David Bridie: A Cake by any other name
The X-press interview
by Polly Coufos
Not so long ago David Bridie was faced with a dilemma. Not Drowning, Waving, the Melbourne-based band he helped form in 1984, was struggling while his other band, My Friend The Chocolate Cake, appeared set to make some serious inroads into the inner circle of the Australian Music Industry.
For many years he and cellist Helen Mountfort had kept both entities going, the process taking an inordinate amount of energy and enthusiasm. While not lame brain, the Cake was certainly the party band of the two. Where NDW may, and indeed did, trek to the highlands of New Guinea to record an album, the Choccies were content to stay in Melbourne and compose tunes in honour of Browlow Medalist Jim Stynes, and set about introducing their growing audiences to the unsuspected delights of Hungarian wedding songs.
Simply by 1995 the time came when something had to give, and so NDW waved good-bye. The decision may have helped Bridie and Mountfort keep focus, but during the following interview he says plainly that had the band received greater support it would not have folded. through his conversation comes a conviction towards his music, he is sure what he is creating is worthwhile, but remains confused as to why it has not been embraced by greater numbers of music listeners.
With instruments like cello, viola and accordion in the six piece band’s artillery, they maintain the wherewithall to go way beyond the bounds of regulation pop music. Bridie has always maintained this is no gimmick, all the parts of the Chocolate repertoire have equal importance. This is exemplified by the fact that favorable response to "I've got a plan", an ARIA winner and straight ahead pop song, did not lead the band to create a whole album of radio hungry hits in waiting. No chance.
With their brand new album, Good Luck, released last week, David Bridie was quoted as saying it was their first serious statement as a band.
Good Luck will be the first album to gain regular release outside our region and currently the band is in the middle of a month long tour of the British Isles. As the following interview indicates he is not holding out great hope for good luck in the form of immediate success in a land that still regards Australian artists with indifference. Still he knows he is here for the long run, and he is a patient man.
Bridie has also made a name for himself as an infrequent, though high quality producer. From a myriad of offers proposed to his management Bridie has in the hot seat for Archie Roach (Jamu Dreaming), Christine Anu (Stylin’ Up) and the forthcoming debut album from Monique Brumby.
MFTCC are due to play Perth on a tour in support of Good Luck in mid November.
The album hit the shops on August 19, 1996.
Despite his obvious disappointment over the impending merger between his beloved Melbourne football club and Hawthorn, Bridie managed some semblance of a cheerful demeanor for a man in mourning. Still, as he has learned by now, only the strong survive.
You are off to England. Are you planning to take it by storm?
We don't take anything by storm, especially England. We are going to have to get past the ‘Neighbours’ references first.
But surely you were the same man that I heard declare from the stage of the Fly By Night that one of the greatest achievements of your career was to hear your music during an episode of Home and Away?
(laughs) yeah, that was me. Actually it was not as big an achievement as I thought. It was because Mushroom place all the music on those shows.
Was it easier making your new album without the pressure of this band being just a side project?
I guess, if anything, there may have been a little bit more pressure in coming up with something that was really good. One of the beauties of Chocolate Cake was that it evolved as a side project so there was never any pressure on it. And before we knew it there was a really good audience there for it.
If there was any pressure there it was more than counteracted by the fact that we are a close knit bunch who have been together as a band for six years. We felt like we knew what we were doing and everybody understood each other's playing. The challenge of making a record that was solid and could stand up was good for us.
When the bands were both going, NDW and MFTCC, was it a struggle between them for your time? Did the public decide which band you and Helen should be giving more of your energy to? Did the public pick the better band?
I, um, look, I find it too difficult to compare.
John Phillips is one of the great Australian guitar players and he's not in Chocolate Cake ... um NDW was around a long time and the energy just sort of ran out of it. The energy may have stayed if we were selling more and it was a bit easier to operate. It was a very expensive band to tour with because of the production values.
NDW didn't break up because Chocolate Cake was working, I would have been happy to keep the two going if that was what the vibe was.
You didn't feel the audience saw it as a bit of a two headed monster?
I actually think a lot of the Chocolate audience is different from the NDW audience. There's certainly more of them. You would probably be better to talk to somebody who was into the two bands and passionate about it one way or another.
One noticeable aspect of your recordings is how much your vocals have improved. Would you agree?
I think Jeremy (Allom, producer) captured the vocals really well and I think I'm probably singing a bit better too. It may be an age thing. When I first started I was singing because I wrote the lyrics, not because I was a great singer. But I think time and practice strengthens your voice.
I'm still not really confident about my singing. It takes a bit of energy for me to sing in public, but I guess I identify myself as a singer a bit more than I used to. I fell like I'm a lot better singer than I used to be and a lot of it has to do with confidence too.
Speaking of confidence, how did the success of ‘brood’ and the ARIA award for "I've Got a Plan" translate when you entered the studio to record "Good Luck"?
The ARIA award was nice, but I think it was nicer for the record company than anything else. I always thought Adult Contemporary was a contradiction in terms. I thought "I've Got a Plan" was a good song regardless of whether it won an ARIA. Still it's nice to get something from your peers I guess.
There wasn't so much pressure from that (success), but I guess what we would be hoping is that we can build on the 25000 that Brood sold. Our first CD is still selling and Brood is still selling, so it's an ongoing thing.
I firmly believe this is the best Chocolate Cake record. My vocals were recorded a lot better, I think a lot of the strings sounds are a lot stronger, the instrumentals are mixed much better. That is a criticism I have of Brood: I think "I've got a plan" and "floorboards" and "throwing it away" were really strong but some of the instrumental mixes were mixed like they were lesser tracks.
This time Jeremy understood that it was a really strong part of what Chocolate Cake does. They were just as important as the singles, and I think that makes the overall album stronger.
The song that appears to be the obvious single is "The Kitsch Parade." Is that a kiss of death giving it a title like that?
I actually vetoed it as being a single the other day. I have gone cynical on the whole singles process because no single I have put out in either of the bands has ever done anything. The only stuff I have been involved in that has done well is Christine's. I co-wrote 'Party’ and that was a pretty cynical exercise.
What makes chocolate Cake albums work is the whole album. We put out ‘Lighthouse Keeper’ a while back and that got a little airplay but not a lot. Five years ago I would have been really depressed thinking the record was doomed, but now it's like 'Big Deal’. We don't have to keep worrying about songs that radio might play if we are lucky. We figure that we can do clips and they may be used as promos for the band overseas at least.
Do you have much support out of Australia?
It's good, but there isn't anything to hang your coat on. We mainly sell from import here. We sell a few in Germany, Poland and we occasionally get a letter from Israel or Hong Kong. This release of "Good Luck" in Europe and UK will be the first time a major focus has been placed on it.
The band has an intrinsically Australian sound. It's not about wallabies and beer, yet it seems you are more a descendant of Slim Dusty than Johnny O’Keefe?
Yep. I don't mind that. I think Slim's all right.
I mean, it is not taking cheap shots at nationalism, yet there is something unique in there. It doesn't sound like an Australian version of something overseas. It may be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to working overseas?
More of a blessing than a curse, especially in the UK because they hate us just because we do things better than they do.
We've gotta better standard of living, working class people earn three times more than people in Britain, but they just think we are all dumb convicts. If we are dumb convicts we are doing better than them so that makes them even stupider.
They don't think we are very cultured and ahhh... I remember reading an Underground Lovers review and there were references to Kylie and Neighbours in there. What the fuck has Kylie Minogue got to do with Underground Lovers? Hopefully there will be enough people over there who pick up on what we do and I think the Australian references and approach are subtle but they are there.
Why call a very downbeat album "Good Luck"?
Simple irony. In the song it talks of seeking out hope in a two dollar gift shop, you need good luck because you are up against it. The album cover reflects that as well. This little man is on a pier, hitchhiking out to a bay and there's a lightning storm. He's on a road to nowhere and you need good luck in those circumstances. But you also need good luck when you have a band called My Friend the Chocolate Cake...
Do you regret calling it that?
Yeah, yeah I do. But not enough to change it. I think people don't get hooked into the band because of the name then they were never going to be there anyway. It's been with us so long there is nothing we can do about it, but if there are people who are attracted by titles or covers, they won't be looking for us, unless they get the point later.
I don't know if I didn't know anything about us and I saw a band called My Friend the Chocolate Cake, I'd think it was some piss take band or something. Maybe we do suffer from that but so what?
You have done a few outside productions. Is that work important to you?
It's good work when it is a good record to work on. It takes a lot of energy out of you and it is quite intense, because I always feel responsible to the artist. I've been lucky because of the three whole albums I have produced, Archie, Christine and Monique are all artists I feel are special. I felt privileged and proud to have been asked to produce them, and I put my heart and soul into them. For that reason too I can't actually do too much producing. I couldn't produce something if I didn't really believe in it.
You have written a tune for Jim Stynes. It can be assumed you are a Melbourne supporter?
Ooh yeah, and suffering bad depression over the merger talks. They are trying to take away your soul when they do things like that. They have no right. That's what big dollars do to things.
Is he aware of the song?
Yes, he came along to a gig once. He was quite honored. I was honored he actually came to out gigs.
We don't get back in Australia until September and as we aren't in the finals I may have seen my last game. I hate the thought because I've been following them since I was five.
Perth Street Press