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Karnivool 2009
From The Vault

Re-awakening the sound: Karnivool’s 2009 BLUNT interview

To celebrate over a decade of their iconic sophomore record Sound Awake, Perth titans Karnivool have announced a special one-off livestream event. Filmed at Perth’s Heath Ledger Theatre and beamed to a screen near you, the event is set to honour the formidable record, and indeed the decades-spanning career of the band, in full high definition glory. Watchers on can also expect to catch new material from the group, as well as the first ever performance of fan-favourite ‘Fade’ caught on film. To mark the event, we cracked open the Blunt Magazine vault, and found this beauty from 2009, the year Sound Awake rose.

Perth’s Karnivool have been hard at work on their second album, Sound Awake, for the better part of four years. Vocalist Ian Kenny tells BLUNT’s Rod Yates what took so long…

Karnivool are not a band to do things by halves. Take, for example, their two-month tour of the US in 2008. With nothing but a cramped and increasingly stinky van for transport, the Perth quintet navigated their way across America, up into Canada and back again, traversing more than 27,000 miles and performing 48 gigs in the process. There would be moments, says vocalist Ian Kenny, where they’d be driving through the Bible Belt and giant billboards would appear preaching that “Hell is Real” – something they surely didn’t need reminding of on some of the more arduous treks between shows. Most of the gigs were attended by between 300 and 1000 people, meaning that Australian fans must now share Karnivool with an international audience – a situation they’d best get used to thanks to the release of the band’s second album, Sound Awake.

Four years on from 2005’s Themata – which, at 32,000 copies sold, is only a whisper away from being certified gold – ask Kenny the reason for the new album’s long gestation and he’ll remind you that throughout that period, Karnivool were busy being a working band. Then there was his involvement with Birds of Tokyo, the Perth-based act whom he also fronts. But, he’ll add, there is another reason, one that cuts to the heart of how seriously the five-piece treat their art.

“We set the bar really high,” he offers. “It took three years to come up with something we were ultimately in love with. We wrote a whole bunch of stuff over a few years and just culled it down a number of times and built up what we thought was the record we wanted to put out. We wrote enough to put out two or three records, but we just culled it down to one sort of…not the correct record, but what was right for now.”

Rewind five years, and things were a lot different for the vocalist and his bandmates – guitarists Drew Goddard and Mark Hosking, bassist Jon Stockman and drummer Steve Judd. Prior to the release of Themata, Kenny was still working as a carpenter, a trade he’s been able to put to one side with the success of his musical pursuits. Ask Kenny why it is that people have taken to his band, and he shrugs. “We kind of take pride in that we try and put ourselves outside any musical blocks and just try and offer something provocative and different. So maybe that’s attractive to people, and they’re drawn to something a bit different and a bit new maybe.”

“I think we’ve achieved something that will really cement the Karnivool name again.”

Ian Kenny, Blunt Magazine 2009.

The obvious temptation when writing the follow-up to Themata would have been to reproduce its winning formula. Sound Awake, however, is a different beast from its predecessor – dense and less immediate, the easy hooks of the debut have been replaced by ones you must dig for to hear.

“I think we’ve achieved something that will really cement the Karnivool name again,” muses the frontman. “I don’t think there’s too much going on around us that sounds anything like what we’ve done on this record. It’s challenging, it’s emotive and we’re all very happy with it.”

“There’s some fairly heavy layering going on, it’s not just your straight-up two-guitars, bass, drum and vocals,” he continues. “When you actually sit down and listen, all the colours are quite vibrant, they’re all shining through and are at the right stage.”

Lyrically, the album finds Kenny ruminating on issues that have affected the lives of those around him, mixed in with a dash of social commentary. The process of penning the lyrics was, however, a more abstract one than in the past.

“[The words] presented themselves as these cool lines and made sense, but I couldn’t actually pin down why I was writing this stuff out,” explains Kenny. “It’s funny, really, I didn’t understand a lot of what was coming out until the record was mixed and finalised and I could hear it in its entirety track by track. It’s some sort of weird foresight from two years ago, really bizarre. It’s really unorthodox. I don’t think I’ll ever understand it.”

The danger when bands take too much time between albums is that their fans might forget about them. Any fears in that department were allayed recently when Karnivool announced a June/July tour and then watched most of the dates sell out. For Kenny, the band’s ability to play pretty much anywhere in Australia safe in the knowledge that people will turn up is one of the most satisfying things about the band’s success. It’s a long way from the days when Karnivool would open for metal acts such as Strapping Young Lad and Sepultura, and had to endure the less-than-warm reception afforded by the diehard crowd.

“Some of the punters back in the day didn’t like the lighthearted side of some of our songs. I think they were really offended by it,” chuckles Kenny. “It was hilarious. But these are all challenging things. It makes your band stronger. The best thing to do is just play your set and blow the heads off the rest of the people standing behind this asshole shouting stuff at you, and you kind of win them over and that guy just ends up looking like a tool.”

The strategy worked, as evidenced by the band’s album sales and rapidly growing fanbase. The expectation now, though, is that Sound Awake will continue that upward trajectory. Contemplating what he hopes to achieve with Sound Awake – a gold album perhaps? – and Kenny takes a second to think.

“Sure, those things are great, that’d be really cool,” he offers. “But at the end of the day, if we can continue to make records we’re content with and keep touring the country and overseas and keep enjoying the ride, it’s all a bonus. The five of us just love to get out there and present what we do live. We pride ourselves on doing the best we can.”

Karnivool – A Decade of Sound Awake Livestream Event

Tickets available now.

Wednesday, 12th May
Tickets: Karnivool