In the four years since Ása Berezny (vocalist/guitarist/primary songwriter), and drummer Sam Heggum-Truscott began playing together, Kingdom of Birds have released an EP and three full-length albums. They’re currently working on their next recording, scheduled for release later in 2019. “Our self-titled EP was released in 2017, and I’d say that was our first professional recording,” says Berezny. “The first two albums were early, kind of demo-y stuff.”
When you hear that old music industry saw, “You have your whole life to write your first record, and six months to write your second,” you might assume “your whole life” means somewhere between 18 and 25 years. Kingdom of Birds didn’t take nearly that long to sort out what they wanted to say musically, how to say it, and ultimately, how to put it out there. Both the EP and Kingdom of Birds’ third full record, Pretty, came out in 2017, which is a significant amount of work and output for any band. But, given that Ása and Sam are 16 and 11 years old, respectively, it’s pretty remarkable.
Granted, Heggum-Truscott, Berezny, and 16-year-old bassist Ewan Fotheringham (who joined the band in February of 2018) have had ample support for their musical endeavours. They all have supportive families, who encouraged them to take up music early on, and Sam and Ása studied at Toronto’s Red House Music Academy. “We both took lessons, and Ása and I were in a band together there,” says Sam. “Then we just took it out of school and started doing our own thing.”
Onstage and on record, that’s something they do with a degree of self-possession that belies their age. “A lot of that came from going to Red House,” says Berezny. “My teacher was tough… but he made me a more confident musician.” That confidence is evident in their compact, no-nonsense arrangements and tight performances. So much so that people are often surprised at their age. “There’s a little bit of that,” Ewan admits. “Yeah,” Sam adds, “but we’re getting older.”
Over time the band has evolved substantially, experimenting with a more heavily layered sound on one record, and adding Moscow Apartment‘s Brighid Fry on keyboards and violin for a time, before settling on their current lineup. Original bassist Zeul Mordasiewicz, Ása explains, also left to focus on a songwriting project of his own. “But he helped us get Ewan to replace him, so it wasn’t that hard. And Ewan’s a fast learner – he had two weeks in the band, I think, before playing our first show. So this, in my opinion, is the best-fitting lineup we’ve had. I think it takes awhile to find people you really work well with.
Ása’s tips for beginners
- “Stick with it until you get to a point where you can play a song and it sounds like a song. That’s when it really gets satisfying.”
- “Remember that you don’t have to be amazing at your instrument to be able to make good music.”
- “You have to be really motivated, especially when you start out. You can’t wait around for someone to give you a show. You have to actively seek them.”
“We also take more time now to discuss how songs should develop,” she continues. “Before we’d say, ‘These are the chords’ to Ewan, then Sam would start playing along, and that would be the end of the discussion. Now we start like that, then talk about everything we liked and didn’t like; to make it better and make it flow properly.”
As a songwriter, Ása cites Radiohead and Nick Cave as two of her primary influences. “I saw a documentary about Nick Cave, One More Time with Feeling, where he talks about never wanting to throw away any lines, so I’m taking a lot more time with songwriting now. I try to get to a point where I’m happy with all of the stuff lyrically. When I started, my songs were very simple. I’d sit down and write one in half an hour, just like verse-chorus-verse-chorus. Now I experiment more with dissonant sounds, and making up chord shapes. So it’s grown a lot.”
Each member is equally dedicated to honing their chops and progressing as a unit, and can’t foresee a time when they’d leave music behind. Sam, however, does offer one caveat: “I’d never give up on music, but I started playing baseball and drums pretty young, so I’m really into baseball, too.” He has major-league aspirations when it comes to the sport, but right now there’s room for the two pursuits. And his dual focus allows him to develop qualities that foster excellence in both: “Being focused and being dedicated,” he says.