Sunday, June 5, 2011

David Bridie (My Friend The Chocolate Cake) interview: 2011


In 2005, Melbourne musician David Bridie toured in support of his second solo album, Hotel Radio, playing to small pub crowds around Australia. When the night of his Hobart gig rolled around, I found myself in a state of barely suppressed excitement to finally see an artist who I’d revered - albeit from some distance - for a time, without really knowing what to expect. Ahead of his set, I overhear a pre-show conversation in which Bridie was surprisingly referred to as ‘the guy who used to be in The Reels’. While David Mason’s ears where hundreds of miles away, burning, it saddened me to think an artist like David Bridie should face such indifference after 20 years of creating so much beautiful music. He went on that night and performed one of the most astounding concerts I have ever seen, despite playing a set devoid of songs I previously knew, and no doubt confounded those mistaken Reels fans in the process.

Bridie was however wearing a very different musical hat that night, perhaps making him harder to spot for the more casual fan. This was, in a way, the start of a new era in his long career. Not Drowning Waving – his former full-time band – had recently split after 20 years while My Friend The Chocolate Cake – his stop and start second band - were on one of their regular hiatuses. Bridie had started living between Melbourne and Papua New Guinea, which was having a notable effect on his music, but while Hotel Radio reflected his island life, Bridie, back fronting My Friend The Chocolate Cake, has released a new, fully localised album. Location aside for now, Bridie, on the eve of My Friend The Chocolate Cake’s latest release, Fiasco, is the first to admit he is a man hard to pin down, especially when drawing from his broad musical interests.

“I have a low boredom threshold, but also being a musician in Australia, I think you have to multitask a little bit.” He begins, “Doing my soundtrack and production stuff is really important to me, seeing as My Friend The Chocolate Cake is an all acoustic outfit. Those other things mean I get to play around with the resonator button and synthesisers a bit which can be just as much fun.” David had long worked world music into Not Drowning Waving’s records, can talk for hours equally about programmable synths and folky acoustic pop. He continues, proudly. “I’ve got pretty diverse tastes is all. I can spend a day just listening to string music from Papua New Guinea and then the next getting out my old punk records or some Nick Drake, so I think keeping in touch with the broadest range of music I can helps me become a more interesting musician.” MFTCC began in 1989 while David and co-founder, cellist Helen Mountfort, were on holiday in New Zealand and having a break from commitments to Not Drowning Waving. There they wrote a set of acoustic-based songs, clearly in oppose to all previous NDW material which would ultimately form the start a steady side-project, ultimately outlasting NDW.

Not Drowning Waving was my first passion and they were a great bunch of musicians, but we had a much different agenda in what we were trying to do with that band than we do in ‘Cake.” David surmises, “Also NDW was an expensive outfit to operate. It was a large group with a lot of equipment and so it would’ve had to get a lot bigger than it did to really pay for itself in the long run. But with my solo records I get to satisfy a lot of the urges I had doing NDW, but with MFTCC I get to have that collaborative, social urge fed as well.” Not Drowning Waving, you could argue, fitted awkwardly within the Australian music landscape of the mid-to-late ‘80s. Their lean towards world music and sparse instrumentals probably kept them from reaching the broader audience MFTCC has. Indeed by the time MFTCC had released their second album, Brood in 1995, they were gathering ARIA's and landing on radio playlists.

MFTCC was a priority for me from very early on.” David adds on transitioning between bands the first time, “Working with somebody like Helen in Not Drowning and then us both shifting into MFTCC was great because she has always had such a different ear to mine in arranging and producing and so forth, so it was always going to be fascinating to see where we could take this little idea of an acoustic chamber band with our kind of opposing views on music but also with respect for the way we each did our thing.” Wearing their boffin hats, production on the band’s sixth studio album, Fiasco was down to David and Helen - as has been the case on all MFTCC albums - with mixing by Tim Cole. David describes his relief as the final piece was added to the long-awaited new ‘Cake album.

Bridie with Helen Mountfort - The core of  'Cake

“I remember on the last night (of mixing) sitting with Tim Cole and realising with some satisfaction we really had done the best album we could. I think over time we have developed a kind of ‘Cake sound’ if you like, and when I hear that, I know it is a good indication that we’re clicking.” So in sync they appear to be, that even violinist Hope Csutoros’s baby arrived right at the start of the band’s usual extended between album break, meaning her band commitment wasn’t compromised. “Hope happily was able to come back on board in time for this album after some time off for motherhood duties and that was obviously special to Helen because of how they work so closely together in the studio on the string arrangements.” David confirms, “Also it helps to have the same band in the studio as you play with on tour.” Aside from the predominant dueling strings, another constant in MFTCC is the suburban landscape oil paintings and collages that adorn most of their CD sleeves. Fiasco’s cover at first glance feels a little familiar, and then it dawns that this street scenario had graced the cover of Brood – only now the developer’s have been through.

The "Brood" sleeve-art
Warwick Jolly’s done most of our album artwork so far and I think, like the music, the more you look at his collages the more you find.” Indeed you’ll see a train track tearing up the middle of the image, surrounded by cut-outs of Melbourne buildings and people past and present. In the centre, sits the unmistakable red brick overpass on the way to East Richmond station – an often by-passed location for metro travelers - which forms a tidy subtext for an album concerned mostly with journeys big and small and those who get left behind. “I guess the metaphor is fairly obvious isn’t it?” David laughs. As for the title, Fiasco, Bridie claims he was forced to compromise. “I wanted to call it Somewhere Between The Sacred and the Bleeding Ordinary but was somewhat dissuaded because of how long the band’s name is – like it wouldn’t all fit along the spine of the CD - so I was a bit disappointed about that. But Fiasco in this instance is more a bun fight in a bakery than a tragedy. Despite it being an Italian word, I think a lot of Aussies happily use it to add gravitas when describing something like a failed relationship.” It seems a natural choice of words considering the album’s centrepiece, Madang Panic Attack. This uncharacteristic, somewhat guttural release from the band – written by Bridie in Papua New Guinea - is one of the few tracks David will admit to being a very personal one.

Madang Panic Attack was me going through a break-up and being in a different country with a bottle of duty-free whiskey.” David recalls, “Some of the locals had set fire to the store and the church in the village so the air was just hot and sweaty.” He adds sighing, “Anyway my troubles got on top of me one night and I just spewed forth all these lyrics trying to make sense of everything.” Madang Panic Attack stands as MFTCC’s darkest song thus far, both lyrically and musically. David describes, “It’s pretty edgy stuff for us and after we had it down in the studio, Andrew (Richardson – guitars) put a load of electric guitar on it, but Helen rightfully said, ‘look we’ve stuck to this acoustic thing all along, there’s no point in breaking from that now’ so it was redone for the album, but at some point I wanna put out that other version. I think people who have followed us for a long time might get a bit of a shock with Madang... but then I sometimes think being in a band, surprising your audience is one of the things you’re supposed to do.” Further hints of personal loss lurk throughout the album, but none is more startling than on Black Ice with its eerie refrain; ‘Black ice took her away from me’. David responds.

“I’m really using Black Ice as a metaphor here. There was no real car crash I was describing.” He reveals, “It was more to do with childhood memories of being driven on these winding mountain roads and seeing black ice warning signs. To me they always seemed to imply life’s greatest dangers are the ones unseen, which is just one of those things that has stayed with me through my own life.” Changing tact, David adds, “I’m actually really pissed off AC/DC called their last tour Black Ice because now we can’t use it for ours.” He laughs, “They kind of pre-emptively stole our thunder there… those bastards!”


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