BIRDS Of Tokyo were the darlings of the indie world, the Perth rockers who conquered both commercial and alternative markets with three acclaimed albums. But their fourth studio album – the tellingly titled March Fires – wasn’t about building on their success. It was about putting a match to everything they’d done before and starting anew.
‘‘With us it’s always been about chemistry, that’s what makes it all work. In order to keep doing what we were doing, we needed to kind of tear it all down and build it back up again,’’ drummer and founding member Adam Weston told LIVE over the phone from Melbourne, the morning after the first show of the band’s March Fires tour. They’ll play Newcastle Panthers on March 15.
Weston revealed the first show of the tour went ‘‘better than we had hoped’’ after a period away from the spotlight which encompassed many changes for the band.
The first was geographical: Birds Of Tokyo are no longer Perth-based. Instead, the members are dotted up and down the east coast. Secondly, they welcomed two new members – Glenn Sarangapany on keys and Ian Berney on bass – to the three original members of Ian Kenny, Adam Spark and Adam Weston. And thirdly, the band took time away from a heavy touring schedule to focus on a new sound.
‘‘For the first time ever we said no to doing shows and we took 12months away from the stage and had some writing trips overseas. We just kind of spent more time hanging out as a band,’’ Weston explained. ‘‘It felt like we always were a gang of buddies, but this time we really got into each other’s heads and into a few bottles of red and a lot of arguments and, you know, there were some really productive results out of a fair bit of creative tension. [It was] just purely to avoid doing anything that we felt we had already achieved with prior records.
‘‘Things are feeling really different and fresh on a personal level and, of course, sonically and musically.’’
Rather than the band making a conscious decision to head in a new direction, Weston explained they wanted to highlight their strengths and organically produce a body of work.
‘‘We felt our previous records played out like they were a list of singles or maybe had a bit of a cliche opener or a long closer,’’ he said.
‘‘This time it actually feels like a real body of work where we view all the songs as one, rather than ‘Here you go, here’s another record’. No one is forcing us to do this and we always remember that; it feels like something we really wanted to do.’’
The new approach – including a songwriting trip to the south of France – proved fruitful, with Birds Of Tokyo returning armed with about 20 songs to whittle down to the final cut of March Fires.
‘‘For the first time ever, because of the abundance of ideas that everybody was working on, we actually had a whiteboard of 20-odd songs and we were even joking around saying, ‘Hey do we do a double album like the Beatles’ White Album or Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I and II?’ It kind of all got silly from there,’’ he laughed. ‘‘It was a hard process dwindling them down; songs take on a life of their own. Good songs reveal themselves more and more over time … in previous records we never really had B-sides, we were like ‘Oh my god, we’ve got 12 songs, there’s our album’.’’
The album was mastered and ready in mid-2012, but the band wanted to wait until the new year to release it and instead unleashed the This Fire EP in October which spawned the top five single Lanterns. Weston explained that the song, which features the lyrics ‘‘on we march with a midnight song, we will find our way with our lanterns on’’, encapsulates the feeling of togetherness and connectedness in the band.
‘‘A lot of bands say they don’t give a shit or a f–k what other people think, they say ‘We do it for ourselves’. But that’s totally not the case for us: we wanted to write music that connects with people,’’ he said.
‘‘There’s a really strong communal feel on this record. Lanterns is probably an example of that kind of togetherness journey, [the] type of ‘on we march’ feeling, the positive, hopeful, radiant vibes we were getting off each other.’’
Birds Of Tokyo hope fans will embrace the togetherness on the album, even if on the surface it seems to be a departure from records like Day One, Universes and 2010’s hugely popular Birds Of Tokyo.
‘‘I’m guilty of it; with so many bands I say, ‘Oh, I like their old stuff better than their new stuff’, but I really do believe that good records can reveal more and more over time and start to make a bit more sense,’’ Weston said.
‘‘It’s a very different dynamic. Where we might have toned down the aggressive, hard-edged rockier moments, they’re kind of being replaced with bigger, wider, hazy, atmosphere sounds. It’s just as hard-hitting or distorted – it’s probably a hell of a lot more distorted than our older rockier stuff – so I think people will be in for quite a shock with these shows to see how it comes off in the live arena.’’
Birds Of Tokyo play at Newcastle Panthers on March 15. Tickets at Moshtix.
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