The rise of My Friend The Chocolate Cake...
Helen Mountfort and David Bridie
MTV: Explain your musical backgrounds...
David: My musical background would've been like most kids in the burbs watching Countdown, and listening to records with my sister who is three years older. I was listening to Slade and Status Quo. She had Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen records. But my father was into Fats Waller. I did classical piano at school, so I had a bit of a mixed bag. In my teens, I got into the Melbourne music scene. Models, Birthday Party, Laughing Clown. It was very different from Helen's.
Helen: I grew up listening to nothing but classical music until I was 15 or 16, except for my brother's Kris Kristofferson and Neil Diamond records and Abba. At 16, my boyfriend had gone away and I went through his records that had come from the World Records Club and found this Talking Heads record. I put it on and thought, "This is great."
David: Helen hadn't heard 'Smoke on the Water' at the age of 25.
MTV: When did you decide you wanted to learn an instrument?
Helen: Actually, I decided I wanted to play the cello when I was three. I heard someone play it and I was obsessed by cellos after that. My parents bought me one when I was six and it was a little half size one, really cute.
David: We got a piano from my grandmother's place when she died, when I was about 8 or 9. I learned to play from piano books and would muck around with it from about that age on.
MTV: How did the band come together?
David: My Friend the Chocolate Cake formed in 1989 and Not Drowning Waving was still going on, and it started in 1983 with John Phillips. It grew into a 6 piece band with Russel and Rowan and James. Helen joined in 1989 and it was on a tour that Helen and I talked about starting up a side project just to do offbeat little shows when we weren't on tour, which was quite a lot. My Friend the Chocolate Cake started out of an informal conversation to playing odd gigs to using instruments we didn't have to carry around amplifiers. Most of the people we asked to join the band were friends. Andrew Carswell was my boss at work, Andrew Richardson was a guy I started a band with at 13 at school.
Helen: Hope was a friend of mine. So, we sort of chose band members on whether we liked them more than on their musical ability. But fortunately, we got the musical abilities as well.
David: The first My Friend the Chocolate Cake record we recorded took a day and a half to record and cost us 800 bucks. It was a fun thing to do and it did better than we thought. It actually sold quite well and the gigs started getting more of an audience and we quit Not Drowning Waving after 'Circus' was released in 94 or 95. My Friend the Chocolate Cake has kept going and has become more of a concern.
MTV: Is the My Friend the Chocolate Cake sound the motive?
David: Yeah, I think the sound is quite a motive for a couple of reasons. I think for the instrumentation, the cello and strings are moody instruments. Helen and I write on the moody side of things, counter-balanced by an in-your-face sound.
MTV: What sort of moods does My Friend the Chocolate Cake catch?
Helen: I'd say it catches a range of moods because of the nature of the instrumentation. Especially since the cello is a dark and moody instrument, we tend to get in that territory. Sort of a reflective melancholy, I'd say quite a bit. But also, some of the songs are upbeat and happy. There's quite a range. We like sad.
MTV: Does that reflect the personality of the band? Are you sad people?
David: Oh no, it's pretty fun touring. We're not a sad bunch, we have a good time. I think since the band started with very little pressure, because we didn't have a grand plan, it's helped it. We're a boisterous bunch. We enjoy playing.
MTV: How did you feel the night at the National Theatre Record was recorded?
Helen: It was a great theatre and we were really excited to be playing there. It was actually the second night of two, so we knew the sound was going to be good. It was actually good they recorded the second night and not the first because the first night we had the smoke machine on stage. Every time there was a quiet moment in the song, the guy set the smoke machine off and it sounded like someone was farting. If that had been there, there would have been no live album. So the second night we didn't have that. We were a bit nervous though.
David: We had some bad experiences too.
Helen: You can actually hear my bow shaking on one track, which I actually like.
MTV: Were there any mishaps in particular that occurred on that night?
David: There was a couple of bad lyric mistakes if you listen really closely, but nothing really too bad. We used a lot of acoustic and it was on a big stage, so there wasn't a lot of spill. The atmosphere of the theatre was glorious. I don't know how it happened, but I think it was captured onto tape.
MTV: It took almost a year from the recording to the release of the album. How come?
David: We've been overseas for a few months. We did the Edinburgh Festival and we went to England to do festivals. We didn't start mixing it until March or April, and then we went away for three months. Actually, we reckon a year from record to release is pretty good.
Helen: We weren't in any hurry and this time of year seemed like a good time to put out a record.
MTV: You were well received at the Edinburgh Festival...
David: This was our second trip to the Edinburgh Festival. The first year we went, no one knew us from a bar of soap. But we got some good reviews early and I think the music grabbed people's attention. Probably the instrumentation and it was a different sound and a stupid band name. The first show we played there this year was sold out and pretty much continued like that. It was really pleasing. It's a great place to play music at.
MTV: I read you did work on 'Home and Away' ...
David: Any band signed to Mushroom Publications will have their songs played on Home and Away and Neighbours. In one episode of Home and Away, they played a song in its entirety and it became a big deal in the UK.....It's funny when you go overseas and people have this perception of your country that's different from what you know intimately that they get from the media. It makes you think about home differently.
MTV: David, you said the music industry is obsessed with instant gains.
David: From a record company point of view, and it's understandable because they're a business and a business is about generating sales and profit. I don't think the music industry sets up bands to have a long term career. You see bands hyped up and get a lot of radio play and two years later you don't hear from them.
MTV: Would you agree with the statement, "If Led Zeppelin were roaming around Australia, no one would sign them up because that is the kind of industry we have?"
David: Yes, but I think Led Zeppelin would be signed up, but they might be doing a tour every year around the states and selling 60,000 records and after two years forgotten. It's got as much to do with the size of Australia as well as other things. It's understandable because we're isolated over here and for bands to make it overseas, you're up for $30,000 before you leave home just to go there.
MTV: Helen, who have you played with and who has inspired you?
Helen: The great thing about being a cello player in this country is that you get to do a lot of session work on other people's records, whether that's playing on their records, or live gigs. That's been really great because it's just great to have a nosey on other people's gigs and really see what they do. And playing other music is really great as well. Sometimes I get to sort of make up my own parts on what I'm playing on their records or their gig. Sometimes it will be someone else's arrangement, and that's always really interesting because they'll have a different angle on how you'd use a cello than I would. Like I've just finished this thing with Diesel and that was really interesting because he's a good cellist himself and he notated these cello parts and they're so different from what I would've written. They're low and grungy. That was quite interesting because you come away from that thinking, "Oh, maybe I might try something like that.
MTV: Did you do something with Nick Cave?
Helen: We did the string stuff on the stuff he did with Kylie with 'Where The Wild Roses Grow'. He was really fussy about the arrangement.
MTV: David, you've done a lot of producing...
David: Working with another artists gives you a different perspective on how you would work with your own songs and bands. You have to step back from being the performer and look at the wider vision of the record.
MTV: When will you start your next album?
Helen: We're not in any hurry, but we'll probably start recording the end of next year. We've got a long term vision with Chocolate Cake. We're not in any hurry to make the My Friend the Chocolate Cake studio album. We'll probably start the end of next year. We've got a different time scale with Chocolate Cake that most bands have. We're taking it really slowly because we want to be around in ten years. In fact, we want to have gigs when we're sixty.
David: Because we tour so little, we're thinking of doing one national tour a year and a visit overseas. Then do an album every two years to give people time to work on other projects on the side. There's no reason why we shouldn't be doing this in ten to fifteen years. We don't want to rush in to the next record.
MTV: Where does the name come from?
David: Where did we get the band name? The phrase My Friend the Chocolate Cake comes from a record from a band from Sydney called Ya Ya Chorale who were around in the late 70s and early 80s. I had an EP of theirs and I was sharing this house and all the women in the house always referred to it. I think it was an anti dieting joke. When we were mucking around, we came up with it and it stuck. Every second day I hate it and every other day I like it. It's a name people remember. If people haven't heard our music it's problematic. At the first Edinburgh Festival the people thought we were a comedy act.