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Birds Of Tokyo – Still Wings & Broken Strings

Written by Michael Carr on October 22, 2009

A collaborative project between members of various Perth bands including Karnivool and Tragic Delicate, Birds Of Tokyo have earned themselves a rock solid reputation built on strong support from alternative radio, playing regular shows and doing so with the kinetic energy of a motherfucking freight train.

However, in the midst of feverish writing and recording, the band are uncharacteristically still at the moment. In desperation to talk to someone not involved with the recording, axeman Adam Spark caught up with Daniel Clarke over the phone to discuss working on the next album, their upcoming Broken Strings tour (they’ll be playing with a string quartet and piano) as well as a particularly rousing game of tennis with Numbers Radio.

Music Feeds: So what have you been up to?

Adam Spark: Just writing man, in our little studio HQ in Perth. Working on our record, squaring away all our demos, stuff like that. Coming to the end of that cycle.

MF: Do you prefer the studio, writing and recording, or do you prefer being out on the road touring?

AS: I guess it’s an equal love. They both have their really rotten parts and they both have their beautiful parts. When you’re in the studio, it’s tedious and long, you’re writing and writing and writing, like we’ve been writing every day and every week since April. It’s cool, when you get to hear it back, it’s great. But then you have to do the hard work of tours – we have great fun playing the shows but then it’s like you’re waiting around all day, travelling, you get tired.

MF: You guys are writing and recording for an album now which probably won’t come out til next year some time. Is it a weird thing to have finished these songs in your head and not hear them out in the world for months afterwards?

AS: Yeah it is tough, it’s one of the hardest things. But it’s part of the business, it kinda has to work like that. Unless you want to pump stuff out every couple of months, which doesn’t really do you any favours. People don’t want to be overloaded with your music too much. At the same time it’s good, it gives you time to refine and really make sure you know what you’re doing with your next record, that it’s heading in the right direction and all the parts are done properly and stuff. This is probably the longest we’ve spent building up to a record so there’s a lot of work going in to this one.

MF: Do you find the songs take on a life of their own when you start touring with them?

AS: Yeah, they do change. You always have to make compromises and amendments to what you’re hearing off the record to what you’re presenting live. We try our best to give it as much muscular energy and layering as the record has. Sometimes it’s not practical to get it all there and then you’ve gotta kind of rework it and just basically either rock your friggin balls off or try to make it classy with nice harmonies etc.

MF: How does it go with Ian being in two successful bands at the moment? Birds of Tokyo and Karnivool both seem to be taking off both here and overseas. Does either side ever lose out on the relationship?

AS: Not really, there’s some compromises now and then. In some regards it can be fairly easy with decision-making processes, where both bands are in positions where they’re making fairly good money for every show they do. If it’s something where there’s a couple of really good festival offers but the other band wants to do some writing then obviously there’s a certain given there for which way it’s going to go. But it’s not too bad, it’s just a lot of planning. (Ian) Kenny’s basically a maniac, from here until the end of May he’s got about eleven days at home. But he loves it, he’s a maniac, he loves it. He gets to play music and travel round the world every day and hang out with his friends and write music.

MF: Do you guys ever get writer’s block?

AS: To be honest I did have a bit on this one about 6-8 weeks in I sort of… not hit a wall but… we’d set ourselves a schedule of working on a new song, a new idea every day, then stepping away from it and a month later going back through everything we’d worked on. I had about a week or so of ideas that weren’t sticking and weren’t feeling great. The Birds thing has always been ‘good isn’t good enough’. But it only lasted about five days.

MF: The upcoming Broken Strings tour will be a pretty grand venture. Are you taking a full orchestra?

AS: No it’s a just a quartet and a grand piano but still logistically there’s a lot of work. From the arranging and restructuring of music to the actual touring logistics, it’s a workload.

MF: While reinventing the songs for new instruments have you found more layers to them, more things to the tracks that you might not have noticed the first time?

AS: Yeah, that’s exactly why we’re doing it. The layers have always been there for us but we’ve chosen as a rock band to deliver our songs in a pretty weighty rock fashion. There’s always that preconception with bands like us that it’s all about power chords and really straight down the line stuff. And that really couldn’t be further from the truth with a fair whack of it so this is our opportunity to challenge ourselves and reinterpret the music, play it in different styles. I guess it also gives people an insight into how we work these songs and what’s actually going on underneath all of that. People are going to find that it’s a lot more colourful than what they’re hearing on the rock versions.

MF: I have a bunch of bootlegs of The Beatles’ Abbey Road sessions, which have a lot of studio chatter and things like that on them. It’s really interesting to hear the different versions, and the way each member added their influence over time. There’s a story to every song isn’t there?

AS: Exactly, and it’s that sort of stuff that we find inspiring. Watching absolutely iconic acts doing things like that. We’re not going to put ourselves on par with bands like that but to a certain degree… you realise you have a lot of fans and if we can give these guys an insight into what we do, hopefully it’s interesting and something different. Like, I have the same thing, I have the Beach Boys Pet Sounds, all that kind of stuff, and it’s fucking amazing. Because I’m never satisfied. I love hearing bands and people playing music, but I’ll buy every music DVD I can get my hands on, like makings-of in the studio or behind the scenes on tour, because I love it. Giving people more interaction with the music is just a fun thing to do and I hope people enjoy it.

MF: So what do you do when you’re not playing music in the Birds?

AS: All we do is Birds. Spare time? There’s no such thing. We’re not doing music because we’re competent and we can do it, we’re doing it because we’re useless and we can’t do anything else. While that sort of maybe sounds cool it’s actually pretty hard some times because it affects family life, relationships and stuff, because you can’t switch off. It’s like a fucking virus, and it’s an antisocial virus. I sort of don’t like going out because I want to stay at home and play my piano and drink coffee and watch movies and stuff. That’s the trade-off – you don’t have normal downtime. I’ve been trying for years to get it but I’m not even close yet.

MF: What do you think has been the biggest thing to get your name out and get exposure? Has it been the Internet, or radio stations like triple j, or touring or what?

AS: I think it’s been a bit of everything. We’ve been pretty fortunate in that a lot of people have gotten behind us, whether it be radio or TV and street presses etc. I like to think we have a good live show. I love hearing people say we put on a good live show because you put a lot of time and effort into it, it’s good to get something back.

MF: I was talking to Dave from Numbers Radio earlier.

AS: Yeah we just toured with those guys.

MF: He was saying you guys had a bit of a spectacular last night on the tour.

AS: Did he now?

MF: Yep. Something about you guys playing tennis late at night?

AS: Well. Yes we did actually. We ended up on a tennis court at the hotel. It was pretty funny. We have this thing on the road with our touring party where there’s no bosses, everyone’s friends. Our crew are pretty musical characters, one of our techs Lumby used to be in that band Blueline Medic. I do remember that last night, the one part I do remember, sitting around and he was playing Blueline Medic songs, we’re all singing our guts out at six in the morning at this hotel. We had a good jam with those guys, with bloody tennis and bloody cigarettes and god knows what.

Now that would have been a good bootleg: Birds of Tokyo and Numbers Radio, ‘The Cigarettes and Tennis Sessions’.

Birds of Tokyo are touring nationally on their Broken Strings tour throughout November. For more details, check out their myspace page.

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