After a year off the road, apart from one gig in Kalgoorlie, Perth pop-rockers Birds of Tokyo enjoyed a fiery rebirth at the Rock-It festival last October.
While headliners the Black Keys got the major plaudits, it was difficult to go past the second-billed Birds, who unleashed a polished stadium-rock set with charismatic frontman Ian Kenny leading the new-look five-piece band through fan favourites before bravely ending with This Fire, the then brand new title track from last year's four-track teaser EP.
This was the first major outing for the revamped Birds. Two years ago, the band replaced original bassist Anthony Jackson with Sugar Army member Ian Berney and touring keyboardist Glenn Sarangapany officially joined the outfit.
The personnel change came the year after Birds of Tokyo had cracked the mainstream, scoring a platinum album with their self-titled third album, which won the ARIA for best rock album in 2010.
Speaking from his adopted home of Melbourne, Kenny insists the band needed to shake things up before beginning work on the follow-up, March Fires, released today.
"We were asking ourselves when we got to album number four, 'Why are we making music again? How did we get to album four and what do we want to do with this thing?'
"That was a conversation that went right through our writing for the best part of 18 months while making this thing," Kenny continues.
"Basically, what we want to do is communicate and connect with people. We just want to see how far and wide we can reach people."
This Fire was a good re-introduction for Birds of Tokyo, with the recently released Lanterns destined to prompt that modern cigarette lighter, the mobile phone, to be held aloft by festival crowds around the nation.
"Well, I hope so, man," Kenny laughs. "If you're fortunate enough to be on stage when those things go down, they're f…ing unreal."
The third single from March Fires, which was recorded in Los Angeles with producer Dave Cooley (Silversun Pickups), could be When the Night Falls Quiet. The synth-laden tune is undoubtedly the most "pop" song Birds of Tokyo has recorded and it would probably shock anyone who had only heard the post-grunge-meets- alternative rock sounds of their 2007 debut, Day One.
"We're pop kids at heart," Kenny begins, "and we want to find the best way, and most interesting way, to write pop music and just get good at it . . . When the Night Falls Quiet - that's just pure pop writing. We all came from a grungier, more rock background and through the years, as we've gone on as songwriters, we've always had this admiration for really clever, really good pop. It's easy to write a pretty basic, s…ty pop song but to write a good one, it's kind of hard."
Birds of Tokyo have had March Fires in the can since November, with Kenny saying the entire band has been "champing at the bit" to get out and play the new songs.
The singer has also kept himself busy making the third album for Karnivool, the prog-rock band he formed in 1997. Kenny reveals that the 'Vool recorded with producer Nick DiDia (Powderfinger) in Byron Bay over the Christmas and New Year period. The band recently finished in the studio; DiDia is due to finish mixing by April and the album should be released mid-year.
"Last week we finished our last tracking and I came home for two days and then went into a week-and-a-half of press with Birds," Kenny says.
The singer jokes that the two bands co-exist "with a great deal of planning. Both bands have been working side-by-side for seven years and this is the first time the records have gotten this close together. You just have to plan things. Generally, my schedule's six months ahead - it has to be like that."
While singing with two very different, very popular groups can "chew up everything", Kenny puts a typically positive spin on the arrangement.
"Jeez, I'm fortunate because I get these two things that are, for me, working at their optimum at the moment," he says. "Birds are writing pop music that I adore and on the other side Karnivool heads off down the rabbit hole with this progressive stuff that I find some of the most challenging stuff, but also the most rewarding.
"I'm playing with some of the best in the country so, yeah, it's good, man."
Last year Kenny played shows in India with Karnivool; a nice break from recording March Fires with Birds of Tokyo. Right now, the focus is firmly on his feathered friends, with their national tour kicking off in Ballarat two days ago and WA dates next week as part of the 19-date tour.
Shows in New Zealand will follow and then, perhaps, an attempt to make inroads in the US. "I won't bulls..t you, there are some things in the pipeline but nothing is locked in yet," a cagey Kenny says.
"It's going to be good, it's a big year but that's why I've been doing it. I love the challenge."Birds of Tokyo play the Prince of Wales, Bunbury on March 7 and Fremantle Arts Centre on March 8. Tickets from Heatseeker outlets.
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