Interview: Ian Kenny Of Birds Of Tokyo on Fame, New Material & Dual Musical Citizenship

How many people in music had a bigger year than Ian Kenny? The Perth singer made history when both Birds Of Tokyo and Karnivool achieved No.1 ARIA albums in the same year, played Splendour in the Grass, the AFL Grand Final and supported the recent Muse Australian tour.  Currently in the US promoting March Fires and ‘Laterns’, Kenny talked to CraveOnline about his rollercoaster past year.

First off, congrats on a massive past year. Straight off the bat, what’s been some of the standout moments since March Fires?

Well it seems since putting out March Fires that there definitely is a lot more attention on the band. I think there is a couple of songs off that album, “Laterns” and “This Fire” especially, which charted really well and has opened the band up to a new audience. That in itself is a bit of a highlight.

(March Fires) debuting at number one in the Aussie charts was quite excellent. Last year was a great year and this year, it hasn’t slowed down man. This year is still crazy.

Last year you actually had albums out from both Birds Of Tokyo and Karnivool. I’ve heard you say previously it can be hard splitting time between both. How much of a challenge was it to have successful releases out for both bands at roughly the same time?

It’s always a bit of a challenge. You’ve got to kind of work out the best way to work on your time management and make sure you’re there for what needs to be done. It’s a full-time job when you’re doing two bands especially two bands that have the kind of demands that these two do. But it’s good. It’s a full-time job that I’m really enjoying.

Both bands are so different but both (new albums) debuted at number one in the same year so it was cool for both bands, a nod to them both, especially to Karnivool which has never really entered the charts let alone got up the top and occupied the business end and contested some of the biggest pop acts in the world.

Birds Of Tokyo are currently in the US, what have you been up to over there?

We’re actually living in LA at the moment. I’ve got one foot here in LA and a place in Melbourne. The whole band is here and we’ve got a house and studio in Eagle Rock.

The song ‘Lanterns’ has taken here on radio and it’s taken right across the country so we’re here effectively supporting the record and supporting the song doing a lot of promo touring, a lot of showcasing.

We’ve recently seen a ton of Aussies doing well in the US. How’s the fanbase going over there?

I think the fan base is something we have to build on. We haven’t done a full-fledged tour yet- a lot of our touring has just been radio stuff, but on the ground the vibe is super positive especially from radio. That’s been really interesting because there are so many stations here in competition with each other, but a lot of them are saying “we reckon this song has what it takes to break America effectively”. They’re all excited about it because for some reason they’re getting something very fresh and new about it and I think that’s because of what’s happening here on American radio. Sometimes the same sort of things just get circled round and round. It’s exciting to hear that people at radio are going “wow, there’s something about this song we’re finding really intriguing and want to get behind”.

Is it a priority for you to do well in international markets?

I think so. We welcome the challenge because that’s what it is- a hell of a lot of work. If we could experience the same things we’ve experienced with our live crowds and fans in Australia, if we could do that through America and Europe, it would make our job better. It really does. We’re able to go out and tour and play to as many people as we want to, that would sort of be crème de la crème.

There are big differences between Australian markets and American markets. You’re dependent here on radio to get you across to the masses. There’s 310 million people and not everyone listens to radio so we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, that’s for sure.

Little bit off topic but I wanted to quickly get your thoughts on fame. Birds have a huge following back home, but you don’t even have your own Wikipedia page. Are you recognised and approached a lot in Australia?

It depends where I am. If you’re out around music at a show or festival, I get recognised. There’s a lot more curiosity than anything and they’re fans of the band. I’m down with that; I’m always happy to shake someone’s hand, but I’m never really in a position to think “fuck, this is getting heavy”. Thankfully I don’t find myself in that position.

I wanted to ask you about some of the upcoming Aussie bands. The Preatures, Vance Joy, Jagwar Ma were some of the few fresher faces to have big 2013s. What’s your take on the current Australian music scene and who have you enjoyed listening to recently?

I think what’s happening now with Australian music is it really has a bit of a spotlight shone on it and I think it’s from bands that have kind of broke into international waters- Tame Impala- and having proper success overseas which has echoed back to Australia.

I’m a bit out of touch with what is actually current now, but there’s a band called The Growl and they’re really cool.

I’m really glad that it’s getting attention. Being an Australian band overseas, all the conversation going around some of these shows is a real curiosity now for Australian music.

I know you guys have previously said that your albums come out roughly every two years. Have you got any updates on new BOT or Karnivool material on the horizon?

Birds have been writing. We’ve got a bunch of songs on the boil, but I don’t know when we’re going to release the next record.

Karnivool is actually writing at the moment, but I don’t know when that’s going to be released either.

Both bands are actively writing and have been for the last few months.

You’ve said in the past that writing for the last album occured in a few different spots around the world. Is that and is that an approach you guys value and want to bring back again?

Possibly, yeah. Since our second record we actually did a lot of our writing out of our comfort zones. The band just gets together in what seems to be in a strange location where we are fairly isolated and influenced by different things around us.

That’s a part of this band’s philosophy. We love to travel like most bands so if it allowed us to travel to a strange country in Europe and sit in a villa somewhere for four or five weeks and write some songs, that’s alright by me.

What’s in store for the rest of 2014?

There’s a lot going on. Birds have finished about five weeks on the road doing a radio promo. We’ve got a couple of shows coming up in San Fran and another four shows coming up in LA. That takes us to mid-April and I bounce back to Australia and do the Groovin’ The Moo tour which has Karnivool sideshows amongst it. Then I’m back to the States for about three weeks doing more radio promo and shows with Birds and then June, July I’m over in Europe with Karnivool for a festival run over there.

In August, I’m back to the States with Birds and we’re actually lining up with our booking agent an actual tour around the country whether it’s our own headline tour or we go around with an appropriate support.

After that I’m not sure. More writing I guess.

Birds Of Tokyo US Shows

Thursday, March 27 – San Francisco, CA (Popscene Clubnight @ Rickshaw Stop

Tuesday, April 15 – Los Angeles, CA (Bootleg HiFi)

​Thursday, May 15 – Santa Barbara, CA (92.9 FM KJEE’S Summer Round-Up @ The Santa Barbara Bowl)


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