AM Portrait: The Musician Luke Tao #
Made in Mallorca - Clued-in cool and laid-back wise - a talented young musician for our times
“Stillness is such a great resource. In it, we find silence from which music can flourish and grow.”
A True Island Child
Here he is folks, meet Luke Tao as he steps onto the stage, into the light, with his debut album SKYWALKING. In a mix of some sizzling WOW guitar, slick lyrics and silky-smooth poetry, it moves from tender love songs, through plaintive personal struggles, to a plea for human kindness and environmental sanity. Track after track, his talent shines.
May I Introduce #
I knew him when... Years ago Luke used to be at my house with a bunch of other kids watching old VCR tapes of Disney movies. And I watched him climbing gnarly olive trees almost before he could walk. Then there was a long period when I missed a lot of his growing-up as I shuttled back and forth to New York. Now, here he is all those years later - a tall, talented, self-assured young man sitting in my living room drinking tea and answering questions that might sometimes be bit awkward, or obvious. But he doesn’t mind. He’s gracious and willing and we laugh a lot. He exudes confidence without arrogance and happily lacks brittle ego. It was a treat indeed to spend the afternoon with him and learn new things about his life, loves, and music. His journey hasn’t always been easy, but he’s travelled it with style and grace.
In many ways, Luke’s story is typical of several generations of children born to the Island’s immigrants who have been settling in Mallorca and calling it home for decades. They came from far and wide – Germany, England, Scandinavia, Australia, USA, South America, France, Africa - and represent some of the rich tapestry of diversity that is Mallorca.
In Luke’s case, being multi lingual is just one of the advantages of this diversity. With mother from Hamburg and father from London, he grew up speaking German and English at home, Spanish and Mallorcan in school and on the street.
Meet the Artist #
Luke, what was it like growing up in multi-cultural Mallorca and how has it affected your outlook on life?
“When I was a kid it was fun with all the languages I heard and learned, changing from one to the other. I speak four but I didn’t really do anything to achieve that. I mean I didn’t struggle, it’s just how it is here, almost like I can’t take credit for it. (He smiles) ...but I’m glad it happened that way. It was the same with food, so much variety. My dad cooks curries and Sunday roasts, my mom does winter stews and a great cucumber dish called ‘Schmorgurken’, and I love Spanish and Mallorcan food. Actually, I’ve been vegan for a while now and there’s still so much choice here. I feel lucky with all of it, with the variety of people and cultures here on the island. I‘ve had a bit of everything."
"For creativity, my personal creative process, it’s great. It gives me a good view and a lot to draw from. I can sort of zoom out and see the big picture of so many interesting things; or zoom in on the subtle details of people with such different backgrounds and points of view all living next to each other.”
Has the island itself directly influenced your creativity, your music?
“Yes, I’m sure it has. It’s probably kind of cliché but I think the light here has a very positive impact over all aspects of life, certainly on the creativity. I actually know how much I missed it from an experience a few years ago when I left Mallorca - you know, that kind of “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. When I was nineteen I went to Hamburg, you might remember...?”
I remember. You went, but you came back pretty quickly!
(He laughs) “Yea, I went in pursuit of something... a whole different life, whatever...but when I was there, I was shocked that everything was so grey and cold so much of the time. I really missed blue sky and sunshine. But it’s not just the sun, it’s the kind of beauty we have here, the intimacy of it... the open spaces, the mountains, the sea, fresh air, all so available. I mean it’s not like I write about almond blossoms and things like that, but the beauty that’s around us does inspire a kind of awe, doesn’t it?"
"I’ve lived in this valley my whole life and still when I take a walk there’s always something special to see, something new to enjoy as the seasons change. If you’re alert and alive you notice it every day and appreciate it.”
I know what you mean. When those little lemon-yellow flowers suddenly appear and carpet entire valleys, I never fail to be delighted. It lifts my spirits every time.
“Exactly. More and more I kind of go to nature for nurture... ” (he searches for the right words) “...I went through a rough phase, a really bad time a few years ago - and now, well, it’s not like I sit down and meditate on a mountain top every day, I just try to achieve a meditative state much of the time, wherever I am, a quiet mind, a peace of mind. In that state there is creativity. And there is so much magic in nature. It allows us to discover and connect, to be in the moment.”
His words settle in as I pour more tea. What other influences have there been on your music? Any early influences?
“Definitely. My father is a singer and I’m grateful not only for his taste in music but for his extensive, eclectic collection of records, tapes and CDs that were always available to me. I remember listening and dancing to Elvis singing ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ when I was four or five years old. Apparently, I found it pretty cool then, and what’s amazing is that after so many years he is still moving people. Like last summer in a pub in the Port, ‘Jailhouse Rock’ started playing and everyone stopped what they were doing, jumped up, and started dancing. It was impressive. I mean some of the younger people might not have even known him, but his music and energy were still communicating. That’s classic in any language."
"Growing up I listened to a lot of music - Dire Straits, Dylan, Sting, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, John Mayall, and so many more. I guess they all had some influence. I like most everything they’ve done and I like the traditional set-up of their bands.”
What about Rap?
“Hmm, I like some Rap - some of it’s very clever, very good - but I have to be honest, I’m not into all of it.”
And Spanish music?
“Ah, Spanish and Mallorcan music playing on the plaza during fiestas, around the village, in cafes... it will always be in the back of my mind. Sweet memories and I love it. But creatively it’s never been my thing, my thing to create with. I appreciate it but I’m definitely more connected to the English sounds, and to American music with its roots in the blues, and jazz, mixtures of styles, a whole range of possibilities."
When did you start making your own music?
“I started playing guitar when I was fourteen. I was shown my first chords and got some pointers from some great musician friends of my parents. Couple of years later I was ready to focus more seriously. So I began to take lessons with Marcos Collado at the ‘Factoria de Music’ in Santa Maria. The Factory itself is linked to the “Liceu” in Barcelona as part of its Conservatori de Música. The standards are very high and it was definitely challenging. Marcos is an incredibly gifted guitarist and was an inspiration... and as I’ve always said, he has some insane skills!”
"Then I went on to study for several years with Fernando Rubin, a well-known local teacher and performer. He’s also a guitar maker. It was good tuning in with his sensitivities, and my appreciation for the guitar really grew. We did a lot of jazz, working basically on steel string acoustic and electric. I owe Fernndo lot."
When did you start writing the songs on your album?
“That happened pretty much after the ‘rough patch’ I went through. I had been way down and slowly began to re-surface. The songs just came to me, it was a nice flow. They were part of the healing process. Then I began to play more in public, get a band together, a gig here and there...and before I knew it we were making the album. Again, I feel really lucky. I’ve had some great people to work with and a lot of people to thank.”
What are your plans now? Would you like to go on tour?
“Sure, going on tour would be good. The band and I are currently planning a small tour in Germany. Then maybe a similar thing in Britain. But for now, I’m happy to be in Mallorca and I’ll continue doing gigs on the island. Life is good here - wonderful partner, family, friends, the band, work, and time and inspiration to keep writing songs and playing music – with plenty of fiestas and blue skies! ”
Do you have a special ‘Mallorca Moment’ – a memorable experience that connects you emotionally to the island?
Luke smiles. “The thing that comes to mind happened recently. My girlfriend and I moved into a new-old house and there was lot of work to be done...I mean a lot, not just like a lick of paint here and there, but everywhere - plus big important systems needed sorting and the garden was a complete wreck. We were both busy with other things but anxious to get the house done so we threw ourselves into it. But progress was slow, the work went on and on, and we were feeling pretty frustrated."
"Suddenly one day, completely by surprise, sixteen friends appeared as a high energy workforce for an old fashioned work party! I had heard stories from my parents and their friends that ‘back in the day’ work parties were common among friends and neighbours but we surely didn’t expect one."
"It’s amazing how much got done in that one day with everybody pitching in – the painting was completed, the garden was completely cleaned and cleared, heavy stuff moved into place, etc. The whole place became liveable and manageable. I’m sure it happens in other places, but to me this was a lot about my community and a certain spirit in Mallorca.”
“I stumble over my mind, trip into a trip I’m gone
I’ve seen this now a couple of times, when will I learn that nothing’s wrong?
Must let my love re-align,
I was driving under the influence of my ego and my mind...”
“Trip Into a Trip” from Luke’s album SKYWALKING
One last question. What is your spirit animal?
“An Albatross. They’re powerful and gentle and they have social arrangements that we could definitely learn from. Also, (he smiles) it’s very useful that they aren’t hunted by any other animal!”
Name: Luke Tao (Evans)
Lives and works: in S’Arraco, Andratx, Port d' Andratx
Signature phrase: "Enjoy the magic."