Perth prog-metal five-piece Karnivool have just kicked off the Themata Decade tour. It’s a massive run of dates around the country, which mark the ten-year anniversary of the band’s debut LP, Themata. By this point, it’s difficult to imagine Australian hard rock music without Karnivool, such was Themata’s indelible impact. In the subsequent ten years, the band have released just two further albums, but their popularity has continued to flourish. This prompts a touch of disbelief in Karnivool’s regularly boisterous frontman Ian Kenny.
“I’m surprised of anybody who’s committed to Karnivool,” he says. “We put records out every three or four years. We don’t plan to do it that way, but for some reason it seems that’s how long it takes to get the records to where we want them to be and get them right, but people are still in love with this band and still finding new things about this band, so it’s fascinating.”
Following Themata’s unexpected breakthrough, Karnivool spent the next couple of years touring Australia, as well as making inroads in the US and Europe. It wasn’t until 2009 that they returned with album number two, Sound Awake. Given the massive response to Themata, the band no doubt felt pressured to come up with a similarly impactful follow-up. However, Kenny denies that such considerations interfered with their creative process.“Themata came about the way it did and there was a certain process to that,” he says. “Each time we make a record we find that if we allow ourselves enough time to change as people, songwriters and musicians, then we can approach each record as fresh as we can. That seems to get results for us. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t that way, but it’s part and parcel with us.
“We have an understanding these days of what people can bring to the recording and writing process,” he continues. “We know our way around a record and how to approach it. But the creative process, actually getting material together that we consider is right and good enough, the band still doesn’t know how to do it, we just do it. It’s a language we speak to each other in, but no one knows what it means.” Accepting that patience is necessary for maintaining a high standard of output underlines Karnivool’s overall commitment to artistic integrity. See, although growing their following with each album release isn’t undesirable, it’s not the ultimate goal. “If getting bigger allows us to do this more and allows us to keep being the band we want to be, then hell yeah,” Kenny says. “But I think the conversation is more like ‘OK how do we keep this as interesting and as engaging as we can?’ and ‘How do we become a better band each time we commit to a record?’”
As soon as tickets went on sale, several shows on the Themata Decade tour sold-out (including three consecutive nights in Melbourne). Considering the band’s third LP – 2013’s Asymmetry – debuted at number one in the ARIA charts, this is hardly surprising. Still, it’s worth noting that Karnivool have never had anything that quite resembles a hit single. “I’m sure that would do great things for the band if we do have that big hit,” Kenny says, “but nowadays Karnivool is established in a different way. We never had those hits but we had songs that struck people in a certain way. That’s always been what’s got us to where we are.
“Thankfully in our beginnings we had a station like triple j, which would actually play something off [Themata],” he adds. “No other stations would touch it. Thankfully things like that were on our side and got us heard. Hit singles – it’s not that type of band. It’s a song-based band, it’s a record-based band and it’s been a bit of a movement more than just a couple of good strikes.”
The retrospective tour doesn’t signal this movement will soon come to an end. In fact, Kenny says the current tour has inspired a wave of enthusiasm among the band members: “Since we put out that we were going to do this tour, all the talk around us and our peers and our friends and family – everything around us leading to this tour – has been an absolute trip down memory lane to what that record meant to the band and what it meant to people at the time and what the band was.
“I don’t listen to the records a hell of a lot unless they’re brought up from someone else,” he continues, “but I adore them. I fucking love them to pieces just for what they are. When I listen to them, I very rarely listen to what my part is. I listen to the playing and the bits I love about whatever the rest of the guys have put into the record. [It reminds me] who we were back then. When I listen Themata, we were such a young band and it was just fucking all in, blind. We were bulldozing our way through. We didn’t understand what we were doing, but it’s all there on the record and I love it. I’m proud of it, I don’t really have any hang-ups about, ‘I wish I could’ve changed that’ or ‘I hate the way that sounds.’ I don’t have that relationship.”
For a full list of May tour dates, visit www.karnivool.com.au