Birds of Tokyo is a five-piece alternative Rock band from Perth, Western Australia. In 2010 the band released its highest charting album to date, Birds of Tokyo, which reached No. 2 on the ARIA Albums Chart. They are playing at The Plantation Hotel, Wednesday 20 March.
How did the band form? Where are you guys from?
I’m not entirely sure how the band formed. I’ve only been involved in the band for the past two years. I think Adam Spark (Sparky) and Ian Kenny were friends who hung around the same scene of people. Sparky was studying music and Kenny was (and still is) singing for a progressive Rock band Karnivool.
These two West Australian lads started writing music with no intention of forming a band. I think when the songs took shape, they realised it would be awesome to have a drummer and bass player. So incidentally, they ended up as a band.
Give me a brief history of the band and what inspired you to make music together?
Once the band was formed, they played a few shows in local pubs around Perth and more regional areas, and the more they played, the more people started to come to their shows.
They released two EPs in 2005, and then local radio stations started playing the songs. The band followed that up with an album in 2007 called Day One; triple j got involved, and their listeners started growing fond of the band.
The band then started touring, and their fan base began to swell. In 2008, the band released their second album, Universes, which reached gold status in sales.
In 2010, they released their third record called Birds of Tokyo – Self Titled and toured with Silversun Pickups in September and October 2010. The band received six 2010 ARIA Music Awards nominations. I think the record went platinum – maybe even double platinum. I know the one single, Plans, transformed the band into something much bigger than they expected.
This brings you up to the point that I joined the band. I was working as an accountant whilst maintaining my songwriting passion in another band called Sugar Army. Out of the blue, Adam Weston, their drummer, calls and asks me whether I’d like to join Birds of Tokyo for some upcoming shows. I soon found out their interest in me was from a creative perspective. We played all over Australia, and then we began to work creatively on the latest record, March Fires.
You’ve just released a new album; how does it differ from your older material?
I think if you listened to the first record and this record, March Fires, you’d be surprised it was the same band. The weight and size of the songs on March Fires carry a much bigger sound. It’s become less about the masculine side of music that hard Rock harbours and more about the atmospheric journeys that songs can take you on. This record is no longer about the individual, but more about the community at large.
The messages are bigger, and they involve the listener. We replaced ‘me’ and ‘I’ for ‘we’ and ‘us’ and invite the listener to believe it’s their song, not the band’s. When past records would entice angst and show conviction, this record provokes nostalgia and positivity.
Who writes your songs? What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs? Do you think these topics will change over time?
Adam Spark, our guitarist, is the driving force of the band. He comes up with chord sequences and sound designs that act as treatments for bigger ideas. Ian Kenny is our wonderful singer, who can drop beautiful melodies in the most unexpected and expected moments. Once those two align their talent, a song is born.
On this record, songs were written in a more collaborative effort. This time around the themes of the music were more socially driven. Such as the song, This Fire, where we created an idea of walking through a scene of urban destruction and embracing it for its beauty.
Another song, Lanterns, is a journey song. It’s the universal story of man acknowledging the point in his life where he’s outgrown the world he lives in. It’s about forcing oneself to leave the nest, to find new challenges and to grow as individuals. The story reaches an epiphany that whilst we may feel alone when we choose to leave our comfort zones, these greater souls are unified in the quest for new beginnings. “On we march ‘til we meet the dawn, we will light our way with our lanterns on.”
Could you briefly describe the music-making process?
I think all songs have to reach a point where you play them once, and you want to hear it again. That’s no easy task (especially if you are picky!) You’re always searching for that moment as songwriters where you feel it’s flawless … when it’s got a message, a meaning, a groove and a feeling! So when chords and melodies are put together, we tend to take risks exploring options for the songs. Sometimes I like to be messy and as a songwriter put the kitchen sink in there and see if we can reverse engineer a cohesive idea. If you have the talent and creativity to write music, it becomes all about your ability to solve problems with logic and skill.
What are your thoughts about selling your music online and about illegal music downloads? What are your predictions about the future of CD and vinyl sales; do you think digital music will ever completely replace these formats?
I think the CD and vinyl will never die completely and will become akin to a rare species of animal. The world is full of lovers of convenience. Listening to music on your iPod or computer is just much quicker and easier than using a CD or vinyl. So, it’s not a great time to invest in the CD world.
File sharing and transfers are the way of the future; in fact, they are the present. The new Apple iMac don’t even come with CD-ROM drives anymore. Why? I guess Apple doesn’t see a future in it. Selling music online is great.
I use iTunes all the time, and it’s simple and convenient. I guess the downside is that music can be owned and consumed without a trade. We can simply share it with our friends or share it with strangers at monstrous volumes. This can be very detrimental to the career of artists relying on actual sales to support their lifestyle.
It’s not a great position for the music industry to be in. Instead of growth and expansion, only the larger and more established artists are sustaining their careers. The diversion of music is at stake here!
What are your future plans and upcoming releases or tours? What do we have to look forward to this year?
We are heading on an Australian tour in late February and playing shows right throughout March. The tour is aptly called The March Fires. We are playing all the major cities and many regional towns. This tour is our album tour.
We plan to give people a taste of the sonic unravelling of our latest construction. The live show is going to be completely new for us. We’ve taken the time to engage professional light and visual programmers to create a show that’s larger than life. It’s not just your usual pub Rock band playing your favourite songs. We want to create an event and visual theme for every song we play. I’m excited!
Interview with band member Ian Berney.
This article was published in issue 30 of Coffs Coast Focus