Words By: Erin Puccinelli
First off, where are you right now?
I’m at my home in Sydney, looking at my cat. He’s kind of just staring at nothing. I’m trying to imagine what he’s going through, it’s like he’s seen a demon, it’s pretty cool.
So, your new album ‘brace’ is your ‘darkest’ and most political yet, so what elements of political landscape in recent years have encouraged this focus?
Where do I begin? Every day we where recording with a guy called David Brotell. He’s one of the coolest guys you’ll ever meet. He did the second and third Tool album. He’s a proper good old-fashioned leftie, in a cool way. And everyday we’d have these discussions because the hot topic eight months ago was Donald Trump, and it really hasn’t changed since. There are also issues like Brexit and Pauline Hanson, and how people are starting to rally together to essentially push people out of a country that we don’t own. With the political aspect of this record, we try not to be specific. It’s a really general, broad focus on how we are feeling at the moment, and as artists you sometimes feel an obligation to shine a light on these things. There’s only so many love songs that you can write when you go “I’m not really concerned if I love someone or not”, I care about my future and my children’s future or my cats future. Maybe he’s seen the spirit of Donald Trump.
What was it like working with producer David Brotell (Tool, King Crimson, Silver chair)?
He’s kind of old school in the best possible way. He knows all the technology to make us sound huge but he was mostly interested in performance, it was more about the feel. Especially with the drums and bass, he just wanted that bang. If certain parts where rushing or pushing or pulling, it had to have a purpose for it or otherwise you’d be told to play it again. So that was exiting as a performer because it was so easy to slip into playing a part and then have someone heighten or fix it afterwards.
Our singer (Ian Kenny) had to do everything not perfectly, but make it feel right. It took a bit more time, but this guy genuinely believes that if the performance feels right from the performer, the music will feel true to what the artist is trying to say.
Ultimately, Dave’s big thing was that he didn’t have a formula, it was just based on whether it was cool or not, which was really refreshing for us. The last few producers have had are looking for the tightest and brightest and the most effective way of selling to the masses, which is an art form in itself. But this was more ‘is it cool or not’, rather than ‘oh, you need to repeat your pre-chorus exactly the same as your first pre-chorus’ because that’s how modern listeners understand music, through symmetry. It was more like ‘are we doing this?’ or ‘are we changing time signatures here?’ It was great and really refreshing, to challenge yourself to be more creative without any calculation.
‘Brace’ has aligned closely to your roots (as many fans have pointed out) with darker, more dystopian-like aesthetics in sound and image, why the shift?
For us, it just came out of choice and feel. We decided to do it because that’s what we actually love. We kind of came to the realisation that we are all just massive rock fans. We listen to Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, AC/DC and that’s the art we end up talking about.
I guess in the past 6 years we went down a path of trying to write hits, and you end up writing tracks that get such amazing commercial reactivity, and can kind of change your life a little bit, but you’re starting to lose your own identity because it’s not something you exactly love. It makes you question ‘who are we and what do we wanna do?’ We should be making music because we love it and that should translate into other people listening and understanding our music, because that gives it soul.
I noticed Hayley Mary from The Jezebels is features on the track ‘discoloured’, why’d you choose her for the track?
That song was very much on the cusp of not making the record at all, we where just putting more and more heavy riffs down the process and that one sort of on the lines of a hip-hop/heavy riffs crossover, and was sort of slipping through the cracks in process of elimination for what would make the album, but then we had this idea put a female perspective on the second verse. It gave a whole new twist to the song and made it super unique to us. I guess it gave it an edge.
Hayley was our first choice because we think she’s super cool, and very much worthy of being put on the record. She recorded it in London and got a bit of guidance over Skype with David Brotell. She smashed it.
We got to play a show with her in Sydney, and it was so much fun having a new friendly face on stage.
You guys are about to start a new tour around the country, kicking off at Metros with Strangers and Pat Chow on the 17th of November. What can we expect from your shows?
I think we are going to play the new album in full. It might be a little distracting for older fans, but this time it feels right, and we just wanna make the hardest, heaviest rock show we can. It’s heavy as hell. Don’t come down for a nice sing-along.
What are Birds of Tokyo’s plans for 2017?
More touring, hopefully. We’re looking at doing a European tour. Maybe doing a ‘swaps’ tour with a European band that maybe would like to lift their profile in Australia and vise versa.