(Photo by Eric Lippe)
In high school my friend Casey and I discovered one of Cheese On Bread's songs, Sexy Anarchist Boy, on an anti-folk site. We had no idea what anti-folk was but we knew no one at our high school had heard it of it, so we knew we’d love it. Their 2007 album, The Search for Colonel Mustard is one of my favorite albums. It’s pure joy and fun. We made a music video to one of their songs and posted it on Myspace (that’s how long ago this was) hoping they would see it and want to be our best friend. That did not happen. Instead the band went on a long hiatus soon after. Did we cause them to break up because of our terrible video? I hope not. In 2016 they surprised their fans with a Kickstarter to fund a new album. The One Who Wanted More was released earlier this year and I got to talk to Dan Fishback and Sara Kelly about the album. P.S. I mentioned the terrible Myspace music video and they actually remembered it. For real. In their email they were like “Oh wow! You made the mustache video?” I never mentioned it was about a mustache. They remembered that detail on their own. High School me would be crapping his pants if he was here.
1. What’s the main thing you got in trouble for as a kid?
DAN: Refusing to go outside or speak to humans.
2. Who is the oldest person you know?
3. Have you ever cried on stage while performing?
SARA: Pretty often actually. It usually only results in a dropped word or two, but yes. When I’m singing I really try to dig into the emotion of the song. And maybe sometimes, I let it go too far.
DAN: It’s barely perceptible but I got very choked up at the end of this performance.
4. Which would be scarier if there was concrete proof of their existence: aliens or ghosts?
DAN: I’d be tremendously relieved by either.
5. Do you know anyone who has been struck by lightning?
DAN: I don’t think so.
6.What’s your opinion on ska?
SARA: I was super into ska in high school, but I’m pretty out of touch with it now. Maybe it’s time for a revisit!
DAN: I’ve always wanted to learn more about actual Jamaican ska, as opposed to the white American ska I was saturated with in the 90s.
Taylor Johnson For BL: How much was the music of Cheese on Bread a part of your life during the hiatus between albums?
SARA: At the very end of our 2nd album, there’s a haunting little (secret?) track in which Dibs says, “In my head forever… we shall never fade!” We’ve always had crazy obstacles to overcome in order to be a real band. Over the last decade, I think the music has been a motivating voice in the back of my head just pushing me to figure out the complicated logistics to make something else happen.
DAN: The music was always there for me too. Most of the songs on the new album have been in my head for years, just screaming at me while I’ve tried to focus on other things. Part of the reason I wanted to make this album was to finally get them out of my head. It was like an exorcism.
BL: Do you get nervous for live performances?
DAN: I get nervous about my voice. I’m always worried I’ll sound like a duck.
SARA: Gosh, I used to get SO nervous. When I first started performing at open mic nights, I would wait until everyone went home and then play for no one but the sound person. They would call it the “Secret Sara Hour”. Thankfully, I’ve gotten over that, and now performing is a lot more fun. But I still do get a little nervous from time to time.
DAN: I think Secret Sara Hour was the first time I ever saw Sara perform! I was like “WHY IS SHE NERVOUS?! SHE SOUNDS SO GOOD!”
BL: What Cheese on Bread song is the most fun to perform live?
DAN: For me it’s probably “Worthy,” because that was stuck in my head for so many years, and I’ve been fantasizing about it for such a long time. Finally getting to play it with everyone makes me really happy.
SARA: Of the new batch, it’s a toss up between “The One Who Wanted More” and “Primary Partner in Pittsburgh” for very different reasons. “Primary Partner” is just so fun to sing, and “The One Who Wanted More” is impossible to play without pulling out your most absurd energetic dance moves.
BL: Cornfields, Cornfields! is one of my favorite things in the world. The line “The kids are dancing in the street tonight for the first time in their lives, no one will turn on the tv tonight for the first time in their lives” started making me cry when I first toured as a comedian. It’s like an aspirational anthem. What are some of your favorite memories of touring?
DAN: I’m happy to hear you had that experience! A lot of my favorite memories are in that song. I was afraid to visit the midwest and the south as a queer person in 2005, so it was intense to meet all the cool people in these remote places -- the people who you never really hear about, and who I didn’t really expect to encounter. That felt really special. But the best part of touring is always just feeling that sense of family with the band.
BL: Will you do any touring for the new album?
DAN: There are no big plans at the moment. We all live in different cities, and our lives are already very full. It’s kind of a miracle we were able to release this album at all. But we’re always looking for excuses to get together and play shows.
BL: Everyone in Cheese on Bread is older and wiser and I think that really shows in a song like Worthy, which is so great. What was different in the writing process for this album in comparison to the last two?
DAN: Thank you! The process was mostly the same -- it just took a lot longer, since we see each other so rarely. I usually come to the band with lyrics and melody, and then we get together and rip it all apart until we have an arrangement that gives everyone something interesting to do. My instincts usually lean toward simple pop, whereas someone like Kevin leans towards complexity, and the songs usually fall somewhere between.
But two songs on the new record -- “TV Star” and “Oh OK” -- started out with Matt. TV Star is based on a guitar part and melody he’d been kicking around for a while, which I wrote words for, and then I brought it back to him for more music, and added more words, back and forth like that. And “Oh OK” started because Matt texted me in the middle of the night that we should have a song where the hook is repeated in the verse instead of the chorus. So I started recording little voice memos in bed, and sent them until he picked “Oh OK.”
Matt also started the process for a song called “Feelings,” but we ended up cutting it from the album. It was the first song we recorded, and we just weren’t in the zone yet. Hopefully that song will have its day somehow.
BL: All Your Sisters is such a powerful closer for the album. Did you come to the writing process with messages and ideas you knew you wanted to include or did they come about on their own?
SARA: Kevin and I have a 3-year-old daughter. Before she was born, we asked some friends to record lullabies that we could play for her at bedtime so she could get used to hearing the voices of the important people in our lives. Dan sent us a recording of “All Your Sisters,” and I was in love. I listened to it every night with our daughter, and I imagined that it would give her strength to exist in this world. As we began discussing what to include on the new record, I begged Dan to let us use it as a Cheese on Bread song, and he responded that he was thinking the same thing! I was so relieved.
BL: Was there much discussion of making sure the new material “felt like Cheese on Bread songs?” Is that even a thing you think about?
DAN: Oh that’s totally a thing. There are a few songs I brought to the band, fully knowing they probably weren’t Cheese On Bready enough. If something is too serious, or not particularly melodic, or too aggressively sexy, then it usually feels like something I should do on my own, but sometimes I try them out just in case. And most of them got cut, except for “Bad Friend,” which was actually very surprising for me. I kept thinking that the band would reject it, because it isn’t very bouncy or silly, even as I felt deep down that it made sense for us. I still don’t completely understand why it’s a Cheese On Bread song, since on paper it seems out of character, but it also feels right on a very instinctual level, and now I cannot even imagine the song without Sara. So who knows!
BL: Did the success of the Kickstarter have any affect as you wrote and recorded the new album? Did you feel any extra pressure or expectations to live up to for all your supporters?
SARA: I feel like the kickstarter backers were a real motivator to get this record out into the world. The process of arranging and recording is so fun for us, so we really could have dragged it out forever, and potentially never even released it.
BL: Was there a song off the new album you were most excited for fans to hear?
DAN: It’s been very emotional to get messages from listeners who have responded intensely to “Worthy” and “Bad Friend.” I felt very alone when I wrote those songs, so when I learn that they’re making an impact, it’s very healing for me. But I’m also excited for people to hear a song like “Squirrel Squirrel Squirrel,” which was so much fun to make, and such a weird stretch for us. And I’m giddy that “Doggies” is finally in the world, since I wrote that in 2006. I want to send a letter back in time to 24-year-old-me to let him know it finally happened. I even sent it to the boy it’s about, like: “Remember that weird night in 2006? It’s a song now!”
BL: Do you think this album would be different if Donald Trump wasn’t president?
SARA: All of the songs were written and even mostly recorded before he was president. So I don’t think the songs themselves would be that different. But we released a video for “All Your Sisters” on the day of the inauguration. Originally, our intent was to release it as a video showing feminist support for the first woman president. We wanted the video to both show solidarity and hold Hillary Clinton accountable for all that the country needed from her. But when that reality was lost, we switched gears and directed the video towards DT. We wanted the song to be a platform for others to voice their concerns about and frustrations with the new administration.
DAN: I was really happy that Cheese On Bread was able to use our work to make a political statement in that video. Obviously most of our songs aren’t overtly political. Still, even under dire circumstances, I think we need songs about private experiences. Under fascism, we are being saturated with so many lies. So I think it’s important, as a matter of public health, for us to reflect truth to each other, even small truths. A lot of my work apart from the band is directly about political injustice, but I think songs about more personal feelings play a role in the struggle. It gives us the strength to fight.
BL: I’m really obsessed with Mister Rogers right now. He has a song called “What do you do with the mad that you feel” where he describes the different constructive things you can do when you get angry ("do you punch a bag, do you pound some clay or some dough?”). What do YOU do with the mad that you feel?
DAN: I really wish the answer wasn’t “eat ice cream.”
SARA: I have a 3 year-old, so this question just made Daniel Tiger go on loop in my head - for possibly ever. I may not have brain space to answer any more questions.
BL: What are you most excited about this year?
DAN: I’m excited to know that “The One Who Wanted More” is out there in the world, doing things we may never know about.
(Picture by JJ Tiziou)
Taylor: Thank you so much. You have no idea how much your music has meant to me.
DAN: Thank you Taylor! It was really cool to connect like this!
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