Architecture in Helsinki
It all began at the end of the '90s in a small Australian country town with a teen funk-grunge band called The Pixel Mittens, which featured core Architecture In Helsinki members and longtime friends Cameron Bird, Jamie Mildren and Sam Perry. The three pals outgrew the limitations of rural living and moved to Melbourne to have some fun. After the high school band burnt out, flamboyant lead singer Cameron, who was often seen on stage riding exercise bikes and conducting audience workout sessions, needed to branch out; Primus and Led Zeppelin were no longer doing it for him on a spiritual level. He met a girl, a folkie who fine-tuned his taste and inspired him to learn how to play guitar while she was out at work in the evenings.
Rather than figuring out how to play '70s rock hits, Cameron opted to create his own songs from the outset, fashioning heartfelt li'l dark folk jams in the vain of Smog and The Sonora Pine or maybe Scottish combo Appendix Out. Within the year he had rounded up a group of friends to try and play the songs in concert. The original line-up played one or two half-hearted shows in small Melbourne dives before going into semi-hibernation, playing only the occasional gig thereafter. The band solidified in 2000 when Bird bought his first electric guitar. It was at this point, while studying photography at art school, that he met James Cecil in a late-night video editing suite. The two instantly had a musical chemistry, and within a couple of months Cecil had joined the band on drums. Around the same time Bird met Kellie Sutherland at a party in North Fitzroy and asked her to play clarinet on some of the band's new love songs. Architecture In Helsinki finally had some stability and with this new lineup, they set about performing their own take on their favorite atmospheric pop bands of the 90s, Perth, Australia's Bluetile Lounge, Low and Codeine.
After a year of solidly touring around Australia and North America in support of their debut Fingers Crossed, Melbourne’s favorite ramshackle musical posse, Architecture in Helsinki, had become a hardened combo.
Cameron Bird - Vocals, Guitar, Keyboard
Gus Franklin - Keyboard, Guitar, Vocals, Trombone, Drums
Jamie Mildren - Guitar, Bass, Keyboard, Flute
Sam Perry - Bass, Keyboard
Kellie Sutherland - Vocals, Keyboards, Clarinet
James Cecil - Drums, Guitar, Keyboard
Tara Shackell - Tuba, Trombone, Keyboard, Vocals
Isobel Knowles - Trumpet, Keyboard, Vocals
In Case We Die
In Case We Die is not a concept album, but you could liken it to a rock opera. Songs are laced with intense and dramatic twists at every turn. Opera singers bellow. Strings soar. Fireworks explode. Choirs sing out of tune and jungle rhythms come out of nowhere. It is indeed an epic voyage.
They’d taken the fragile whimsy and naivete of their studio-oriented debut and fused it with an almost punk energy. The songs were coming from somewhere else. The next album was going to propel their sound to new heights. It was in the depths of Melbournian winter that the eight-piece band nestled into their clubhouse-cum-studio, Super Melody World, armed with a veritable junk shop of instruments and perhaps too many ideas. Thus, the recording process began.
Songs hung in mid-air. Cats meowed into microphones. Plagues of mice were thwarted and way too much spaghetti was eaten. By the time the new year arrived, the studio had turned into a saloon. Some 40 odd humans had passed through it, among them many local music luminaries and several hitherto hidden talents. They played and sang their hearts out, brandishing everything from bassoons to power saws. Every day a new idea was hatched, phone calls were made, then someone who knew how to play the sitar or the steel drum would show up, ready to offer their services in exchange for a slice of pizza and a cup of tea. As a result, there’s a uniquely communal aura about the songs, a handmade intricacy that is rare on modern pop albums.
One of the most striking traits of In Case We Die is the ease in which it references many eras and incarnations of popular music while retaining that unmistakable "Helsinki Sound." There are tips of the hat to many disparate pop masterminds, as in the Rocky Horror-esque "Wishbone," the Os Mutantes-styled schizophrenia of "In Case We Die (Parts 1-4)," the Fleetwood Mac stomp of "It’s 5!" or the Morriconesque bombast of the opening track, "Neverevereverdid." In Case We Die was/is an ambitious journey, it laughs in the face of "difficult second album," and that ambition more than echoes through the disc’s 12 songs from start to finish.
AIH’s stunning sophomore opus was recorded at Super Melody World by James Cecil, produced by the Carbohydrates and mixed by Tony Espie (the Avalanches). In 2004, AIH toured North America, sharing the stage with Death Cab For Cutie, Ben Kweller and Starlight Mints. In Australia, they were invited to open for David Byrne, Bright Eyes, Polyphonic Spree and Belle & Sebastian. To check out their videos and to hear exclusive web-only mixes – www.architectureinhelsinki.com.
At this point, the band set out to build the first incarnation of James' recording studio, Supermelodyworld, in a massive church hall on Melbourne's Southeast side. It was here that the recording of the AIH's debut, Fingers Crossed, began. The band was on a tight schedule with Bird about to leave the country for an extended holiday in the US. The aim was to make the whole album in a few weeks. It never did happen. While songs such as "Like a Call," "To and Fro" and "Where You've Been Hiding," made it through, the rest of the intended album vanished into thin air.
Some would say it was fate, because Cameron's trip to the USA saw him falling in love with the Pacific Northwest and forming obsessions with Portland, Oregon, post-acid Beach Boys, Wu Tang Clan, The Magnetic Fields and Mexican food. That, coupled with a whole bunch of new friends, sculpted Fingers Crossed into the large technicolor beast that it is. About 80 percent of the album was written by Cameron on a pump organ and a busted-up guitar in his parent's living room in six days after his return to Australia -- songs of longing, pining, foreign cities, excitement and ghosts. The music was gonna be like a first kiss: messy, passionate, exciting and floaty. And the means was…by any means possible.
When Cameron brought these new songs to band rehearsal, it marked a huge change for the group. Gone were the days of drawn-out eight-minute atmospheric wig-outs; the new AIH was all about sub-2.5 minute pop songs, sharp and catchy, with no time to look at your shoes. The live show morphed and the recording safari began. It was at art school yet again that the connection with the hottest wonky session brass in Melbourne, The Rhinestone Horns, was made. They were the logical next step for the fleshing out and development of the AIH ensemble. Tara Shackell, Isobel Knowles and Gus Franklin all brought their chops to the recording, coloring it in, filling in the gaps and bringing the record and AIH's subsequent shows to life.
So, after a long, convoluted journey, the band finally let go of its precious, first born, Fingers Crossed, after near two years of work, shifting personnel and studios galore. And AIH had finally settled upon what was to be the perfect lineup, an amalgamation of well-schooled and self taught, loose and tight, happy and sad, city kids and country folk. A group of people with influences and tastes spanning the last 200 years of pop music, coupled with the isolation of Australia.
It was always going to make for something a little different.