This week, Billboard is publishing a series of lists and articles celebrating the music of 20 years ago. Our 2003 Week continues here as we get some life lessons from Luke Jenner — who was the toast of the New York underground two decades ago with his band The Rapture, but who has since given up the rock star life for a very different (and for him, much healthier) career path.
“Are you aware that you are, like, nasty with yourself?”
As lead singer of turn of the millennium dance-punk heroes, The Rapture, Luke Jenner turned audiences into believers via vocals as howlingly intense as they were both primally exciting and completely undeniable. That innate fervency is still on display in a very different venue today, when Jenner materializes on my laptop screen to provide guidance on several of my innermost dilemmas.
After 15 minutes of conversation, he asks his question regarding my own self-talk with pointed feeling, in a way that emphasizes his sense that “nasty” is the exact right diagnosis. And he’s right. For the next 45 minutes we explore the topic, during a sprawling conversation in which Jenner introduces ideas of faith and doubt and discernment and respecting and liking and even loving oneself.
“[That part of yourself is] just like, a little girl who just wants you to listen to her, and you’re just like, ‘shut the f– up,’” he offers. “Like, you’re not nice to her. You’re not allowed to talk to [that part of yourself] like that anymore.”
Not everything we talk about lands, but a lot does – and after I feel inspired in a grounded kind of way, and in the days after am able to make subtle changes that soften some of the more brittle parts of myself. This is why people throughout the United States and beyond are now paying Jenner hundreds of dollars an hour for him to help them get their lives, their self talk and their general s–t together – as Jenner has been doing for himself since becoming an indie rock star 20 years ago.
It was then that The Rapture released its dancefloor-propelling, emotionally piercing 2003 masterpiece Echoes. Pitchfork listed it as their No. 1 album of that year, while the LP and its 2002 lead single – the James Murphy-produced “House off Jealous Lovers” – made the trio demigods of the DFA ecosystem. It was a thrilling, DIY, culture-advancing moment, but one that ultimately became unsustainable for Jenner under the weight of the excess partying embedded within it.
Today Jenner, largely out of the music industry, is now a life coach. His experiences within music help inform his aptitude for the job, while his audience has narrowed from thousands of people at a concert to the single soul his attention focuses on during any given session. This transition became official three years ago, when Jenner started, he says, “doing it formally and charging people money, but it’s like – I’ve always been a coach.”
Indeed the career change is less a 180 and more a natural evolution. Just as Jenner, now 48, culled from his life experiences to be able to sing like he was oscillating between states of ferocity and wild ecstasis, in coaching he draws from lessons extracted from this same personal history. The difference, he says, is that now he’s doing it in a way that’s making his own life and the lives of others better, rather than killing him.
“When I was in my late 20s, I was really successful with a lot of money, power, prestige,” he says matter of factly, like someone who has fully explored the cracks and nuances of their own life history and come to terms with what they’ve found there. “I was married to a beautiful woman who loved me. I was going to have a kid with her. I lived in New York City. I met all my heroes, and I was so lonely I could have died.
He searched for evidence that you could live the rock star life and also be personally fulfilled, but came up empty. “I was looking for one person in the arts, the music industry, anywhere, who liked themselves and had a healthy relationship with their kids and significant other, and I found zero people. I was like, ‘I am going to be this person.’”
But first – as self-actualization parlance goes – he had to do his own work. Jenner has been forthright about his personal demons and his relationship with them since The Rapture – himself, along with drummer Vito Roccoforte and multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Andruzzi – became scene darlings. During the band’s heyday and well after it, Jenner spoke candidly about the family trauma that he channeled into the music and which bears briefly repeating here.
He was born in 1975 in San Diego to a college professor dad who “bought his first car by winning a math contest … and is just like a really, really bright guy, but he wasn’t around.” Jenner’s mother, 20 when she gave birth to him, was a “suicidal art chick who was consumed by me, and I was consumed by her.”
“She was almost dying all the time,” Jenner continues. “Like, we’d be on the freeway, and she’d be having a panic attack, and she’d be like, ‘you just need to talk to me. It doesn’t matter what you say. If you don’t, we are going to die.’.. I would just talk her through it.”
Jenner credits his comfort as a live performer to the pressure of these experiences. “If you can do that, everything’s easy — standing on stage in front of 100,000 people in Australia at a big festival is not a problem.”
These childhood and adolescent traumas were compounded by emotional and sexual abuse, and eventually – after he and Roccoforte started The Rapture in the late ‘90s in San Francisco – a lot of partying. Jenner started drinking when he was 17, with the habit ramping up over the next 14 years, as The Rapture became heroes of the critically beloved New York indie dance-punk scene.
But while the success was massive, Jenner’s wife Stephanie – whom he married in 2001 – also recalls instability. “I understood something cool was happening and we were part of it,” she says, “but there was never too much money at all. I remember they were headlining the Bowery Ballroom and the show was sold out, and we took the subway to go back home.” That financial ebb and flow paired with the pressures of the scene and the constant partying meant it “wasn’t easy being married to the rock star.”
After years of hedonism, Jenner got sober in 2006, the same year The Rapture released its second album, Pieces of The People We Love, and the same year his mom killed herself while the band was on tour. “I knew she was gonna kill herself at some point,” he says. “She had been trying to do it my whole life. [When it happened], it was actually like a relief in some ways.”
In the aftermath of it all, he became a 12 Step devotee, ultimately going through programs in New York for alcohol abuse, food, sex, codependency, drugs, sexual abuse and dysfunctional family systems. Over time, he sponsored more than 100 people, many of them musicians and artists in New York.
But, he says, his sobriety caused divisions within the band as it became harder for the three members to relate to each other. “When he got sober,” says Stephanie Jenner, “I had a couple of people from the entourage literally sit me down to say, ‘It’s just becoming difficult; it was easier when he was drinking.’”
The band started going to therapy, but fractures within the group deepened over time. “They just really grew apart, and touring became really isolating for him,” Stephanie Jenner recalls. “It was miserable and really hard to watch.” The Rapture went into group therapy – and when that stalled, transitioned to mediation with New York-based career and executive coach Kathi Elster.
“They came to me too late,” Elster says of the band, which broke up in 2014. “The wounds were too deep.”
She had asked Jenner to start seeing her privately, so she could coach him on how to “deal with” his bandmates. “He got it immediately,” she says. “He was really easy to coach, and then he wanted to become a coach. And he basically was a coach, but he was giving it away for free. People just wanted to talk to him.”
Indeed, Jenner is loquacious, but also a good listener – and his feedback is direct but gentle, often insightful and culled from a spectrum of sources including Buddhism, Christianity and, especially, his own lived experiences. (”You get to the top of your profession and make a lot of money and get all the right curated people around you so no one can hurt you, and it’s boring as s–t – like f–king watching paint dry,” he recalls of his peak rock star years.) His personal development path has over the years also included marriage counseling, solo therapy and, he says, “witches and trauma therapists and retreats.” When traditional therapy stopped being fruitful, he realized, “I just needed someone to tell me what their experience is.” That’s when coaching became more of a focus of his own self work.
Jenner currently works with a slate of clients ranging in age from 22 to 72, some of whom can pay his maximum rate of $225 an hour “without blinking,” and some people for whom his minimum rate of $100 an hour is a lot of money. (He says he could make more money doing something else, but “I like doing this.”) There have been a few clients he’s worked with only briefly because they were “way too much of a superfan.” He currently sees roughly 20 clients a week, all of them through Zoom, although when clients come through New York – he and Stephanie live in Brooklyn with their 16-year-old son – they’ll take a walk around the lake in Central Park to “just get a feel and give them a hug or whatever.”
In New York Stephanie Jenner runs her business Maisonette — an agency that represents small, independent and sustainable children’s clothing brands — and the couple also owns a place in her native Avignon, France. She says their marriage is now “a way more equal relationship,” as “earlier in the relationship he couldn’t participate, first because he was partying too much, and then because he was just dealing with his family trauma.” A self-proclaimed former party girl herself, Stephanie says that after she and Luke got sober (she also went through a 12 step program), all their old party friends kind of faded away.
“[Life] was too exciting before,” she says. “Now it’s really boring. Truly, we love it.”
Music isn’t a huge part of Jenner’s current life. Stephanie says she and their son enjoy the quiet, so Jenner listens to music on his own when they’re not around. Released in 2020 his debut solo album, the pretty, often celestial and occasionally swaggering 1, was well-received – but he isn’t actively recording at the moment.
In 2019, Jenner wrote on Facebook that “I hope there is a long future for us and we can build something new” in regards to the handful of reunion shows The Rapture played that same years, but he’s not currently in communication with his former bandmates. Yet, he says, “I still have that hope. I didn’t give up. I just value myself in a different way.”
One way or the other, it’s all grist for the personal-work mill – work that those who’ve been there know is never actually really done. Elster says a focus of her work with Jenner over the past few years has been around him letting go of his ego, as she says, “He was very righteous about all of the self education he had gotten. That happens to a lot of people when they get clean and learn so much about themselves – they think, ‘Okay, I have the answers’ and want everyone to go through that process. I think he’d been letting go of his ego for a while. So when I said it, he was ready.”
“As a singer and songwriter you get very narcissistic,” he says, “and you get up on stage, and everyone validates that through applause and large amounts of money and meeting other celebrities and fancy meals around the world. So, being a coach is actually very healing, because it is the polar opposite of that.”
While Jenner might not yet have the national renown in his new field that he had as The Rapture’s frontman — and in fact, with life coaching still an unlicensed field, he doesn’t have a formal certification — he feels his life experiences and the work he’s done to transmute them into wisdom more than qualify him for the job.
“I have a long, successful marriage. I’m a good parent. I have gotten over massive childhood dysfunction, sexual abuse, multiple suicides in my family, drug addiction in my family, my own addictions, on and on,” he says. “That’s my business card.”