Posted On 14 Oct 2014
Tag: Adam Spark, Adam Weston, APRA, ARIA Awards, Australia, Birds of Tokyo, Day One, Death From Above, Del Shannon, Drake, Eye Of The Tiger, France, Heartbreaker, In And Out Burger, Johnny Cash, Johnny Knoxville, Knoxville, Lanterns, Led Zeppelin, Lorde, March Fires, Nashville, Plans, Readers Digest, Spike Jones, That Thing You Do, This Fire, Tokyo, Universes, Weezer, Wild At Heart
For Birds Of Tokyo, the last two years have been all about change and renewal. That experience is infused throughout their fourth album, March Fires which was released on September 30th.
Spearheaded by the album’s first two singles “This Fire” and “Lanterns,” March Fires debuted at #1 on the National ARIA Album Chart – the band’s first ever #1 record. The album was certified gold within four weeks of release, while the triple platinum single “Lanterns” was the most played song on Australia radio in the first six months of 2013.
Over the course of their first two studio albums (Day One and Universes), Birds Of Tokyo carved out a niche for guitar driven anthems. Lots of touring around Australia gradually turned them into indie chart toppers. Their eponymous third release in 2010 shifted things up a gear with double platinum certifications and hit singles “Plans” and “Wild At Heart.” They received songwriting awards from APRA, had their work voted “Rock Album Of The Year” by their peers and then capped it all off by winning the publicly-voted “Most Popular Australian Artist” at the 2011 ARIA Awards.
Learn more about Birds of Tokyo in the following All Access interview!
Adam Spark – Guitar
Ian Kenny – Vocals
Adam Weston – Drums
Ian Berney – Bass
Glenn Sarangapany – Keys
Can you guys remember the moment that you decided to start a band? What was it like coming to that decision?
Any kid who has been in a room with a bunch of friends and a bunch of instruments will know the answer to this. Once you’ve had a taste of trying to drown each other out with guitars and drums and synths, you can’t NOT be in a band. The decision has been made for you. Your only hope is to find like-minded people who are also addicted to drowning each other out with guitars and drums and synths.
Where does your band name come from?
One of the guys said that he read an article in Readers Digest that said that there were no birds in Tokyo. So we decided to be the Birds of Tokyo. No one bothered to fact check. There are plenty of birds in Tokyo. Plenty.
You just released your fourth album, March Fires in the US. How different is the music on this album different/similar to anything else you’ve put out?
Birds has always been about big anthemic hooks. It’s what we love. And it’s something that we’ll keep doing as long as we love it. But we forced ourselves to dig deeper on March Fires.
Lyrically, this was the most intricate album we’ve written (to date at least). And the musical arrangements needed to reflect that. Rather than using the same old sonics that we’ve used in the past, we stepped back and really thought about what each song was saying. That’s the artistic description of it. The unsentimental description is that we went to town making guitars sound like synths and making synths sound like guitars. It was a lot of fun.
Let’s talk about your single, “Lanterns”. What do you think it is about that song that attracts fans?
Drummer Adam would say that it’s his rad Beatles-esque beat in the bridge.
“Lanterns” was our attempt at writing a statement that says that it’s ok to search for what you want in life. It sounds simple but it can be very scary to admit that sometimes you need to step into the unknown to find what you’re looking for.
When you take a statement like that and make it communal and joyous, it can become really empowering.
Tell me about the time you all spent in a remote French farmhouse. Why did you guys decide to be there? How did it help the creative process?
I fell head over heels for the girl that worked in the bakery down the street from us and I wrote her a love song. I’m sure she would have been impressed if I had played it for her but the only words I knew in French were “Can I please have a chocolate eclair”. It had a really catchy melody though.
Going to France for a writing trip was Adam Spark’s idea. It was not met with any resistance. France in summer is rad. Adam is a firm believer that the environment has a huge effect on the creative process. And I think we’d all be inclined to agree. Taking us out of our comfort zones forced us to focus on making music.
We had our That Thing You Do moment when we heard “Lanterns” on LA radio for the first time (after Weezer and before Lorde). It was a huge buzz. It’s nice to see that a band from a town in Western Australia is getting spins with the big boys.
The only downside was that we heard it when the guys were taking me to the LA courthouse to deal with an arrest warrant that came in the mail for me. (I got into trouble for driving without insurance. Not quite Johnny Cash.)
How has the relocation to LA been? Do you guys miss life in Australia? What’s been the best part about living in California?
The best part of living in LA is In-and-Out Burger. Just kidding (kind of). It’s been great becoming friends with musicians and industry peeps who are living and working here. The scene has been very supportive and we couldn’t have asked for a better first dip into the US. We were missing the Australian football until we found a way to stream the games. Now I’m just waiting for the hockey to start up again. (Go Kings!)
Do you guys have an interesting road story you could share?
Westy (Adam Weston) will probably kill me for telling this story but it’s too funny not to share. We had a show in Knoxville before an all-night drive to Nashville the next day. There was a three am deadline to get back to the bus. When we got to Nashville, we realized that we were one drummer short of a full band. There was a fair bit of panic from our tour manager. He said the words, “I’ve never lost anyone before” about a hundred times. After half an hour of wondering what was happening (Westy’s phone had somehow made the three am curfew without him so there was no way to contact him), we got a call from the Knoxville hotel saying that a very stressed out and hung over drummer was sitting in the lobby. He had to catch a four hundred dollar taxi and just made it to soundcheck in time.
To this day, he still maintains that it was the hotel’s fault because they didn’t give him his wake up call. I reckon it might have had at least a little to do with the vodka and Red Bulls from the night before. Heh.
Kenny does a vocal warm up. And recently he’s started doing push ups right before we hit the stage. The rest of us drink beers and sing “Eye Of The Tiger” at him while he does it.
What are you favorite songs to perform?
The track that we’ve been closing the set with is called “This Fire”. It’s a high energy, fists in the air, anthemic type of song that starts with Berney doing a very cool bass intro and descends into chaos at the end. We always have a blast with that one.
What are your favorite bands to listen to?
The new Death From Above album has been on high rotation at the Birds house. Brutal Sabbath-esq riffs, sweet beats and killer vocals. You can’t really go wrong!
Living or dead, who would you guys love to work with and why?
I would love to do a video clip with Spike Jones. I’m a huge Weezer fan and the guy is just an all round genius. Plus I’m pretty sure he’s one of the only Oscar winning directors who has made out with Johnny Knoxville while dressed as an eighty six year old woman. Pretty sure.
More times than not, influences tend to bleed through. What bands are currently inspiring the music that you’re making?
We have the fortune and misfortune of being a band of five guys with very different musical tastes! But one of the good things is that it becomes a little harder to pick the influences that are driving the songs. Everything from Drake to Del Shannon gets thrown into the Birds mix.
More writing. We’re constantly striving to push ourselves as song writers. March Fires opened our eyes to the potential we have when we allow our feelings and our fears and our hopes to be exposed in songs. But I think we’ve only just scratched the surface. We want to go a lot further down the rabbit hole.
Is there anything in particular that you’d like people to take away from listening to your music?
That emotions are complicated, wonderful things. And that we don’t need to shy away from what we’re feeling no matter how crazy it seems. Dive headfirst into loneliness if you want to. Allow yourself to feel powerful if it helps you get through a tough time. Enjoy this whole thing called life that we barely understand.
It sounds super dorky to say these things in a paragraph but when you put it in a song, it sometimes makes more sense.
What advice would you give to a band just getting started? Did you guys receive any advice back at the very beginning that has really stuck with you?
Write the best songs that you can. I think that’s the most important thing. Everything else will fall into place if you write songs that people want to listen to. And learn how to play the guitar solo from “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin because it rules and will totally impress everyone.