Monday, November 16, 2009

Interview: ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI - A Bird In The Hand

Friday, November 02, 2007 

With the release of Places Like This another chapter has been firmly opened, the spine creased and pages dog-eared, in the long and increasingly rambling book of AIH. A story that via the band's unique personal tales and skewed kindergarten-pop tunes, has taken the band from sharehouse beginnings to far-flung corners of the earth and the heights of independent charts the world over. There are, however, no twee-pop odes to dancing like whirlwinds or shyly sung songs about firewood in this chapter - that sequence has already shone brightly and burned out. Things are a bit more Prisoner of Azkabhan these days. AiH, now spread three continents wide, are currently in Portland, part-way through their sixth US tour in three years. "It's been going for a long time, but it's been fantastic." says chief songwriter and honorary Yankee Cameron Bird, with a hint of well-earned tiredness in his voice. "It's strange to know so many cities so well now, I kind of like that. Because we've done what we've done off our own backs, it's been incredibly satisfying to see that things have grown with each tour, the crowds are so exciting now."

The popularity and esteem in which AiH are held overseas is something that isn't trumpeted much in the media here, but the extent of their fanbase is something worth considering. Currently AiH are the most listened to Australian band on (with more listeners than Elvis and 50 Cent), had over 2 million listens on their MySpace page and play to bigger crowds with every show, so missing out on their fourth ARIA nomination last week isn't bothering Bird one bit. "No. We thought it was comedy gold that we were even nominated," he laughs. "Looking at our name amongst all those other bands we were like 'what the hell are we doing there?'"

This bemusement is echoed by the people Bird meets in his new homeland upon discovering his nationality. A place he moved to incidentally when a friend offered a rent-controlled flat in New York which was cheaper than his own in Melbourne. "I guess we're a band that fell into playing overseas a lot, much more than we anticipated doing. Someone offered to put our record out overseas so we thought we should play a tour and it went really well. It facilitates touring overseas to actually be there, but we're all still totally Australian; we always get excited when the Grand Final is on. People know, but the world is such a small place now that it doesn't really matter. It's a novelty to some, but Australians are everywhere and Australian culture is getting bigger all the time. Australia is still seen as somewhere to take the piss out of, to not take seriously, but it's definitely better than being from a country renowned for being arseholes."

Given that most of the songs on Places Like This were composed in Bird's apartment and eschewed the traditional band-jam formation for the tools that they had and were into at the time - electronic equipment and a white-hot broadband connection – the record has struck some as being heavy on references but lacking heart; an album made in airport lounges. Bird however sees its haphazard creation as having far more emotional depth than most have given it credit for. "Anyone who has seen us play in the last two years could see the inclination we were taking; the way we played our old songs was incredibly different to how they sounded on record. In a way Feather in a Baseball Cap was a catalyst for that, we took that old song and played it in the way we were playing at the time and that's how it came out. That was a kind of an awakening for us and we started moving more in that direction. I'm very much an advocate of bands that are constantly changing and doing new things, I look at way a band sounds as being an album-by-album thing. I know that with our next album our approach and the way that it sounds is going to be infinitely different to where we're at now. I like the idea of an album being a snapshot of the way a band is at a time. I'm not one for being sentimental about what was and what could have been, I'm a live-in-the-now kind of guy."

It comes as no surprise then that Places Like This is a snapshot of the now in which Bird is living. "For me lyrically and musically it's about living in New York." he enthuses. "That's a huge influence on the way the songs came out; they wouldn't be the same if we were all living in Melbourne or Byron Bay or wherever. It was a direct correlation between the songs and the city. For me when I hear the songs, it reminds me so much of the feeling of being there, and the instantaneous chemistry that came when we learned and recorded the songs; it's all about that two to three month period of our lives. In the past we've written and recorded albums and it's been a much more drawn-out process, this was just really intense and really physical and much more heartfelt and deep than things we've done in the past."

This living-in-the-now attitude, perhaps accentuated by moving cities, may have shortened Bird's musical attention span, but it's given him the ability to impose limits that focus the band in ways that recording in their own studio and being their own engineers didn't. "To be honest, we could still be working on In Case We Die now, we could have been like The Avalanches and taken six years to make an album that was a complete masterpiece, but we just had to say to ourselves 'we have to stop now'. I guess it goes back to what I was saying earlier about an album being a snapshot in time. It kills me that people expect us to play songs that we wrote six years ago. I understand that when I see bands that I love I want to see them play songs I loved off the record they released 15 years ago. But by playing in a band, my appreciation of that has definitely changed, when I see bands now I'm not going to be bummed if they don't play anything off older albums."

Seeing the band recently, it would seem out of place for older, gentler songs to feature in their furious free-form-aerobics-class of instrument-swapping AKA an AiH gig. One of the components of their writing precluded the band sharing a city and building songs together, something Bird is not averse to. "I'm sure we will all be in the same city again at some point. This album was born in the urban/I.T./information superhighway world, and the next album will be much more like a hippy thing where we'll probably go to the forest and live in the mountains or something like that." Like The Band recording Songs From The Big Pink?" Yeah! I'm definitely channeling their spirits at the moment." And so begins the next chapter for AiH; just don't pick this story up expecting toothless cuteness.

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