Coming from humble beginnings (a collaboration between members of Tragic Delicate and Karnivool), Birds of Tokyo have gone on to become one of Australia’s most influential bands. Their ability to adapt, build and totally recreate themselves has been impressive. The writing and recording of their fourth album, March Fires, has seen them rip apart anything they knew about the band and totally start again. We caught up with bass player Ian Berney to talk rebirth, fire and relocation ahead of their national album tour.
LAEM: What were you doing before you joined Birds of Tokyo in 2011?
I: I was jamming with the old flame, Sugar Army. We were all working awkward part time/full time jobs, writing music and managing our happy suburban lives in Perth.
LAEM: Was it daunting entering a band that has had so much success in recent years?
I: Yeah a little bit. It was all just a bit weird really. I’m not a session musician or anything. I’ve been in two bands prior, and I hadn’t had a lot of experience writing with unfamiliar musicians, so I was nervous working with people I didn’t know. I knew every move I made was going to be judged. After a couple of bum jokes, it seemed to all work just fine.
LAEM: Obviously a great deal of success was found with the self titled album and then you guys dropped off the radar for a little while. This was about the time you entered the band. What was behind yourself and Glenn joining and what’s made you want to spend so long crafting the new album?
I: I think the band wanted to rebrand its identity and did so by adding two new members. Whenever you add new people to your setup, it’s always going to change the way the band looks. There was a common Aussie pub rock persona attached to Birds of Tokyo that the band really wanted to move away from. The creative process was drawn out by the constraints and challenges we set upon this venture; moving away from loud drum/guitar rock into something far more ethereal. It took some deeper thinking along the way.
LAEM: What was the reason for heading over to France to do some writing for March Fires?
I: We were in a fortunate position after the last album cycle to afford the luxury of a song writing expedition in France. We wanted to be in a beautiful and harmonious environment to give the songs every opportunity to developing in a positive way. It was a remarkable place to stay but we remained very focused on the goals we set. We came away with an awesome demo of tracks, with the likes of ‘This Fire’ and ‘Lanterns’ being part of the bag.
LAEM: What was behind the decision to drop the This Fire EP before the album?
I: We thought it would be something interesting for an established band to do. We had around four or five tracks after the record that we felt wouldn’t fit on the album, so “Glowing in the Streets’ and ‘The Lake’ were placed on the EP.
LAEM: What can we expect in terms of sound from March Fires? Is Lanterns a good representation?
I: Yes and no. Yes because it pioneers the holy gospel vibes we were chasing for many of the songs on the record. No, because the album also has big fierce moments on it with ‘White Leaves’ and the second half of ‘Sirin’.
LAEM: You guys seem to be focusing on fire a lot between This Fire, March Fires and Lanterns. Was this intentional? A re birth through fire perhaps?
I: Yes. ‘Lanterns’ is a journey song – it’s about the universal theme of needing to leave the nest. Every person at some point in their life needs to depart their comfort zone to discover and grow. Sometimes you can leave with or without saying goodbye, other times you have to burn it all down and start again.
LAEM: Going back to yourself and Glenn joining the band. What do you think you’ve added together to the sound of Birds of Tokyo?
I: Glenn massively helped to find textures and colours through this synth layered record. He was fundamental in re-shaping the lyrics, avoiding clichés and developing meaning and metaphors for the stories. I have my moments of creative explosions, but this record was more about listening and learning for me. I feel extremely equipped for the next creative endeavour now that I have a deeper understand of what works for Birds of Tokyo.
Birds of Tokyo are doing a massive Australian tour in support of March Fires this month. Get all the info here.