Chocolate Starfish are regarded as one of Australia’s best live bands of the 90s boasting two top ten albums and six top fifty singles. The band has released their first full-length album in twenty years SPIDER featuring ten piping-hot, brand-spanking-new tracks. It’s classic rock ‘n’ roll and Chocolate Starfish at the top of their game. And what a game it is.
SPIDER is already satisfying long-term fans and winning over new ones, with high-energy, power-riffed tracks like Farmer Loretta, Bad Dog, Mother Lover and Rock Diva and strong, story-driven lyrics peppered with the band’s trademark cheek and irreverence. Front man Adam Thompson speaks to Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles about their show at The Gov.
It must be really pleasing to see Chocolate Starfish go through another resurgence?
Yeah, another great resurgence, it sort of has come out of the blue, I think it has a lot to do with our performance style and people can relate to the entertainment of it. It has been great and to have a new album Spider has really helped as well.
Were you really surprised by the crowd reaction at these Red Hot Summer tours?
Yeah I have, on two levels. Obviously as a live act and the way we have been able to capture the imagination of the crowd but at the end of a show, those Red Hot ones in particular, I was running up to the merch stand afterwards selling fifty to sixty albums every show. That’s incredible and the only person who sold more than us was Suzi Quatro. Obviously, we were doing something right for people to want the new album.
Interesting you talk about the personal contact after shows because that is something that is lacking from a lot of artists these days.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I understand that, not everyone’s persona is open as I am. For us it is a thing that works well and if you are able to connect to an audience to make them feel like they’re a part of you. If you look to where we are currently in the industry as musicians, I don’t Starfish, but the industry in general there used to be pre the internet a mystery around rock ‘n roll and you could release an album and everyone would want to know about what they look like, what do they sound like and there wasn’t that much material you could find pre-internet. Now it seems like that before you go to a concert you’ve seen and you’ve heard them a thousand times over and you’ve seen every single photograph and every mole on their face or whatever it might be. The mystery around each band is different so you have to create that relationship in a different way. For us, that connectivity.
Is the new album Spider bringing a whole heap of energy and excitement to the band?
Absolutely, I said to the guys a few years ago when we were contemplating coming back, I know there are some bands, some heritage bands in the nineties and before that aren’t interested in doing new music. For me I didn’t want to be an RSL retiring band that kept playing to ever diminishing crowds and only playing what you were known for back in the day. I said I’m too creative for that and I wanted to keep writing. It didn’t matter to me whether five thousand people bought the album or five hundred, it didn’t matter so long as there was a story to tell and that you were constantly evolving. Once the band accepted that and we got our mind around doing new music as well as the songs we are known for then Starfish could have a foot in old and new and doing it well. I’m seeing that a lot of younger people are cottoning on to what we do as a live band and they are relishing that of engagement as well.
Was it hard getting back in the groove of making an album after so long?
That’s a great question, we did an EP about five years ago called Primitive which was a four track EP. That was mostly due to the fact I wrote a song for a TV commercial in Northern Territory so I thought why not do three more songs to fill it out to an EP. We didn’t really contemplate the process to much then but when you’re doing a full album it is a different process, you want to have a story, you want to have a narrative that runs through it or a theme. To write and record a full album as an ebb and flow was certainly different and sonically we also wanted to tip our hat to what we were but not stay completely in that in that genre. That had to be quite experimental and I’m fortunate to have a co-writer in Tim Henwood who’s done heaps and heaps of production for not only his own bands like The Superjesus, Palace Of The Kings and Natalie Bassingwaite which he has written all the songs for those bands but also for lots of other bands that are on everything from Triple M to Triple J. It’s good having him in the fold.
Was it hard continuing on after the passing of Zoran? Was it important to honour his memory continuing on?
It very much was, Zoran’s energy and his integrity even though he has passed I feel it still around. The only song that is co-written with him on the album is a song called Heavy Weight and we wrote that ten years ago. When we went to produce it, it could have been quite easily written by me during his illness and sometimes I think it is amazing how the universe works. I think in that respect especially when I was doing the vocals I felt his energy there. He said a line to me when he was sick and he said when I stop giving to music in the period when we were apart the music stopped giving to me. We want to honour, giving back to this industry that has been good for all of us.
Will that song almost be a permanent tribute in the live set?
Yeah, we don’t want to be sad or harp on his passing, but it is nice that people acknowledge and know what it is about. I think when we have done it a couple of times live it’s not lost on the audience. I totally agree with you on that respect.
Did you ever doubt yourself or wonder if this is a great idea making an album?
I think because Tim and I were new writers together I had to get him around my way thinking as well. Every time you have a new co-write it doesn’t automatically work, you might have two people who individually are great writers but might not gel or to dominate in one area. There was a process for us to get it sounding like what Starfish would be and then sonically having the boys coming in and adding their parts. Half way through it I was questioning whether this is going to do anything but then I think there are little guiding forces, if you look at Farmer Loretta, the first song, when I wrote that acoustically it was almost like a country song. Even when the boys were playing around with it, it sounded like a Bruce Springsteen song, who knows that could have been Zoran’s influence. The guitar riff popped in to my head, I said Tim play this as I thought it would change the confines of that song. It became a much greater rocky, more modern tend to it, that’s the way that it happened.
Do you think you learnt more about yourself during this process and whether you will take that in to the next album if there will be one?
I can guarantee that, the response on Red Hot Summer we sold a couple of thousand on that tour alone. [That’s pretty good!] It is pretty good, we’ve paid off the album, most muso’s who read this will ask how did they do that, in this day that’s rare. We’re already planning to have the next one for the next Red Hot, we’ll be coming back because we did so well and the promoter has already invited us back for 2019 so there will be a new album to accompany that. I’m glad that we’re being received the way we are and Adelaide has been such a great stomping ground for us over the years and looking to playing The Gov to showcase how the band still is.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch Chocolate Starfish at The Gov tonight…