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David Bridie
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And eating it, too...

IF DAVID BRIDIE IS not the busiest musician in Australia, it would be interesting to know who is. But sitting in a North Fitzroy cafe, Bridie, a quiet, polite, well-spoken man in his early 30s, is a little taken aback by the suggestion.

"I'm actually not as busy as it appears," he says. Indeed, he has a point, given the 12-month time-lag that often separates recording from release. Perhaps he's also thinking of the countless musicians who play in several bands, without achieving recognition in any of them. Yet there is no denying that Bridie is something of a one-man industry. His itinerary for this year is pretty much full, even if the two bands for which he is best known are not operational.

Not Drowning Waving - the very civilised band he started in the late '80s - is no more, and its spin-off, My Friend The Chocolate Cake, is unlikely to play more than the occasional gig this year. But the Chocolate Cake (a name the band is stuck with, its longevity having exceeded all expectations) is on the radar with the release of the film The Myth Of Fingerprints, directed by American Bart Freundlich. It tells the story of "a dysfunctional family that gets together at Thanksgiving, and all the skeletons start falling out of the closet," says Bridie. "It's very subtle for an American film, like an Ibsen play."

Bridie composed the bulk of the soundtrack with guitarist John Phillips (of NDW), then performed much of it with several Chocolate Cake members.

Freundlich had heard the Bridie-Phillips What I Have Written soundtrack, and approached him to score his film. Bridie went to New York to view the rough cuts and sat through many late-night international phone-calls. But even such a disjointed creative experience left him unruffled.

Bridie is grateful to Freundlich for allowing him generous freedom. The freedom gained by working for someone else also appealed. "The music is there to work with the vision of the director, whereas on my record it's my artistic vision.

"That's not to say it's like doing an ad or something. The answer maybe is that it's a totally different discipline, but no less creative," he says, his right eye squinting as he concentrates to make a point. The squint is Bridie's most distinguishing feature.

Tall, square-jawed, blue-eyed and fair-haired, the tasteful understatement that so characterises his music is a part of his manner, of his being - if his hair were blonder or his eyes bluer, he would be too pretty; if he were any more polite, it would be excessive.

Bridie's ego is under control, which is one reason he can work well for others, scoring a film, and with others - as a producer (for Archie Roach, Monique Brumby and George Telek for starters). His is a talent in demand: within months he will head off with Telek on the Womad circuit, for performances as far afield as Weipa, Portugal, Belgium and Noumea.

It is a schedule that would have others in a spin, but Bridie, calm and controlled, is precisely the sort of spirit one would expect to be the originator of the warm music of his bands.

In the midst of all this, he is embarking upon a new undertaking, perhaps as challenging as anything he has attempted - playing solo. Quirks of fate have seen to it that his solo performances have been scattered far and wide - Alice Springs, Perth, Canberra, Toronto, New York. Now, however, he is facing the music in Melbourne, in a series of small shows around town, road-testing songs likely to be recorded later this year. Playing thrice with drummer-percussionist Michael Barker (ex-Chocolate Cake) and Michael Donnell (bass and guitar) and three times by himself, Bridie is feeling a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation at heading into uncharted waters. "I'm really quite keen with these solo shows and recording that it's about the songs, and that it's about a particular sound, and that it's something that's me." The trademark alternative middle-of-the-road sound on display at the Public Bar suggests Bridie has little to worry about.

His motivation for going solo is mixed. "There's a number of reasons: I've played in bands for 15 years, and quite large bands, which has been great but I think there can be a purity that comes out when you're on your own. It's scary as well. The overseas option is another thing as well" - touring OS in a six-piece band is an economically fraught undertaking.

Bridie is in an enviable position. "Well, I think I realised early on that none of my songs would ever be huge sellers. I am very fortunate, and I'm not taking any of it for granted," he says.

The Age
Sunday 19 April 1998