Cakekitchen Interview - September 30th 2003.
Questions by Shirley Muller. Answers by Mr Cake.
Itīs a few days after the first Cakekitchen tour of Germany in a few years and Iīm talking to main cake person Graeme Jefferies over the phone in his apartment in Nord Rhein Westfalen. Graeme and The Cakekitchen have been on the road promoting the new album "How Can You Be So Blind?". Itīs a cracker of a record and Graeme is in a good mood. His deep way down there baritone voice sometimes barely fits onto my little tape recorder here in Berlin and he has a laugh like a broken chimney. He seems to be on top of the caos of getting life and limb back together after The Cakekitchenīs recent long haul of kilometres around the German and Austrian autobahns. Heīs full of stories that are sometimes hard to understand. But all seems well in the cookie jar at least and heīs not out of tiger juice jet. The conversation is transcribed as it hit the tape. Make of it what you will and enjoy the ride. Welcome to the crazy world of Mr Cake.
Shirley: Well Graeme youīve just got back from a two week tour with The Cakekitchen.
That must have been a lot of fun? How was that for you? You were touring with three germans, a belgian and an american. Did it drive you crazy or craze you, drive silly? Whatīs it like for you to tour Germany these days?
Mr Cake: Well, it was a lot of fun. (laughs) I think everyone enjoyed it to some extent and mostly we had a really good time. Some of the shows were great and thatīs the reason we were on the road. To spread the word of The Cakekitchen, as it were. Iīm happy to report that itīs still fun for me to tour in Europe. Itīs kind of stressy though.
Shirley: Iīll bet it was.
Mr Cake: Yeah, This time I was doing alot more of the internal organising, too much probably (laughs again) and also working really closely with the sound people and stuff like that. I even managed to play drums for the support act as well.
Mr Cake: Uh huh, a friend of ours, a guy called Krite came with us for the whole tour. But I think it was a bit too much for me to manage really. (pauses) It would have been better to have done it seperately. Sometimes I got way too streessed out. (signs) It made for a very very long day. (pauses again)
Shirley: I can imagine it did.
Mr Cake: Yeah, but we all got along pretty good though and all of the clubs seemed to be interested in a re-booking, which is the most important thing. Itīs harder these days to tour in Europe than it was 5 years ago. The scene and the way things are done has changed a lot.
Shirley: Thatīs interesting. Why is that?
Mr Cake: Well, the record companies arenīt making the money they used to make and this really effects the whole economy of the scene itself right down the line. Live though, people still want to go out and see bands and Germany isnīt a poor country by any stretch of the imagination, but nobodies really got that much idea about what the next big thing will be so nobodies that much inclined or prepared to step bravely forward finacially. (laughs) Itīs harder to make money on the road these days and the promotional costs of competing in such a large promotional industry are way more expensive.
Shirley: You mean it costs more just to keep your foot firmly planted in the door?
Mr Cake: Yeah, right. (laughs) Exactly. This doesnīt mean that itīs all down hill or something though. I mean, the tour did make money but it seems to have gotten harder for bands and record companies in the last few years. Particularly the underground scenes, which were the hardest wicket finacially anyway.(pauses)
Shirley: Yeah, Iīve heard people say that here too. And you also played drums in the support band? I was surprised about that. I didnīt know you did that sort of thing? It wasnīt for the money was it?
Mr Cake: No, it wasnīt for the money. I played for Krite for free. But yeah, I didnīt know I did that sort of thing myself either. I remember that on last years "Creeping Unknown Package Tour" when I played solo Rando Trost kindly helpled me out on a couple of songs. It worked out better for me to be not quite so solo playing solo.
Shirley: That makes sense. Did he just play a couple of songs at the end or something?
Mr Cake: Yeah, we did "I Like Your Style" and "I Donī t Want To Hear You Say Goodbye". So itīs like I thought Iīd kind of return the favour musican karma wise. (pauses) Actually, we all helped Krite to get his songs into shape. We saved him from his drum machine.
Shirley: You mean the rest of the Cakekitchen helped him to?
Mr Cake: Thatīs right. Dieter did some really good cello parts as well and Fabrizio played bass for him too. It worked out good. Krite was a really neat guy to go on tour with. There was never a dull moment with him. (laughs) He was kind of like a german version of Ariel Bender or something. He named his mouse "Pass Out Mouse". (pauses) You really really wouldnīt believe some of the things that happened on the tour. It was hilarious. (laughs again) It really was.
Shirley: It sounds like fun. How did you all get around?
Mr Cake: We hired a van. The tour wagon was a weird horseflesh blend of beer, squashed fruit, bottles, waffles, kiwis, stuffed animals, white tigers, damaged fingers and old sausages. It was halfway between a circus and a flea market. Oh all of the things that happened in that innocent little white volkswagon van. If only they knew. The hire company guy was actually a fan of the bands. I was really surprised that he knew who we were. Weīre all quite different people. Sometimes we got lost along the way a bit but it all worked out OK in the end.
Shirley: Yeah, it sounds like a barrel of laughs. And the shows were good?
Mr Cake: Some of the shows were great. Berlin, Darmstadt, Stuttgart and Innsbruck were great. It really started to work better as a band after Bielefeld. We taped a lot of the shows this time around .
Shirley: You taped some of the shows?
Mr Cake: Yeah, on this old seventies Marantz portable cassette recorder. And we even taped a lot of the soundchecks. It will be hilarious to hear some of the soundchecks back. (laughs) Some of our soundchecks became very left brain. (laughs again) It was always such of a race against time to get the both ours and Kriteīs completed properly before the doors opened. Sometimes we nearly didnīt make it. (pauses) But then again other times the soundchecks were really right brain helpful. The guy at the Berlin Show even got a free CD from us and I have to buy them off the label.
Shirley: Sounds like you must have kept him busy. How did you do the arrangements for the new songs live? It sounds on the record like a lot of tracks but you only have three other people working with you on stage. Was it very difficult to recreate the new songs live? I really like the new album by the way. Itīs the best thing youīve done in ages. What was it like for you to work with Michael Heilrath? Iīm a fan "On the Couch" as well.
Mr Cake: Thanks Shirley. Iīm glad you like the new record. (pauses) It was a long project to complete. It took nearly a year to finish it. I kept hopping back and forth on the train to Munich carrying loads of equipment with me and Michael would meet me at the bahnhof. (laughs) It was a lot of fun to work with him. I guess weīre both fairly highly strung but I thought we got along really well. I tried my best to try and surprise him. Once I turned up with two guitars, an electric piano, my clothes for a few days, and three mind numbingly loud ride cymbals.
Mr Cake: Yeah, I sure had long arms for a while after that. He never could guess just what Iīd arrive with next. (laughs) It was fun to keep him on the hop. I like him as a person. Heīs a great engineer. (pauses) Sometimes I would even buy him a chicken for lunch. Für unterwegs. (means "for on the way" in german) Towards the end of the sessions heīd even installed a video monitor in the studio so he could see what I was up to.
Shirley: No? ( disbelief)
Mr Cake: Yeah, really. He did. It was a good idea. Most of the tracks were first or second takes once the levels were right. Initially we worked together very very quickly. We did all the original rhythm acoustic and electric guitar tracks plus all of the vocals in the first three days. That was for eleven songs. We finished up with twelve songs in the end and edited it down to a final nine for the album. As it was it was about 48 minutes long anyway. Itīs the maximum safe length you can actually manufacture for a twelve inch vinyl.
Shirley: Hmm, somebody told me you couldnīt get more than twenty two and a half minutes per side. I always wondered about that. Iīve got a vinyl copy of Hex Enduction Hour?
Mr Cake: Actually in theory the new albumīs about three minutes over time but we had a good working relationship with the cutting engineer who made up the acetate and she did it really well first time. You can sneak the grooves thinner in places as long as you give precise instructuions of the points in which itī s safe to do so and where to reopen the groove at. You can squeeze out a bit of time on the parts where there arenī t deep bass or drum parts. The deep sounds are in the bottom of the groove for a record.
Shirley: Yeah? I never knew that? (more disbelief)
Mr Cake: Itīs true. The trebles in the top of the groove and the bass is in the bottom. Thereīs a lot of old world tricks to cutting vinyl. It was a lot of fun to make a record with Michael. We both tried really hard over a long period of time on the project. It came out different to what we both expected it to in the end. Sometimes it seemed to have a will of itīs own.
Shirley: Itīs a great record though. Maybe it was good if it had a will of itīs own.
Mr Cake: Yeah, I think so too. Thereīs definitely some magic in those recordings for sure. In the end we both made a bit of room for each other on different things. I didnīt always get my own way. I liked working with Michael alot. I even sneaked in on a Couch rehearsal when Tom was putting down some drum tracks. That was fun.
Shirley: Iīll bet it was.
Mr Cake: Yeah, He surprised me there. I though heīd probably sling me out. Those guys are extremely musical. Theyīve got a very interesting way of seeing and hearing things. Theyīre also kind of really crazy in an extremely funny way. Too much calk in the Isar. (laughs)
Shirley: And about the arrangements of the songs live?
Mr Cake: Oh, yeah, Ah, live the arrangements are usually quite similar in the essence of what I believe the core of the song to be. There not exactly the same but they sound similar. It depends on the song. Sometimes itīs deliberately a little different though.
Shirley: How is that?
Mr Cake: Well, for excample, we thought that the verses for "Gold Neon Moon" were better with an additional part live and in this case it does sound better for that song. An old fan of the band said he liked the live arrangements better because he thought that they were a little more hungry than the recorded versions and I really took that as a compliment. (sighs)
Shirley: Do you play "The Love You Had For Me" live?
Mr Cake: No we donīt play that one live. It wouldnīt be hard to do though. I could get the guys to rip up paper bags and spin euros around in plates and rattle things while I played it on guitar and sang. It would be hilarious (mumbles something indistinct) That might make people scratch their heads a bit. It could be a sister song to one of the numbers weīre doing on stage at the moment. (laughs again - pauses - drinks something).
Mr Cake: Yeah. We do a song called "The Hop Hop Song" where I donīt play guitar at all but just sing and rattle a plastic egg and squeeze a rubber chicken into the microphone. That really is the bottom line on punk rock these days. (sighs) Itīs like all thatīs left of the old original anarchistic ethic of all you need is "Imagination " to make up a song. The idea just seemed to spin together at one of our rehearsals. Dieterīs just seemed to start playing a cello riff and a vocal pattern kind of popped into my head at the same moment. I just made up a lot of the lyrics on the spot. If you listen to the original demo itīs hilarious (laughs)
Shirley. Did you keep any of the original improvised lyrics for the song?
Mr Cake.: Yeah, I kept about a third of them. People are really surprised when we do this song in front of them. They canīt tell if were pulling their leg or not.The new band is really interesting to watch. The four of us play 7 different things during the course of the evening and the reaction to the new live thing has been really good. Itīs the first time The Cakekitchen has ever been a four piece band before. (fades away)
Shirley: So who is actually in the band at the moment Graeme? Itīs hard for us to keep track of whatīs going on with the group these days. Can you please tell me a bit about the people that you play with in The Cakekitchen at the moment?
Mr Cake: Well , Dieter Roseeuw is still there as usual. He joined a couple of years ago and he knows the ins and outs of the songs pretty well. Heīs from Belgium. Dieter plays cello and violin on stage. Weīve worked on a lot of material over the last couple of years together and heīs kind of used to my stuff. He has a strange sense of humour. (pauses) Heīs getting very good at colouring in the songs these days. He knows the meaning of being hungry. (laughs)
Shirley: Has Dieter toured with you before?
Mr Cake: This was his first real tour but he did play with the band at the Hausmusik Festival in 2001. Heīs gotten pretty good at "Stepping on his peddle Jimmy" (as they say in the business) and itīs fun to work with him. Weīre using a similar set up to the one I used to use in This Kind of Punishment live when I played electric viola on some songs.
Mr Cake: Yeah, we make a universal setting for both the cello and the violin through the same amp and he hops back and forth from one to the other. Itīs interesting to share a side of the stage with him. (sighs)
Shirley: And who else is in the band?
Mr Cake: Well, thereīs also the brothers Flavio and Fabrizio Steinbach. Theyīre pretty new to the group. I havenīt played with them for very long at all, so itīs early days. I guess time will tell if it works out but they seem to be happy with it I guess. (laughs)
Shirley: They also play in the Go-Luckys donīt they?
Mr Cake. Thatīs right. I was in bands with my brother for many years so I can relate to their situation concept wise at least, they offered to help out, so I took them up on the offer. It just sort of happened. (pauses) I guess you could look at the new band as two sets of two. Dieter and I kind of know how each other plays and the twins know how to do stuff together, so itīs like two sets of two. It works kind of like that in a way. (sighs)
Shirley: Thatīs interesting. Itīs nice to see The Cakekitchen is back into the idea of actually playing a tour again after all this time of "No Real Action" live? The last Cakekitchen tour proper was with Markus Acher playing drums in the band and you toured as a two piece band together with the Mountain Goats. That must have been in 1996? Why have you taken so long to get around to doing another tour? What stopped you touring in the first place?
Mr Cake: Hmm. Well, thatīs a lot of questions. Let me run through them for you. Firstly I guess that I kind of just lost interest in playing live for a while. I was working full time at Rough Trade so it wasnīt like I absolutely needed to get money from playing live and the free time that I did have I much rather preferred to put into recording or writing songs.
Shirley: You worked for Rough Trade?
Mr Cake: Yeah, Rough Trade Germany. With the money I earned there I upgraded my four track studio to an eight track and then a sixteen track one. I guess Iīm from the old school of music fan turned composer. I much prefer recording to playing live. You get more back from it in a way and itīs more intellectually rewarding.
Shirley: Iīve heard your brother say the same thing about recording and playing live too.
Mr Cake: Yeah, we both agree about that. (laughs) Having said that though, I must also say that I really thought what was great about the early New Zealand scene was the really high percentage of vinyl sniffing music nuts that actually did put bands together for themselves and go out and play live for the hell of it. I guess Iīve kind of come full circle on it again in a way.
Shirley: Hmm. I see.
Mr Cake: Yeah. Primarily I guess I decided to put a live band together again and to go out on the road with it pretty much for my own amusement really and also for the amusement of the people I chose to play with. I wanted to see what would happen with it. Our only real goal is still a similar ethic to that early New Zealand thing, that of trying to make music that you think is as good as the stuff that you really love yourself as a listener. The band are all real music nuts. I think thatīs one of the things that makes it special.
Shirley: Iīve always thought that was what made a lot of the early New Zealand scene special too.
Mr Cake: Yeah, I guess I kind of got back into the idea of touring when I went on the road with Robert Scotts "Creeping Unknown Package Tour", (Clean bass player and Bats mainman toured Germany with Graeme last year) It was an easy gig for me and I didnīt have to organise one thing. I just jumped into the van and was off.
Shirley: Thatīs great. You didnīt have to organise anything?
Mr Cake: No, not a thing. It was organised by the people at Gleiss 22. It made me realise that touring could be quite fun again. Robert was a great source of information on what had happened to who in New Zealand over the years that Iīve been away and a lot of fun to tour with. I just sort of got back onto the horse again (laughs)
Shirley: Iīm glad that you did Graeme and "Tally Ho" to that. I guess we should start to wrap this thing up now. It sure is interesting to find out whatīs happening in the crazy world of the Cakekitchen. I hope it all fitted into my little tape recorder. I know all of your fans will wish you the best of luck with the new line up.
Mr Cake: Thanks Shirley, we seem to be on a lucky streak at the moment. Whatīs the weather like for you in Berlin at the moment? Your not a Berliner yourself. I hope itīs better than it is here in Recklinghausen?
Shirley: No, Iīm not. Itīs only my fourth day here and itīs raining and cold at the moment. Iīm glad Iīm not spending the winter here. It looks absolutely bleeding miserable outside. I think Iīll put the kettle on right now. I canīt bare to look at it without a cup of tea. Iīm off.
Mr Cake: OK Shirley "Over and Out". You Londoners always do feel better with a hot cup of tea in your hands. It was nice talking to you. Maybe catch up later?
So ended my exhilerating and somewhat confusing conversation with Graeme Jefferies. The house cat "Tiddles" is now clawing at my leg to get outside and all hell has broken loose. If you want more information to chew on, crazy tales and wild stories about stuffed tigers then check out there homepage at www.thecakekitchen.de or sniff round the back hedge at Hausmusik store in Munich. We can only count ourselves lucky that the group is playing shows again for the moment and pray that our good luck continues. For those of you who havenīt heard the new LP you can take my word for it that you really really really should buy it so that the force of the Cake will be with you. Bon voyage and over and out Mr Cake. Shirley is now off to make the tea.
(This article is subject to copyright but both Shirley and Mr Cake have agreed that parts of it can be used to make up new articles on the band and what itīs doing now if so desired. Please however credit Shirley Muller as the source of the information and thank her and Tiddles for paying for the longish phone call) Copyright - Shirley Muller, September 2003.