Birds of Tokyo Interview

  

Birds of Tokyo - Western Uprising 

 

Multi-ARIA award winning Perth prodigy Birds of Tokyo are arguably one of the finest Australian live acts touring today. Their multi-ARIAs award-winning brand of melodic rock featuring driving rhythms and soaring anthemic vocals, has forged the laid-back Western Australians a place in the history books of Oz rock. Duplicitous frontman Ian Kenny has achieved the extraordinary feat of simultaneously fronting two successful but very disparate rock acts- Birds of Tokyo and Karnivool, and pound-for-pound is possibly the hardest-working musician in the country, and without doubt one of the most talented. APOLLO caught up with Birds of Tokyo's Ian Kenny and guitarist Adam Sparks...

 

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APOLLO: Well, it’s been a crazy couple of years for you guys, congratulations on all your successes. You recorded "Birds of Tokyo" in 2010 in a host of locations around the world, including Gothenburg in Sweden. Apparently it was a little chilly up there?

ADAM:  Yeah, it was the coldest Scandinavian winter in three decades, in 33 years or something.  It was freezing, minus 18, minus 22.

IAN: It was the coldest I’ve ever felt I think.  It was brutal. I didn’t do any singing outside…

APOLLO: How long were you overseas recording for?

ADAM:  Most of the families were there for about six weeks but Kenny was there for about 3 weeks.  There were periods where we didn’t leave the building, we were basically living at the studio. There were actually periods where we didn’t leave there for 3 or 4 days at a time, literally didn’t even walk out the front door.

APOLLO: It was the European winter, so I'm guessing you guys didn’t see much sunshine?

ADAM:  It was sunlight for about 6 hours a day; there were a couple of sunny moments.  You had to force yourself to get out of the studio, just down tools and go walk around. 

APOLLO: Why did you choose so many global locations for recording the album?

ADAM:  It came down to personnel.  Our producer has a beautiful studio in Sydney. And by “beautiful” I mean fucking dirty- not in a cleanliness way but just its old school analogue vibe.

APOLLO: What did you do there?

ADAM:  Drums and some bass. I had sort of relocated up that way in Scandinavia so I kind of gently twisted everyone’s arm to go and record up there which wasn’t hard at all, and the studio was beautiful and we lived in, and then the lady who was working on the strings is from London so we had to spend some time there with her orchestra. Then on to New York- our sound mixer lives there and has a beautiful studio which was amazing.

APOLLO: What do you do to chill out on the road?

ADAM:  Mostly bloody work actually, it’s terrible. We work six hours a day.

APOLLO: Do you ever request a room with a spa?

ADAM:  Haha, no, we just relax, and go to the cinema a bit. I like chilling out, I get bored sitting for six hours, fuck that, I want to do stuff.

APOLLO:  What do you do?

ADAM:  Shopping man, this outfit is from an op shop in New York, cost me $18! The shoes are awesome…  shopping is a good way to switch off, haha.

APOLLO: What are we talking- sneakers or shoes?

IAN:  Sneakers… old school Nikes, old school Converse.  SB reissues are pretty good.  I bought my first pair of Chux the other day which were like 29 bucks, can’t beat it.  I like looking for kooky sneakers.

APOLLO: Do you do tourist stuff?

ADAM:  Not really. I’m not into tourist areas, I like to go and feel the vibe of the city by walking around the real areas and checking out the cafes and bits and pieces. When I'm in London I don’t want to see Big Ben and shit like that. 

APOLLO: How did the name of the band come about?

ADAM:  Well, we originally called ourselves the Rolling Stones because we lived in this hilly region... hahaha, joking….

IAN: No but seriously, the name came out of a tabling and naming session and then a few beers later, there was something one of us read about there not being any birds in the CBD in Tokyo due to population density and pollution. Our bass player went there for a holiday, and said there were these huge black-looking vultures that sit up on top of the peaks of the high rise buildings.  You see them during the day, they sit there and when the sun comes up in the morning at 6am they just descend on the streets, and terrorise people and tear garbage apart… and, like rip people’s throats out haha…

 

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APOLLO: So we can describe the band’s genre as “avian throat-tearing rock”?

ADAM:  Or perhaps “Old ladies shopping” hahaha. 

APOLLO: Career highlights?

IAN: I guess you get to see the world which is pretty amazing, and play at huge festivals with oceans of people which is pretty surreal, you know.  Every time we release a record or make a record, you put so much energy into it. Once they’re done and packaged and you finally sign them off, it’s like sending one of your kids to school I imagine. But it’s really a good time to be in a band, it’s like- “wow, we just slogged that, it’s really good- and now we get to reap the benefits”. 

APOLLO:  It must be an awesome feeling to play live and have big crowds singing your songs?

IAN:  Yeah, it’s a true high and always adds to the show, and makes it one of those gigs where you walk away going- “that was a killer...”

APOLLO:  It must be a surreal feeling to sit at home and quietly write lyrics alone, then to play it live and have 10,000 people singing it back at you?
 
IAN: Pretty much, you know everyone has their own creative space around the home or away from home, but whatever space I use, I don’t find it hard to be honest. It’s something I do and something I need to do… it’s a necessity for me. But once you can see this entity taking shape, I like that. And the fact that a bunch of other people react to it in one hit is pretty cool. I generally get surprised by people’s take on some of our lyrics, often they completely take it the wrong way from how it was intended to be, but it works out alright.  That’s the beauty of it, it happens all the time. 

ADAM: I got a funny one about that- just a quick side note, I gave my Mum a copy of the new record. There’s a track called ‘Waiting for the Wolves’, and listening to it, my Mum says to me “Kenny wrote that about your manager didn’t he?” , and I said- “no I’m pretty sure Kenny hasn’t poured his heart and soul out into a song about his manager’s financial and sexual travels haha”.

APOLLO: What do you guys do to get pumped for a show?  Do you need to do that anymore?

ADAM:  Well we always have the same warm up, really; it’s just acoustic guitar and glorious three part angel choir harmonies in the band.  Kenny bounces around like a bouncy ball, singing and bouncing around.  But for me personally, I always have a nap man, like an hour before the show, and just relax.

IAN: I agree- everyone has their own thing they do to warm up, and anyone who thinks going out onstage and performing for an hour plus is easy, is mistaken. It’s really physical, and it taxes you mentally more than anything. You’re going for a good hour or so of really intense energy and resonance with the crowd, and it’s good to have that moment of calm beforehand to sit down and actually do nothing and kind of zone out a bit.

APOLLO: So how did the band get together, and how has it evolved?

IAN: We’ve been playing together for the best part of six years I think, it started with Adam approaching me with a bunch of songs he had and he wanted some vocal treatment for them and at that time we were discussing not being a band but just writing songs and publishing them, but after hearing it and spending time with it we enjoyed it more than anything, and decided to call Adam (Weston) and Anthony in purely for the sake of recording demos, and it all just took shape from there.

APOLLO: Major influences? 

ADAM:  A big slab of the nineties I think was a pretty big influence, in general just decent well known and well promised song writers. We respect the idea of creating a good song, and what a good song is.

APOLLO: What makes a good song?

ADAM:  Anything the Beatles wrote is good. It’s not about a specific genre or a style, I guess we are just lovers of the song. So it’s really anything from a really beautiful Portishead track through to Slayer, or a great sound from the Beach Boys. It’s just about hearing a great song and just feeling a really bad-ass groove with great structure, or a great melody. It’s funny, because I think people have a different idea of what the nineties was about to us, like generation Y-ers tend to have a different slant on it- for a lot of people their idea of the nineties is shit like Creed or Linkin Park and all that sort of crap. For me, the nineties was Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots, stuff like that, which was that early period of really awesome great songs and epic rock, but now people see the nineties as a bit naff… I still don’t understand it. 

APOLLO: Have you ever been into electronic music?

ADAM:  Well yeah, my whole earlier diet of music was like NWA and Two Live Crew and like old hip hop. Public Enemy and Prodigy kick ass.

APOLLO:  Birds have solid roots in Perth- is it the most liveable city in the world?

IAN: Is Perth the most liveable?  Well, to get technical on this, I think it’s been bumped to number 3 or 4, I think Oslo is now the most liveable city in the world.

APOLLO:  Would you agree that some of the best looking women in the world live in Perth?

IAN: I got a thing on that whole theory- hot women go to hot weather!  Haha!  Sweden was lovely.  They were lovely people haha!

APOLLO:  Funniest moment on tour? 

ADAM:  Probably one of my funniest ones ever was when Glen, our touring keyboard guy, on the last night of mixing on the last record in North Hollywood, and he decided to go off to a Lakers game by himself and got lost. We were really worried, it was like 1 o’clock in the morning and we were thinking, “where the hell is he?” So he finally called us from a phone box and we asked him where he was, and he said “I don’t know but it’s the corner of this street and this street”, so I said “We’ll get in the car and come and pick you up”, cause we were really freakin’ scared, we didn’t know where he was and he was pretty wasted, so we’re punching in the address and, bam- South Central LA… he’d gotten drunk and wandered aimlessly down… we found him standing on a street corner in the middle of the ‘hood, with his hand in a bag pretending he had a gun so he could scare people off haha. He had no idea where he was until we told him, it was pretty funny.

APOLLO: He obviously survived?

ADAM:  Yeah he was kind of shitting himself.

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APOLLO: Have you ever had bandmembers not make it to a show?

ADAM:  No, but we’ve almost lost bandmembers… there was the time we were hunting around Melbourne one morning after a show trying to find Westy- he was holed up in some church after an epic bender and we had to cancel our flight. We ended up catching trams all over the city looking for him, and ended up finding him walking down some random street with his shirt open just going ahhhh.  We were supposed to be flying out that morning for a show the next night.

APOLLO: Did he make it?

ADAM:  Yeah. 

APOLLO:  Madness. The new album is a little more laid back- tempos are a little slower, why is that?  Maturing, getting old, done the heavy stuff?

ADAM:  Yes.  I think you get to a point where it’s not for the sake of actively trying to pander to anyone and make things more acceptable, but you kind of find yourself thinking, “well I want to make music that I can grow old with and comfortably play for a long time”, and I guess as a natural experience in life you find yourself gravitating towards music that sort of resonates with your age and your thinking and maybe that is part of it.  Does that make sense?

APOLLO: Sure...

ADAM:  Yeah I guess you want to sort of search for something to broaden your own perspective and your own horizons, and engage with something that’s going to have its own shelf life… something a bit richer, with a bit more depth to it, and push the boundaries of what your band can be.  I think this is what we did on this record.  The interesting thing is, this music is less rocky, I guess in a way less of a punk album, but it actually feels a lot bigger and a lot more expansive live than the previous stuff.

APOLLO: Last year you did a Broken Strings tour, which was essentially an acoustic reworking of selected Birds’ material. How was that tour- obviously it worked out very well with some amazing production value, but was it a gamble?

ADAM:  I don’t think it was much of a gamble as such, as far as whether people were going to like it or not. We put a lot of prep into it, months and months of prep.  A lot of people outside the band kept saying to us during the tour or after the tour, “wow that was a fucking big gamble”. But it was really just a small risk in that we hoped we could perform the songs well. It was more of a sit down thing than our usual gigs, kind of a formal event, so it was challenging. You kind of prep as much as you can for the material and rehearse a lot, and really know it back to front with confidence. But as soon as you sit out there onstage- being in a rock band is a bit like being at the front of a locomotive… you sit out there on your little stool and you’re live in front of a big crowd, and  you think- “geez, I feel bloody alone up here…”

We did these two acoustic shows in Perth, and I distinctly recall sitting onstage with these two dudes sitting right in the very front row eating their dinner, and I hadn’t eaten, so I was kind of staring at them, and they were like- “do you want some chips?” At that point everyone was sitting down being quiet and these guys were chowing down. I was starving but I couldn’t really hop off the stage and go- “hang on guys, how about a couple of Samboys?” Haha.

APOLLO: Where do you see yourselves in ten years? 

ADAM:  I don’t know… I guess that’s part of the fun of life. But one thing we always talk about in this band is lifestyle and being comfortably settled. You never really know where things will go or what’s around the corner, so for us it’s basically keep moving forwards and upwards.

APOLLO: Thanks for chatting to APOLLO guys.

 


APOLLO

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