WORDS ARE RAW: LUKE RATHBORNE
photographed by MICK ROCK. written by EMILY MARUCCI.
If Luke Rathborne’s life were a film, the opening scene would play out like this...
A landscape full of deep woods and shallow waters, a small town in Maine. A cabin lays on top of ancient dirt, charming yet full of stories. At this time Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Wild Night” plays on the radio. However, the place Van Morrison grew up, in Northern Ireland, is quite different from the place where Luke’s ears are listening to “The Wild Night Calling.”
Luke, unwillingly, is gifted a guitar by a stranger passing through town. He is sixteen now, and inspired by Punk Rock. On the television, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” plays. He says the video, “Made me think I would hate high school, which turned out to be true, but it was slightly more than I ever could’ve imagined.” (A flash-forward shows Luke writing a song that is titled “I Hate My School.”) It isn’t shocking that Luke wasn’t made for high school or that it wasn’t made for him. The most creative types outgrow those four years the moment they step inside on their first day. Because back at home, a guitar lays on the floor. And that is way more interesting than any of the shit they are going to teach inside school walls. Almost immediately after the guitar lands in his hands, he writes his first album “After Dark”. He completes it because of his rebellious, yet ambitious spirit... Sneaking into a local college and teaching himself recording equipment.
At eighteen, Luke picks himself up from his brother’s couch, and heads to New York. His song “You Ain’t Ever Coming Back” says “When I finally left home for New York City / There was no one I could even call my own…” But once your gone, you ain’t ever coming back. To Maine that is. Soon he lays his head within the walls of an abandoned theater loft in Brooklyn, the Charlie Pineapple Theater Company on North 8th street. “I moved to New York City when I was eighteen and just started hanging around different areas where I thought musicians might be. I knew it would take awhile to build a band, but I wanted to do music for sure, and I started playing gigs in bars, anywhere that would have me.” His album is released to great reviews and is discovered by Joey Levine, the songwriter who penned the ’60s classic “Yummy Yummy Yummy” which supposedly is about blow jobs. “Yummy Yummy Yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy.” Let’s just let you sit on that lyric.
In 2011 Rathborne signs to Los Angeles independent label Dilettante and Australian label Speak N’ Spell Records, where he releases the Dog Years/I Can Be One E.P. It’s a record you want to play with your windows open traveling down a long road to nowhere. Light hearted, but twisted with important lyrics.
It’s now 2013. Luke releases SOFT. “Overall the record is something I came up with thinking about Buddy Holly, without realizing it. When Buddy Holly comes on the radio you stop what you’re doing, you drop things to listen. He was pure magic. So there’s a theme of undercurrent happening in the music, like a river flowing underwater. Its got all sort of real things that make you human. Redemption. Lust. Regret. Then there’s pop on the surface.” The record celebrates and warns at the same time. It speaks up about breaking out of complacency. Forcing yourself to open your eyes. To be free. Buddy Holly vocal melodies, produced by Emery Dobyns (of Battles and Noah and the Whale) with mixing and production by Gus Oberg and The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr., the record is a sweet summer album with intense guitar and bass. Luke’s voice feels familiar, from the past, worn with wisdom and a little gritty.
The final scene would show Luke being interviewed. His body slender, he sits in the backyard of a bar in Brooklyn. He is young, in heart and in the way he looks. His hair is tossed by the wind and he sits comfortably as his guitar makes his lap home. He plays the shit out of the guitar. His hands and his tone reminds me of the likes of Bob Dylan. There’s something about him. Like he was pulled from a different era, out of our dad’s yearbooks. Black and white. ’70s. He isn’t faded by this world. He has a story, an interesting one at that, one that got him to the place where he now sits. His words are raw but simple. It’s about the music and about life… and nothing else.
This article was produced for & published in SHK's Summer 2015 issue.