Enough has been said about 2020 and the torrential shit storm it turned out to be, but what if I told you that four great oracles, from a land of birds and colours and bedroom pop, were the first to predict the approaching dark cloud that was this year?
In truth, I’m quite confident they’re not prophets sent from the future, but members of the now three-piece The World of Birds. Their 2019 track “2020” sure rang true when frontman Nic Preen sang the words “In 2020, you might miss me”, and while you’d think the band was now revelling in the sad satisfaction of being right, you’d be wrong. Instead, they’re taking this year and turning it into something wonderful, despite newest member Red Robyn’s decision to go her separate way, releasing their happy, synth-laden five-track EP Before The Sun Comes Up with refreshing charm.
I call Nic Preen up to chat more about the release, and straight away he tells me how proud they are of what they created. It began as the first proper body of work Preen and McCarthy brothers Ben (Mama Aiuto) and Connor (Daphné) set out to make with Red Robyn, who decided to join as a permanent band member at the beginning of the year. However as the stresses of 2020 started to take their toll, she decided she wanted to return to her home in Durban and re-centre. “I feel very close to her,” says Preen, “and if she came back I’d love that, but I also know how tough the industry grind is. We’ve got to respect her decision.”
“I think we all approached this EP wanting to find a new direction for our sound, which we did, and it was largely thanks to her. If she hadn’t have come on board with us things would have sounded very different,” he muses.
Nic sees it as a kind of celebration of their time together, saying, “I was actually living with Ash (Red Robyn) during the lockdown and she inspired me so much, especially because our voices are just so compatible with each other, it feels easy you know? It was a happy parting.”
The EP is full of detail, experimental down to the finest point, yet simultaneously washed over with a kind of sweetness that’s groovy-summery and happily current. Preen makes it clear to me that he didn’t want to release music just for the sake of it, even if the band did have nothing else to do this year. “The only thing musicians can do right now is record,” says Nic, “and they’re releasing a lot of music because they’ve got it, but I think there’s something lost in that.” Yet the band’s 2020 uneasiness isn’t felt one bit in their latest offering. In fact, Before The Sun Comes Up is surprisingly whole, taking listeners through a diverse range of sounds and vocal hooks that come together in a world of total harmony – their world.
Bar further Covid-19 delays the band hopes to tour Europe next year, and have already got some local shows lined up, including a gig at Park Acoustics in Pretoria next month. “We signed with Platoon records earlier this year, who pretty much saved us from total demise,” says Preen. “So we really want to give back to them what they gave to us, which is difficult because people just want to hear singles nowadays, and with the way streaming services work – pitching to different playlists, trying to get your music out to as many people as possible.” He pauses thoughtfully before continuing, “it’s all a game, and I guess that’s just how it is now.”
Still if there’s one thing Nic Preen knows how to do and do well, it’s ramp up a single, admitting that he does actually enjoy how freeing it is putting out one song after the other. “I don’t find myself going back and changing things which at first I was really in love with – practically frothing over. I think that’s why if we ever had to release a full length album we’d have to do the whole thing in a week. Sometimes I just get really tempted to leak all our music as soon as it’s done because of how I excited I get, but then I realize that would be pretty tragic for all the parties involved.”
We wrap the interview up talking about the band’s opening gig for A-ha in February, as Nic explains to me, “I don’t really get nervous before big shows like that. It’s the small venues that freak me out. But then once we start playing it’s like there’s no one else in the room besides us four. We’re in our own little world.”
Thinking about it now, maybe it is that future-filled world with birds and colours and indie outfits – at least that’s how I imagine it – but I suppose the only way you’re going to find out is if you let The World of Birds take you there themselves. It must be one hell of a ride.
Image courtesy of Bradley Vermaak.