A proud Perth phenomenon Birds Of Tokyo may be, but these days the band members are scattered along the east coast.
When vocalist Ian Kenny gets on the phone it’s from his new home in Melbourne. Adam Weston, the band’s drummer, is based in Brisbane, while guitarist Adam Spark, bass player Ian Berney, and keyboardist Glenn Sarangapany are all living in Sydney.
“It makes sense to be on the east coast,” Kenny says. “A lot of our touring is here, our label [EMI] is based out of Sydney and Melbourne, so it just makes sense to be this side of the country. It might sound trivial, but being in Perth, because of the distance you tend to lose a day each time you travel. It’s a bit of a hassle.”
It’s a by-product of the internet age, but a little strange to get your head around given Birds Of Tokyo last week released what’s surely their most collaborative album yet, ‘March Fires’. A sprawling work lined with majestic rockers and vertiginous anthems, it’s been almost two years in the making.
“A lot has happened since [our last record],” he says, “and through all that happening we were still writing. We wrote for the best part of two years for this record, and it’s great having Glenn and Ian in the band for a while now. The fact that everyone’s contributing to the writing – it is more of a collaboration and it feels like a better band than it ever has been. Everyone’s really confident in what they’re doing, it feels right.
“It finally got mastered in November of last year. So since then we’ve been sitting and trying not to listen to it a hell of a lot. Because it can drive you insane. It’s funny, we start rehearsing in Sydney tomorrow. It’s actually starting to come to life. It’s going to be exciting: we’ve got a week’s rehearsal and then straight into the tour and we’ll be in the thick of it.”
The story of ‘March Fires’ reads like a lost volume of Tolkien. After beginning the writing process in Australia, the band decamped to France to further develop their ideas, before travelling again to hook up with Dave Cooley in Los Angeles and record the album.
“This is record number four for us,” Kenny says, “and we were asking why we’re making music again and why we’re at album number four. So we took as much time as we thought each part of the process needed. And that was the conversation at each part of this process, right up to committing to record it in LA – the fact that we wanted to remove ourselves from what we do at home and who we are at home – so [that means] spending time overseas away from everything where you don’t speak the language, you can get a little house up in the hills, survive on a shitty bottle shop and a shitty bakery, and do nothing but make music.
“We share a philosophy in this band that we’re fortunate to be where we are, and if we can get away to write, we will. Your environment completely affects your creative space. And we’ve found in the past that it works for us. Our outcome each time is different, so we’ll continue to do it.”
Working with Cooley in particular was a massive change for the band. They were put onto the producer via his work on Silversun Pickups’ 2009 album, ‘Swoon’. Cooley would eventually become much more than the man behind the boards, almost taking on a mentorship role with the band, looking to challenge each individual member and push them out of their comfort zone.
“He was working on this record with us for the best part of five months,” Kenny explains. “That’s a long time to work with a producer. He understood the band, worked with the band, and when it came to arrangements and approaches to songs, he came up with the goods and we never really had to fight with him, which is always great.
“He made me think more than I have previously about the lyrical conversation on the record: what’s being said and the tone for a particular song. So I worked a lot harder and that made me pay more attention to things, which is awesome. And not many people can do that.”
With such a journey behind it, you begin to wonder: does ‘March Fires’ have more traction emotionally with Kenny and his bandmates? Does this record mean more to them than previous efforts?
“It’s still very fresh. And that kind of perspective comes after we’ve toured the record and lived with it a little longer. But there was a lot of shit that was going on when making this record, a whole tonne of shit. And some of what was happening – some of the colour that was happening around the band – we got a lot of it in there, thankfully.”
For now, though, it’s all about getting out on the road. It will be the band’s first tour in Australia for 18 months, and they can’t wait to present the new material to a local audience.
“Purely as players and guys who like to play – fuck yeah,” Kenny laughs. “It’s one of those things where when you’re in the studio for a few months and you think, ‘God, I’d love to go out and play and try this stuff out’. And then when you’re touring you’re like, ‘God, I wouldn’t mind spending some time in the studio’. So it’s one or the other, but at this point we’d just like to get out there and play with what we’ve got in our hands.
“It’s funny when you look at new music and you think, ‘Wow, I’ve got to invest myself in this now. I’ve got to bring [myself] into this live place that the band is in.’ And you wonder how you’re going to do it. But once you step up to it and get in there and start playing, you just walk straight over it. As soon as you get in there and start messing around with things you start to think, ‘Yeah, this is gonna be good!’”
Birds Of Tokyo play The Tivoli March 21-22 and The Coolangatta Hotel March 23. ‘March Fires’ is out now.