I KNOW LEOPARD
On their debut album Love Is A Landmine, Sydney quartet I Know Leopard explode their emotions onto a musical kaleidoscope, finding catharsis in the ethereal bliss of pop’s plastic and proggy past.
Whittled down from over three years’ worth of demos, and written against a back drop of emotional turmoil, which ultimately finished off with new love blossoming, Love Is A Landmine is an unashamedly romantic record that pulls you deep into the rich gamut of emotions that love will inevitably drag you through.
"I’d be lying if I said it wasn't an album full of love songs,” says lead vocalist and chief songwriter Luke O’Loughlin. “But not always in the classic romantic sense. It reflects on experiences where attempts at love are met with confusion, pain and alienation. The record also explores the importance of learning to love yourself before you can successfully love someone else."
Along with his bandmates, Rosie Fitzgerald (bass), Jenny McCullagh (violin and keys) and Todd Andrews (guitar), O’Loughlin and co. have created the perfect musical complement to the open and impassioned lyrics. Musically, Love Is A Landmine shines, revelling in glam, dreamy synth pop and the kind of playful, upbeat, 70s soft rock made famous by ELO, 10CC and the Alan Parsons Project. Blended seamlessly within that is the taught new wave energy of Metronomy and a glorious deep dive into vintage analogue synths.
This duality between the lyrics and the music perfectly highlights another theme central to the album. “There’s no way of experiencing true love without experiencing pain,” says O’Loughlin. Given this dichotomy, pleasure and pain side by side, it makes clear sense that the album kicks off with lead single ‘Landmine’. From a chorus that declares “Love is a landmine” and promises that “there is a landmine out there waiting just for you”, over a bouncing bass groove, waves of epic synth and an unforgettable violin intro, it is the wry lyrical tone that stops the tune from ever being too saccharine, anchoring the shimmering pop with a devastating emotional weight. Across the whole record, the music adds lightness to the lyrics and the words add depth to sound.
So complete is the record in both sound and style, you’d be forgiven for thinking the band had fallen to earth fully formed. In fact, it’s a sound that they band has crafted over two EPs and two stand-alone singles, ‘Let Go’ and ‘Rather Be Lonely’, which both received a huge amount of airplay on triple j and community stations alike.
Coming on board as producer was The Preatures’ Jack Moffitt. Recorded on IKL’s now home turf of Sydney, Moffitt tracked the band live, bringing an energy and drive to the recordings, and in the process pushing the band into new territory. “This album feels more organic than anything else we’ve done,” says O’Loughlin. In the past there have been more computer tricks and songs were pieced together more often then played from start to finish. This one had that live energetic feeling from the beginning. We hadn’t recorded like that in a long time.”
Part of Moffitt’s approach was to also encourage the band to take risks. “The great thing about working with Jack is that he always insisted, “Let’s be bold no matter what”. That became a kind of mission statement for the recording: be bold,” says O’Loughlin. “He really pushed the quirks of the record and was happy to throw paint at the wall and see what stuck.” Especially when it came to the vocals. “Up until now I had always tried to soften my voice and make it as easy to listen to as possible, but Jack really pushed me to let go of those inhibitions just sing like myself. The result is a much more raw and truthful performance.”
Once Moffitt had laid the foundations, O’Loughlin and bassist Rosie Fitzgerald travelled to Adelaide, the city that Luke grew up in, to mix the album and record extra synth parts with Luke Million. “Luke is an old friend of mine from growing up in Adelaide. He was a really big part of the Adelaide music scene and I always looked up to him,” says O’Loughlin. “So when he was suggested for the job I knew he would get all those 70s influences. Not to mention he’s got one of the impressive vintage synth collection I’ve ever seen, most of which found their way onto the record.”
As a finished product, Love Is A Landmine is the musical equivalent of a space blanket: gleaming, shimmering, retro-futuristic and synthetic, but will envelope you and warm you to your very core. Across its 11 tracks, it covers a lot of musical ground, without ever losing a sense of itself. ‘Heather’ is a frustrated love song, that will have festival crowds shouting its anthemic chorus, arms akimbo. ‘Everything Goes With You’ is a tender piano ballad that would be right at home on John Lennon’s Mind Games. ‘1991’ is a white-boy take on Prince, and a strutting story of nostalgia for simpler times, before adulthood and “your brain being bogged down with the emotions and insecurities of living in the modern world.”
In an indie rock landscape dominated by 90s grunge throwbacks, hardcore punk and scrappy garage bands, I Know Leopard are something of an anomaly. Gloriously out of step by bringing with them a sense of luxury, glamour and brains with them. “Without sounding too much like a dad,” laughs O’Loughlin. “We just want to show that the classic song is not dead and can still exist in the modern climate. Ultimately we just wanted to give all the music we love a place to live in the modern world.”