Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Graeme Jefferies Interview

Graeme Jefferies of The Cakekitchen
interview conducted via Phone
by Jim Ebenhoh (21 October 2005)
Kiwi expatriate Graeme Jefferies has been churning out one wonderful album after another since the early 1980s, when he formed Nocturnal Projections with his brother Peter in New Zealand’s oil-fueled and dairy-fed Taranaki province. The Projections’ punk transformed to the darker post-punk of This Kind of Punishment, which released a few albums in the mid-1980s and which for a while featured Chris Matthews and Johnny Pierce of the Headless Chickens. After a solo album Messages for the Cakekitchen and a collaboration with Alastair Galbraith that led to the Bravely Bravely / Timebomb 7” on Xpressway, Graeme put together a proper 3-piece band with Robert Key and Rachael King, called it the Cakekitchen, and released a self-titled EP, the full Time Flowing Backwards LP, and the follow-up World of Sand LP before splitting for London in late 1990. US-based Homestead released these albums plus 1993’s Far from the Sun, which was recorded with a new London lineup, and then Merge Records released a couple of albums and an EP recorded by a Paris-based Cakekitchen (now a two-piece) in the mid-1990s.

Nocturnal Projections, 1983 Peter Jefferies 2nd from the Left,
& Graeme Jefferies 2nd from the Right (promo photo) Posted by Picasa
The last album I had seen was 1996’s Everything’s Going to Work Out Just Fine, put out by London’s Freek Records, so imagine my surprise when 9 years later I found not one, but two recent Cakekitchen albums jammed into the bins at Wellington’s Slow Boat Records. Then imagine my surprise when I found out that Graeme had dropped them off personally. Then imagine my dismay when I found out that he had played a poorly publicized show in Wellington a couple weeks ago that I had missed. Well, I decided to at least not let him fly back to Germany without succumbing to the friendly interrogation of at least one crazed ex-pat American fan. Before knowing that Graeme would be coming back to Wellington the following week for a show at Happy, I organized this interview across the windy wires from Wellington to the Waitakeres.

(Note: I focused this interview on Graeme’s post-NZ exploits; for a full biography and to buy nearly all the Cakekitchen’s fine product, visit http://www.thecakekitchen.net/).

Graeme Jefferies: Hello?
Jim Ebenhoh: Oh, hi, is Graeme there?
GJ: Yeah, speaking.

JE: Oh, hi Graeme, this is Jim
GJ: Hi, Jim, how’re you doing?

JE: I’m good thanks. I should’ve told you I was American, to expect a Yank’s voice on the other side of the phone, heh heh.
GJ: Ah, it’s doesn’t matter…English is English…so don’t worry mate.

JE: Cool.
GJ: What’s it like in Wellington?
JE: Oh, the weather’s horrible at the moment, really windy, yeah yeah.
GJ: Can you hear me OK?

JE: Yeah yeah, I can hear you fine.
GJ: Uh huh, I can hear you good.

JE: OK, cool. So how was the Auckland show last night, was it last night?
GJ: Yeah, it went really well. The show ended up being slightly over 2 hours long. I didn’t actually know how long it would be, but it was 27 songs.

JE: Oh wow.
GJ: But it went pretty well; I sold a lot of merchandise, and there was one guy there that I remember being in the audience at the Rumba Bar when Nocturnal Projections played in ’81…

JE: Oh my god!
GJ: He gave me a hug at the end of the show! So it went pretty well!

JE: It’s always good to get a hug at the end of the show!
GJ: Yeah, I was surprised.

JE: Cool. And you are still playing down here in Wellington next week?
GJ: Yeah, that’s on Wednesday, and another secret one in Auckland just before I fly out, a quite low key one. But yeah, the one on Wednesday should be quite well-advertised. I sent down posters. Jim from Real Groovy’s helping me on it—it’s kind of good to have a Wellingtonian knowing where to put the posters, how to capture the punters.

JE: Yeah yeah, I’m trying to spread the word as well.
GJ: Great.

JE: So there must be a lot of people who are happy to see you in general, just as a friend, not just for your band, because it’s been a while since you’ve been back.
GJ: Yeah, it’s nice to see. I’ve been away for so long that everybody’s lives have totally changed. In that way, it’s nice to catch up with a few people that I didn’t know where they were, just being back in Auckland for a little while. When I went to Wellington I met Rachael King in the street, totally by chance, and she told me how to get hold of Robert Key. Robert and I played together again; we had a session in Keith McLean’s practice room, and maybe we’ll do some recording and stuff at a later date. It’s been really good to catch up with people. Some people I haven’t found, but I found quite a few of them! Sometimes you only need to find one person and they can tell you about all of the others…

JE: Yeah, to unravel everything…Did you live mostly in Auckland when you left Taranaki, or did you live in Dunedin and Christchurch for a while?
GJ: Mostly in Auckland. I can’t remember the exact years, maybe 8 or 9 years on and off in Auckland, 3 in Christchurch, half a year in Dunedin. I usually changed the place that I lived every couple years, quite often the cities rather than just apartments. And then I guess I branched out—on the 4th of August 1990 I emigrated to the UK on a one-way ticket, and I didn’t have the money to come back, so that’s where my adventures began.
JE: Yeah, I saw in one of the interviews on your website [http://www.thecakekitchen.net/], and also you kind of reference it in one of the lyrics in one of your new songs, that your Grandfather came from England, was that kind of a way to get back?
GJ: Yeah, he came from Lowerstoff, it’s around Sunderland way, quite a small coastal town.

JE: What brings you back to NZ this time? Just wanted to catch up with friends and family and things?
GJ: Well, it was my mum’s birthday, so that was a good enough reason. I wanted to surprise her. I didn’t tell her I was coming or she’d worry about me—the plane crashing or me getting the bird flu and all that. I turned up in Taranaki much to her surprise. But it was also like, I kind of wanted to see what New Zealand was like now too. I came back here in 1999 but only briefly, when I got married to a German woman here, but we were only here for two-and-a-half months, so I just wanted to see what the place was like now. There’s something very amazing about the actual land, and in a way it seems a crying shame that to some extent, sadly it seems that it’s half full of rednecks. I think the land itself is really special land, and also its original owners, the native animals, I find really special… Another one of the things I really like about New Zealand is the solitude of it. I come from a little tiny town Stratford in the North Island, and one of my favorite things is to walk around the parks and stuff without anybody being there.

JE: Yeah, yeah.
GJ: I live in a German town called Recklinghausen in NordRheinwestfalen, which is paradoxically one of the most populated part of Europe. I really like New Zealand’s privacy, and the beaches, and the clean air, and the clean water. And I felt I’d been away for a very long time, so I decided to play some shows here and check the place out.

JE: Yeah, I’m a small-town person myself. I grew up in a small town in Ohio, and my wife’s family’s from the Inglewood / Stratford area as well and so…
GJ: Small world!

JE: Yeah, so I kind of appreciate that walking, just getting a view of the mountain every time I’m up there…
GJ: Yeah, I think just being able to wander around and talk to yourself without five other people who are also talking to themselves looking at you while you’re doing it…

JE: [chuckle]
GJ: I like the privacy of it. I choose solitude quite often as an option. I think that’s why it’s been so easy for me to sustain such a long career of writing music or writing songs, in that it’s something I do by myself for kicks. Like the small town thing—nothing to do, didn’t want to go and steal cars or be a red neck at the pool hall—so I started playing an instrument, writing songs, making something out of nothing—the magic of making things out of air, and how when you write a song you’ve got no idea what time it is—maybe you finish at 3 o’clock in the morning, or perhaps when the sun comes up you don’t notice, you forget to eat; the only thing you remember to do is keep drinking coffee.
JE: [hearty laugh]

JE: So do you find it difficult being up there in Auckland, or is it still sort of low-key compared to Germany, or…?
GJ: It’s really changed, Auckland especially; it’s a real eye-opener, what’s happened to it in the last six years since I was here in 1999.

JE: Are you staying out in a rural part of the Waitakeres?
GJ: Yeah, we’re right up on the hill. I’m staying with Keith McLean, my London bass player, and his wife Jo. They’ve been nice to me. It’s quite good; I quite like being back in Auckland. I find New Zealanders quite friendly and innocent in a nice way; they’re not as hard as a lot of the people from other parts of the world. There’s a charming naivet√© about kiwis in a way.

JE: What’s the main change you’ve noticed since you left? Is it just the way that Auckland’s kind of sprawling, or…?
GJ: There seems an incredible amount of immigration in Auckland, of non-European/Caucasian people. There’s a lot of people from Asian countries who live here now. The government had an over-$250,000 policy, and you could live here if you wanted to. That’s made a hell of a difference.

JE: Like Shania Twain buying her little homestead down in Queenstown.
GJ: Yeah. I’m not bashing immigrants or anything like that —the more different nationalities and flavors the better--but I do very much notice it, things like the Asian writing everywhere, and the fact that Queen Street is now like a real tourist spot. It surprised me how similar it appeared in some ways to Hong Kong, which I found really weird. I’d never been to Hong Kong before--had to fly through it to get here. Also, it seems that the rents have really increased in Auckland too; it’s probably not really possible for a scumbag like me to pay rent in Grey Lynn now. But there are little parts that haven’t changed, so at least there’s a bit left; like Robert Key has a house in Grey Lynn, and I went there in the evening for dinner and just to hang out, and that sort of seemed kind of what Auckland used to be like, but there’s been a really big change in the main downtown area. When you leave somewhere you figure it will probably be the same when you come back--at least in my little tiny brain. But Auckland as I used to know it seems gone for good. By comparison, Wellington seemed pretty cool; that was more or less as I expected it. It’s relatively what it was like 15-20 years ago.

JE: Yeah, I love it here. I first moved to New Zealand in ’95 and I lived in Dunedin and then went back to the States for a few years and came back and I was surprised by how much I liked Wellington, because I hadn’t ever been here before.
GJ: Yeah, and now that the port’s not being used as much as it was, it means that the water in the harbor has benefited a bit. I was amazed at how clear it was.

JE: Definitely, yeah. But I see a lot more Americans that I used to. I can’t be one of those sort of people who say, “oh it’s fine for me to come here but no one else,” but I definitely do notice a lot more American voices on the street. And I don’t know if that’s partly people working on the Peter Jackson films, or what the deal is, but um… So, since you’ve been back, you mentioned that you were doing some music with Robert Key? So you’ve been doing some jamming with former bandmates?
GJ: Playing again with Robert was good, it fell easily into place without too much premeditated thinking. Keith’s music room had a drum kit, as it happened, a very good one, actually. And it just seemed a natural thing to play together. We played for a couple of hours, so yeah it was fun to play with him--the original two piece Cakekitchen. I was hoping that me and Robert would play together again, ‘cause in a way he was the first one to join the band; me and him started it rolling at the Rising Sun in March of 1988, so it was kind of good to go a full circle on it again. And Keith McLean (the London line-up bass player)--I also played together with him a few times— and Robert and Keith and I played together for a while too. It’s great to be able to do it for the fun of it, and with those people, cos we understand each other on a good amount of levels. The rapport we had developed hadn’t been so badly shaken by the intervening years.

Cakekitchen 1991 London Line-up: Graeme Jefferies, Keith Maclean & Huw Dainow (promo photo) Posted by Picasa
JE: Were any of those people involved in that Sombretones EP you recorded?
GJ: I didn’t record the EP but I played guitar on it, But yeah, Robert Key was…Robert was the Sombretones drummer. The original seed for the two-piece Cakekitchen kind of came out of the Sombretones. Craig Mason was the leader of the Sombretones, and my girlfriend and I were flatting in the same house. Craig invited me to play with the band, so I started to come up with additional guitar parts for the songs that he’d written…

JE: Yeah, I love your guitar on that song, the “Love” one, whatever that’s called.
GJ: Yeah, I like that one too. “Love is neat and exactly what you need”…One of Craig’s most optimistic songs ever.

JE: So I was going to tell you, I picked up the new Cakekitchen album a few days ago, and I really love it; it’s quite extraordinary.
GJ: Oh, thank you. Did you buy it from Slow Boat?

JE: Yeah, I got it from Slow Boat, yeah. I saw it stocked in there along with the earlier Cakekitchen recordings.
GJ: Yeah, I did a deal with a guy there called Steve. He came along to the show at Bodega. He had the most amazing thumb injury I’ve ever seen—it was all black and blue, the brother of the gangrene gang or worse…

JE: What was it? What did he have?
GJ: He cut his thumb somehow, can’t remember exactly how, and it had gone septic, he had to have antibiotics. It looked like a new face in hell but that didn’t stop him from going to the show. I thought that was brave of him.

JE: Yeah, the album is great, and the cover is also pretty extraordinary, with the fox playing the cello.
GJ: Thank you. That’s me in the dinner jacket.

JE: Is that you, behind the fox mask?
GJ: Yeah, that’s me, and the cello is actually mine as well. After the 2003 tour, I stopped off on my way back home in Stuttgart and, having a good amount of money in my pocket for once in my life, I was fortunate enough to see this cello for sale and I just bought it. I was looking in a pawn shop and I found it by accident; I happened to be visiting this American friend of mine called Patrick who lives in Stuttgart, and I got lost, and walked past the pawn shop and there it was. I bought it on impulse and because I’d probably never get another chance to buy one. I arrived on Patrick’s doorstep with the cello. He was surprised. It’s a pretty good one. Stuttgart’s a real money city; there’s Euros coming out of every hole there, so second-hand things don’t have the quite the value that they would have in a less moneyed place.

JE: I know they’re not cheap. My wife’s been looking for one—she used to play cello as a kid and she’s been looking for one, and you just can’t find one for less than several hundred dollars anyway…
GJ: Yeah, even an average one would be 1000 euros.

JE: Do you have quite a collection of instruments that you own, or do you just kind of pick things up?
GJ: I own a lot of them but I also just pick up things too. If you visited my house you would find it full of instruments and recording equipment, hardly any furniture, stuffed to the gunnels with CDs, records, reel to reel tapes and 7” singles. I’ve wound up with many, many instruments. It’s not like it’s a collection but more like a whole army of sound tools collected over a lifetime that I use to get different effects on the recordings or that I play just for the fun of it.

JE: What’s your favorite toy at the moment?
GJ: I like them all. It’s like a painter with a paintbrush; it’s more what you can achieve with them than what they actually are. They all have a different quality and have been worth humping from one side of the world to the other, each one. It’s great to have so many textures that one can use. I also have a lot of recording equipment; I like using different machines for different stuff. At the moment I’m mainly using a digital 16-track and a lot of valve pre-amps. Sometimes I still use the half-inch analog 8-track, or even a quarter-inch analog 4-track—I like to swap it around. Where I live looks a bit like a cross between an analogue recording museum and a second hand music store shop. If you look at the back of the CD, on the booklet’s back cover, there’s a building where they all live. That’s my house. The room to the right-hand-side is where the front cover for the new CD was taken.
JE: Cool, cool. So these songs were written over a 7-year period. Were they recorded over a 7-year period, or were they recorded more recently?
GJ: They were recorded over a 7-year period but finished more recently, like “Monkey World”--that was started on a 4-track in 1998, then it went to 8-track when I bought the Tascam 8-track, then I transferred everything to the 16 track and then finally dragged the drum kit down to Bavaria on the train and re-did the drums on it there. That song has been through an incredible amount of processes to get to the finish line, but the four track acoustic guitar and the piano were from 1998, along with the original vocals. In that way it took 7 years to complete. I didn’t intend to take that long with it, but it just seemed to turn out that way. I particularly like the piano sound for that song. It was recorded in the Herne library. It was worth the hassle of dragging the 23-kilo tape machine a mile up the road and then back again to get it.

JE: So it kind of became layered over that period of time. Is Bavaria where Michael Heilrath lives?
GJ: Heilrath, yeah. He lives in Munich. The ideas behind compiling the collection of songs for a release is that I always have a large amount of recorded songs, and I try to put together a collection every year, and I try to make it as diverse as possible between the styles of songs and then string them together in some way with some sort of vague conceptionalistic feel about them, tie them together subconsciously in some way… Like in the way that, say, the Velvet Underground records are sort of tied together somehow, but not in a way that you can really say exactly what it’s about. Each time I get a collection of songs together, I just keep plugging away at my own pace and eventually wind up with something that seems to make sense. At least to me… The last piece of the jigsaw is to do the cover art and packaging. I also enjoy doing stuff like that. I have total control over what I want to present, and I fiddle about with it until it seems about right. Then I find a record company to release it, or release it myself. If it’s with a record company then the deal usually doesn’t involve a lot of money, so they usually let you do whatever the hell you want. It’s a good position to be in for artistic freedom, but I think in some ways you’d be better off to try and make someone pay more like what I think it’s actually worth in terms of time and trouble, and then hopefully that record company would be obliged to help market and promote it properly in order to get the advance back. Doing it without record company backing can really difficult… It’s the hard way to go about it. It can make for a long road. I don’t seem smart enough to do it any other way, and I like to have that total control thing over what I do. Problem child. [laughs]

JE: It’s quite nice, though. This particular album, you can tell that there was some thought put into the collection of songs and the sequencing and things. I’m gathering a bit of a theme, with the lyrics, of sort of the anti-commercialism of, you know, “Monkey World,” when I read that—so much shit to buy.
GJ: “Whole World’s sunk on fast fuck useless junk but Baby won’t you take me for the ride?” I mean, even that’s ambiguous in what it could mean—to be included in the ride, or does it mean take me for a ride? Cause they’re totally different—one is positive, one is negative. It depends on how you see it. I like to make things ambiguous sometimes.

JE: So chronologically these songs, this period, kind of overlapped with the How Can You Be So Blind (2003 album) songs, it was just a different collection of what you…?
GJ: Some of them could have been on that album, some not; like the song I wrote directly after “Monkey World” was “How Can You Be So Blind,” and then “Perfect Love in Radioland” was after that. Technically either of those two songs could have gone on How Can You Be So Blind. “Screaming Alarm Clock Blues” was also around then. I let Michael Heilrath decide which songs he wanted to work on with How Can You Be So Blind. I played him a whole pile of stuff on acoustic guitar and let him hear some of the 8 track and 16 track recordings and then we went from there. I stacked the deck a little with pushing for Beautiful Hidden Lagoon and Lieutenant Ghmpinski, because I really wanted to do those songs without the limitation of a certain amount of tracks, and I think in both cases the versions we did of those songs came out better than the 16 track and 8 track earlier versions. The sequencing of that album also took a lot of thinking about too… We also recorded 3 other songs in the How Can You Be So Blind sessions that we didn’t end up putting on the record. It wasn’t that they were bad songs; it’s just that they didn’t fit with the selection and sequencing so well, or that the collection as a whole was more well represented with those songs left off. I love listening to other people’s records where you can tell that they have put lots and lots of thought into making up a good collection of songs that fit together as a whole. It’s as much what you leave out as what you put in that can make up that magical “bigger than the sum of its parts”- type release.

JE: Is it quite different sequencing for a CD than with albums? Because I remember when I worked at the radio station and we were primarily playing vinyl, you’d sort of know that the song that would start each side would be—you’d know there’d be some thought into “what do you kick off the side with,” and now you have to sort of sustain it over…
GJ: Yeah, I know what you mean. The first song on side two that’s equally good as the first song on side one, and then an even better second song on side two. Maybe people’s attention spans are now so incapacitated that they can’t get to side two so well anymore… “Perfect Love in Radioland” would start side two on Put Your Foot Inside the Door. There are some albums I would always play side two first. “Here Come the Warm Jets” or “This is Our Music” spring to mind.

JE: From this most recent album, what was the most recently written song on there--do you know?
GJ: “I’m So Glad That You Dropped Out of High School” or “Hey Mister Won’t Help Me To Get Back On My Feet Again.” Those two were in sequence; I can’t remember which one came first. I kind of think “I’m So Glad That You Dropped Out of High School” was last song written…I wrote it a week or so before the 2004 June tour. I remember thinking that we needed a few more “meat and potatoes” rock songs, and once I thought of the title the song kind of wrote itself.
JE: That’s kind of like a Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers sentiment—they’ve got a few songs about, “Why don’t you drop out of high school?”
GJ: Yeah, like Modern World off the first album: “Drop out of B.U.!”

JE: [laughing] That’s right--that’s the one! Cool.

JE: I was pleasantly surprised when I went into Slow Boat and I saw not one, but two Cakekitchen albums I hadn’t seen before, because the last album I was able to find in the U.S. was Everything’s Going to Work Out Just Fine. Have any of the Hausmusik or Eggbox releases found their way to the U.S., do you know?
GJ: Yeah, a little, Wolfgang from Hausmusik said he shipped about 130 copies to Jimmy at Forced Exposure, but that was quite a while ago. With Eggbox we sell the other titles direct through the mail order. Anyone accessing http://www.thecakekitchen.net/ can get them that way, but as to whether a lot of people know how to get them I wouldn’t really know. The mail order does pretty well and is, more often than not, directly responsible for the amount of food I put into the fridge, but I would imagine the average American probably doesn’t know about us anymore. We were with Merge for a couple of years between 1994 and 1995, but that was a long time ago now and it doesn’t surprise me that people forget… Short attention span… Oversaturated market…It was really a difficult time for me back then; they were nice enough people to deal with, and I guess that they tried as hard as they could, but the two-and-a-half albums that we did with them—I only ever got back like, maybe, $200 in total out of it. It was a like 50/50 profit deal on a handshake and a beer. We paid for a percentage of the advertising and promotion and things but somehow none of our costs ever got accounted for. By the time we paid for half of the ads and all of the U.S. tour costs and stuff, we got virtually nothing for it. I got so bones of my arse poor living illegally in Europe that I just couldn’t keep that up--I’d sold nearly everything I had--I had the album I’d recorded with Markus Acher and had mixed down with Mario Thaler at Uphon in Weilheim and I’d paid for it. I had to say, “Look, I’ve got to try to sell this to somebody, for money.” I was just basically starving, homeless, with no work papers, staying on a couch and wearing out my friends. So I decided to be honest and say, “Look, I’ve got to try and find someone who will actually give me something for this record, I really need to get something now or I’ll be down the hole.” Maybe I should have just asked them for money; I remember at the time hoping that they might offer to, but I was a little bit embarrassed about asking. But from that point on, I think they just sort of lost interest. I can understand why they would. But at that point I couldn’t see any other choice. I eventually did get work papers and started working for Rough Trade Records in Germany, and then I had my own money so I could do as I wished. I haven’t found any other people in America that I feel comfortable dealing with, and who don’t think I’m some sort of weirdo.
JE and GJ: [boisterous laughter]

Graeme Jefferies & Markus Acher Cakekitchen (promo photo) circa 1996 Posted by Picasa
GJ: It’s a shame in a way because the American market’s such a gigantic market—by far the biggest market for New Zealand music or independent music. I mean, Germany would be close to England in terms of sales. In Germany we do quite well, but it seems kind of a shame to not have anything happening in the States at all. I’d like to pick up with a label that is interested in something sort of long-term, now that I actually do have the papers.

JE: Well, with the website [http://www.thecakekitchen.net/] maybe some Americans can get hold of your albums through there?
GJ: Yeah, I’m sort of hoping that an American label finds me. I’m a very bad businessperson; like, I don’t have very good business skills, and I’m kind of an introverted person, so that’s not the formula for American business at all. But hopefully maybe someone will turn up. I sent a few out to people, and some people have been quite friendly, but I can’t see anything coming of it. I think someone has to be really enthusiastic about it to want to actually find me, in a way that Ken Katkin from Homestead was enthusiastic enough to make it work. We were all pretty amazed at how much he liked our stuff, and that was enough to sort of get over the cultural barrier. New Zealanders are often quite shy and seemingly reserved, and quite often they’ll just stand there and say nothing because it’s relatively impolite if you don’t feel confident to push yourself on people, but Americans are conditioned very differently to that…

JE: [knowing laughter]
GJ: So I think there’s sort of bit of a slight “Man from Mars” aspect to the way most people in America would view a Kiwi who doesn’t say anything very much and doesn’t push himself forward. It’s not a lack of confidence, but I’m sure it’s perceived that way… it’s more, the world is full enough of flesh-eating monsters without me adding my two cents worth. A different form of politeness…Like a couple of times people were nice enough to invite me to parties and stuff, but I never felt very comfortable there, particularly in New York--I felt very, very nervous there because it’s such a rat race.

JE: Yeah, it really is—there’s a reason that I moved here. Not only because my wife’s a New Zealander, but I just really—some of the things that you’re mentioning about America are things that I don’t really quite enjoy so much. Some people are just really, really friendly, and that’s nice enough, but sometimes there’s a line that’s crossed between friendliness and I guess outright aggression that’s hard to stomach.
GJ: Yeah, I hate it when someone says [in American drawl] “GOD DAMN, FUCK YOU, GET OUT OF MY WAY!!!”

JE: [laughs heartily]
GJ: I tend to hide more often than not… like a weta or something. I’m not particularly good at socializing. I think that that’s…I can see how that sort of behavior in the cooler than cool music industry can get to be perceived by some Americans as a sort of looking down one’s nose superiority, but to me it’s not superiority at all, it’s just a manners thing. I really hate aggressive behavior--I’d rather someone say too little than too much. In New Zealand, if you go to a place and you don’t say very much, it’s not held against you.

JE: No.
GJ: And the next time you might feel a little more comfortable, and over time that works, but everything’s so fast particularly in New York, I can see why people would see that as sort of a “lame duck” way. It’s just one of those things that happened, but nevertheless, I kept on doing what I was doing anyway. I guess that from the point that I didn’t need to earn money from playing shows and touring in order to survive I just kind of stopped worrying about the American market. Stompin’ Through the Boneyard, Bald Old Bear and The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea only ever made about 200 dollars that we actually got back…It didn’t even cover the first DAT bill for Stompin’ Through the Boneyard. In those days nobody had computers—you had to pay for a DAT duplication and stuff like that. We never got past first base in a way with Merge. It kind of ground itself down to a financial death from our point of view. But nevertheless, Merge have gone on to great things--I particularly like the Arcade Fire.

JE: Yeah yeah, same.
GJ: When I saw them in Cologne they were really great.
JE: Great, cool.

JE: Were there any places in the U.S. that you particularly enjoyed, as a city or as a region—did you get to travel around?
GJ: Yeah, all of our tours we’d go and do New York and the East coast, and go to Chicago, Minneapolis, Louisiana, Washington D.C. I kind of liked Boston; I thought that was quite a nice place—heaps of bands seem to have come from there. But again, of course we drove ourselves for the first tour so we didn’t see a lot… and for the second tour we had a driver but no money, so there wasn’t a lot to come and go on. We saw a lot of highways and bad eating-places. It was, mostly we’d have to get up at 8 or 9 in the morning to drive, just to make sure you didn’t get stuck in a traffic jam, to get there in time for the soundcheck and stuff like that. I didn’t see a lot…or we wouldn’t have money for food. It was kind of pathetic, really.

JE: tee hee hee
GJ: I wish we would have seen a bit more…I mean…the band’s never had management, never used an American publisher. There’s never been much of a reason for anybody to push us, because we’ve always remained deliberately on the outside edges anyway. In that way I wish we had had an American working for us, in a managerial way, to bridge the gap between a shy Kiwi and all the “tell it like it is”, “on-the-nose” Americans. It would have helped a helluva lot, frankly.

JE: Did you make it out to the West Coast at all then?
GJ: The West Coast—the San Francisco side, you mean?

JE: Yeah.
GJ: I always have trouble remembering which coast is which. Nah, we didn’t make it. It would have meant hiring a new van, hiring a whole pile of equipment again. It stretched us to the limit to do the New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, St Louis, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Washington D.C, Philadelphia… I can’t really remember now…. We didn’t have the resources or the pedal power to do the West Coast.

JE: That’s right—it’s a long drive to go from one coast; I mean even to go from Chicago out to San Francisco would be like, just 3 days driving to get there. And probably not a lot of places to play in between, I would imagine.
GJ: And we’d probably die in the desert because our instructions would have been like, “Go left at the 7-11, turn right, drive 500 miles, then turn left and the club’s right there.” We even got lost in a car park… And some of the things we saw on the side of the road… Unbelievable…It was either a Yeti or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s brother or a bear…Maybe it was a deer…. I think we saw half of a deer that had been hit by a truck on the side of the road and had been left to rot there…Also got crashed into by a car…

JE: Where was that?
GJ: Where we got crashed into, or the deer?

JE: Either.
GJ: I can’t remember where the deer was—somewhere near Ohio in the Midwest?

JE: Yeah, that’s where I’m from.
GJ: The car crash in New York was worse…we got crashed into in New York by a car, like a big Mafia staff car. It just crashed right into us….we just stopped right there. We were shitting ourselves because Huw our drummer had seen the head of the New York subway protection group (The Guardian Angels) get shot at 4 in the morning while waiting with David Newgarden to get a ride to Chicago. It was a big thing… rumored to involve back-handers to drug barons and all sorts of weird stories and we listened to the progress report on the radio as we drove around touring. As soon as we got back to New York we were giving David Kilgour a ride over to his brother’s place in Hoboken, and this BIG Mafia-looking-type car came out of nowhere and crashed into us, and it crashed into the side where Huw was sitting…

JE: Oh, man!
GJ: And I was in the back of the car with David, and I was sure that they were going to jump out of the car with four machine guns and shoot the Cakekitchen drummer to get rid of the evidence, and probably everybody else would get shot as well…

JE: Ha ha ha
GJ: And the lights took like FIVE YEARS to change. They finally changed, and they drove off without anything happening. Our car stalled, and everybody was like “Honk! Honk! Come on buddy, hurry up!” I was totally shitting my pants. I was sure I was going to die.

JE: What a New York story—oh my god.
GJ: Yeah, unbelievable. Just sort of wrong place, wrong time. I’m not very brave…I’m glad people don’t have guns in New Zealand.

JE: Oh yeah, same. What’s it like in Germany in terms of people packing heat, you know, firearms and stuff?
GJ: The cops have got them, like every time you talk to a policeman he’s got a loaded gun. I guess I have got some German blood, so I kind of look German, I speak German, so they basically leave me alone. But your average solid citizen couldn’t pack a pistol, or if he does it’s pretty well-hidden. I’m more afraid of Rambo than I am of policeman plod.

JE: How did you end up in Germany? I know you lived in London and Paris for a bit. Had you always been sort of interested in going there, or…?
GJ: It was an accident! Like, I would say, I was so disappointed in the British class system and how racist and the sexist it was that I just kind of packed my bags and went to live in France. I really hate those sorts of things—the class system seems to be five times worse in England than in New Zealand. Now I at least know where it comes from. The New Zealand version was hard enough to swallow, but it was chickenshit compared to the English one. I hate all forms of separatism, and South England is appalling in that regard. The people in Scotland, Ireland and Wales seemed a lot more friendly… Anyway, I found out it was possible to live in France, just by chance after doing some shows there, so I just decided to. And once I started living on the Continent, things got a lot better. It was incredibly interesting and eye opening to live in a country where one didn’t speak the language and everything was different. From there I moved on to Holland, and then sort of to Germany, just like one guitar in each hand and a bag of clothes, and I did that for quite a few years…selling more and more things out of the bag as I got poorer and poorer!

JE: [more sympathetic laughter]
GJ: Down to my last shoe. And then Edmund Epple offered me a job working for my German label Raffmond. We put together a 100-CD catalog that we distributed through Rough Trade Germany. And from there I got a job working for Rough Trade itself, which meant that I could actually get proper work papers. And from there I just sort of ended up staying over, but basically I got there by following my nose… On the road to nowhere but with an adventure in mind.

JE: Oh, that’s cool. So you’re a legal citizen of the European Union now; you can travel around freely?
GJ: Yeah, I have a permanent work visa and a permanent residents permit, so I can stay as long as I want, or not stay as long as I want, and I can make money and stuff like that. I pay into the German Pension schemes and I do my own tax returns and stuff.

JE: How’s your German? Did you know German when you moved there?
GJ: No, I knew no German at all. Now I can sort of speak street German. I’m sure the Germans would tell you that I make a lot of mistakes, but I can sort of speak it well enough to get by. Perhaps to discuss all the possibilities of the theory of relativity, my German would be a little bit lacking. But it works for the day-to-day things quite well. Learning a language later in life is always pretty difficult—it takes a really long time, even to speak at the level that I do.

JE: Apparently 3- and 4-year-olds can pick up languages “like that,” but…
GJ: Yeah, when you’re younger your mind is totally open to it; it’s used to new information. It’s the same with instruments I guess. Like if you learn one instrument and then you learn another instrument your whole vocabulary totally opens up, but no I didn’t know any foreign languages when I left New Zealand in 1990. And even my English was a bit wibbly-wobbly; I learned English by imitation—I never learned it grammatically; I just learned it by “monkey see, monkey do.” So if you don’t understand the mechanics of your own language, it’s very difficult to understand the mechanics of a much more difficult one like German.

JE: So you don’t ever throw any German into your songs or your performances?
GJ: Uh, in Germany I try to speak to the audience in German between songs, but I don’t write in that language. I think that I would have to understand it a lot better. I wouldn’t want to write something too obvious. In a way, when people start writing in a foreign language, they’ll think, “oh, I’ll rhyme ‘Moon’ with ‘June.’ I’m very conscious that my German is very A-B-C, but I try to speak to the audience in German.

JE: You seem to have fallen in with a good crowd of German musicians—the Hausmusik collective.
GJ: Yeah, that was another happy accident in my wanderings. When I first went to Bavaria that scene was really quite unknown. It was kind of like the early Flying Nun scene; there were like 30 musicians all in four or five bands. They competed healthily with each other to play the best songs on a Saturday night, and Notwist and Couch and lots of other bands like that seem to have that sort of musical work ethic amongst themselves. That was kind of like what Flying Nun used to be like, before it was discovered. It was a real musicians’ thing—real music, good music. A lot of the people in that scene were very aware of the New Zealand scene. And Markus, Notwist’s songwriter, offered to play drums for me when Jean-Yves finally decided he couldn’t continue with touring, so it just happened to fall into place.

JE: So it’s not a formal company or anything, it’s more of a collective—a loosely organized sort of thing?
GJ: What, you mean Hausmusik, or the loose group of people unofficially recognized as being part of the collective?

JE: Hausmusik, yeah.
GJ: It’s changed a lot from what it was and how it began. Now it’s more of a distribution thing. In the early days Hausmusik and Raffmond were the flag bearers for a lot of unknown at that time but nevertheless good music. Markus worked for Raffmond, and that’s how we met. These days Raffmond doesn’t exist anymore, and Hausmusik isn’t so much a label anymore--now it’s more of a distributor. It distributes a lot of underground things in Germany. A lot of it is kind of electronic now but they still do guitar and songwriter stuff too…They cover quite a lot of ground at Hausmusik. The catalog’s getting quite big, and they’ve got a little shop in Munich, where you can get an Italian coffee and a vinyl album or a CD at a reasonable price.

JE: Is there a German indie scene like there is in New Zealand or the United States, or there just a loose array of people doing their own thing?
GJ: There’s like the Hamburg school, and the Weilheim school, and kind of like pockets of stuff in other places—I’m not that familiar with all of it. I particularly like the Notwist and Couch from the Weilheim School…great bands, great songwriters. But in some ways I don’t know probably as much about what’s going on in the German scene as I should. A lot of what I’ve heard seems a bit wimpy or overblown and unoriginal. I tend to not pay too much attention to the German music press.

JE: Do you think most Germans tend to listen to music that comes from Germany, or are they plugged in directly to the sort of mainstream crap from the U.S. and Robbie Williams and stuff?
GJ: There’s a lot of national pride really, bands like Tocotronic from Hamburg write only in German, and in German-speaking countries they have a massive audience. I think the German music junky types always seem very conscious of the fact that they are German and it’s reflected in what they choose to listen to. But there’s also an incredible amount of recycled hype type stuff that they seem to follow as well—Robbie can pack them out there too, I’m sorry to say. It’s like anything--all things are controlled by promoters and labels and agents, and all those things are well set in place by the giants in the marketplace…I’m not too familiar with that scene—I don’t have the interest to bother with it that much. It doesn’t seem like music to me. But nevertheless, I seem to be able to survive while ignoring it. It could be worse; I mean, our home turf, our main playing places are—Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Scandinavia—there seems to be a little market for us there and we can pretty much do what we like.

JE: So you’ve built a bit of a following there, I mean, aside from the following you already had from people importing your records or whatever, since you moved there it’s kind of built up a bit?
GJ: Yeah, more or less…Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Everything’s Going to Work Out Just Fine, How Can You Be So Blind, and Put Your Foot Inside the Door have been commercially available in Germany, whereas in the U.S. you couldn’t really find them. We also repressed the Homestead stuff too.

JE: I remember hunting for quite a long time after I sort of decided that I would get the Homestead releases that you did, but after they were deleted! And it was so hard to find them—I eventually did—but at the time I thought, “Gosh if I don’t find the Homestead version of this, I’m not going to find this again,” but I guess if I had gone to Germany, I could have.
GJ: The Homestead versions became hard to find in Germany too, maybe even harder than in the USA: Ken Katkin from Homestead told me we sold about 5000 per release for Homestead in the U.S. alone, so I guess there’d be more around there. I look at some occasionally on the internet; sometimes you can see them there.

JE: Yeah, I eventually got them—I found World of Sand, and Far from the Sun, but those you’ve made available through Eggbox as well?
GJ: Yeah. Time Flowing Backwards is also available through the homepage.

JE: Is there much of a college radio presence in Germany that helps with independent music?
GJ: Yeah, there’s a few stations that like and play alternative independent radio but it’s not the same as the USA…. it’s way smaller by comparison. Quite a healthy little scene in a way—could be better, but chugging along. There are some good stations around. I guess I’m such a record junkie, I tend to play my own choices that I’ve bought—my own purchases and record collection tends to be what I play more than the radio. I tend to be one who wants to be my own DJ, in a way, but only in my living room, to myself [laughs].

JE: Do you have, like, an iPod?
GJ: No, I don’t even know how to work one.

JE: No, I don’t either [laughs].
GJ: Three CD players, three CD recorders, a whole pile of reel-to-reel machines and stuff like that, but I don’t have an iPod.

Cakekitchen 2003: Graeme Jefferies with the Steinbach Brothers,
Flavio & Fabrizio (promo photo) Posted by Picasa
JE: Have you brought over anyone from Germany to help you with this tour?
GJ: No.

JE: Who’s playing with you?
GJ: A German drummer called Karsten Siebert. But I just came over on my own; I’ve never actually played on my own in New Zealand, and I thought it’d be cool to do it, ‘cause I’d figured, if Smog can call himself Smog and play alone, or Chan can call herself Cat Power and play alone, it’d be OK to do it too, and I’d never done it that way before…all these years I’d played in New Zealand but only with bands or other musicians. Playing by myself opened up the possibility to play a lot of usually unplayed but still very much alive material. I could play songs from any of the Cakekitchen’s 10 albums or TKP (This Kind of Punishment) songs or Nocturnal Projections songs—I’m actually playing quite a bit of old stuff—I thought it would be interesting to play those in New Zealand too, because people do know them here.

JE: Mmm.
GJ: TKP records are worth a helluva lot these days. I was shocked, like, I saw a copy of the first album selling for $60 here. It was originally $7.95 when it was new. And it wasn’t even in that good condition! 5x4 will go for fifty bucks here too, and that’s for an EP. They seem to have retained their prestige value reasonably well!

JE: It’s funny, I have to say, I was in New Plymouth with my wife, and we were at a book sale somewhere up by Pukekura Park, and I was going through the vinyl, and I’m thinking, “Well, maybe I’ll find a Nocturnal Projections record or something, because this is New Plymouth after all,” and of course I don’t find anything. But then as I’m checking out, I see that the guy in front of me has a stack of records—he’s got like Diana Ross and, you know, a whole bunch of stuff, and he’s got the Nocturnal Projections record.
GJ: Right.

JE: And I said, ‘cause they were selling for like 50 cents at this book sale, I said, “Do you want that? Cause I’ll give you some money for it?” And he said, “No, man, this is Nocturnal Projections—this is a local band!” So I was out of luck, but my wife then found a copy of Another Year at a church sale or something in New Plymouth. I figure nowadays even if I spent $60 for it, it wouldn’t make its way back to you anyway, so I don’t feel like I’m ripping you off or anything.
GJ: Yeah, if I saw one for 50 cents or a dollar, I’d buy it too, because we were only given one each from the record company, and that was it. I’ve already bought a few copies to give to friends; I don’t have that many of them. But there is a CD with all that stuff on it that you can get Nerve Ends in Power Lines.

JE: Oh, I do have that—did Raffmond put that out?
GJ: Uh, yeah; I put it together and gave it to Raffmond to put out, so it’s like my little way of wrapping up the past. But there’s still like another 20 to 25 Nocturnal Projections songs that were never issued. My brother and I formed a songwriting partnership round about 1981; I’d written songs on my own before then, but we sort of like did a Keith Richards / Mick Jagger-type deal for quite a few years, and that became Nocturnal Projections. There’s secret tracks on the CD; the really long one called the Down Song is from the first cassette release in January 1981--you can hear us growing as songwriters. The other 3 songs are from the second cassette made in November of that year.

JE: Oh wow. So you said there’s more than what’s on that one CD?
GJ: There must be about 20-25 songs that were never issued but that were recorded relatively roughly. I have copies of most of the songs in some form.
We wrote a lot of material, my brother and I…

JE: Do you know, is your brother still involved in music?
GJ: Um, yeah…more in promoting younger bands. He’s taken on more the managerial side of it for up and coming bands from New Plymouth. I was talking to my mother, and she said he’s not really writing anymore—he seems to have stopped that, but he’s still actively involved in promoting the next generation of Taranaki music.
JE: Cool.

JE: So, you’re in Wellington next week. Is that going to be a solo acoustic set, or are you going to plug in, or…?
GJ: Uh, yeah, it’ll be solo, acoustic and electric guitars and a bit of piano too. I also played some drum tracks at home in my studio before I left, and I’m playing guitar and singing along with those as well. It’s kind of like watching someone play along, doing an overdub, and singing at the same time for the drum track songs. It works if the sound for the drums is reproduced faithfully from the mono drum tracks. It doesn’t sound anything like a drum machine. My ticket was for only 20 kilos, nothing more, so I could only bring two guitars and hire a piano. I liked the idea of really trying to do as much as possible for one person…to try and make some interesting surprises.

JE: I was just going to ask you a bit, briefly, about where you live in Germany—is it Recklinghausen?
GJ: Yeah, that’s right.
JE: What’s that like? You say it’s like an industrial city? Is it near Dusseldorf?
GJ: Yeah, it’s near Dusseldorf or Dortmund. It’s actually not an industrial city; it’s quite a nice little city, but parts of the Rheinwestfalen are very industrial. It’s like the old coal-mining district for Germany, and the reactors there are coal reactors, pumping out these coal-laden clouds.

JE: Sounds like the North East Valley of Dunedin—I remember the coal smell.
GJ: But Dunedin’s incredibly beautiful, but in NordRheinwestfalen the rivers are really polluted, and there are so many cars. Perhaps I misheard what you said; did you say cold or coal?

JE: Oh, coal. There are no reactors, but everybody burns it in Dunedin, and it just smells like coal fires.
GJ: Oh yeah, coal fires are great on a wood-in-the-fireplace-type level. But as a way to power the trains and the industrial factories, it’s kind of shit. It’s so crowded here and dirty. Too many people--it’s like Dortmund has like three trees, a dog, and a little old lady and a bus stop, and the next city is right there and it has another dog, another tree and a truck and then another city-- all the cities in NordRheinwestfalen are joined together, but they don’t have the advantages of a city like Berlin, so it’s kind of a drag. But then again, Amsterdam’s pretty close, Cologne’s pretty close, and the rent in Recklinghausen is very cheap. I usually end up finding a town that’s very cheap and therefore liveable…otherwise it’s pretty impossible to live as professional musicians in Germany…you can get pretty poor living off it professionally.

JE: Do you have to have a part-time or full-time job in addition to your [musical] work, or…?
GJ: For the past three years I’ve done it professionally—I don’t have a part-time job, but it’s fairly hand-to-mouth, I must admit.

JE: Are you looking forward to getting back to Germany, or are you going to miss New Zealand?
GJ: Yeah, in some ways I’m quite looking forward to going back to my house and seeing my friends, and to sleep in my own bed again, and of course my studio and all my instruments and records are in Germany. So there’s that. But it’s nice to be in New Zealand too; I guess it’s trying to work out if I want to keep living in Europe, but then again—it seems possible to press up my CDs anywhere in the world—so I guess one can pretty much operate a mail-order from anywhere. I kind of wanted to see what New Zealand was like. I kept thinking “I must be an idiot—I haven’t been back to New Zealand in so many years.” As I said, I like the land, I like the feel of the land; I really like the native birds…

JE: Yeah, we have tui down here, and I could listen to them for hours—watch their little white waddles or whatever they are.
GJ: Yeah, they’re some pretty cool things. New Zealand’s a very special country.

JE: Yeah, I was quite happy that the Greens made it into Parliament again here but a bit disappointed they were kind of left out of Cabinet because I’m thinking New Zealand really, to stay as New Zealand, really needs some serious environmental effort, and I don’t think that United Future or NZ First are going to be the ones that can help Labour do that.
GJ: It’s a bit of a shame, because I agree with you that the environment is incredibly important, but I’ve been so busy running around doing the band thing that I haven’t been able to scan what’s going on in terms of what’s happened with the new government being formed, but I would hope that the environment doesn’t get too much worse or that standards are extinguished through human greed—which is “man-made” greed, because it’s mainly men. In that way, I think it might be better if they just gave the island back to the birds and told them all to jump in the sea and wave bye, bye, but I don’t think that will happen.

JE: Apparently the sound of the birds was deafening when the first Europeans came to New Zealand.
GJ: I would have loved to have been one of the first Europeans here; I would have probably even gotten my face tattooed. It would have been an absolute paradise before people arrived.

JE: So we should expect more Cakekitchen releases in the future? You’re going back and writing some new stuff?
GJ: I’ve got a new album about 80% finished. Again, I sit on them for quite a while, just to make sure there’s nothing I want to change. I’m always working on two at once, in a way. It always takes an incredible amount of time to get all the artwork and stuff done. But I’m 80% sure of what the next one will be in terms of material…It takes me a long time to decide sometimes.

JE: What’s the DVD going to have on it? Is that going to compile some of your videos you’ve done, or is it live footage or a whole mix of stuff?
GJ: It’s mostly live footage, like a whole concert from 1994 we shot the Glocksee in Hannover with Jean-Yves Douet in the line-up. And there’s about 20 minutes of the original line-up playing to about 1000 people in Wellington—one of our last shows in 1990. There’s one clip from the London line-up at the Sausage Machine in London, just before our first American tour in 1992, and there’s some stuff from our 2003 tour, and from 2004. There’s also footage from this year’s New Zealand shows. I want to make it like a double DVD. At the moment we’re going through all the stuff, seeing what needs to be edited and color-graded. I think there should probably only be one Cakekitchen DVD, so I want to represent as many line-ups as possible…It’s kind of interesting, it’s nice to see how everybody gets slowly older and their faces get more and more drawn towards the floor...

JE: Ha ha ha. Sounds like a must-have. That’ll be out maybe next year some time, you think?
GJ: Yeah, I reckon it’s going to be too late for this year. I kind of realize how much work needs to be done. But I’ll keep updating the progress on the home page, and hopefully by the end of next year it should finally fall through the end of the chain. We don’t have anyone to distribute it yet; we have to finish it before we shop it around. But it’s getting there.

JE: Mm. And you’ve got some German shows lined up already for next month?
GJ: Yeah, there’s one at Darmstadt, a town near Stuttgart, and it’s quite a cool place. They have a local beer called “Pfungst√§dter” and, boy, it gives you one helluva headache the next day, and quite often you can’t actually remember what you said or did when you wake up the next day after drinking it. But it’s a very good club, and they asked us especially if we could play a show there. There’s also a show in Amsterdam on the way back. I’m not quite sure what we’ll do after that. I’d quite like to finish some of the new recordings. Maybe play a couple more low-key shows in December, but I don’t know.
JE: Cool. Sounds great. I’m glad to see you’re still going with it, you know. I think this new album—I think if people in the States that liked the early and mid-90s Cakekitchen stuff could hear this new album they’d be snatching it up by the truckloads.
GJ: Yeah, I’m hoping that we can get somebody to work on it over there and find some realistic way to open the American market to us, but again I’m such a bad businessman that it might not happen overnight, or it might never happen. But you can go to www.thecakekitchen.net, my home page, so in that way hopefully people will eventually hear some of it.

I thanked Graeme for the interview and told him I’d see him at the Wellington show the following week. And I did! Jim Ebenhoh (2005)

Links:
The Cakekitchen
Hausmusik