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My Friend The Chocolate Cake
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"I’ve got to tell you about Ike and Tina, the tarantulas above the pool table. The mixing studio was in this factory in Soho. The guy who ran the studio was a mad scientist - every door in the place was like something out of Lost in Space. You got inside a force field or you pressed the glass and the door would open. You pressed a little button and the EQ would come down like a periscope in 20000 Leagues Under The Sea. It was full of knick knacks. You’d open the dunny door and Beethoven would blare out of these speakers.

Tarantulas and snakes everywhere. The tarantulas were real, the snakes were skeletons or stuffed. There was a laundry across the road, staffed by illegal immigrants, that was being closed down. The unions were having a picket line out the front. It was all very full-on" -- David Bridie

A Few Facts
Brood is the second album by My Friend the Chocolate Cake, a six piece acoustic act which formed in Melbourne at the turn of the decade. Two of its members David Bridie (piano, vocals) and Helen Mountfort (cello), also play in Not Drowning, Waving. violin player Hope Csutoros plays with a number of acts in both classical and rock fields. Michael Barker has been found behind the drumkit with Tim Finn, Deborah Conway and others. Rather than play with other bands, Andrew Carswell (mandolin) and Andrew Richardson (guitar) have lives.

Brood was recorded in late 1993 in three Melbourne studios. It was mixed by Jim Rondinelli (Big Star, Matthew Sweet, Deborah Conway) in New York in Tom Verlain’s studio, allowing the band to feel like rock wankers, a long term ambition.

In keeping with the first, self-titled album, Brood is round and flat. The members of the band had more input in its construction. Though David and Helen are responsible for most of the songwriting, the passing of time has slowed MFTCC’s creativity to coalesce. Brood displays a band more aware of itself.

It is an ambitious work. That ambition stems from a clear desire on the part of the six musicians to build on the success of the first album, to take the project into new realms. Lighter. Darker. Larger. Smaller. Calmer. Angrier. The world that the music inhabits may be bigger than before, but the confidence remains.

Australia doesn’t have a great history of acoustic pop music. There are few references for MFTCC — they are something of a singularity. They manage to be accessible while always offering reward for closer inspection. They combine emotion, thought and vision in a way that few Australian acts have ever been able to. Brood is without doubt the most interesting, crafted and rounded album of 1994.

The capital of Lesotho is Maseru.

David: "The first record worked and MFTCC, which had been a bit as hoc, actually became something. It had a framework to work within and part of this album is a fight against that framework. At other times, the point was to work with ideas, pick up on the threads that worked really well in the first record and follow them through. It’s a more fully developed record than the last one."

Helen: "In some ways it’s a darker record. It’s very different in that it’s a studio album, where the first one was intrinsically a live record. There was a lot more thought put into pre-production. A lot of it is thicker, more textured. There’s still the happy sort of songs that Chocolate Cake do so well, but there are more moody songs."

David: "I wanted to work with the pop nature of the band in a couple of songs, exploring what you could do with a string section. It’s a good band for that. There are a lot of different textures. We probably knew a bit more about what instruments and combinations of instruments the band was capable of, so we tried to push that a bit more. It’s a bit chunkier than the first record and that’s not a bad thing."

Helen: "We wanted to push the limits of an acoustic band, to push the instruments that we had to the edge, which I think we really have in songs like Slow Way to Go Down. What I love about it is that is sounds like it has electric instruments - we’re really pushing the instruments to see what they can do."

Track by Track

I’ve Got A Plan
David: " A song that came together really easily. One of those classics - you’ve got the tune, melody and lyric in the head and you just write it down and it doesn’t change that much. There was an immediacy about it that works well. I like singing it for some reason. It’s a classic sitting on the fence song."

Helen: "It was a late addition, very late. We started with 12 songs and it sort of grew to 18. David wrote it at the Pig Pen (Johnny’s (Phillips of NDW) studio, with a drum machine going. He wasn’t sure if it was a Chocolate Cake song - he played it for me and I loved it from the first time I heard it."

Throwing it away
David: "The same chord progression as Werewolves of London and Sweet Home Alabama. It just king of chugged away, with its running string lines and layered vocals. There’s a band sound that Chocolate Cake can get - I really like the way it works. The Victorian reference in the song is kind of important too. These days, people shy away from writing things that are relevant to the place they live. If you lived in Victoria at the moment...there are quite substantial changes happening. There really is a sense of throwing away the stuff we have taken for granted, like health care."

Helen: "From the soundtrack to David Caesar’s film (of the same name). It obviously really suited Chocolate Cake."

David: "It has Chocolate Cake written all over it. It’s such a lovely melody to play live."

The Old Years
David: "It was written at Robe in South Australia in the winter - in summer it becomes a horrid tourist town. There’s the point there that overlooks this bay on one side and looks out to the ocean on the other. There was one of those very rare occasions where there was a full moon rising and the sun setting in the background, and it was almost surreal."

And the line from Death of a Salesman, "You’ve got to break your neck to see the stars shine in this yard"? "It had always stuck with me. It seems to say a lot about the struggle of urban living, everyday life. It is an effort for people to keep their heads above the water and that line says it well."

Dance You Stupid Monster to My Soft Song
Helen: "That name actually came when we were mixing it in New York. David and I had gone down to the Guggenheim, where there was a Paul Klee exhibition on. There was a drawing called ‘Dance You Monster to My Soft Song’. David thought it would be a great name for that instrumental, so we stole it."

David: "It’s the kind of textural thing I was talking about. Great piece. I really like the way that Hope’s violin sounds - Hope’s role on this record is a lot stronger."

Song from Under the Floorboards
A Magazine song, from the glory days of post punk.

David: "I’ve always wanted to do a cover of that. I thought it was one of the great indie pop songs and I was always a big Howard Devoto fan. In the same way as Throwing it Away or Slow Way to Go Down, what’s great is the way that Chocolate Cake play as a rock band. There are bass lines being played on the cello and the violin is playing keyboard lines and the mandolin is playing the guitar shuffle. I think it’s a classic song of revolution - don’t quote that." And it has one of the greatest opening lines in rock history - "I am angry, I am ill and I’m as ugly as sin..." Yeah, what a great line to sing. That was part of the reason too."

Jimmy Stynes
David: "Jimmy Stynes, an artist of a football player. Helen, Andrew and I sat down together with the idea of writing an up tempo instrumental for Chocolate Cake Helen’s going to hit me if I play the Melbourne theme song one more time live, if I hide it in one of the songs, like The Romp or in the middle section of Jimmy Stynes. Any kind of opportunity - it was pretty shameless after a while. She was quite taken though by the story of this lad from Dublin who came over at 19, learned another game and won the Brownlow Medal. Andrew Carswell and I are quite adept at having a few drinks, sitting down and talking about a Jimmy Stynes short pass like it was a Paul Klee painting. The good thing about the recording is that it has a lot of lumpy bits. One of the things we were trying to get is the chunk of acoustic instruments, the chunks of the piano or the fret noise of the stringed instruments, the roughage."

Slow Way to Go Down
Helen: "It’s important for Chocolate Cake because it’s a new thing - it’s much darker. David and I have this theory that the three year old market won’t appreciate Slow Way to Go Down. A lot of kids really liked the first record. It was very child-friendly. Slow Way was written while we were in London doing pre-production for (NDW album) Circus. We were staying in this place on Portobello Road beside the M4. I was in the upstairs flat so it wasn’t too bad, but David was downstairs and literally had to hear the motorway right beside his bed. It’s so bleak because that’s when he was writing, without sleep."

Bottom and the Rustics
Helen: "When we first started Chocolate Cake, David’s father thought we should be called Bottom and the Rustics, because he’d been reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream and there was a line, ‘Exit Bottom and the rustics’. But David would have obviously Bottom, and that wouldn’t have been very good. And we had another name by then, so we decided it should become a song title."

David: "One of the early inspirations for the band was the idea of layered instrumentals. It was based on one of those punchy cello lines of Helen’s."

David: "A bit of flamboyancy. It has a Magazine reference too - that semi-Motown piano vamp that you get at the beginning of Magic, Murder and The Weather. It was a song that had the colour of Nanny’s Farewell. It’s good fun. I got to use The Junior Unbelievers in the lyrics finally too ( a reference to the first band of Telek’s, PNG singer on NDW’s Tabaran). That’s the third song I’ve written them into, but the first that have been recorded."

Helen: "Just a bit of a laugh really. It really features all the Chocolate Cake instruments and was a lot of fun recording."

The Gossip
David: I just really like the way the simple piano chords work with the cello. I’m really happy with the lyrics too - it was specifically written about housing estates in the north of England, but I changed the lyric later to make it more universal. It’s about the ugliness that happens when somebody’s misfortune comes about and other people use it to brighten up their lives."

Helen: "Yandoit’ a very small town, a very cute town. It’s a track that very much came together in the studio. It’s the thickest thing we’ve ever done, the most layered. Yandoit was the town, well, basically just a hall and a couple of houses near Daylesford (in Victoria), where we did the pre-production for the record. We were there for a weekend. There was this hall with a picture of the Queen and lots and lots of signs that said "No Smoking". The caretaker, who lived next door, dropped cigarette ash all over the place all the time, except when his wife was there."

David: "This was the one where Michael Barker was able to go a bit more. Helen and Hope had brought this song to rehearsal - it really jigged along in the string section. That’s a really different song, with the kinds of things we didn’t attempt on the first record - it has a bit of grip to it."

The Pramsitters
David: "The old man is based on the character Peter O’Toole played in Under Milk Wood (Blind Captain Kat). I like the line about ‘the neddies’, and old Australian term for horse racing. The song just had this comical suburban theme, the whole thing of being innocent and helpless when you’re born and returning to that when you get old. But the song doesn’t ponder on it too much. I like the Bavarian cabaret style of it, and I love the oompahpah of the drums. The mandolin and violin line, they’re great musically, great lines."

John Cain Avenue
David: "I kind of feel bad that this song is so far back on the record. It has been an archetypal Chocolate Cake song. It has that sense of community, the ambivalence about it. It’s about a house I used to live in. It’s supposed to be a positive lyric."

Helen: "It features a Melbourne dog barking, which I really like. It was a dog out the backyard of Periscope, the studio where we recorded the song. Hope insisted on doing her violin track outside because there’s a nice garden. The dog was barking in the background, which is very appropriate, because it’s a sort of backyard suburban lyric."

Helen: "There was a track called A Slow Storm Brews on the first record which, in a way, was very similar to Brood. We decided to play around with a lot of textures, more scrunchy textures, Hope and I. If there was a word in my head for Brood, it was murky."

David: "I see the word as meaning ‘dwelling on something’. I’ve had that piano line in my head for ages."

The Red Wallpaper
David: "What a tune! Andrew Carswell on acid with an eight track machine, putting down eight tracks of mandolin. I actually want him to do a whole album. Andrew Carswell is quite an amazing musician. I haven’t quite worked out what it is, but his sense of melody is astonishing - he’s unlike any other musician I have ever worked with. There’s a quirkiness in that that is quite strong."
Helen: "Somebody came up with an alternative name for that track, Father Christmas is a Hare Krishna, because it has sleigh bells and tabla. I thought it was a really really good title for the song, but I got shouted down."

David: "The lyric could have been about anywhere, the tin whistle could have been on anything, but yes, in a way it could be the Danny Boy of this album. For the short time I was staying in Wales, I was quite taken with the Welsh. They’re quite an amazing nation and an interesting culture too."

David: "I love the drum groove, the feel and the hi-hats. That’s another difference with this album. We’ve recorded it at three different studios with three different engineers. We mucked around with stuff, made mistakes and reworked them."

Helen: "David wanted strings, but I really loved it with piano and drums, so I refused to play on it. Then one night David decided he wanted to do some, erm, vocalising? Singing? Mumbling… He said the other day that it was the vocal track on the record he was happiest with."