The 30-year-old Luka Sulzer, who is known from the band SAINT CHAMELEON, has recently been appearing solo under the stage name SULUKA. With “313” the debut album will be released on August 25th, on which the Styrian not only proves his musicality, but also his depth of content. The sound of the seven pop tracks found on the album has its origins in various levels of black music. Katharina Reiffenstuhl talked to SULUKA about social struggles for freedom, activism in Graz, his time as a band member and his path to becoming a musician – he actually learned ceramics and information design.
How do you get from ceramics to music?
Luke Sulzer: I think it has its roots in my childhood. My sisters have always sung a lot, both are very talented. One was more of a singer, the other a visual artist, and I took a bit of both with me. I then went to the Ortwein school for ceramics and didn’t know exactly how to go on with it afterwards. It actually happened quite by accident that I started making music with a couple of great musicians. My old band developed from that and we played there for six years. Now I’m here and making music. In the end I made a small detour via the FH and studied information design there.
You left the band four years ago. Why?
Luke Sulzer: At that time I had already started writing songs and realized relatively quickly that it didn’t quite fit into the band anymore. Everyone has had their own projects, they are all very strong personalities and we have all developed a bit in our own directions. It was the same for me. For almost two years I thought about whether I could allow myself to do something new. Then the pianist at the time announced that he would no longer be there from 2020, and that took a bit of a load off my heart because I realized that I can let go now. I then played my last concert and two weeks later went to Detroit to study for half a year. But I am extremely grateful for this time.
What did you take with you from that time for your solo career?
Luke Sulzer: Lots of musical knowledge in terms of theory and composition. The time itself in general was a very good preparation for starting solo. All the preparation times, the organization, everything that you can’t see and what happens in the background, I was able to learn a lot. The guys let me experiment a lot, so I was able to develop a freedom.
Do you feel like you’re making a fresh start musically?
Luke Sulzer: I feel like I’m going completely back to the roots and doing what I heard as a kid. I founded the old band with my best friend, so a lot of influence came from him, towards blues and soul. As a child I listened to a lot of music from all over the world. That influences my music. But the music I make is pop music with RnB and hip hop influences. The first record that really stuck with me and keeps hitting the ground running is The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
“EVEN IF YOU KNOW A BIT OF THE CULTURAL BACKGROUND, AS A WHITE CENTRAL EUROPEAN YOU PROBABLY NEVER GET THERE THAT YOU UNDERSTAND IT COMPLETELY.”
What fascinated you so much about her?
Luke Sulzer: phew There is so much there. I was on one two days ago KENDRICK LAMAR-Concert in Munich and LAURYN HILL looks a bit like him to me. A larger-than-life figure who, at an extremely young age, made expressive music that was lyrically so polished and deep. She must have been in her early 20s when the album came out. And to write such music at that age, artistically and in terms of content, is a terrible achievement. As a child I didn’t really understand it, it just touched me. I didn’t understand it then either. Now, when I’m 30, I think back on it, read the texts and have a completely different approach to them. Even if you know a bit of the cultural background, as a white Central European you will probably never get there that you fully understand it. But it still grabs me and gives me goosebumps every time I hear the music.
Your music is full of Afro-American influences. Does that mean they have been with you since you were a child?
Luke Sulzer: My mother listened to a lot of music from all over the world, generally a lot of black music. Through pop music and what I’ve been doing in recent years, I’ve mostly stuck with black music.
“Unfortunately IT IS OFTEN THE WAY THAT YOU CONSUME THIS BLACK ART BUT ARE NOT WILLING TO GO DEEPER”
In the song “Mama” you deal with socially critical topics, including ‘White Supremacy’. Something that doesn’t actively concern you – but you deal with it anyway.
Luke Sulzer: At first glance I would say that as a white person it also affects me actively, but not in a negative way. For me it has to do with the fact that the music I make comes from a certain tradition, from a freedom movement, from a struggle. If I, as a white Central European, dare to approach this music, then I want to do it as well as possible in order to pay tribute to it. Unfortunately, it is often the case that one consumes this black art but is not willing to go deeper into it and deal with oneself. For me as a white person, this is still extremely important, regardless of whether it’s about black freedom struggles or about LGBTQ rights. These are all struggles for freedom, which ultimately set me free. When it comes to racism, for example, it’s very much about dividing the workers with this tool. White people don’t see that they are acting against their own interests. You shouldn’t see it so separately from each other, as an affected or non-affected person. But of course I don’t claim to represent a tradition of black resistance as a white person.
You’re from Graz. How far are the people of Graz when it comes to such topics?
Luke Sulzer: I grew up in St. Nikolai in southern Styria and then moved to Graz when I was 17. But first you have to define what “the people of Graz” are. Are these only white people or are there also BIPoC people? The BIPoC people are extremely far. As a result, there are of course many white people from the area who then try to be active and to be supportive. I’m lucky to be in a good community with people who do extremely good work and who always inspire me. Adjanie Kamucote and Yue-Shin Lin are two great people. Adjanie works as a social worker, mental trainer and supports companies and organizations in establishing anti-racist structures. Yue Shin is part of the Cake Escape. A virtual band that deals with various forms of discrimination and draws attention to it with murals in the city. Graz is small and you can hear relatively little from that direction. But I’m all the happier when you find small groups doing important work. Peninah Lesorogol, a friend of mine who will star in the Mama video, has a feminist agricultural project in Kenya in her home village, where she and the women there plant trees and grow food. When I meet people like that, I also learn a lot about myself.
“Mama” has a lot to do with climate change and how capitalism and white supremacy play into it. That there are already indigenous solutions. With the way the discussion is going right now as far as climate change is concerned, I don’t have the feeling that we’re going to be able to do it. Because it’s all about maintaining the status quo and shifting the focus away from the problems and keeping the economy going. But to come back to your question to come full circle: It’s crazy that you can actually find that in Graz. You can be anywhere, you can be in a small town and still there are people doing this work. You just have to dare to get out of your own comfort zone.
So conclusion: Graz is surprisingly far?
Luke Sulzer: Yes, if you know where to look.
What does the number 313 that your album is named after stand for?
Luke Sulzer: 313 is the Detroit area code and my ex-girlfriend’s birthday. The city made a huge impression on me, and she’s from Detroit. I dedicated the album to her. I met her in Graz, she studied here. She was my best friend for a long time, and then we met in Detroit. When I had to go back to Austria, I explained to her that I didn’t want to be in a long-distance relationship, I’ve done it before and it’s just too difficult. Then we were still in contact every day and at some point we tried it. Then the pandemic came and we almost didn’t see each other for two years. It was still the best relationship I’ve ever had. I was able to take a lot from it. Of course it sucked that you can’t be close and unfortunately it didn’t last, but she was still an extremely transformative person for me. The whole album is about love in all its forms and it really showed me that this self-love, this trust in myself is possible.
Does she know about this album?
Luke Sulzer: Yes, she knows all that, we still keep in touch from time to time. The theme song is written especially for her. She’s still one of the most important people to me at this stage of my life.
What is planned after your debut album, is there already something in the starting blocks?
Luke Sulzer: I’ll probably make a few more smaller music videos, I’m just designing them.
This is where the skills learned during the course are put to use.
Luke Sulzer: (laughs) Exactly. I’m already writing new songs because I’d like to recreate the next album next year. Label and booking agency would now be the next stations.
That sounds promising. Thank you for the talk!