Issue #011 (May 2005)
Architecture In Helsinki
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Interview by Vaughan Healey

There is something in the myth of rock about the camaraderie of the band, the magic power that emerges from the combination of egos and talents. A band at its best is a collective force whose whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and watching a good band is like witnessing a localised zeitgeist: the individual energies coalesce into a new form that feeds back, and pushes the band and audience into unchartered territory. If you are lucky.

That charismatic energy lies in the heart of Melbourne octet Architecture In Helsinki. In the flesh, an AIH show can be a bewildering ride through dynamic tempo changes, finger clicks and swapped instruments. You never really know who is going to sing or what will happen next, and somehow the eight-piece juggles this anarchic structure with a music class worth of instruments and staging rearrangements.

Their second album, In Case We Die brings the thrills and spills of an Architecture In Helsinki show into your own home. Produced by vocalist Cameron Bird and drummer James Cecil, the album was recorded at the band�s own studio lair, the mysteriously named Supermelodyworld. The album is concise, clocking in at around 40 minutes. Co-producer and drummer James Cecil explains the length as a matter of preference. �Sometimes long albums really work, but we�re really into making a short album that flows from start to finish � and as we release it on vinyl that�s another reason to keep it that length. Structurally, the album has a side A and B as well.�

In Case We Die is compact, but doesn�t feel short. Arrangement and structure follow their own complex internal logic as songs sprint through verse and chorus lines, surprising reprises, schizophrenic breakdowns and shouty refrains that can occasionally resemble a primal-therapy encounter session. It raises the question: how does an iconoclastic 8-piece arrange music? Are things planned, or is it more a process of jamming out songs?

�Sometimes it works like that, but then often Cameron brings songs to the band fully arranged. As the recording process goes, obviously things get fleshed out; you may have started out with a particular thing in mind but that might change,� explains Cecil.

Is it a democratic process? Do people ever get annoyed when they are told what to play? �It�s pretty flexible because most people in the band can play multiple instruments,� Cecil says. �If there is a part to be played, generally anyone in the band can play that part. When it comes to playing our songs live, if someone really wants to play something then they can just jump in first and grab that.

�Cameron writes all the songs, and the records are produced by myself and Cameron. Because we do the recording and production by ourselves we tend to think of songs in terms of recording, and think of the production in terms of melody and lyrics. A song might take shape and will work on its own level as a song, but will also have its own ideas about how it will sound.�

The twists and turns throughout the album, combined with the eclectic instruments, could easily result in something sounding cluttered or confused, but instead the album is held together with imagination and a strong production aesthetic. Grand stylistic gestures are unified through the band�s clear vision, where function follows form. Which brings things back to Supermelodyworld.

�It�s a studio we run ourselves with a bunch of instruments and a mixing desk and microphones,� says Cecil. �We recorded the album there. We are definitely advocates of having the time to try things that you can�t when you are paying $1,000 a day.�

Take the title track. 'In Case We Die' (the song) is a 3�33� pop song which skirts through four-parts without losing its way. Is there a little bit of magic at Supermelodyworld? �A little bit of magic, a little bit of mould. During the recording of the album we has a leak from the plumbing next door. We had to get the mop out and get our hands wet, but we�ve put everything up on shelves now. Computers don�t take too kindly to getting wet. But it�s a fully functioning studio now, we�re open for business!�

The release of In Case We Die comes two years after their debut LP Fingers Crossed. While generally well-received, Fingers Crossed failed to properly capture the energy of the group. �That was one of the criticisms of the last album. We definitely had a few agendas with this album in response to the reactions of a few people to the last album. I think it�s a bit less twee and a bit less light than the last one.�

Listening back, Fingers Crossed sounds apprehensive and a bit shaky. �The last record was about us finding our voices, it was the first time that Cameron had sung on a record and the first time we had made an album,� Cecil concedes. �I think this time around Cameron has found himself as a songwriter, and the playing has really improved, so there is much more of a solid foundation.�

In Case We Die is both clearer and more idiosyncratic than its predecessor. The bands presence is stronger, something apparent in the physicality of the playing and vocals. It sounds like a band confident in their singular approach, and who has benefited from regular touring around Australia, developing a feverish fan base in the process. 2004 also saw the band tour the US, and score a couple of high profile support slots for the likes of David Byrne and The Polyphonic Spree. According to drummer James, the tour with David Byrne was significant. �Talking Heads, since I was about 12, was one of the few bands I have constantly listened to and appreciated on new levels. Also, David Byrne has been responsible for so much good music; his label Luaka Bop has reissued so much amazing stuff that has been a big influence on myself and the rest of the band.�

Talking Heads and in particular, Tom Tom Club, a side project by members of Talking Heads, are an obvious point of reference for Architecture In Helsinki. Both groups consist of an extended line-up and have a predilection for colourful cover-art. But while Tom Tom Club are fast becoming canonised for their punk funk grooves, Architecture In Helsinki render a much more subtle homage by performing delicate yet coquettish songs without being slaved to the rhythm.

2004 also saw the band tour the US and Canada with emo rockers Death Cab For Cutie. �Those shows were huge; we were playing to 2,500 people. We played on the east and west coasts, and one show in Canada, and we are hoping to go back in June this year.� I suggest that touring a group of eight can�t be easy. �We�re trying to think of better approaches to some of the things that we did on the last tour � the logistics, like car hire.�

Moving an entourage of eight around on tour isn�t cheap, but at least those dead hours spent in transit offer an opportunity to share some music, and in that sense, the more the merrier. �On tour, we spend a lot of down time sharing mix-tapes and swapping music.�

Earlier this year, the band got the chance to transmit a typical Architecture In Helsinki mixtape when programming an hour of radio for JJJ. Cutting between the Wu Tang Clan and Can via Morricone and AOR mainstay Hall & Oates, makes for interesting listening and sheds some light on Architecture In Helsinki�s record collections and what feeds their music. �We all listen to a wide range of music and we try to capture a range of feelings from that. We have a shared vocabulary of production, so by the time we went into the studio to record In Case We Die, Cameron and I had a hit-list of the tracks that were doing it for us.

�We always try to avoid boxing ourselves in to any particular style and I think this album takes us out of any particular pigeonhole. The last album got the twee indie pop label attached to it, but we like to think that people can approach our music without a preconceived notion of what they are going to get. I think it has been pretty successful on that level.�

It can be easy to label Architecture In Helsinki �twee indie pop�, but that�s missing the point. The music is celebratory and honest, almost a reaction to both the acute individualism of DJs and laptop warriors, as well as the melancholic conceits of shoegazer guitar bands. These guys know how to rock out, and they want you to have fun while they do it.

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A Quick Q&A Primer

Name: Cameron Bird aka Bird-Dog aka CB aka Excitable Misunderstood Genius (according to a Wu name simulator).
Instrument(s): Voice, axe, plastic ivory, assorted clunks, dreamer of pyrotechnics.
Zodiac: The fish. I am passive aggressive, creative and almost sensitive.
Place of Birth: Carlton via outback Australia.
Which number child were you in your family? I was a Siamese twin so it was a dead heat.
Which note is a perfect fourth down from C? The what? I only just learnt the names of the strings.
When should you clap during a concert presented by a symphony
orchestra?
When you have woken up half way through the second movement.
Do you judge people on first impressions? As much as it is human nature, I try not to dislike men with permed hair.
How far would you go on a first date? I went to Northern Queensland.
Do you believe in life after death? For sure, there are two evil spirits in my cupboard. My friend Dave thinks they're his grandparents.
Architecture in Helsinki is� 8 brown belt karate enthusiasts with a penchant for crescendos.

Name: Ron 'The Hammer' Harding
Instrument(s): Hammer-On Guitars � mainly
Zodiac: Leo� headstrong ... for Hammering-On ... hard!
Place of Birth: Guitarkus...it's a planet in Galaxy GX20375.
Which number child were you in your family? Number 2s
Which note is a perfect fourth down from C?Maaan ... I don't Hammer-off ...like, down the fretboard or somethin' craaazy like that... I only Hammer-On!
When should you clap during a concert presented by a symphony
orchestra?
As long as it's in time to the song ... who fuckin� cares man!
Do you judge people on first impressions? You're okay by me, man ... don't freak out on me, now.
How far would you go on a first date? All the way ... always.
Do you believe in life after death? Y'know, there was this one time I was Hammering-On, like, this totally wicked lick, and flicked my hair back and a bit went in my mouth and, like, almost totally choked me. And that was, like, the closest I've ever been to dying. So yeah, I'd say I'll go somewhere or do something after I choke on the big one.
Architecture in Helsinki is� a bunch of fuckin' pussies!

Name: Isobel
Instrument(s): Trumpet
Zodiac: UFO
Place of Birth: Very close to where we played on April 28.
Which number child were you in your family? First and last.
Which note is a perfect fourth down from C? What are you really asking? Are they music-school dropouts? Gee ... I don't know.
When should you clap during a concert presented by a symphony
orchestra?
When they use the harp and the timpanis.
Do you judge people on first impressions? I have a category system.
How far would you go on a first date? No more than 5km, unless I was really into them � then maybe I�d cross the river.
Do you believe in life after death? I believe in life after birth and death after life � and zombies � and memories.
Architecture in Helsinki is� busting to play at your birthday party. Call us.

Name: James Trelawny Buck Cecil, aka J-Legs, Jimmy Sessions, Silky Cecil, Cecilios, Cutiepie, Uncle James.
Instrument(s): Percussions, Guitar, Keyboards, Amplifiers, Transducers, Computer, Percolator.
Zodiac: Crab
Place of Birth: Fitzroy
Which number child were you in your family? One
Which note is a perfect fourth down from C? Gee ... that's tough.
When should you clap during a concert presented by a symphony
orchestra?
When everybody else does.
Do you judge people on first impressions? Yes, although it may be revised.
How far would you go on a first date? There.
Do you believe in life after death? Only until you reach complete oneness with the universe. After that it's immaterial, baby...
Architecture in Helsinki is� fully cosmic.

Name: Jamie
Instrument(s): guitarbasskeysfluteglockmelodica
Zodiac: Balance
Place of Birth: Dubbo, NSW
Which number child were you in your family? Last
Which note is a perfect fourth down from C? A-
When should you clap during a concert presented by a symphony
orchestra?
All the way through, keeping time.
Do you judge people on first impressions? Only every third Wednesday.
How far would you go on a first date? Kilometres.
Do you believe in life after death? Why not?
Architecture in Helsinki is� something far, far away.

Name: Kellie
Instrument(s): Keyboards, vocals, clarinet.
Zodiac: I�m in the special league of Capricorn (props to Jan birthday crew, werd) .
Place of Birth: Sydney, Australia.
Which number child were you in your family? Number 2 of 2.
Which note is a perfect fourth down from C? Pass.
When should you clap during a concert presented by a symphony
orchestra?
In time. You should always clap in time.
Do you judge people on first impressions? It depends on how drunk I am.
How far would you go on a first date? As above.
Do you believe in life after death? Nope.
Architecture in Helsinki is� a near death experience.

Name: Sam Huckle Von Perry
Instrument(s): Bass and Guitar, little drums and keys
Zodiac: I'm a Ram.
Place of Birth: Charlton, Victoria
Which number child were you in your family? 2
Which note is a perfect fourth down from C? G, maybe. Can anyone in our band answer this?
When should you clap during a concert presented by a symphony
orchestra?
At the end of a movement.
Do you judge people on first impressions? Unfortunately, yes. Usually I'm right. I'm pretty good with that shit.
How far would you go on a first date? A kiss, maybe. If I like her!
Do you believe in life after death? No.
Architecture in Helsinki is� Where the downward and the upward spiral meets(?)

Name: Shack-T
Instrument(s): Tuba, trombone, key bs and bvs
Zodiac: I don't know. May 26.
Place of Birth: Warrnambool
Which number child were you in your family? Two
Which note is a perfect fourth down from C? Is this a trick question?
When should you clap during a concert presented by a symphony
orchestra?
Only in the big gaps.
Do you judge people on first impressions? Oh, immediately.
How far would you go on a first date? It was a long time ago.
Do you believe in life after death? I think I do.
Architecture in Helsinki is� a pop-rock combo.


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