As we sat down in the band room of the Southgate House, Cameron Bird of Architecture in Helsinki was convinced that the Americans had a conspiracy to mess with his head. “We’ve only done three interviews in America,” he informed me. “And every single person has been wearing a Decemberists tshirt.” I guess that makes me lucky number three. Immediately after he said this, bandmate Gus Franklin pointed out that there was, in fact, a Decemberists sticker on the wall next to him. “Okay,” said Cameron, “this is freaking me out.”
But being chased by the ghost of other bands isn’t a first for Architecture in Helsinki. Since they burst onto the scene, they’ve been drawing some pretty wild comparisons. Their most recent work, In Case We Die has often been described as Arcade Fire and The Fiery Furnaces writing songs for children. So it comes as no surprise to me that this is the first place the conversation goes. While he was flattered by the comparisons, Gus didn’t see their music as that easy to pin down. “In the current climate, I guess those bands are sort of together. In some songs we chop and change quickly like the Fiery Furnaces, but other than that…I just don’t see it.” Cameron was was quick to pop in as well with his opinion on the childlike quality of their sound, “I guess that our music has a playful quality and maybe a sense of humor that people deem childlike. A lot of popular music is earnest and as soon as you do something not earnist, they kinda get attacked.”
Somehow I don’t think a sense of humor begins to describe Architecture in Helsinki. This octet from Melbourne, Australia was raised with a healthy base eclectic sounds that would eventually blossom into one of the most creative bands on the scene today. Something that helped to round out their sound was their numerous members. Cameron sums up the large band approach like this – “We like the communal aspect of the recording process where you have so many friends who are really amazing and talented and you know are going to bring something to the recording process.” It’s pretty hard to argue with that. And yes, they’re followers of the Elephant 6 Recording Company. Much like E6, most of their members also play in other bands, but come together to make music. To put it in Gus’ words, “we would never close ourselves off and say ‘this is what our band should be.'”
One of the biggest things that Architecture in Helsinki has done so far was to tour with one of their idols – David Byrne. When asked if they thought the roles might ever be reversed and one day a young band might be excited to meet them, the modesty kicked into high gear. Cameron’s immediate response? A simple and curt, “I doubt it.” Gus expanded upon their doubt by adding that anyone who met them would simply spend five minutes with them and say “those guys are complete dorks.” I would have pointed out that David Byrne was once an art school student with a 70s bowl cut; but I’ll let them be modest.
However you chose to look at Architecture in Helsinki, one thing is clear – when it comes to songwriting, they’re big on change. “It’s important to us to have a degree of spontinaity,” says Cameron. “The first album was us trying to work out what we were doing and had a genuine naivity to it because none of us had ever recorded before. But the second album was a lot more focused and we knew what we wanted to do.”
It’s that kind of spontinaity that lead to such obscure tracks as Find Your Power Animal, which appears on the Do the Whirlwind EP. When asked if this song has anything to do with the cult movie Fight Club, both Cameron and Gus are quick to laugh. Cameron explain that “when we called it that, it wasn’t. I later found out that it’s used in Fight Club, but the reference was James’ girlfriend was telling us about how she’d been on a retreat where she’d had to find her power animal – which was a penguin, for the record. So James and I were locked up in a recording studio one night and sorta jammed.”
Before I let them go for the night, I have just one more question for them – how they feel about the internet. Cameron summed up the pros and cons like this, “the internet has made it a lot easier for indie bands. Although people would say it’s a curse, because it’s hard to sell records when people download them, but it also means that people hear them. So we can play a show here where we’d expect there to be three people, but there’s a lot.” After a thoughtful pause, he then added “Elements of it are kinda scary, but at least people are listening to it”.
Isn’t that the understatement of the century?