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Interview With Karnivool's Ian Kenny

Photo of Karnivool

Band Photo: Karnivool (?)

Walmart shopping raids. Existential questions. Super 8 hotels. Vehicular breakdowns. Rock concerts. Cross-country traveling. Strange food. Absurd observations about the mundane. Friendship.

This isn't a plot outline to a potential sequel of "The Hangover," but slice of life on the road for Australian band Karnivool. The act returned to the states this summer for its third U.S. tour (and first headlining run) to support second album "Sound Awake," which arrived in the States in February. The combination of the group's mesmerizing progressive tracks, superior live performances and support from Sony's SIN division is helping the five-piece act to seep into America's collective consciousness one show at a time. The steady of conversion of fans is evident by two concerts we saw Karnivool play within a year's time. Last fall we first watched the group entertain about 150 faithful at New York club Don Hill's; when we caught up with it again Aug. 27, it was captivating a full crowd at Bowery Ballroom with songs like "Themata," "New Day" and "All I Know."

When MetalUnderground.com spoke with singer Ian Kenny by phone a few weeks ago, the band was driving through Oregon on the way to Vancouver to kick off the tour. A few days prior, traveling was delayed for a few hours due to a broken water pump, so as repairs were made, Karnivool relaxed by descending on a local Walmart (they don't exist in Australia) and stocking up on essentials like Sharpies and Dickey shorts. "They've been a novelty for us, " Kenny says of Walmart. "We take full advantage of them when we come over here."

Christa Titus: Do you have any favorite places to visit here besides Walmart?

Ian Kenny: [laughs] Pretty much we come to the States for Walmart, that's all. It's the pinnacle of our trip. Nah, not really. I guess on this trip we're heading up sort of north on the West Coast, we're heading into Seattle and stuff and where we haven't been before and playing shows around there, so that's gonna be really cool, and I think we're on our way to Vancouver at the moment, that's the first show of the tour, so it's good to sort of canvas the west side of the country a bit more than we have, and I think after spending a good five weeks in the country, including a stint into Canada, we've pretty much have covered most of the country, so that's good, so we've gotten some new places to play this time around.

Titus: If you like the outdoors, you'll probably find Seattle is awesome. I love that city.

Kenny: I reckon that's one of the best things about being literally on the road, like we get to see so much of the country and how the country changes [between coasts]. It's just a vast bloody country. It really has its own pockets and its own differences. It's awesome. It's really cool.

Titus: What cultural differences between America and Australia have you noticed that either amuse you or puzzle you?

Kenny: I think the one thing is the idea of sense of humor. I think if I understand it, the Australian sense of humor, it's pretty dry and I think it's about taking the piss out of ourselves and anyone around us just purely for our entertainment. Sometimes it doesn't really place, you know, doesn't really fly on this side of the world, doesn't really get it. That's a bit of a thing I've noticed. There's always very different food . . . I don't know. It's funny. The more we come here, the more I think I understand how this country works . . . The American people are so polite and such a warm, hospitable culture and really have a sense of community, I think. When we first got here we really got that the first time we toured here, and I think maybe some people back where we come from might have a misconception that some Americans are just a bit ignorant or whatnot. I don't know, it's a funny one. I think like anywhere, you've gotta get into the territory, like whether it's Japan or the States or wherever you go, you really gotta spend some time there to work it out and find your feet with it.

Titus: Are your travel accommodations better this time? When I first interviewed you, you were telling me that when you first toured America, I think you were out for six weeks, you said you were up the ass of this tour bus; it was mindless.

Kenny: This time around, it's kind of our tour, so we kind of had a bit more of a hand in routing the tour so we don't have many crazy drives. This time it's kind of worked out a bit better. And we stay in classy Motel 6s and Super 8s and sometimes we step it up to like a La Quinta if we're lucky. [laughs] It's like a better version of a Super 8. You get like better breakfasts.

Titus: Now that you've come over here and you've played a couple times, have you gotten better at navigating the logistics of pulling off an overseas tour?

Kenny: Oh, yeah. Yeah, for sure. I think that's one of the things that you learn pretty quick once you've toured enough, you spend that time or booked enough shows. You kind of learn the easier way to get around things and better ways to sort of run a tour and better people to use. It's all good. But it is a constant sort of learning curve, I think.

Titus: Name a really hard lesson you've learned from touring.

Kenny: I guess one thing that we kind of learned, last time we booked like all the accommodations in advance and it was a funny one because we kind of had to be held to what we booked, because if you tried to cancel you lost your deposit and stuff. But this time round we just booked and picked up accom as we go, because sometimes you want to drive a bit further than the accommodations can allow. That's a good tip for anybody who's thinkin' about touring: Just take your accommodations as it comes.

Titus: With the release of "Sound Awake," in terms of promotion, what would you say seems to be working the best to get you guys exposure?

Kenny: We've got Sony onboard and sort of working the record for us, but a lot of it comes down to us. Like we do a lot of sort of online interviews and we do a lot of phoners still from Australia. And I think, like most bands, if you're a good band, you gotta get in front of people, show them what you do. It's the best way to convert people. Once you see a band they can make up their mind of they want to be a part of it or not.

Titus: Are you seeing more people come to shows? Are you seeing more merch being sold? Are you seeing more traffic on your websites?

Kenny: Definitely more traffic online and a bigger interest [regarding our coming to America]. Once people get wind that a band is touring everyone kind of wants to know where we're touring, what are we playing, how's it gonna roll out, so there's a big interest there. As far as shows go, I can't really comment too much cuz we haven't played yet. Our first show's in like a day or two's time. We've stepped up to some sightly bigger venues and there's an interest growing in the band where we're happy to take it to the next sort of level, but gradually, of course. It's kind of like midget steps with this band. We've never been one to kind of overstep ourselves. It's a growing, developing thing for us.

Titus: In talking with Sony, they told me that America was a definite goal for Karnivool. Is that a typical mind-set for bands in Australia? Do you hear a lot of other bands saying, "We want to try to break in America," or is that more just the way you guys happen to look at your career

Kenny: I guess any band that takes themselves seriously should definitely consider how they're going to tackle the American market. I guess there are bands that want to do it from Australia but a lot say they're gonna do it, they're gonna try and never get there, so it's always been [a career goal] for us. Trying to crack the American market is a massive challenge, especially for a band like us. We're not really like too many other bands in the actual nature and the structure of this band, plus we're pretty much considered an indie as well. It's a challenge but it's definitely worth it because we utterly enjoy what we do. Again, in midget steps.

Titus: Did it come together the way you imagined?

Kenny: Yeah, we kind of, as soon as we decided to open the door to touring here we knew that it was gonna be a lot of work from us, just to come over and tour the country and get in people's face and pretty much be on the road and live on the road for as long as we can while we're here before we have to go back and tour Australia or tour the U.K. But it's good, it's a trip, man, I'll tell yah. Shit, it's a good time and there's crazy, crazy, beautiful shit that goes on [on] the road and goes on at our shows and happens between us as a band as friends. It's not ordinary; it's extraordinary. It's a trip, totally.

Titus: Can you elaborate on what some of that crazy shit is?

Kenny: Well, I guess it's just that we have a good time on the road. I think we enjoy what we do so we're not shy . . . Just like enjoying our ride and what we're doing with our lives at the moment. We're in a band that we adore and it gives us things that we need as individuals and as a group, and we get to rock the fuck out night after night and enjoy it and party and see the world and do our thing. It's a freedom that's cool. It's awesome. We're lucky. We're a bunch of lucky buggers.

Titus: How would you describe your band's sound?

Kenny: Ummmm, not like many others'. I think Karnivool's sound falls into many parts. It's progressive; I guess that's the closest one that springs to mind but, I don't know. It's a progressive sort of beast, I guest. It's a heavy, melodic, progressive thing. I don't know. That's my best answer for it.

Titus: What would you say your music is not?

Kenny: Ah, bloody good question. [laughs]. That's a great question! You've stumped me . . . . Hmmm. I don't know. I think what we do is catching us at our most soft of honest and vulnerable. I don't think we can fake one iota of what we do or who we are as a band. It's the most sort of free expression we have as people and as a collective, so, I don't know. I don't fully understand what this band is. I know why I'm in it, cuz I dig it, but I guess it's not like many other things. [laughs] I don't know. I don't know. I think we're a strange, strange bunch.

Titus: What was the band's goals with "Sound Awake"?

Kenny: I guess we wanted to follow up something after "Themata" [the band's 2005 debut album], but "Themata" did pretty great things for us back in our home territory. We basically wanted to follow up with something equally strong, equally as strong, equally as giving, I guess, as far as what we consider a whole record and a good record . . . We wanted to do something quite different from our first. We're not the type of band that likes to sort of repeat its steps. I guess the most important thing was that we wanted to create a whole record, not just a record that had, like, enough, like maybe three or four key tracks together that aligned. We actually wanted to create a body of work that you'd listen to from start to finish and kind of took you on a bit of a journey . . . we just wanted to create something that would draw people in and give them the option to get lost in in a piece of art, or what we consider art, I guess.

Titus: Can you tell me how the song "New Day" came together?

Kenny: It was kind of one of the first concepts, one of the first song ideas for the record. It was kicked around the studio in the first sessions for "Sound Awake" but it didn't really come to fruition [until] towards the end of the record. I guess it's definitely like a pivotal song on the album. It's definitely one of our favorites. It's got its message of hope, something we all feel very strongly about, the idea of hope for who we are and where we're going . . . it's just a song that we deliver and we all feel it every night we play it. It's a bit special for us.

Titus: How about "All I Know"?

Kenny: "All I Know," I think that kind of stemmed from some ideas that Jon [Stockman] had on his bass that kind of, I guess he had that whole sort of pulse to it, that whole sort of anchor . . . I guess was the birth of that song, and the rest of it was work-shopped around and has that whole ethereal, sort of floating feel to it. Yet again, that's a kind of bit of a call to arms again, I think, about what we could be capable of if we all get connected at some point as a race and as people, it'd be a collective conscience and a collective mind would be frigging phenomenally powerful if we harnessed that one day. I know we will, I'm just not sure the best way we'll get there with that.

Titus: Is there a particular philosophy that you guys study, or religion, or that's just your collective thinking?

Kenny: That's just our collective thinking but it's actually free thinking. I mean, we don't ever hold ourselves to any sort of [idea of] this or this or this. It's absolutely free thinking, and thinking of the bigger picture outside ourselves and what we're capable of and questioning everything. Questioning all of it and questioning where we're going and curiosity, too, of what really lies ahead of us all. It's a number of things but not really religion as such. If anything, I collectively think we're anti-religion. I think there's all kinds of pros in my experience, but that's not really a topic for us, as such.

Titus: When it comes to the lyrics, do you just handle those, or does the whole band contribute to that?

Kenny: I think it kind of stems from what I hear in the song. I kind of get a feeling for where it might be going and then start a direction. And then I guess once it's sort of shaping up and becoming a message or a story or whatever the fuck it ends up being, people start chipping in and then other quick final touches on things and letting it become its song. I think it's good. I think it's cool that everyone can sort of have their own say, because it definitely makes the band have its own fingers in the song, totally.

Titus: When will you guys feel that it's time to record a new record?

Kenny: We feel that now. As soon as we get our touring out of the way, I think we're touring for most of the year, or rest of the year, anyway. So at the end of the year and walking into the new year we'll be writing, and we've already started writing some things. But recording some time next year, pretty much.

Titus: Is it kind of continuous, when it comes to writing?

Kenny: Not so much. With "Sound Awake," we kind of, once we finished recording it, we didn't really write much for sort of six months after the record. Kind of getting a break from it, and then we started touring it, so it's coming now, it's coming into the time where we're feeling like we want to write for the next record and it happens when it happens, it shouldn't really be forced.

Titus: I think the last question that I have for you is, what do you wish that you would get asked about the band, but you're not?

Kenny: I guess the [good] questions are the ones that kind of stump you and make me think, like, "What makes the band tick?" It makes me think about what makes the band tick and lets me understand it all a bit better. Like you, you probably know the same, mundane shit questions that people fire at you that just don't really provide much of an answer. Did I answer that? I'm just having a bit of a rant, I think.

Titus: No, you answered fine. Do you get asked a lot of mundane stuff?

Kenny: I guess yes, but you gotta consider where it's coming from. If it's someone who's never heard of the band, then you've got to kind of go back to the beginning, and I don't think you can crack the shits with that, because people are introduced [to us] from all over the place. I consider us lucky that anyone take interest in the band and wants to know about the band, so if it's a basic sort of question like, "Where'd you come from? What's the name mean?," that sort of stuff, I think I kind of find a bit like, "Ah, whatever." But if it's the first time interviewing and you don't know shit about it I'm happy to talk about it. But I guess those questions where people say, "[If] you're a pencil, what color pencil would you be?" I don't fucking know. I don't even understand the relevance of questions like that. Things like that, they kind of piss me off.

Titus: Actually, I had a friend who suggested I ask you if the toilets actually flush backwards in Australia compared to here.

Kenny: They do.

Titus: They really do?

Kenny: And we've tested this theory many times. [laughs]

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