In one of the warmer moments of the past fucked up European summer I was visiting friends in Berlin and just before I left one of them told me he had recently seen a band called Cheese On Bread and that I would love them for sure. Later that day, after my hitchhiking lift had dropped me off in Hamburg, I checked the internet for the band and found out that they were playing the same night at Hasenschaukel and that I had barely time to stuff some slices of bread into my head before I had to leave. When I reached Hasenschaukel i had already missed Betsy aka. The Best and Cheese On Bread were in the middle of their second song or so. I went inside and got sucked into the band’s aura immediately. So overwhelmingly positive that even Issa of Good Clean Fun looks like the Grinch in comparison. Totally awesome. It happened that we hung out almost the whole night, talked about the vintage riot grrrl fanzine I had with me, visited an arcade on the Reeperbahn and danced to dubstep at the Golden Pudel Club. Perfect night. The only deficit, the fact that I had missed Betsy, could be solved a few weeks later when she played Hamburg a second night. Some more weeks later I thought “they got a bad, I got a zine. Why not do an interview?” and sent them an email. Now this is what singer Dan Fishback replied:
Cheese on Bread are living scattered all over the US. I guess you don't rehearse that much, do you? How do you manage songwriting over these
huge spatial distances? Do you think something like this would have been
possible in the pre-internet age?
We don't write songs over computers really, but I definitely don't think we would have been able to stay together for such a long time without the internet! Not at all! We have a listserv so we can always email each other, and plan things, and feel connected. Moreover, without the internet, we wouldn't have a growing fan base, and without the knowledge that people are listening, we'd probably feel less motivated to keep working.
Sara and I only lived in the same city for one year. The full band has never lived in one place at the same time. Songwriting generally goes like this: I write lyrics and melody, and sing the song for Dibs (who lives in NYC with me), and he comes up with interesting chords. Then, when we all get to rehearse together, we present the song, and everyone collaborates on the dynamics, style and arrangement of the song. So everything starts out pretty solitary, but the way we play and record the songs is a totally collective effort, and you can hear everyone's signature in that sound.
You are strongly related to the New York antifolk scene. What do you
think about the conceptions in the media about this scene or phenomenon?
Is it represented halfway the way it is?
Antifolk in New York is a community of friends and colleagues and collaborators. Antifolk to everyone else in the world can mean anything. People in Europe generally know the bands that have toured in Europe, and the acts that were on the Rough Trade antifolk compilation. So when I flip through that German book about antifolk (“antifolk” by Marin Büsser, t.e.), or when I talk to Europeans about it, I always see a very specific, very biased perspective. Which is totally fine, and totally understandable. But it's not like we're all walking around with Herman Dune T-shirts, singing Adam Green covers. I love those guys, but what's going on here is constantly evolving, and everyone's always getting excited about new songs and new bands and new songwriters. But I can't expect Europeans to be constantly aware of new antifolk stuff, since it all changes so fast.
You just been on tour in Europe. Bands and artists usually say it's a
whole different thing touring the old world as opposed to touring the
states. So I assume you'll agree about that and ask you something else:
Does your band happen in a different context in Europe? I mean there
ain't nothing like an antifolk scene or infrastructure in mainland
Europe. Did you feel like ambassadors of your subcultural context or
I felt much more like an ambassador when we went on tour in America. In America, it felt like our audiences were having a really educational experience, to see people like us play such bouncy music, with so little regard for seeming cool or trendy. People regularly told us, "I've never seen a happy band before," or "I've never danced at a concert before," and I would talk to kids who were clearly in the closet, and they'd be so nervous to even look at me. Whenever a gay person gets on stage in the middle of America, and whenever a woman approaches a microphone without presenting herself as a cheap sexual commodity, it's a rare and political act, so, in that sense, our American tour felt very important.
In Europe, it was a role reversal, because we were the ones having an educational experience, learning about the rhythm of Europe and a relaxed, continental way of life. America was personal. Europe had less to do with us. At least that's how it felt to me.
A lot of magazines are talking about some folk revival right now and you
it has become hard to read the review section of a zine without
stumbling upon terms like antifolk, psych folk, free folk, freak folk,
new weird america, roots revival and all that. What do you think about
that? Is there really something happening or is it just that something
that has been there all the time is getting more attention by mainstream
I don't really know much about the freak folk / psych folk people, but they seem pretty different from the antifolk scene in New York. My impression is that the music termed "freak folk" is very internal, imaginative music, with a lot of fantastical, dream-like content. Most antifolk artists sing in a very direct manner, and write more concretely about the real world. But, is there a movement? I have no idea!
You started up as a woman and a queer guy and than added straight guys
to your line-up. In how far did this change your band in a structural way?
Becoming a rock band made us a rock band! Cheese On Bread was never an exclusive, women/queers-only project. The point of Cheese On Bread is that it's a shared space where lots of different people can relate to each other, so it doesn't seem weird to have straight guys in the band. If anything, their presence makes it easier for other straight dudes to feel comfortable listening to our music.
Do you consider your art as being political? I mean in some way a woman
and a queer guy singing unisono about a "sexy anarchist boy" can't be
apolitical in a society that is sexist and homophobic in its very
foundations (and I don't speak of the US only, it's a worldwide
Whenever a gay person presents themselves in a public sphere, their presence is overtly political. What I've always liked about Cheese On Bread is that, in the context of the songs, Sara and I share a perspective, since we pretty much sing the same lyrics. So you can enter the songs through her, or you can enter them through me, and it becomes this shared queer/straight space where anyone is welcome. Or at least that's the idea.
How important is the d.i.y. idea for you? Do you feel like you have to
keep everything under your personal control or is it rather something
that has to be done and if someone came to do it for you you'd be quite
happy about it?
It's really inspiring to see people doing everything themselves, and that attitude really ripples out into the world in a powerful way. People should do more things for themselves, and take more responsibility for their lives and for the world around them. That said, I'd be thrilled to get some help! Collectively managing your own band is a lot of work!
You are all involved in several other projects and/or do solo stuff. Is
Cheese on Bread just one project among others or is there a clear
hierarchy among your projects with Cheese on Bread on top?
Whatever I'm working on at the moment is my top priority. Tomorrow, I'll be working on my new play, and that will be all I'll think about. The next day, I'm planning on preparing some legal documents for Cheese On Bread. Somehow, nothing is more important than anything else, since every project is so different. The trick is scheduling different time for different stuff, so that the projects aren't competing for your attention. For instance, I started recording my new solo album in 2005, and decided to stop, to work on other things. I'm planning on returning to it in February, 2008. It's easy not to get preoccupied with another project when you know that you have time set aside to work on it.
Cheese On Bread got two awesome cds called “maybe maybe maybe baby” and “the search for colonel mustard” out on a d.i.y. basis. You can listen to a few songs on their myspace site.