Chocolate Starfish is a band on a roll right now. They’ve had a hell of a Red Hot Summer playing gigs with some of their fellow rockers touring around the country,on July 14th, they will be performing the songs of the INXS album ‘Kick‘ at The Palms at Crown after a very successful couple of shows over the last few years, presenting Meatloaf’s ‘Bat out of Hell’ album at the same venue, in October they’ll be cruising the Pacific as part of Rock the Boat and now they have a new album out – ‘Spider‘ is their first full length album in twenty years – and a tour of their own. Phew! The Starfish are very busy! And this weekend they’re bringing their much talked about dynamic live show to Memo Music Hall in Melbourne’s St. Kilda. We caught up with Mr Chocolate himself, lead singer Adam Thompson to have a chat about the album, the upcoming Memo show and more…
“It’s great to have a brand-new album out there,” he tells me. “It has been really well received, not just by older fans who have been waiting for about twenty years but also at the shows it’s been surprising to me how many people I guess are in their early 20s; they were probably kids during the first incarnation of Starfish back in the 90s and guys like Daryl Braithwaite are finding at the moment a bit of resurgence with a younger audience because they perhaps grew up listening to their music and now that there’s something new out, they’re discovering it among their peers as well.”
Adam was insistent, when the band decided to get back together again, that they would be producing new material and not, as he puts it, just playing to ever dwindling crowds in RSL clubs. “I really wanted to stay as fresh and as current as we could. I think the bands that are doing that are surprising themselves not just with how much their longevity counts but also how much their experience counts. A lot of young bands just don’t have the touring experience under their belts that we had back in the day. There’s a certain amount of ‘road readiness’ that comes with being on the road for a long time. It means you can walk into any circumstance and turn the light switch on and then off and there you are with a show. A lot of young bands don’t have the opportunity to tour incessantly like we did.”
If you’re lucky enough to have attended a Chocolate Starfish show recently, you would know that their shows are high energy, unpredictable and very, very entertaining and you can always be assured of a polished performance. As Adam points outs, “In terms of understanding how to perform together, that was really evident when Zoran our guitarist who passed away five years ago got ill and we had a benefit concert for him. We hadn’t played for a number of years and it was like that old adage says, it’s like riding a bike; as soon as you get back on you remember how it works and it was really obvious to us and so special and perhaps we hadn’t honoured it as well as we could have over the last fifteen years or so, and that was a bit of an impetus to continue.”
The band seems to have found a whole new audience lately, thanks largely to festivals like the Red Hot Summer Tour and shows like Pure Gold, where they have been performing as part of a line-up of artists from the 70s, 80s and 90s. These shows have introduced their music to a whole new audience, many of whom might not have otherwise seen them perform live.
But it is not only the audience discovering Chocolate Starfish for the first time. “We found this out particularly on the most recent Red Hot Summer Tour,” he says. “For a lot of bands like The Angels, Baby Animals, Screaming Jets, we had never been on their radar because we’d never played together and so it was great to meet those guys and show them what we do. We’ve actually created some good relationships now with the Screaming Jets and The Angels and we had some wonderful moments on tour that I think are going to spawn some future collaborations. But there are also a lot of people rediscovering us now. We had such a long hiatus of about fifteen years and it is like people are rediscovering the magic that was. We still have that same sort of energy that we had back in the day and, without pointing any fingers, a lot of bands don’t have that any more. They just stand and deliver and that’s OK, that’s their thing but we have a show and it’s very show driven; it’s always a little unpredictable too,” he laughs. “Sometimes it can go brilliantly and sometimes it can go horribly wrong so that’s the edge and that’s what makes their eyes go wide when we’re on stage because … anything’s possible.”
Their first full length album in twenty years, ‘Spider‘ is well worth the wait, delivering ten hot new rock ‘n’ roll tracks to satisfy any Chocolate fan’s appetite.
The first single to be lifted from the album is ‘Farmer Loretta’; a song with an interesting back story, as Adam explains. “I was brought up on a farm and I remember these whispers as a kid. I don’t know whether it was my dad just teasing me but he said, ‘Oh such and such down the road is on to her third husband’ and I said, ‘what happened to them?’ and he said ‘I don’t know. I don’t know. No one knows where they are.’ Maybe it was my creative mind, but I just imagined that she’d be killing them,” he laughs. “It was years later when I was taking a drive in the country and I thought I should write a song about this fictitious widow down the road. It started out as a bit of a country song, so it could have fit quite easily on a Bruce Springsteen ‘Nebraska’ album or something like that. We were writing, Tim and I, and I just said to Tim ‘try playing it like this’ and I got Tim to play the riff that I sang and it just changed the format of it completely and then it created some really fun lyrics that sit quite nicely with murder ballads by the great man and could easily have fit on that album as well.”
Another track on the album, ‘Heavyweight’ was co-written with the band’s late guitarist, Zoran Romic. “We actually wrote that in about 2005. It was probably one of the few times we got together during our hiatus and that and another one called ‘Three Words’ came out of that weekend. It’s interesting because when that lyric came about we just sort of put the song into the drawer and didn’t think about it again until the origins of Spider were happening and when I looked at the lyric that I’d written back ten years before that, it could have been written about his illness because he reached out to me as a bit of a creative muse when he was sick and so that’s a very important song off the album.”
“A lot of the others were things that I had just started in the last two or three years. I got together with Tim Henwood who ended up producing the album. Tim’s got quite a great songwriting pedigree himself with his band The Superjesus; he wrote a lot of those hits with Sarah McLeod as well as Natalie Bassingthwaite in Rogue Traders and his own hits with The Androids. He’s a great writer and he was able to, like Zoran did, decipher a lot of my ideas and I guess put them into context and we wanted this album to be a nod to the past but, also, we felt really confident that we were out there again and that he is the future for us. I’m lucky because having that time apart from the band meant that I could have some of that life experience to call on that perhaps back in the 90s I didn’t and now I can inject that into my songs which is terrific.”
The name of the album also has a bit of a story behind it. “It’s one of Zoran’s nicknames,” Adam shares. “Back in the 90s, we used to call each other a variety of nicknames and that was just one that stuck with him and when we were looking for a title, we were looking at song lyrics and I just suggested, why don’t we call it ‘Spider’ and have one of his nicknames as a title. It became an image as well that looks great on the album cover and looks great on the T-shirts and other merchandise that we do so it just worked and I felt that, when the album was being put together, his spirit was involved and I think that he’s always with us so that’s part of the honouring of that.”
Melbourne fans will see Chocolate Starfish this Saturday night at the Memo Music Hall in St. Kilda and Adam says he can’t wait. “It’s a lovely place and I’m looking forward to playing there. We’re going to play, obviously, all the hits we’re known for like ‘You’re So Vain’ and ‘Mountain’ and ‘Four Letter Word’ and ‘Accidentally Cool’. We probably also will be doing six or eight songs off ‘Spider’ and our encore is quite special.”
Special guest at the Memo show will be Paul Woseen. “That’s part of the relationship that we built on the Red Hot Summer Tour. Paul is the bass player and main songwriter from Screaming Jets and he’s going to do an acoustic set before us so that’s a great plus for rock fans to have two for one. Our new album will be available on the night and we’ll be signing copies after the show. We’re looking forward to meeting as many of our Melbourne fans as possible. This is where we got our foundation in the beginning. Our main supporter base lives in Melbourne so we’re looking forward to seeing everybody.”
And, as well as the album, there will be merchandise available to purchase including some very cheeky Chocolate Starfish undies that fans can buy. “I have been wearing a kilt on the Red Hot Summer Tour and that spawned a promise to the fans that I would create these Chocolate Starfish Spider undies where there’s a spider on the front and the logo strategically placed where the Starfish lives,” he explains with a laugh. “I’ll have a few of those available on Saturday as well. I didn’t think too many people would be into it, but they seem to be so maybe the fans are as strange as me.”
Buy your tickets for Chocolate Starfish at Memo Music Hall here now.
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2018. All rights reserved