Melbourne folk rockers My Friend The Chocolate Cake have had an impressive career, with seven albums spanning 25 years. Cellist Helen Mountfort has been with the band since its beginnings, and seemed destined for a career in music from an early age.
“Apparently my dad took me to a concert when I was three and I heard the cello and said, ‘That’s what I’m gonna do.’ And I was completely obsessive about it as a child, in a probably quite unhealthy way. So it was definitely all I was ever going to do,” Mountfort says.
“I grew up just playing classical music but then I found other music in my late teens and knew it was what I wanted to do. And I’ve had the pleasure of using a traditional classical instrument in a non-classical way and it’s been fantastic, [I’ve] loved it.”
Cake were born after the disbanding of ’80s rockers Not Drowning, Waving. That band contained future members of Cake, including the founding members Mountfort and David Bridie. Mountfort notes several reasons for the break up of the earlier group. “I think a big factor was that we were having more band meetings than rehearsals, and when that starts to happen you’re in trouble. Because it means there’s too much stuff, other than the music, taking priority, and I think at the end of the day that was probably it.
“But [Not Drowning, Waving] really was a big band, had a big sound, a lot of instruments, a lot of production, so it was never a band that was easy to tour or cheap to tour. It’s really hard to keep a band like that surviving in Australia with not a lot of places to play or huge audiences.”
Cake have played in a wide variety of venues, but the one that stands out most is clear to Mountfort. “The Spiegeltent has been the most important venue for us. They’re 1930s Belgian dancehall tents, tents that have got solid wooden floors. They’re quite a solid structure; they take days to put up. But they tour them all around the world. We first played Spiegeltent at the Edinburgh Festival, so they’re like little magic worlds. You go into a tent but there’s chandeliers and glam inside, stained glass.
“It’s kind of weird though, because we played in the Spiegeltent in Edinburgh and then we’d walk outside and there’s the castle and the whole of Edinburgh. Then two weeks later we played it in Melbourne, and it’s exactly the same inside, but it’s a different city outside. It’s been quite an important part of our career. There’s about six of them that tour the world and they hold about 300 or 400 people, and they’re incredible – they have such a sense of history in them, just to think about the people that would have been in them, performing in them back in the ’30s. They’re very glamorous with an old-world feeling, which really suits Cake.”
With a career as long as they’ve had, Cake have seen a large evolution in technology, and they’ve embraced it. “It’s been kind of fun – we put out our very first album in ’89, which was on CD, not vinyl, which was kind of a transition point, and I didn’t even have a CD player at the time. They were a pretty new thing, so that’s how long we’ve been around. Now people are mostly downloading stuff. We use Facebook all the time; we have a really active Facebook page. It’s an incredibly handy way of keeping in touch with fans.”