Birds of Tokyo are taking off in the U.S. right now, but theirs is anything but an overnight success story.
The alternative rock group is grabbing traction with “Lanterns” (Republic), already a huge hit in the band’s homeland, Australia. This is much more than a border-crossing single. It’s taken the act from Perth, Western Australia, some four albums and a decade of graft to finally spread their wings abroad.
“Lanterns” was the most-played song in Australia for the year 2013 (according to Aircheck), and the album it was lifted from, “March Fires,” topped the ARIA albums chart following its release last March.
The song has been picked up by a number of American radio stations and is now playing throughout the country – and across formats (this week it bullets at No. 30 on Adult Alternative Songs and No. 34 on Alternative Songs). And it’s selling strongly in each of the main airplay markets, which augers well for a repeat of the Australian success.
For Birds of Tokyo and the act’s support team, it’s a win for old-school artist development, commitment, and hard work.
Billboard.com caught up with frontman Ian Kenny as his group lapped the U.S. on a radio promo tour. “’Lanterns’ seems to be connecting with people,” notes Kenny, who also takes the mic for rock outfit Karnivool. “What we have with our fans in Australia is pretty special. We are lucky to have such a great following. If we can experience the same connection with American audiences it would only make our path more exciting. The whole idea of music is to connect with people. To share something. Birds Of Tokyo is all about that.”
Birds of Tokyo’s popularity Down Under has followed a particular trajectory -- up. Each album has charted higher than the previous. Following two well-received, independently released studio albums (“Day One,” No. 88 in 2007; “Universes,” No. 3 in 2008), EMI issued the band’s self-titled third set in 2010, for a No. 2 peak on the Australian Recording Industry Assn. chart (beaten only by Eminem’s “Recovery”). “March Fires” went one better and is now gold-certified.
“For me it was just so obvious hearing ‘Lanterns’ for the first time that it was going to be a hit,” notes Southern Cross Austereo head of content Craig Bruce, whose network was a big supporter of the song in Australia. “Unfortunately anthemic rock songs are now few and far between on CHR radio, but ‘Lanterns’ had all the elements for success-emotive lyrics and a hook that sucked you in from the moment you heard it.”
The U.S. promotional picture is starting to take shape. Birds of Tokyo will play Jimmy Kimmel on April 8 and select radio shows in May prior to national touring in July and August. Birds of Tokyo are managed by John Watson, who has guided the international careers of Gotye, Silverchair, Missy Higgins and the early stages of Wolfmother.
And what’s Birds of Tokyo’s gameplan? “To be a better band. To be better song writers. To write songs that have a place in people's lives,” says Kenny. “Deep down we want to take this band as far and wide as possible. It feels like there's so much more to learn and discover as a band.”