Features | Interviews

Architecture In Helsinki

By Aaron Newell | 8 November 2004

I recently had the chance to interview-quiz Cameron Bird, the brains behind Melbourne-based pop conglomerate Architecture in Helsinki. Cameron was especially nice to do this seeing as how I called him an “off-key faerie castrato” in my review of the band’s debut Fingers Crossed. CMG interrupted the pop conductor’s Masta Killa listening party in order to get this feature and, as you’d expect, a certain streetwise edge presents throughout his answers. We give Cam an 89% for the interview. He lost points for the John Stamos bit.

Fingers Crossed is out on Trifekta in Australia, Bar/None in North America, and is one of the most unique pop albums you’ll hear in 2004. For more information on Cameron and company, see: www.aih.rocks.it

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(CMG's Aaron Newell) True or False: "off-key faerie castrato" is the biggest compliment you’ve received for your singing on Fingers Crossed?


(Cameron Bird) TRUE: Castrato, well I'm not sure if that’s a compliment. People always freak out at my voice. I mean, I can’t reach Prince's heights, but it is not uncommon for reviewers to refer to me as a female vocalist! And as for key…HA! We use Autotune; but only so we’ll sound like Destiny's Child.

True or False: Fingers Crossed is based in large part on a band member’s experience of having a confused romantic affair with someone who should have been otherwise engaged?

FALSE: All my lyrics are about fictional relationships and scenarios that I create (with a couple of minor exceptions). I am very interested in the role of the lyricist as a storyteller, but not in a traditional sense. More like keeping the listener wondering with little abstracts from romances and random half thoughts. I think the best lyrics are the ones with an air of mystery.

True or False: Your vocals are delivered in such a gamine manner in order to lend an air of innocence and/or child-like sincerity to the record?

FALSE: I look at the making of Fingers Crossed as a learning process. It was the first time I had ever recorded my voice. I’ve really only been singing for a few years, so to hear it back it often irks me. I mean, I don't sing like that as much now. I like vocals with a bit more gusto. I think the innocence or naivety in our voices on the record is in many ways quite natural; we didn't have much of an idea where it was going or what the hell we were even doing behind the mic.

Multiple Choice: The assembling of a somewhat elaborate recording cast was:
A) spontaneous: it “happened” as the result of hanging out with a lot of musical people; or
B) methodical: you deliberately set out to form a bizarre twee-pop orchestra; or
C) None of the Above, or All of the Above, and in either case explain?

C: I had always been obsessed with music from a very young age. But I lived in the country (or 'outback' as you foreigners call it) so my avenues to finding music were actually very limiting (this was pre-internet). And I never played an instrument despite my sister being quite musical. When I was 17 I moved to Melbourne with a couple of friends from high school and within a couple of years I had started trying to teach myself guitar. Four months later I started writing songs, got together a group of friends to play on them, and we called ourselves Architecture In Helsinki. Since then it has mutated through many different incarnations and genre-hopped all along the way to where we are now. I have always liked the idea of a collective. I think all of us involved agree there is something uber-rewarding about trying to make such a large group work. We're getting better all the time. I'd like to say it was more fluid than purpose driven. Once it starts getting too regimented it can only crumble the creative.

True or False: It’s really quite easy to arrange at least 8 people to record a structurally-cohesive pop record that employs over 31 instruments?

TRUE: It was an incredibly natural process. I mean the recording itself was a safari, took us 18 months to get the tracking down, because we couldn't consolidate a studio space anywhere, but as far as coordinating people it was fun. It was very spontaneous; a large majority of the album was written as we recorded it, and people would just come and go as they pleased.

True or False: An “Attic in the Basement” is a normal feature of homes in the Parkville area? (Editor’s note: Parkville is the “academic suburb” in Melbourne, occupied in large part by the Melbourne University campus, student housing, and adjacent to six hundred Italian restaurants).

FALSE: No-one in Melbourne has a attic or a basement. That was an obsession I formed whilst living in Portland, Oregon in 2001. The notion that your living space is surrounded by these 2 scary rooms - my landlord was living in the attic, and I always wanted to see his room, never had the guts to sneak in there. I love that fear.

True or False: The band was built around the guy who blows the bubbles on Owl’s Go?

TRUE: There is no bubble-blowing, just a popping of the cheek. Oh yes, that is me though. And it was recorded in Parkville.

True or False: Your record has a distinctly “bohemian” (to pull a phrase from my Lonely Planet guidebook) and/or Brunswick St. feel to it?

TRUE: We are so bohemian. If being poor and arty has anything to do with the definition. I think that is a compliment, right? I mean my favourite queen song (other than 'under pressure') is "Bohemian Rhapsody."

True or False: Press coverage of your recent US tour has been horrendous and you wish you never went.

FALSE: I wouldn't say it was horrendous. Our record has been reviewed a lot, I have done a couple of interviews which were never published and we have got some great feedback and hey, Keanu Reeves was spotted buying our record in Waterloo Records in Austin, which made my life! As for wishing we never went: NO WAY, we couldn't come back soon enough. People seem to understand where we are coming from a lot more in the States. Australia, in particular Melbourne, has an amzingly vibrant and productive music scene, but it is very conservative in many ways. So it was great to feel like people were 'getting it'.

True or False:
You have a secret crush on Keanu Reeves dating back to Point Break, the set of which movie you staked out by dressing as a bush on Torquay Beach?

TRUE-ish: I wouldn't say it was a crush. A healthy obsession with Anthony Kiedis' Grammy Award winning cameo was more prominent! Oh, and that scene set on Torquay Beach was actually shot in New Zealand. Cheapskates.

True or False: General reception to your record has been positive, and people know exactly how to classify it.

FALSE: Is this a trick question? Our record never fails to incite a strong reaction. People either love us or want us dead. And hey, I wouldn't have it any other way. Classification is always gonna be hard when you have a tuba in your band.

True or False:
You agree with what critics have been saying about the album.

TRUE-ish: Always. I love them like family except for that annoying packet blonde girl from Ivanhoe (a local journalist who will remain unnamed).

True or False: But what did she ever do to you?

CAN’T SAY: Not sure that answering this is good karma! I'm much more inclined to have a sly jab in the ribs.

True or False: You could smell the orange-level terrorism warning in the air at your US shows.

FALSE: Unfortunately, I have no sense of smell. I lost it in 2002 due to super bad sinus problems, hence the nasally falsetto. I did ride a bike over the golden gate bridge, expecting to be accosted by men with machine guns but it didn't happen.

True or False:
The only Victoria band worth listening to is Jet.

FALSE: Who? Please go out today and find: Qua, New Buffalo, Jeremy Dower, Love of Diagrams, Minimum Chips, Art of Fighting, Ground Components, Curse Ov Dialect, Light's Surprising Constancy, Lakes, and Grand Salvo...that should get you started.

True or False: All you guys do when you’re not recording or touring is drink Fosters and watch footy. (note: “Footy” is the general term of endearment for Australian Rules Football).

FALSE: No-one in Australia drinks Fosters, that is a myth created by an American marketing company. Only one of us really follows the footy and that is me. Infact, I went on Saturday. But we are recording, so, I probably shouldn't have.
Editor’s Note: Cameron barracks for the Essendon Bombers, and made ample fun of my beloved Melbourne Demons’ thrashing at the hands of the Carlton Blues the weekend previous. We’ll see who’s laughing after round one of the playoffs.

Editor’s Note: Since the time of publication the Demons were defeated by the Bombers in round one of the playoffs. It was an exhilarating match decided by a slim 5-point margin. I now have a Bombers scarf. Go Bombers.

True or False: If you could have one guest vocalist from overseas on your new record it would definitely have to be Sue Johanson.

FALSE: I just did some research and found out who Sue Johanson was. And I must say I am leaning more towards John Stamos as a guest vocalist. His appearance in the "Kokomo" video was second to none.

True or False: Masta Killa is the only thing in heavy rotation on your CD player right now.

FALSE: Oh no. Ghostface, Raekwon, ODB, Mehod Man, U-God, Cappadonna, RZA and GZA solo albums are all getting played as well. Oh and Caetano Veloso's first album.

True or False: If Architecture in Helsinki formed like Voltron, you’d be the head.

FALSE: No I would be the ass. Or the right leg. Sam Perry is most definitely the head in the band.

True or False: You called the band Architecture in Helsinki because your songs are extremely complex, intricate, ornate, and exotic-sounding.

FALSE: Nothing so glamourous. Our name was a case of magnetic poetry from the Saturday paper. We needed a name, and that was the one that stuck first. I kind of think it is about finding wonder in something that to me/us is kind of obscure, you know, from another hemisphere far, far away.

True or False: The wild pack of hyperactive children who appear on the "Owl's Go" chorus are all yours.

HELL NO: I thought I was a castrato? Those kids are all hired help from a film set.