and sex and there are elements of danger in my lyrics.” You’re not kidding. Essentially, an apology as self-therapy, Feel It’s sentiments suggest that drugs and alcohol – and being on the town with mates all the time - have messed up a relationship. “It’s cold outside. I’m drunk again” intones Conrad, somewhat evocatively, before begging forgiveness. “I apologize about before/I can be a real dick without knowing it/ Won’t you let me rest my head/ In the morning we’ll be fine.”
“It’s about where we are from. It’s working class, energetic and ... desperate.”
Conrad and Sam met in their local youth club, New Images (which is now the band’s rehearsal space), have been playing music together since they were twelve years old and got their first break supporting a Jam tribute band at a place called De Bees in Winsford. The band’s humble origins are perhaps best summed up on Kick In The Teeth. “Our town breeds boredom and despair and you end up packing meat or sniffing glue” says Conrad - at which point, talk actually turns to the possibilities of packing glue and sniffing meat – “and we wanted it to sound working class and energetic and ... desperate.” There’s a line in the song – “Elvis ain’t dead, She’s living in Salt Town” – which he explains thus: “There’s some strange characters in our town including an old woman with a quiff called the Elvis Lady and she’s got a shop-mobility scooter with a roof over it like a car and she’s got speakers built into it and when she presses a button it plays Elvis songs really loudly.. She’s really ace and quirky.” A recently-aired, judgmental BBC documentary on Winsford unfairly portrayed the town as racist and Conrad admits the song is essentially “a love letter to the town” and an attempt to set the record straight.
“We are all brothers in this band.”
At their heart, The Luka State tell stories – on Insert Girl’s Name, written after a heavy bout of listening to Dylan, a guy falls in love with a girl who turns out to be gay – but it’s their real life chemistry and natural camaraderie – “we are all brothers in this band” – that’s attracted media attention thus far. Indie London recognizing their “stadium sized swagger” and Vulture Hound proclaiming them “the epitome of modern rock-n-roll." Naturally, the band take plaudits in their stride - Q Magazine has already admired their “serious cojones” – but it’s good to know there’s nothing remotely manufactured about their existence. Indeed, like all great, uncontrived artists – Oasis, Kasabian, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Insert Your Favourite Band’s Name – there’s something wonderfully symbiotic about the relationship between band and audience that’s going to make BBC Introducing’s observation, that “now is their time,” seem platitudinous; this exceptional four- piece are in it for the long haul.