‘It feels like a lot had to happen’: Dean Luke’s debut single is a bright spark lit by existential despair

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‘It feels like a lot had to happen’: Dean Luke’s debut single is a bright spark lit by existential despair

dean luke
photo: Marcus Coblyn
Words by Joshua Jennings

“A 30-something with 20-something problems….” This lyric from Melbourne singer-songwriter Dean Luke’s debut single, What Do I Know?, sounds like the lament of somebody in the wilds of one of those decades. And it is. 

But that’s all history now. What Do I Know? has time-stamped a heavy patch that Dean Luke has now outlived.

“Being a 30-something with ‘20-something problems’ just means you’re now at a point in your life where you’re expected to have your shit together, but you’re still struggling…. You still feel like you’re in the learning phase, or you still feel like there is all this stuff you don’t have under control. But you should have it under control by now.”

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What Do I Know?, an earworm of daydreamy jangle pop, is notable for angsty lyrics that distinctly contrast the bright chord progressions and ebullient vocal melodies. Luke says the existential despair he was navigating during its origins surfaced for a lot of reasons.

“I’d recently moved to a new suburb and wasn’t feeling comfortable yet; I was feeling disillusioned with my job and not particularly fulfilled by the people I was hanging around with. I was also recovering from a breakup. Generally, I was just feeling lost and confused within myself and the world, for many different reasons.”

What Do I Know? was recorded over several weeks, alongside other tracks, at OneBe Studios in Coburg North. Luke says he isn’t ordinarily inclined to bring songs to life out of difficult experiences, but What Do I Know? was a silver lining in that respect.

“Most people think that people need to experience some sort of suffering to get inspiration,” Luke says. “It’s a commonly shared opinion of artists — that they need to be suffering in order to produce anything of value. That might be the case for some people – it’s not for me. 

“I know for a fact that I am much, much better, much more productive and much more creative if I am in a good place in my life.”

Luke, who is also a guitar teacher, grew up on Phillip Island and lives in Coburg today. He received his first guitar aged 14, as a gift from his mum. He gravitated to the instrument and records, at least in part, as a means of respite from what he describes as a turbulent adolescence.

His formative years on guitar were spent idolising Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, and he spent years playing lead guitar in rock bands around Melbourne.

At the same time, as he matured into a young adult, his interests in music expanded beyond Zeppelin. He says his mum introduced him to artists such as Jeff Buckley, Thom Yorke and Lucinda Williams. 

Today, the songs he writes are inspired by bands and artists such as Wilco, Father John Misty, Phoebe Bridgers, Paul Dempsey, Yo La Tengo, Kurt Vile and Pavement. What Do I Know? also shares some emotional sensibilities with Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes.


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Luke says he wrote the lyrics to What Do I Know? in the Notes app on his phone during a commute, but then COVID railroaded his debut single release by years. 

“It feels like a lot had to happen,” says Luke. “The fact that it was born out of a hard time in my life, and then… all these other things. It just feels really strange.”

What Do I Know? is a two-and-a-half-minute pop song that takes cues from 90s jangle luminaries such as The Sundays, along with the poppier veins of The Cure and Pavement. The other songs that Luke recorded at OneBe studios — slated for future release — follow a similar musical path to What Do I Know? but also explore the territory of alt-country and indie-folk.

You’ll hear rootsy swells of guitar and percussive shuffles reminiscent of early Dawes. Luke’s voice is full of warmth but bruised just enough around the edges to complement the introspective nature of his lyrics.

“There will be personal things in there but they’re mixed with made-up things and things from other people’s lives,” Luke says. “I don’t know, maybe one day that will change. Maybe one day I will write a bunch of songs chronicling my life in great detail…(laughs) but I don’t really write songs that way.

“But I do feel like just about everything in my life has shaped me into the person that I am and ultimately the songwriter that I am.”

Keep up with Dean Luke on Spotify here and Instagram here.

This article was made in partnership with Dean Luke.