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Australian music writer Ghita Loebenstein sat down with Cameron Bird and Kellie Sutherland over dumplings in Melbourne's Chinatown. The other six band members were sleeping in.
GHITA: How did the eight of you come together to form Architecture in Helsinki?
KELLIE: After high school, I moved to Melbourne to be part of the art and music scene there. I had been singing since I was a kid, but I didn't perform until I joined a rock band in high school. Well, except for dancing.
CAMERON: She studied jazz ballet!
KELLIE: I did jazz ballet for nine years.
CAMERON: I've seen the videos. We have a great collection of everyone's awkward teenage videos. There's fantastic footage of James doing karaoke. If we ever do an Architecture in Helsinki DVD, we'll definitely include a montage.
KELLIE: As I was about to say, I met Cameron at a party in Melbourne, and he asked me to come play with him...
CAMERON: ...On just one song, at one show. And somehow she weaseled her way into our band.
KELLIE: He invited me to play clarinet in one of the Architecture's first shows back in 2000. And then I just started turning up to rehearsals.
CAMERON: At that point, Architecture in Helsinki was just Sam, Jamie, and myself. Sam and I used to hang out in grade school after our mothers bonded over their common love of cross-stitching. Then I met James in high school. The three of us started a band The Pixel Mittens. We played garage-funk. It was horrible.
KELLIE: And I've seen those videos! There's footage of the night that The Pixel Mittens won their high-school battle of the bands. It will definitely be on that Architecture DVD.
CAMERON: With The Pixel Mittens, I just sang in the band. I didn't start playing guitar until I moved to Melbourne to study photography at university. That's where I met James, Tara, Isobel, and Gus.
GHITA: They became the stellar horn section of Architecture.
CAMERON: After graduating, I felt an intense pressure to become either an artist or a photojournalist. Photography lost its mystique for me. An image is so final once it's there, it's there. Music has an infinite life span a song can be reinterpreted and reinvented each time you play it live or remix it in the studio.
KELLIE:I studied photography too, but I found it to be too much of a solo expedition. Working as part of a group is much more rewarding. Both Cameron and I still have very strong aesthetics that carry over into the band's cover art and t-shirts. Cameron designed the album cover for both Fingers Crossed and In Case We Die.
GHITA: All of you came to music after doing the art school thing.
CAMERON:And when we started out, we loathed performing! We found it incredibly nerve-racking. But as we played more often, and people began responding to our music, we gradually gained confidence. Today, we're an infinitely better live band than we were even a year ago.
GHITA: Are there other bands whose live shows you really admire?
KELLIE: Flaming Lips are amazing performers. Their shows are the summation of everything joyful and uplifting they're trying to express in their music.
CAMERON:After we watched the Talking Heads documentary, Stop Making Sense, James had the harebrained scheme to find a dance choreographer to work with us and help with our performances.
KELLIE: We didn't go through with it. But I'd love to go to town on an elaborate stage production someday. Tara and Isobel already do high kicks onstage!
GHITA: Since there are so many of you, it could be like the soul bands in the'70s.
CAMERON: George Clinton once had a huge prop spaceship built for a Funkadelic tour. It cost two hundred fifty thousand dollars to make, and it was so big that they had to build it in an aircraft hangar.
GHITA: You guys are known for incorporating every kind of instrument flute, Wurlitzer organ, steel drums, even the musical saw.
CAMERON:On this tour, we've started a new tradition when we arrive in a city, we pick up something weird to play onstage that night. In our most recent New York show, we used these plastic bird-whistles we found on a street in Brooklyn.
GHITA: Do you all have favorite instruments?
TED: Mine would be the electric sitar. There's a guy in Nashville who makes them. I've only played it once, but I'm totally obsessed with it. It's the sexiest instrument I've ever heard.
GHITA: Sexy? Really?
CAMERON: It's psychedelic with this pulsing, funky thing going on. You can hear it on all those crazy '60s albums.
KELLIE: We're transcendental here at Architecture. [laughs]
CAMERON: I'm not sure what we are. One music journalist called us a "twee folk band." When I read that I was like, "Has he even listened to our records?" We take in a whole lot of sounds and genres that we love, and produce a huge, bastardized, prog version.
GHITA: What have you been listening to lately?
CAMERON: It's different every day. Today we listened to Benny Goodman, and yesterday it was Wu Tang Clan. It's got to be something that makes our hearts race. On this tour, I've also been listening to a lot of Alan Lomax's field recordings and reading his selected writings.
GHITA: Rounder Records recently released a double CD of all his interviews and recordings.
CAMERON: Lomax was essentially a song-hunter. For three decades, starting in the 1930s, he traveled all over the world to the Deep South, Scotland, India recording traditional songs and looking at how particular geographic and sociological situations influenced folk music.
GHITA: So, do you guys still have to have day jobs? Is the band able to support all eight members?
KELLIE: We're getting close. It's the dangling carrot. If we were to just kill three members...
CAMERON: At a show we did in Perth recently, just four of us played. On the way there, I was saying, "This is really nice! There's so much room in the van!"
KELLIE:I always read about bandmates who are such good friends that they share hotel rooms on tour. I think, "What, you don't have to squeeze into a room with four other people?"
CAMERON: Or eight, as has happened before. Crammed into two beds, the closet...
KELLIE: ...And one in the shower.
GHITA: That's just too close for comfort.
KELLIE: When you spend so much time with the same people you develop your own language. On each tour we'll invent at least twenty new nicknames for each other.
GHITA: Are there any couples in the band?
KELLIE: Gus and Tara are together, so they always snag the Jacuzzi room at the hotel. Isobel and our sound guy were going out for a while. Everyone else has a boyfriend or girlfriend at home, except Sam. But he does pretty well for himself.
GHITA: What about those long hours in the van?
KELLIE: When DVDs of TV shows became available, our lives changed.
CAMERON: We have every episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I'm crazy about that show. I love Curb Your Enthusiasm so much that when we saw a billboard for the show earlier today...
KELLIE: ...He made me take his photo in front of it.
CAMERON: On our last tour, we watched three and a half seasons of The Sopranos that's forty hours.
KELLIE: Plus we're always listening to music.
CAMERON: I grew up on a farm sixty-five kilometers northwest of Melbourne, so as a kid my main source for music was commercial radio and video hits. I didn't know there were hip bands in the city. As a result, I'm a bit of a pop music junkie.
GHITA: Was it a working farm?
CAMERON: It was and still is. We mostly have cattle and sheep, and some ducks. It's huge about six thousand acres.
GHITA: Were you involved in the day-to-day upkeep?
CAMERON: No, I was the black sheep. [laughs] The property has been in our family for eighty or ninety years, but none of my brothers and sisters want to work on the farm anymore. Hopefully we'll keep it going somehow.
GHITA: Kellie, you're the only one in the band who grew up in Sydney.
KELLIE: I get so much shit from this band for being from Sydney. They're always saying I have a "convict stain" because the city was originally a prison colony. Convict Stain should be my DJ name. [laughs] Out of the eight of us, James and I are the only city kids he's from Melbourne.
CAMERON: It's the age-old battle Sydney versus Melbourne like L.A. versus New York. Even though Sydney is so stunning geographically, I find it really vacuous. Melbourne is flat and rainy and not as pretty. People are more likely to stay indoors.
GHITA: You just sit inside and make stuff.
CAMERON: Yeah. It has more of the feel of the American Northwest. It's arts-and-craftsy.
GHITA: Recently one of your songs was used in a television ad for the Animal Planet channel.
CAMERON: We all said yes to that one immediately. We had no doubt that we wanted our music played over dolphins.
KELLIE: And pandas!
CAMERON: And pandas, yes. Even though we hate dolphins and pandas. We wish they were all dead.
GHITA: Please note Cameron's ironic tone.
KELLIE: I'm used to it.