Originally published online at BLUNT Magazine.
In 2005, after spending the better part of three long years toiling away in multiple locations writing and recording, Karnivool released their debut record Themata. Flash forward to a decade later, and the legacy of that album can be felt throughout the Australian music scene. So how do you celebrate an album widely considered to be a benchmark of alternative Australian music? You throw an anniversary tour, of course! “It’s something that’d come up while touring over the last few years, and something that we thought would be good to do,” explains frontman Ian Kenny. “As 2015 rolled around and with the anniversary right on our doorstep, we said of course we’ve got to do this. Themata was a record that was very important to us, and luckily it was important to a lot of other people as well.”
A decade later and the band is still dealing with the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the album, let alone the reaction to the tour. With multiple shows already sold out, the influence that Themata had – and still holds – on the Australian public is tangible. “It’s the one thing that will always come up when talking about Karnivool, because of the record it is,” says Kenny. “What it meant to people and what it is, it had an effect that we didn’t see coming as a band back then and it still has an effect on people.”
But the road to this album was definitely a long one – at its conception, the band consisted of Kenny and Drew Goddard only. In fact, Goddard performed most of the drums on the album, as long-time drummer Steve Judd hadn’t joined the band yet. “It was a cluster-fuck of a process. It had no order, no direction. We had no idea that it was going to open the door to a career that has led us to here, and the whole idea of Karnivool and what it is. It was a record that was going to be the first one Karnivool did, so we were going to get it right. We might have paused and thought, ‘Fuck, are we doing the right thing? How is this going to go?’ but it was only very brief, so we just kept working and doing what we were doing. We were getting so much out of it, and it took a lot to fucking do, but each week we were getting so much out it. The end result really got a reaction; it really busted the door open. I didn’t really understand that until years later, the effect the album had on people.”
While the album has some obvious reflections of alternative music of the early noughties – such as the nu metal trend of replacing C’s with K’s – the particular prog-rock sound of Karnivool was something else, something fresh and different that punters immediately gravitated towards. “We listened to a whole bunch of grunge, heavy rock and what I considered prog-rock bands like Soundgarden and things like that. I thought that was the coolest stuff at the time. A lot of the influences got thrown into the machine and came out washed, very washed, and with different sorts of colours. I can’t hear any of that in Karnivool. We’re a band that does a certain type of music in its own way, and it’s very much ours, but we definitely line up with a handful of bands in Australia that do a similar thing. But to be honest, it is just a handful; there aren’t many bands that do what we do.”
Looking back at the album a decade later, we asked Kenny if he had the chance to go back and change anything on it, would he do it? “Had you asked me that six months or twelve months after recording Themata I’m sure I would have had a list. But nah, fuck no. It is what it is. I think it’s a product of its time, for sure. It’d be a different record; it wouldn’t be the same thing.”
So after these tours, what does does the future hold for Themata and Karnivool? Will the band and their fans be looking back at the album in the same way 20 years after its release? While the response to this tour strengthens the staying power of Karnivool’s music, it also promotes the ever-lasting effect certain music can have with people. “What that record is and what it means to people, shit like that is pretty unmovable. It had an effect on people, and it stuck with them. The sound of the band changes as we release new stuff, but there’ll always be that little snapshot in time and that’s unmovable.”