Pnau front man, Littlemore pulled off one of the great disappearing acts in Australian music history.
A couple of years ago he and his friend Luke Steele of The Sleepy Jackson released the electropop album Walking On a Dream under the moniker Empire of the Sun. The meeting of two of the most innovative and original minds in Australian music was an immediate critical and commercial success, rising to sixth on the local chart and finding an audience and plenty of admirers around the world, particularly in Europe.
But while Steele went on to tour the album around the country and beyond, and collected a swag of ARIA Awards in 2009, his partner in crime Littlemore vanished.
Indeed at the award ceremony, Steele thanked his missing collaborator with the words: "Nick's disappeared. He is still overseas so this is the invisible Nick. Sayhi."
So just why did Littlemore decamp when his Empire's reign was at its zenith?
Over the phone from chilly Montreal there is long pause, a nervous laugh and finally Littlemore offers a "geez Louise, next question". "It was time to make another record," he says when pressed. "I had just met Elton (John) and he wanted to make an album with me and I don't know if you turn that down.
"These opportunities have come up in my life and I have been incredibly lucky to be able to meet these people and communicate and work with them. I wasn't going to let anything get in the way of that."
At the time, rumours circulated that Littlemore and Steele had fallen out over the direction Empire of the Sun were heading and particularly the prospect of taking their dreamy, immaculately produced songs on the road.
Littlemore concedes that he didn't like the idea of touring the album, but says there is definitely no rift between the two, and in fact he is still open to a future collaboration.
"We only birthed 43 minutes of music on that album and I was coming off Pnau shows that were 90 minutes and it's a very different experience," Littlemore says. "Pnau is a band that has been around for 10 years or more and it felt like it was a little premature.
"I love Luke and his instrument. He is so powerful and such a joy to work with, having sound coming back at you of that kind of intensity in such a colourful and gorgeous way. We gave birth to that together and it has been on a journey and it's beautiful and it has done some really cool things.
"But it was time for me to make another record and the next record is this one. Who knows where the journey will take you? You just put these things out in the universe and see what happens."
Elton John fell in love with Pnau when he heard their single Wild Strawberries while in Australia promoting Billy Elliot: the Musical and took Littlemore and Pnau partner Peter Mayes under his wing. He stocked up on copies of the band's third, self-titled release to give to friends and declared it to be the best album he had heard in 10 years.
School friends Littlemore and Mayes, who won a Best Dance Release ARIA Award in 2000 for their debut album Sambanova, relocated to London to take up the veteran British pop superstar's offer to help them any way he could, including being signed to his management company.
John has collaborated on four songs for the coming Pnau album, due this year, and Littlemore and Mayes have returned the favour, working on tracks for an as-yet untitled Elton John release.
Littlemore, who also had a big hand in Groove Armada's most recent album, Black Light, says his mentor is a down-to-earth lover of music and art, despite the extraordinary company he keeps, and is more than willing to share his experience and contacts.
"It comes down to two things," Littlemore says of what John has done for Pnau. "One is an aesthetic and what I mean by that is the way he looks at the world and the way positivity can be such a guiding light. The other thing is mentorship and the ability to work with someone like that. I have made friends through him and had some amazing opportunities that are so far beyond my understanding of how I am allowed to be in the room with that kind of people."
One of the doors John has opened is for Littlemore to be composer and musical director of a Cirque du Soleil show that will open at New York's Radio City Music Hall mid-year before heading to Moscow, Madrid, Paris and touring the world for five years. Even with the watchful eye and assistance of musical theatre veteran John, Littlemore says it's the hardest thing he has ever done in his life.
"It has been ridiculously difficult," he says. "It's not pop music, it's a very different animal. It's theatre music with lyrics; it's a rock opera actually. It's definitely from outer space somewhere."
Now based in frigid Montreal where the circus troupe has its headquarters, the Sydney-raised musician says he is looking forward to beaches, good Chinese food and catching up with family when he tours with Pnau for this year's Big Day Out.
"It's an amazing opportunity and I am working for the circus every day until July so it was the only opportunity I had to get out with a legitimate excuse not a holiday," he says.
- Courier Mail
- Courier Mail