LUKE EASTER: Exploding with Pop
Luke Easter is one of those rare people. He moved from California to Austin, Texas. That's not rare. In fact, it probably happens about 1,000 times a day. At least it feels like that here in Austin. But Luke actually moved here, got to experience what Austin has to offer ... and then he turned around and moved back to California. Who does that?
Who joins Tourniquet, releases a bunch of albums, plays all over the place and then leaves to release a solo pop album? This guy does, but it's not as clear as it seems. So, two old friends got together to talk and get the skinny on what went down. Here is that talk.
You asked how long I’ve wanted to do a solo project, and how I finally got around to it…
I think everyone who’s ever been part of a band has at least thought about doing a solo project. Bands have their own dynamic and when they’re actual bands everyone has some sort of input in terms of the music and lyrics created under that banner, but there’s a definite appeal to the notion of making an individual statement that doesn’t have any of the stuff — good and bad — from a band attached.
In 1993 when I joined my old band, I was happy to just be playing shows and to have the opportunity to do records. I hoped I’d get the chance to write, which I eventually did, but I was honestly happy just being (a) part of something. Fast forward a bit into 1994, and we’d released Vanishing Lessons, toured a little to support the release, and we’d recorded Carry The Wounded. By that point I had really fallen in love with the whole process of recording and I loved to play live. We were never really road dogs, and the two weeks or so we did in 1995 to support Carry… was really the last actual tour we did. I mean, we did a lot of fly-outs and stuff, especially internationally, but we never loaded up a band, gear, and skeleton crew and played a string of dates like that. That time period, about the time we did Carry The Wounded, is when I first started thinking about trying to do a solo record or a side project, but I never really did anything about it.
In early to mid-2000’s, Kris Kanoho (my longtime friend, collaborator, and The Pop Disaster producer/guitarist) and I started discussing what a solo record by me might look like. I had started writing on my own a little, and we started meeting up regularly to work on the stuff I was writing. That led to some demo versions of songs, and I started seriously thinking about the solo thing — to the point that I brought it up to Ted (Kirkpatrick). He didn’t seem super excited at the idea, but he didn't say I couldn’t do it. He asked that I be mindful to not do anything that would undermine the brand, and that I hold off on doing anything until after we did another record. That was in 2006 or so, Aaron had just rejoined, and so it seemed like a reasonable request. Of course, the next record didn’t come out until 2012. In the meantime, I kept writing bits and pieces of songs.
Parting ways with the band at the end of 2015 was what ultimately provided the impetus to do something.
I sat down with Kris and we had a long talk about what I’d done in the past, and what the future could look like. He encouraged me to revisit some of the stuff we’d demoed, and to get busy writing. Kris has a home studio, and we’d both talked about doing a record together since high school. We decided it was time. So we started meeting weekly to work out the stuff I was writing. We resurrected a couple from the early demos (“Mispent” and “Sleep”) and I started finishing some of the songs I’d had rolling around in my head for awhile. That turned into building the songs in ProTools, which led to reaching out to people to play on the record, and ultimately to crowdfunding the money to actually finish up and release the record.
Tell me about the song "Sleep." What led to writing that tune? Who's it addressed to? How do you define depression? What are the cures you've found? What message do you want to convey to those suffering from depression or being super down or blaming themselves for everything, etc.?
Someone close to me escaped an abusive marriage back in the early 2000’s. They were on their own with three very young children, and it was a lot to handle. Once the ball got rolling on getting a divorce from the abusive spouse, things seemed to get more challenging. We talked about all of those situations a lot, and one of the things that kept coming up was that they couldn’t sleep. No matter how exhausted they were, all the baggage kept them up at night. “Sleep” came out of those conversations.
I’m not sure how I’d define depression, exactly. I know for me it’s usually a by-product of obsessing about things i have no control over. The obsessive thoughts end up leading to me beating myself up for not being able to do anything about whatever thing I’m obsessed with, and then depression sets in. I think the challenge — beyond letting go of the things you can’t do anything about — is being vulnerable when you’re in that headspace/emotional state. The temptation is to bottle it up and try to make it through alone, but that really only makes it worse. Talking it out, whether with a trusted friend or a professional, is invaluable in terms of keeping things in perspective. Prayer is helpful, too.
How did the mellow, super peaceful vibe and musical tone get developed? What led to that?
When Kris and I originally demoed “Sleep,” it was way more uptempo, and the vibe — instrumentally and vocally — was way more rock. When we were pulling together the songs for The Pop Disaster, we listened to it and realized the bones of the song were solid, but that the feel was totally wrong. We reworked it at the slower tempo with acoustic guitars, and once we had that, the cello and violin seemed like a natural fit.
"After I'm Gone" What is that song about?
In 2014, my wife and I moved from California to Austin, Texas. There are a lot of different reasons for why we moved, but one of the factors was where I had been working. There was pretty much no work/life balance, and some key relationships I had within the organization had gone sour. Some of that is my fault, but a lot of it wasn’t. There’s a part of me that wanted to implement a “scorched earth” policy when I left — burn every bridge, every relationship; to just destroy as much as possible on my way out, but I didn’t. I left fairly quietly, and I worked long-distance on maintaining/repairing the relationships that mattered. I was happy to leave, and I think there were some who were happy to see me go. At the same time, this was a place where I’d spent a good chunk of my adult life, and these were people whom I had developed relationships with, so it was mixed bag. That’s where the chorus came from — “I know that I’ll feel a hole in my heart where you used to be…, and I hope that yours will bleed a little every time you think of me…”
We wound up moving back to the Bay Area, and I still have friends who are part of that organization, but it’s never going to be what it was. It’s different. That’s not necessarily bad, but I go back and forth between being relieved to be free of that place, and being nostalgic about some of the good times there.
What about "Misspent?”
“Misspent” is the first attempt I ever made at trying to write a song by myself. I wrote it in 2006 or 2007. There was not a lot happening in the world of Tourniquet. We didn’t really have a record deal, we couldn’t seem to find a new deal, and we weren’t playing too much. I was thinking a lot about what, if anything, I’d done with my life, and I was wondering if it had all been a waste of time. I am not a great guitar player, and I really don’t play anything else, so I’d always written with people. With “Misspent,” I came up with a melody and lyric, and I had a basic arrangement in my head. I took it to Kris, and he took the melody and ran with it. His contributions made it a better song. It’s the first demo we did for what became The Pop Disaster.
"As Damaged As You Are" reads like a metal-sounding song. How do you think it matches the music?
I’m not sure I understand the question. I think the lyric and the music go together well.
Speaking of music, why the change to a pop sound?
I don’t think it’s really a change. This is how I write. Yeah, I was in a metal band, and I like metal, but my tastes have always been eclectic, and I’ve always loved pop/rock. I think that’s one of the reasons it took so long to finally do a solo record. The easy move would have been to find someone to write with and take a swing at some kind of metal-ish thing. That would have been a mess. It would have been contrived and self-conscious. Plus, if you’re going to do something different, do something different. I did the metal thing for over 20 years. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t see a need to keep doing it, especially if it was going to be a solo project. I cut my teeth on bands like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Ratt and Stryper, and when I discovered Butch Walker it was like an epiphany. I love drums and loud guitars, but I also love a big singable chorus. I love big hooks. So I wrote a pop/rock record. This record is a perfect snap-shot of me as a writer and singer at this point in time.
"Sideways" sounds like a breakup/divorce song. What led to writing that one?
I saw different friends of mine going through divorces. I’m fortunate; I have been happily married for 21 years, and I can’t imagine trying to have a life without my wife. But I saw the range of emotions that my friends went through — the pain, the anger, the feelings of failure. My parents are divorced. A lot of my friends grew up in broken homes, but it's different when you’re the adults now and you’re watching all of the events and situations that lead up to the breakup of a marriage. It sucks. That’s some of why the bridge is so upbeat and kind of optimistic. Without it the song is kind of a downer.
Speaking of marriage, what are your secrets to a lasting relationship with your wife, Kelly?
I don’t think there’s a secret. Everyone’s relationships are different. We really love each other. We enjoy each other’s company. We try to communicate effectively. We do our best to put the other first most of the time.
What is your moral lesson or theme you'd like to communicate with "How to Die Alone and Broken?" Why?
There is no excuse for mistreating or taking for granted the people in your life. Too many people lose sight of what’s important; they make themselves the main priority in their life, and in doing so they destroy the relationships that matter most — close friends and family. But if you try to point that out, they bristle and shift the blame to anyone and everyone but them.
"Life Goes On." A lot of these tunes seem to talk about your time after Tourniquet. Is that so? Let's talk about the band…
“Life Goes On” was the last song written for the record. A lot of the others are “darker,” topically, so I wanted to have something more positive and kind of anthemic open the record.
Let's talk about Tourniquet:
How did you first hear about the open position in Tourniquet (back before you joined)?
Bryan Gray (The Blamed) is a fellow Bay Area native. His old band played with my old band, and we’d gotten to be friendly. He knew I was looking for a band, he knew that they were in need of a singer, and he suggested I send in a tape.
What was the audition like?
Nerve-wracking and surreal. Nerve-wracking because there are a ton of words in some of those songs, and I wanted to be as close to perfect as possible. Surreal because I was a fan. I had those first three records, so singing those songs with the band who’d recorded them was a bit of a trip.
What were your feelings of joining this band?
I was excited, and I wanted to do a good job.
How did you like replacing Guy Ritter and his King Diamond vocal style?
I never really tried to do the falsetto stuff. I tried to sing the songs well, to be respectful of Guy’s work, but to also make the songs my own.
What were your contributions to the band?
I think I was a good frontman. I’m a decent vocalist, and I’m a competent songwriter. I always tried to give 110% live and in the studio. I helped out as much as possible behind the scenes. Not really sure how to answer this one without it sounding like humble bragging…
(bragging is always humble, of course. haha)
How did you handle ministry from the stage, etc.
I’m not a preacher, and I’ve never aspired to be one. I’ve also never been a fan of altar calls. But we were a Christian band. The songs were pretty explicit, so generally I’d set up what the song was about, and I always made sure folks knew for sure that we were there to profess Christ as much as we were there to play.
What were your favorite memories from Tourniquet?
The first tour. Recording Vanishing Lessons. The first time we played internationally. Laughing at stupid inside jokes. Playing practical jokes on each other.
Least favorite memories?
Behind the scenes drama. The way we handled some situations and relationships.
Why did you leave Tourniquet?
How is your relationship with Aaron? Ted? Any of the bass players?
I've spoken to Aaron a couple times since the split. It’s always good to connect, but it always feels like we’re both being really guarded — really careful about what we say. Truthfully, when I look back, I think I could have been a better friend to him than I was.
Ted and I haven’t spoken since the split.
Former bass players… Let’s see… The last time I saw Vince was the last time he played with us. Same goes for Andino. I email/message Tim from time to time. I’ve seen Victor in some of Jimmy Brown’s Facebook videos.
I am on good terms with Gary and Erik. That wasn’t the case for a long, long time. In retrospect, where they’re concerned, I wish I’d done things differently. I did a guest vocal on a song for Gary, recently.
If this were an episode of VH-1 BEHIND THE MUSIC, how would you narrate the end of your time in the band?
I plead the Fifth on this one.
If there was ever an opportunity for a big reunion show or you got the call from Ted to join them on stage, what would you say? Why?
I can’t imagine that ever happening.
Back to this album. Who played on it?
Kris Kanoho produced and played guitar. He and I have been friends since our teens, and we’ve talked almost that long about doing a record. The first time I heard Tourniquet was at his house, and he played guitar on the demo I sent in when I was trying to get an audition. Musically speaking, without Kris, there is no me.
Jess Sprinkle played drums on almost everything. One of the things I truly love about social media is how it's made the world smaller, and made people more accessible. I’ve been a fan of Jesse’s drumming since the Poor Old Lu days, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that he’s on this record.
David Bach played bass for most of the record. I bought First Watch when it was first released, and I’ve been a Guardian fan since then. One of the perks of playing shows is you sometimes get to meet the people you’ve admired, and David is one of those people. He actually got to hear some of the early demo stuff a long time ago, and without his encouragement, I might not have kept at it.
Josiah Prince played lead guitar. I’ve known Kevin Young for a long time, and he suggested both Josiah and Andrew (Stanton) if I needed guys to play. I’d connected with Josiah on Facebook, and initially I wanted him on “…Damaged…,” to get an idea what he sounded like doing something different than the Disciple stuff. We loved the lead he sent back so much that we decided to use him for everything! He’s super easy to work with, and he’s really creative.
Tim Gaines played bass on “Life Goes On.” Obviously, folks know him best from Stryper. I’ve been a fan since The Yellow And Black Attack, and I’d gotten to know him a little over the years. He played on “Claustrospelunker” from the Crawl To China album, and later he played some live dates with us in 2008/2009. He’s a great bass player.
The rest of the players may not be as well known, but they were just as essential to helping bring the record to life. I am very blessed to know a lot of really talented people.
Where did you track it? What stories can you tell from the making of this album?
This record was recorded all over. Jesse is in New York, David and Josiah are in Nashville, and Tim is in Arizona. The internet has made the world smaller. Kris and I did our parts in the Bay Area in a loft in a condo. Recorded and mixed.
Kris and I both have day jobs and families, and when we started work we didn’t have a set release date, so it took a little while to pull everything together. Not a ton of stories. When it was time to work, we pretty much focused on working. Kris did the lion’s share, work-wise. I’d show up with rough sketch demos and he’d help me turn them into good songs.
Plans to perform these songs live?
I would love to play live. Still trying to figure that out. I’d love it if I could take the recording band out, but I don’t know if that’s feasible. But I do want to play these songs for people. There’s nothing quite like being on stage with a good band and a great crowd.
How can fans support you? Contact you? What's next?
Buy the record. Stream it. Tell your friends about it. The response so far has been great, but there are always new people to reach. I’m on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheLukeEaster/) mostly. I’m on Twitter as @LukeEaster but I don’t tweet as much as I should. My website is at lukeeaster.com. You can get CDs, downloads, and t-shirts there, or at Bandcamp (lukeeaster.bandcamp.com).
I try to reply to everyone who contacts me, so feel free to reach out. I’d love to hear from you.
Anything else you'd like to share?
I’m thankful to everyone who has followed my musical exploits over the years. Making music is a passion. I think everyone who does it does it regardless of whether anyone listens or not, but when you find an audience it’s validating. It’s awesome when people connect with word or music you’ve written, and I don’t take it for granted.
For more information, visit: lukeeaster.com.