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Interview: Karnivool on their Sound Awake livestream and long-awaited new album

Karnivool
(Image credit: Kane Hibberd)

We feel confident in calling Karnivool's Sound Awake the greatest progressive rock album of the last 25 years. But celebrating the 2009 masterpiece's tenth anniversary with a tour proved such a challenge with the onset of the pandemic, the Australian five-piece are only now able to do it with the help of what will be a very special livestream on Wednesday 12 May. With staggered global showings to enable as many fans to see it as possible.

"We resisted the idea of a livestream for so long," guitarist Mark 'Hoss' Hosking admits to us. "Honestly it was something that we didn’t think fit with the band, or what we do, we are a band that is all about the live show, but for us it’s more than 50% the energy that we receive back from the crowd so to do a show in an empty room to viewers at the other end of a network cable really didn’t gel with us and the resistance was strong."

So the band's hand was forced, and it got them thinking. 

"As you do in these times you adapt," adds Hoss. "Your patience runs out and you start to think the impossible is possible. To just let the entire tour fall over without getting out of our home city felt a little defeatist, so we did want to mark the occasion somehow, with some good planning and some ideas on how to make the livestream a little more than your average livestream we got to work on making it just that, something special we could be proud of."

Karnivool

Karnivool perform on stage at the Fremantle Arts Centre on March 13, 2021 in their hometown of Perth, Australia (Image credit: Matt Jelonek/WireImage)

As the clip of album favourite Goliath below shows, the performance is looking like a typically Voolian affair with stunning audio capturing the intricate layers of the band and visuals that will do a monumental album proud. And they'll be playing new material too. We found out more from Hoss, and yes, we also asked about Karnivool's long-awaited fourth album… 

Karnivool  - The Decade Of Sound Awake Worldwide Livestream Event takes place on 12 May, 2021. For tickets visit Karnivool

What was the experience like for you guys compared to a normal gig?

"I guess there is no comparison. Live performance for us is all about the tidal response that an audience gives you and feeding off those energies. The livestream is a completely different style of show, almost a tribute to what everyone has had to endure over the last couple of years due to the pandemic. 

"I’m not sure the livestream would have worked had we not been able to carry across the energy of the two Perth shows, the only two shows we actually got to perform on the tour - getting to play in front of thousands of humans on multiple nights in our hometown definitely gave us the energy we needed to make the livestream happen in a theatre with just ourselves for company!"

Did it allow you to explore areas of stage production you haven’t before?

"Yeah I think it did. We have always liked to push the boundaries on what a live show can and cannot be, but I guess despite the resistance once you get set up in a beautiful space like the Heath Ledger Theatre you have to make the most of it and creative ideas begin to happen. We pushed as hard as we could to make the show the best we could in the circumstances and are very proud to be presenting what we have for everyone on Wednesday 12 May.

What songs from Sound Awake do you feel have evolved the most onstage over the years?

"I think they all have over the ten years of performing them. Songs have a way of doing that I think. It’s strange how they seemed to reach a solid performance level around 4-5 years in and then we had to turn them on their heads a little to keep them not only interesting for the audience but for ourselves to perform repeatedly.

"So the songs have changed in their own way, sometimes very subtly but I do remember playing almost all of those songs very differently, it’s a nice growth and a very organic one that really is the reflection of playing them in front of a crowd, letting the crowd dictate what a song needs to do to change and survive a decade."

You play a rarely played older song called Fade from your Persona EP in the set, was it fun and could it become a setlist fixture again?

"Fade is always fun to play, it’s raw and innocent and packs a lot of energy into a quick song. It also represents the roots of the band in a few ways and what it lacks in finesse, it repays with in potential, you can see what the band had coming I think in a few parts of that song. Probably not a regular fixture by any means, so hoping people enjoy seeing it on the livestream."

Looking back to your rig from the first Sound Awake tour, how much has changed?

"Oh! Everything has changed. We’re a pretty technical band so we like to move with the times and try and keep up to date where possible. I guess in saying that some things stick the test of time and have amazingly survived a decade of touring (all be it with some replacement parts). 

"Our guitars I think are the only solids that don’t change, a little worse for wear these days, there’s dents, scratches and scars that literally remind me of certain gigs around the world which is pretty cool."

Some things you just cannot replicate live but I think in the name of live music you have to try and moving things around to get as ‘live’ as they possibly can be I think has made for a better performance

Any recent additions and gear that’s inspiring you? 

"We used to run a lot of sonics with samples and backing tracks, we have been moving that off to make the show more and more live as we go - which has been rewarding. Some things you just cannot replicate live but I think in the name of live music you have to try and moving things around to get as ‘live’ as they possibly can be I think has made for a better performance. 

"We’re all on Fractal Axe-FX now – Jon, Drew and I and we’re always programming and changing things in the box. More guitars… always more guitars, they are definitely inspiring as far as new tunings, sounds, feels go even on some older songs to give them new life. Always on the lookout for the next best thing to inspire us.

As much as we love the studio, we love to think of ourselves more as a live experience and hopefully we get that across on this livestream

You’ve road tested new songs live before, will there be any in the setlist?

"Yes! In the background we have been working away in our lovely little studio, nothing to report as far as solid release dates or anything even like that (sorry!), but we continue every day to add to the pile and build, build, build. 

"We love playing unreleased material, stuff that the crowd doesn’t fully know, getting their responses to things and challenging, challenging, challenging people musically. You can expect to hear something that’s for sure!"

Plenty of artists are reluctant to preview any new songs live because of YouTube but how important is working on and evolving new material onstage to the process of making an album for you? 

"For us it is paramount. Again, more to do with that energy thing, I think. We need to know if the songs are working live and it’s a very important element in all our songs, we need to know not only if listeners get them but if we can actually make them sound how they are supposed to sound.

"I think if we couldn’t replicate a song live as it should be we would need to go back and assess what we are trying to do with that song and why we couldn’t do that. Live is such an important element in music for us, as much as we love the studio, we love to think of ourselves more as a live experience and hopefully we get that across on this livestream."

Has the band had much chance to work together during the last year and how has remote working evolved for you?

"Remote writing and recording is nothing new to us. We are a band that has lived thousands of kms apart for many years, writing via email, internet, shared hard drives. We haven’t been together as much as we would like in the last 12 months that is for certain, but where we can we have made it work, utilising as much studio time as we could. 

"We are a band that needs to spend just as much time away from the studio as in the studio I think for these songs to come together how we need them to – if that makes any sense – and that has made things a little easier for us over the challenging recent past."

Is there any audio technology that has made that process easier now? 

"I feel like we are still a little away from the tech we need for real time cyber jamming to be effective. There are some platforms out there that allow for sort of ‘beat behind’ jamming live, and conference calling and the like in groups has certainly become the norm and doesn’t feel as alien as it did a few years ago. Seems quite commonplace to video call in a group, chat about things like you’re in the same room.

"Little portable setups for recording have been great for us travelling around in the past, all the Avid Pro Tools range of various boxes and software have allowed us to record in many crazy places around the world. I'm trying to build my own VR Unreal Engine jam space with fun midi applicable ins and outs, but nothing is the same as some real face to face time, and that’s what is hardest to achieve these days. But we keep trying."

And finally, is there any news at all that you can reveal to fans on the status of the next record?  

"We haven’t stopped. We haven’t rested. It is on our minds daily and we are powering, energised to get all this new music we have written and released. Do we have a date release for you? No. But know that we have hard drives full of some of the best music we have ever written, and with some serious work and some patience (I know it sucks) we will have something worthwhile for you all as soon as we physically.. and mentally can."

Karnivool  - The Decade Of Sound Awake Worldwide Livestream Event takes place on 12 May, 2021. For tickets visit Karnivool

Rob Laing

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before that I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar.