The Luka State: Delivering Food Parcels, Mental Health Struggles And Living For Playing Live

The Luka State are on the rise. The four-piece hail from a small salt mining town in the north west of England and consist of lifelong friends Conrad Ellis (Vocals/Guitar) Sam Bell (bass, vocals), Lewis Pusey (guitar) and Jake Barnabas (drums). After releasing their debut album during a lockdown in January 2021, the Winsford band are eager to get out on the road and spread their message shining a light on mental health issues and the difficulties during a cost of living crisis.

The Luka State

The Luka State: L-R: Lewis Pusey, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Jake Barnabas
The Luka State: L-R: Lewis Pusey, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Jake Barnabas

Their second album More Than This, which was released on 10th March, reached number 17 on the independent charts and they’re out on their biggest headline tour to date. They’ve been lauded by people from Joe Lycett to Tom Morello and Rolling Stone said that “the future of rock n roll is from Winsford.” Rockshot Magazine sat down with frontman Conrad Ellis to discuss the influences and the striking realities that are behind the record.

Conrad, can you talk to me about how More Than This was written and how the ideas on the record evolved?

The catalyst for the record was, I was working for a food bank at the height of the pandemic delivering food parcels to families that were a little less fortunate than myself and one family; a single mum to two boys who was working two jobs at the time, to put food on the table and put a roof over their head. Because the way the world was, she lost both her jobs so she was solely reliant on us delivering food and it just broke my heart man. It broke my heart completely and I felt compelled to write about it and tell the story of this family because there are so many other families out there even now that are using food banks. Not just families but single people, people in work are using food banks. That kind of ignited something in me and sparked a new form of writing for me and I found this honest approach to writing that I’d never had before where I felt comfortable laying everything bare on the page and spilling my soul out. That inspired me to write deeper personal things. I started writing about my mental health and the journey that I’ve gone through whilst intertwining these social and political aspects.

The Luka State

The Luka State: Conrad Ellis & Sam Bell
The Luka State: Conrad Ellis & Sam Bell

How did you get involved in delivering food parcels? Was it something that during the pandemic you felt you had to get out there and help people? How did it come about?

I was working for a school at the time and we created it ourselves. It was something that I became really passionate about and that passion has filtered through to today. We’re working with the Trussell Trust who are the UK’s largest food bank charity to help make a positive change through music. We’re doing an incentive with something we’ve come up with called Meal Tickets so you buy a ticket for our gig and a percentage of that ticket money goes to the Trussell Trust to help put food on the table for vulnerable families. We’re going one step further and extending that to our record sales and streams. That idea was inspired by other people making positive change through their platform. For instance Marcus Rashford took on the government to help with free school dinners and he fucking won man. For me, that was the most rock n roll thing anyone in this country has done in a long time. What’s more rock n roll than taking on the government and winning?! We wanted to try and make a positive change through the medium of music. I don’t think there’s many rock n roll bands that are talking about issues at the moment, issues that we struggle to talk about as people, I find that it’s something that needs talking about in music.

The Luka State

Lewis Pusey
Lewis Pusey

The lyrical content and what you’ve talked about in the More than this universe, shows some of the harsh realities that people in this country are facing at the moment; are you seeing it as a moral duty as your popularity has grown and your fan base has gotten bigger – do you see it as an opportunity to talk about these issues?

I think it’s really important for bands to be talking about these kinds of things. I don’t think moral duty comes into it as in I feel like this enlightened being that needs to talk about it, it’s not like that. It’s just something personal to me. I guess in a way the record is a concept album – it’s a record that starts with my journey having poor mental health and as we go through the record it gets better and better and it’s just showing people through my experiences that things do get better and we do come out the other side. I touch on substance abuse, poor mental health, the cost of living crisis through More Than This. Lyrics can be so powerful and I feel that it’s important to do so. I don’t think there’s many bands that talk about it at the moment. I think one of the bands that have brought things to life recently would be Idles? But other than that, there’s nothing really out there that’s saying anything.

The Luka State

Sam Bell
Sam Bell

I guess some artists go into escapism mode? And what I’m hearing from you is that you’re very much talking about the realities of what’s going on in the day to day lives of people in this country.

I think that comes from being inspired by a lot of 70’s punk and rock n roll music where the Clash were talking about issues during the 70’s and The Jam and that inspires me.  I think this kind of style of writing came from, because on this record, we had time. We would go into the rehearsal room for 5-6 hours a day writing music – purely music, from the ground up. We’d go in with nothing and come out with a piece of music. Then I’d take this piece of music home, I’d be able to sit with it and write the melody and the lyrics and I could go through draft after draft, melody after melody until I found the right thing for that song. I think that’s why the songwriting as a whole is so different because I had the means to do so. To sit and really get into these characters and these emotions that I was trying to talk about.

The Luka State

The Luka State: L-R: Lewis Pusey, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Jake Barnabas
The Luka State: L-R: Lewis Pusey, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Jake Barnabas

So the writing process itself is quite collaborative? In the sense you’d go into the recording studio, start with nothing, and you’d produce some themes of music and you’d take that away. Would you write the lyrics first or would you write lyrics to go with a particular sound?

I’m always writing. I’ve got a word bank, a word journal where I’m constantly writing phrases or anything that inspires me on that day. Sometimes I can go in and cherry pick things or something will catch my eye and then I’ll start writing based on that topic, so I don’t think that it really came to mind that this is a particular genre so I’ve got to sing about something.There were no influences on this record. We went into this album, purposefully not listening to any music. We tried to really keep the influences at bay. The only influences were ourselves and each other and I think that just enabled me to write very freely. It was a very liberating experience. 

The Luka State

Jake Barnabas
Jake Barnabas

I’ve seen you say before that your vocal performances whilst recording are like method acting and you really get into the story and the characters you’re singing about. Has that been hard with this record because some of the messages and stories you’re telling are so raw?

I think it only adds to the experience. That is what I do, I’m not your traditional singer in the studio that stands behind a mic and a pop shield and sings. The rest of the band sit in the control room with a pair of headphones on and I basically become the character I’m singing about. A lot of times in this record it’s myself, but it’s still a character to portray. I think we took that one step further with the Matter of Fact music video and I got to act out that character rather than just sing it so yeah it’s just the way I do things. 

I just think I get a better performance out of myself if I’m performing the songs. My main passion is performing live and being onstage so I think going through this method process and becoming the character of what I’m singing about helps me find the emotion within the song and helps me do it to the best of my ability. You’ve gotta find what works for you and run with it man. 

 

Two of the singles you’ve released have lyrical themes about “Getting Out of this Town”. In Two Worlds Apart it says  “Do you Wanna Get Out of this Town?” and In Stick Around, there’s a line “I’ve been waiting so long to get out, I think it’s time we ran away.” Is that something that resonates with you?

Yeah I think that came from my subconscious. Coming from a small working class town, I think you feel like that. You feel the restraints. In a small town in the middle of nowhere, you don’t get the luxuries of being in a city and I feel like it’s a form of escapism for me to write about wanting to get out. A lot of the time I do want to get out! I mean it’s home, but you know, you do want to escape sometimes. I think everyone feels those restraints of life that sometimes they just wanna explode and run away. That’s me just relaying my method of escapism through music. There’s so many towns like this in England. Small, working class, this is a small little salt-mining town in the north west and there’s nothing to do here. That’s kind of why we started this band in the first place cos you either play footie or you play music. So yeah I think the form of escapism is the reality in those lyrics.

The Luka State

The Luka State: L-R: Lewis Pusey, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Jake Barnabas
The Luka State: L-R: Lewis Pusey, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Jake Barnabas

You said growing up there’s only football and music – did you ever think you’d be where you are today when you were growing up?

Erm, yeah, I guess so. We’ve always been football mad anyway and music mad. We weren’t that good at footy so we had to choose music! Actually, Jake [drums] was a good footballer, he played semi-professional. But I think you are always dreaming of the big time like I said before the feeling of escapism and longing to get out kind of gets hold of you. The dream of signing a record deal and travelling the world is something you want to make real. So, you’ve got to stay focused and driven and resilient and you’ll get to where you want to be. I don’t think we’re anywhere we want to be yet. I still think we’ve got a lot of shit to prove, a lot of stuff to do. But we’ll keep going, we’ll get there.

The Luka State

The Luka State: L-R: Lewis Pusey, Conrad Ellis & Sam Bell
The Luka State: L-R: Lewis Pusey, Conrad Ellis & Sam Bell

I know you said that for this record, More Than This, you are your own influences but broadly speaking who were the musical influences growing up that you really looked up to and really inspired you to go into the business.

That’s a good question, because there’s so many of them! First and foremost I’m an absolute music lover, an absolute music head. But those bands [The Clash, The Jam] are definitely at the forefront of my inspiration. I think growing up we all have influences that stretch so far and wide, you know, I listen to everything from 70’s punk, Soul, Ska, Reggae, Rock n Roll. I think the first thing that got us together as a band, especially me and Sam from when we were young, was really, listening to all that punk music from the 70’s cos our parents are into it. Being a 90’s kid you’ve got Nirvana, Oasis and Green Day and all these other bands and I think you’re taking inspiration from. And I think when we were younger, you had NME and being on the cover was huge. Being on the cover of Q was huge and you wanted to be like those guys on the front cover. You had Kerrang TV, you had MTV, you had all these things you could be so excited about. But you don’t have that anymore do you? Like, it doesn’t exist.

The Luka State

Jake Barnabas
Jake Barnabas

Yeah, it’s strange because music is possibly more accessible than ever with every song that’s ever been written at the touch of a button but those publications and those things you can dream of, aren’t what they were twenty years ago.

It’s so true. Those kinds of things were quite inspiring growing up. Wanting to be that band on the front of NME or Q Magazine or on the tele on Kerrang or MTV so I think that’s kind of the inspiration. Wanting to aspire to those big things.

The Luka State

The Luka State: L-R: Jake Barnabas, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Lewis Pusey
The Luka State: L-R: Jake Barnabas, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Lewis Pusey

The kid in your album cover – he’s in your latest music video for Two Worlds Apart, who is he? Is he someone you know?

For the cover of the record we were going to pick a photo from the 1970’s of this kid who was on a run down estate. It painted a really good picture of broken Britain in the 70’s and we really think not much has changed since. Unfortunately the artist is no longer with us so it was really difficult to obtain that photo so Frankie is Sam’s nephew and he really encapsulated what we were trying to do and thought the image of him would be really powerful. We recreated that imagery in front of our run down local shops and I think his face tells a story of what a lot of people and a lot of kids are going through at the moment.

The Luka State

The Luka State: L-R: Lewis Pusey, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Jake Barnabas
The Luka State: L-R: Lewis Pusey, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Jake Barnabas

It definitely is a powerful image. You said earlier that performing live was one of the things you love so no doubt you’re looking forward to your upcoming tour across the UK and Europe?

Yeah we absolutely live for it, we love it. And what’s so exciting about this tour is that people know the first record and obviously the second one comes out very soon so it’s going to be really nice that we can chop and change it up. Playing live is our bread and butter. There’s no better feeling than playing to an absolutely packed out room and letting go and sharing these songs with people so we just can’t wait to get out. It’s going to be absolutely amazing.

 

Are there any particular cities or venues that you’re looking forward to?

Certain places are always good to go back to. Scotland’s amazing cos it’s just awesome, the people are absolute music lovers. It’s always good to end the tour in Manchester which is absolutely amazing. Really excited to go to the academy, we haven’t played Manchester Academy on a headline tour so that’s going to be really special. It’s always really special to go back to London as well cos London kind of adopted us. We put a lot of groundwork in London over the years so it’s going to be great to go back there.

The Luka State

Conrad Ellis
Conrad Ellis

Your first album, Fall In Fall Out came out in the middle of lockdown and it was a strange place and time we were two years ago. How has the album cycle felt then compared to now? 

No, it’s completely different, it’s the complete opposite! It’s a different approach, we can tour it, get people to hear it live which is one thing we didn’t get with that first record. I think we lost a lot of momentum due to that but you can’t sit and cry about it, because that’s the way things are. But yeah it’s going to be amazing. We can just get out and tour it and give it the justice and the release it deserves. We’re just so excited to get out.

The Luka State

Sam Bell
Sam Bell

Finally, what’s next? More Than This comes out in a couple of weeks you’ve then got this UK & European tour. Will you continue to write when you’re on tour or will you just step back and enjoy the experience of playing live?

We are going to smash this album as much as we can. We’re going to tour it until we can’t tour it any more because we couldn’t tour the first one. Hopefully the longer the record’s out, the message of what we’re trying to do is going to spread, the positivity and change we’re trying to create, the message is going to really resonate with people. So we’re going to be in the More Than This universe for as long as we can be. So yeah, let’s go! Let’s do it!

The Luka State

The Luka State: L-R: Jake Barnabas, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Lewis Pusey
The Luka State: L-R: Jake Barnabas, Conrad Ellis, Sam Bell & Lewis Pusey

The Luka State played London’s Camden Assembly on 30th March, and you can catch the band on the following dates of their More Than This tour:

MARCH
31st – Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds

APRIL
6th – Tunnels, Aberdeen
7th – Church, Dundee
8th – King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
12th – Hakken, Hamburg
13th – Helios37, Cologne
14th – Maschinenhaus, Berlin
15th – Paradise Bitterzoet, Amsterdam
18th – Supersonic, Paris
21st – Academy 3, Manchester

Interview with Conrad Ellis of The Luka State by Chris Lambert. Photographs of The Luka State by Kalpesh Patel.

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