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.