Sydney based Luke & Friends has released new song Down and it’s the perfect vibe for the summer. With a new project, new music and a new sound that has an energetic Pop crossed RnB and Hip Hop sound Luke McKay has established a new direction with his project Luke and Friends. Collaborating with his idols American alternative hip hop duo The Cool Kids, Down is the ultimate compliment to add to his catalogue of songs having written for Tkay Maidza. McKay had a chat to Hi Fi Way about how the project started and how its going.
With your new single Down you collaborated with your musical idols the Cool Kids. What was it like to work with them?
I was just honoured they said yes. ‘Working with’ is a strong term in this day and age because I just sent them an email to work with me and they said “Yes.” So, they sent back an email with some verses to this song. I feel super honoured they said yes but I was never in the same room as them or have even shaken their hands unfortunately. I mean I’ll take anything I can get as the fact they said “yes is great!
So, in that respect what does the song Down represent for you?
I guess for me this song has been four years in the making. It originally started out with an old project that was a reggaeton pop song that was a bit major laser-y. Then it changed to more of an indie thing for another project I was working on. Then both of those projects fell apart before they got released. After working with Tkay Maidza for a while I was trying appeal to fan bases of music that I wouldn’t listen to myself. Major Lazer was the kind of music I was trying to make, then I sat down and had a bit of an epiphany due to the lockdown and started writing the kind of music that I liked. That’s how I got the idea of getting the Cool Kids on this song and I thought ‘Screw it! I’m going to make the music I want!” This song for me was always trying to be a mixture of the indie stuff I like such as Mac DeMarco. I was listening to a lot of old school hip-hop like De La Soul and J5 and I was try to amalgamate it to be the best I could while keeping a kind of summer party vibe. So, for me it was a bit of a turning point in the way I was making music. I started to make music for me and not for labels or other people. I stopped thinking about how other people would perceive it and I was doing it for myself.
Yeah, I think that’s what you should do with music. Did you find that more liberating than having this expectation of what other people wanted or liked?
Absolutely! It just made it more fun too. It was liberating in the way that all of a sudden rather than being computer programming I could pick up the guitar which is my main instrument. I just started strumming which in a way that was more liberating. When you’re making music that you actually enjoy it’s more fun. It’s that simple! Instead of trying to work out these strange kind of equations of what you think people might like it ends up becoming your own ears test and if you’re sitting there bopping your head on your own in the studio and enjoying it that’s probably the only test I need to pass now!
I hear that there’s something about the lyrics of Down that they don’t particularly mean anything or make some kind of sense. What’s the story behind that?
(laughs) Well this song started out as a love song about a relationship falling apart then Cool Kids come on to it and turned it into this thing about ‘going down town to party.’ That’s all good. I didn’t give a shit they changed the whole vibe. I liked that they did that. Then it came to release time and you have to submit your lyrics. I sat down to write them out and you can pick apart some but it’s not like its complete mumble the whole time but half of it I didn’t know. (laughs) I let it through and thought ‘I don’t know what’s going on here!’ (laughs) It’s just good fun and I could probably work out some of the stuff they say if I try hard enough but at the same time, I don’t want to misquote the guys, you know?
With some songs it doesn’t matter what the lyrics are. If it’s a good song and makes you feel good, it doesn’t matter. Look at Africa by Toto no one knows what that song is about. Even the band admitted they didn’t know what the lyrics meant. It’s just a song that everyone loves and bops along to. Is that the end result that you wanted, to produce a song that people could feel good with?
Absolutely! It’s about the feeling. I don’t think a song like this is going to be deconstructed by scholars in a hundred years’ time. It’s more about the feeling and the vibe. We all have one of those mates where they know every lyric to every song and that always blows my mind. Even with songs I’ve heard a thousand times I still sing the wrong lyrics but for me it’s more about the feeling that comes across. The song as a whole, not the lyrics themselves.
Speaking of lyrics, do you write your own lyrics most of the time or do you concentrate on the music?
It’s song dependant. On a song like Down I just let Cool Kids do their own thing and didn’t interrupt their process and at all. With other songs in the past, I’ve definitely helped out. Every song is a different kind of beast and there’s never a routine of how its done. This song took four years and the next thing I’m working on I’m hoping it takes two months. It’s dependant on the artists I’m working with and sometimes with singers they want the input while others hate input.
When did you first start in the music industry? What’s your story on how you started?
I grew up in South Australia and I was in a few bands around town years ago. I played in what you might call an electronic punk band for about five years. We took ourselves seriously even though we had no fucking idea what we were doing (laughs). Fast forward a few years; I was friends with Tkay Maidza’s manager and I had just come back from an extended vacation from home and he asked if I wanted to be a live DJ. He knew I had been DJing a bit over the years so I said ‘yes’ as I wasn’t working and was poor! He also said “Well Tkay also needs some songs. Do you want to try write some for her?” At that point I hadn’t written a song in three years but I still said ‘yes’. Six months later we had done an EP together! I wrote a couple of her early singles like M.O.B and U-Huh so all of a sudden, I was full time in music. I was on the road with Tkay and writing as much as I could.
I got signed to a label to do my own solo stuff that was under my name L K McKay. It’s a long history, I guess. Things with Tkay finished up. I think she needed a change and I probably needed a change as well. Being on the road for five or six years almost non-stop it hurts your soul a bit to be honest. So, after that I started the Luke & Friends project. I got dumped by my label and that’s also part of the epiphany. The label wanted me to make these copy electronic songs and since I got dumped, I thought “Well who the fuck am I trying to please right now?” So, I wanted to just make songs for me. Fast forward a few years I started to slowly drip feed a few Luke & Friends songs out there.
Do you find that experience helped you decided what you wanted to do in music?
Absolutely! In that time, I was writing for a whole bunch of people and doing song writing camps or jumping in the studio as often as I could and involved in the publishing side of things. I’ve done a lot of ad/jingle work and I’m hoping to expand more on that to keep me a float.
It’s confidence but I’d say it’s even more not giving a shit anymore. The younger you are the more you care about what people think of you. I think its one of those traps you can easily fall into when you’re releasing music especially on your own you think the music is a representation of you as a human. Where as now I’m just like making music and releasing it. If people like it, they like it and if they don’t, they don’t! If they want to judge me as a human on this music that I bring out that’s their fucking problem not mine! (laughs)
Does Luke & Friends mean people you collaborate with?
Yeah. In the past it’s been literal friends but working with the Cool Kids is less so because it was over email and because I love them so much there was no way in hell, I was going to not work with them on a technicality because they weren’t literal friends! But the female friend on this song is a friend so that’s close enough (laughs).
What’s next for Luke & Friends? Is it a project where you will release more music?
Next up is a song that’s more of a ballad and that’s getting finished as we speak. I’m getting really excited about that one. Dew Process Publishing are super pumped about that song. I also finished a cover and trying to work out when to release it. It’s a cover of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Murder on the Dancefloor which has an indie guitar vibe and a bit more lo-fi/chilled than the original version. So that’s done. There’s two more singles coming out in the next three or four months then eventually releasing them all on an EP. I’d love for Luke & Friends to be something I can fiddle around with for the rest of my life. It’s turned into this pop/banger/hybrid weird project into this passion project with songs that I like now. If I can keep releasing music like this until I’m 150 years old I’d die a very happy man!
Interview by Anastasia Lambis