Brooklyn dance rockers the Rapture will release In the Grace of Your Love, their first album in five years, on September 6th. The new album marks their return to DFA Records, the label that released their highly influential 2003 record Echoes, and their first record since the departure of bassist and singer Mattie Safer. Rolling Stone caught up with frontman Luke Jenner recently to discuss the band’s transition from quartet to trio, how becoming a father and losing his mother influenced his songwriting and why he set out to embrace positivity on the new album, which you can stream above.
How did you adjust to being a trio again after Mattie Safer left the band?
Well, it was actually pretty easy. The band has been going since 1997, so it started off with three people, then it went to four, now it’s back to three. Mattie was a big blow because he was the longest person who had been in the band, besides me and Vito, who have been at it since I was 9 years old. So it was really a divorce in a lot of ways. It was like a peaceful break-up. It took about six months of talking in a very peaceful way because I had quit the band before he did.
What were your reasons for leaving?
I just got really pent up and didn’t really know how to ask for what I needed. I started this band as a vehicle for my own songwriting and I asked Vito to join to play drums and back me up on these songs I was doing. And it took off from there. Mattie joined the band sometime after when we moved to New York, and he was really, way younger than us, and we kind of pushed him around and treated him like a little brother for a long time. And he was kind of a little brother to DFA, in a lot of ways, and I think that’s why he wanted to leave [the label] ultimately, because he just didn’t get that much respect there. He also had ambitions himself, to be a songwriter, but that really came out strongly on Pieces of the People We Love. He wanted to write songs and so he started taking up a lot more space and Gabe joined the band it became this power struggle between Mattie and Gabe and me and Vito and, um, Vito doesn’t like conflict so it left me kind of versus Mattie and Gabe so I lost that one.
I kind of got pushed out in a lot of ways. I felt like I wasn’t being heard anymore. And I had started this band as a way to be heard and I had all of these songs that just weren’t getting worked on and I was like, this sucks. I stuck it out for a long time and eventually just broke down after we got done with the tour cycle. After a few years of feeling really pent up, I was just, I was considering making a solo record. I was thinking, well, I’ll make a solo record and I paid Tim Goldsworthy some money to do that, stuff like that. But that never got done. I just realized I don’t want to be a solo artist. I want to be in a band. So I went back and I was very sorry that I quit. I shouldn’t have done that. And in the meantime, they were just moving on. They were going to be the Rapture without me. Which I was kind of shocked by. I was like, really? (Laughs). They were going to do it. And so when I came back, Mattie just seemed really unhappy. He wouldn’t say hello or goodbye for like six months. He’d just come in and practice bass and I’d be like, “Hey man, how’s it going?” And he wouldn’t make eye contact and wouldn’t say anything, not just to me but to all three of us, and then we’d be like, “Alright man, see you later.” It was kind of a hard time.
Are you still in touch?
The thing is, we weren’t really friends before the band. It was pretty much just an ambitious thing. I remember Mattie telling me that’s why he wanted to join the band, because we were ambitious and we were signed to Sub Pop. We were touring. It was kind of like, we needed a bass player and he was a really good bass player and was very dedicated. It was a shock to me when he quit the band and I realized that there wasn’t really anything there. I remember at one point – I was a new father – and I handed the phone to Mattie to say hi to my kid and he looked at me like I was fucking stupid. I remember him saying, “I don’t want to talk to your fucking kid.” And I was like, whoa. Wait a minute. That’s weird. And, so, yeah, it felt really business.
The sound of this record is extremely positive, and I noticed some Christian themes in the lyrics. Was that something you were going for?
Well, where I’m coming from is that my mom took her own life five years ago and my son was born and I think those two experiences blew me out of the water. For a long time, I think I was doing this emotional barking type of thing, and I grew up in the era of grunge so that was the era of the emotional barking. I love John Lennon’s solo records, like “Mother, you left me but I never left you” and all that stuff. Radiohead. It’s kind of just therapy on display. Look at this incredibly crushing sadness, depression – let’s put that on stage. Gangster rap and then you had that intelligence with indie rock this nihilism. I just felt like, personally, I couldn’t be a father and pass that on to my son. I just really didn’t want to do it.
My mom took her own life and was a really miserable person in a lot of ways. I loved her a lot to death but she just really hated herself. So I had to take a really hard look at that. I wanted to make something positive, on purpose. Playing music for me starts with being a fan of music, so I just went on a quest for positive music. I came across a lot of spiritual music, kind of by default, because soul music is positive but I’m more interested in the roots of things. Like, everybody references soul music, so I thought it’d be better if I went back further than that and just started referencing what they were referencing. It’s like, well, don’t be into Al Green, but be into who Al Green is into. So I was into gospel music.
The idea of grace, of being attached to something bigger than yourself; that’s how you let go and move through pain in a positive way. That’s my experience at least. Also, I thought it was time to move on and I just got tired of the whole musical legacy I was handed. Not only my family legacy, but if you’re a smart kid in indie rock, you’re going to be cynical as shit. I was watching this video with Thurston Moore interviewing Beck from a long time ago and it’s like Thurston Moore would ask a question and Beck’s response is just a squealing tape noise. It’s like, okay, it’s cool, but I can’t really be a dad with that. I’m 36 years old and I’m a father and I just wanted to grow up a bit, you know? [“It Takes Time to Be A Man,”] that song for me is about just having a son and figuring out what the heck is this man thing. How do I do that? What does that mean?
And that’s your dad on the cover of the album, right?
That’s my dad. My dad has this warrior mentality about being a dad. Kind of, the kids raise themselves. His parents used to tell him, “Go out and play until the street lights come on and don’t come home before that.” So my dad has this pretty macho approach. I don’t know if I would be crazy enough to get on stage in front of people and do that whole thing if I hadn’t learned that form of being a man from my father. I mean, the picture of him on the cover, he’s on the nose of a surfboard and it’s kind of a kamikaze move to do and it’s a pretty difficult thing.