Birds Of Tokyo have delivered album number six and arguably it is right up there as their best work to date. Human Design shows the band plotting a course in a different direction with very personal and reflective lyrics revealing what has been a very difficult period of time for front man Ian Kenny personally. Ian speaks to Hi Fi Way about the album and how they are making the most the time right now.
How are you coping with the pandemonium?
I’m trying to stay well clear of it. I’m down in the south west corner of Western Australian down near the Margaret River region and it is a bit different down here. There’s lots of people getting around but a lot of people are staying indoors. It is super chilled down here man! There’s a population of about three and a half thousand in the town I’m in. It is quite different being up in Perth.
Have you kept writing during this period or is it a bit of chill time?
It has been a bit of forced chill, we had a number of tours and shows put on hold as of late February onwards getting pretty much shut down. I write every day to be honest and it is one of the first things I do when I get up is write even though half of it is shit but whatever. I practice it every day but we have been writing little bits and pieces. It is a funny one with the Birds having a new record out thinking that do we need to be writing? Shouldn’t we be chilling out? Our focus is this new record which we’re excited about.
Did Human Design unfold exactly as you thought?
We didn’t know how it was going to unfold in the beginning. It is basically three years of writing and living through what has ultimately has become the record. In the beginning we got together as a band again for the first time in a while to write and we thought what we’ll do is that the first song that we do that is alright or good enough we’ll release that. We’ll do it again and put out one song at a time with no real time frame in mind or no record in mind. As the band got in to a better space we continued to write and put out song after song and by the time we got to the fourth one it was like, hang on we have another record in us. Do we want to do this? We have a story here so let’s look at pitting a record together and that’s how it rolled out.
Lyrically it is a very personal album, do you feel it was a soul cleansing process that helped you move forward?
Absolutely, ultimately it was quite healing because the other side of it is much, much better place. We definitely had to go there and tell it like it is. It was super, super confronting lyrically to go there. I don’t naturally like exposing myself that much as a writer but I’m glad we did because we’ve got the songs right. Earlier on in the piece when I was writing the lyrics I was fluffing around trying to find different ways to say what needed to be said because I didn’t know how to go there. I rewrote the lyrics for these songs a number of times getting the language right, getting it really and finding a way to be as open and as honest as I could. It just took a long time and the band were really supportive through out. I’m kind of glad we did that because it felt right.
It must be a real buzz knowing how much people have been able to connect to these songs?
Yeah, it is truly wonderful and by the time we felt that on the third and fourth release it was like fuck, people are really feeling this. Whatever we are doing we are doing the right thing, let’s continue on and see how far we can take it and see how of this story feels right. It’s so cool and I’m glad we have arrived here. The band is super proud of it and it has been a hell of a ride to get here. I can’t believe it is out.
Was there that feeling that as you were piecing the album together that you had something special in front of you?
I think this one sits a part from the rest because there is an overarching story which is a very real, live, true story that people can relate to. I don’t if we have had subject matter like this in our career. I haven’t gone through that before as a guy let alone as a songwriter. I reacted to that in the only way that I know which was to speak about that through music. I think because of the subject matter it is different and this record is very different to anything that we’ve done before, the band feels that. We were talking about that a little while ago and why does this feel different? It took time to get real with it and to be able to feel OK with how much we were going to expose in the lyrics to get it real. Like I said, I’m glad we are here and overall we made the right decision to be open. I found it really tough.
When you start play these songs live do you think you will find it tough?
There will be some very bittersweet moments when it comes to performing these songs and sharing them with an audience definitely. I think we’ll be able to handle it up on stage. I think because of the nature of the material it makes for quite compelling performances. Like I said there will be plenty of bittersweet moments and they will be there for a while. Every with Good Lord I find quite difficult to perform as it is all a bit real. As time goes on on you don’t feel like there is something else to this songs, it gets easier.
What was your reaction when you played the record back for the first time?
The first time I clearly heard the summation of what the band had been through the last three years it was part exciting and confronting even at that point I thought shit just lyrically personally, that’s all it comes down to, is how much you are personally willing to expose yourself. I thought hey there’s still a few things that I thought have I said a bit too much about myself. Ultimately it felt really honest and real, it is easy to say that about music when you are connected to it, as hard as it is to let it out of the bag sometimes it just feels right. It makes the music what it is.
I love the string arrangements in Dive. Is that something the band is looking to do more of?
It is funny, when we were playing with the strings idea for the first song back when we didn’t have the album in mind we realised when we placed the string arrangements right to whatever pieces or parts of the song really lifted that emotional high of the thing and the layers of it. We said we’ll do as much of that which makes sense. Now there is a good bit of string work on the record. Who knows maybe we might have got it out of our system as writers for the moment but we’ll see in terms of what we will do next. Absolutely from a live front we can’t wait to present this record with strings. It is a shame we pretty much had this on the table with a number of orchestras around the country with forty-five to fifty piece ensembles. We had the whole tour ready to go and the whole COVID thing came in and put a pause on everything. We’ll get to that when we are allowed to.
Will the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra get a look in if the opportunity presents itself?
One hundred percent! At the time we had Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and at the time we couldn’t get Adelaide’s availability as they weren’t available until the end of the year. We thought we would do Melbourne, Sydney and Perth then pick up Adelaide and Brisbane at the end of the year. When we get to put it together we would love to do.
What’s next for Birds Of Tokyo?
We’re are putting together some online pieces and performances that will come out after the record release for our fans online. It is the only way we can show what are doing and where we are at. We hoping we can play sooner rather than later. At some point, if this thing goes on long enough, the band will start writing again and we’ll start sending each other song ideas and files, that’s how we work to get ideas off the ground. If we idle long enough we’ll start working on new stuff, I guarantee it.
Is it equally as frustrating having Karnivool bubbling away in the background? Do you still enjoy the flexibility that being involved in both bands brings?
Absolutely, I do. It has been quite frustrating because the COVID thing has put a pause on both bands. Karnivool were due out to celebrate the anniversary of Sound Awake which is the most important record for fans of that band. We have put that on pause and will look to doing that at the end of the year. It was something we were all looking forward to. We were due in North America in June and we’ve cancelled that. We’re mixing two new song at the moment and we were going to release them as well as part of the tour. It is what it is, we just have to chill for a bit and that band has a record to finish. It will be a little bit harder given we can’t be in the same room at the moment but let’s hope this shit shifts as quick as it can.
Interview By Rob Lyon
Human Design is out now