CAKE celebrates 2O years with the release of showroom of compassion
:: Cake ::
By Timothy Dwenger
It may seem strange to the uninitiated, but aside from almonds, CAKE is one of Sacramento, California’s most popular exports. No, not chocolate, vanilla, or even red velvet; what we are talking about here is a rock band. A rock band called “CAKE.”
It’s been 20 years since John McRae, Vince DiFiore and a couple of friends started the band and since then, they have been busy carving out their own nitch in the music business with an unflinching work ethic and commitment to themselves and the unique sound they have created.
While their music could be characterized as an upbeat blend of mariachi, jazz, rockabilly and pop, it’s probably simpler to file it under “alternative” since CAKE is an alternative to everything and simply doesn’t sound like anyone else making music today, or even yesterday for that matter.
In addition to McRae’s speak-singing style, and DiFiore’s distinctive trumpet solos, CAKE’s music is almost instantly recognizable due to a sharp buzzing sound that punctuates many of their songs. Given the quirky nature of some of their material, one could almost imagine a conversation with the CAKE frontman going something like this: “What’s that, John?” “Why, it’s a vibraslap of course.” “A vibra-what?” “A vibraslap.” “John, there are kids present, let’s keep it clean.” “It’s not dirty, it’s just a vibraslap …”
Though this kind of conversation could go on seemingly forever in a “Who’s On First”-like cadence, it would probably, eventually, become clear that a vibraslap is, in fact, the very distinct percussion instrument that is featured so prominently in CAKE’s music.
It’s right there at the beginning of their 2001 hit “Short Skirt / Long Jacket,” appears on “Love You Madly,” and of course, rears its unique head again on the band’s newest record Showroom of Compassion. While McRae doesn’t over-use the instrument, it’s become almost synonymous with his band’s music.
Released in January of this year, Showroom of Compassion rocketed straight to the top of the charts; debuting at number 1 on the Billboard Top 200. “It must have been a really slow week for the rest of the album sales,” guitarist Xan McCurdy half-joked in a recent interview with The Marquee, before getting serious about the band’s reaction to the news that they had the #1 record in the country. “It was fantastic, we were really amazed. It just felt wrong, in a good way. It was something we just didn’t expect because there was such a long time between releases of studio albums that we figured we would be totally forgotten and we were pleasantly proven wrong.”
McCurdy explained the seven-year gap between 2004’s Pressure Chief and Showroom by talking about some of the business the band had to attend to in the intervening years. “There were some big tasks at hand,” he said. “One of them was negotiating our release from a contract with a major label, which was amicable and it worked out, but that took a while and had to be done so everyone could be happy. Then we took some time to get our studio up to speed. We put solar panels on the roof and put some gear in there and re-learned our craft a bit.”
The solar panels that were installed on the roof of the band’s Sacramento studio have done an incredible amount to offset the band’s power consumption in the studio and the carbon footprint that their tour schedule creates. So much so that they actually now receive a check from the power company for the excess power that their studio feeds back into the grid. “We believe in science, and the fact is that touring bands are pretty outrageous polluters. It just seems to make absolute sense to try to offset your footprint if you can, ’cause it’s a good thing to do,” McCurdy explained. “We are easing our guilt in a lot of ways and can rest somewhat easier. Some of us have kids and basically, we figure that things are going to have to turn out this way anyway. It just has to happen and we might as well be there earlier rather than later. It’s not a moral high ground stance, it just seems to make sense.”
When they weren’t negotiating their way out of a contract with Columbia or installing solar panels, the band also took some time during the break to tackle the rather large task of starting up their own record label, Upbeat Records. As a test of the infrastructure of the new label, CAKE released a B-sides and rarities compilation entitled, appropriately, B-Sides and Rarities, in 2007.
Fortunately, the project was met with enough support from fans that it funded the band’s ambitious efforts in the studio and well beyond. “It ended up paying for the solar project and for our time while we were spending two-and-a-half years making Showroom of Compassion,” revealed McCurdy.
Though it was a long time in the making, Showroom of Compassion is an album that was well worth the wait. It is still very much a CAKE album, with all the vibraslap, trumpet and quirkiness that fans would expect from the quintet. In fact, McCurdy even expressed some gratitude to fans who have been requesting, cheering for, and singing along with, some of the tunes from the new record.
“As more and more time goes by, we are noticing that people are shouting requests for new songs or cheering for them,” he said. “We’ve been playing the new songs live since before the album came out and since nobody had heard them, we felt a little bit apologetic, like, ‘Sorry we have to play you this new tune.’ But now, very gradually, but very consistently, we are hearing requests for the new songs and also cheering for the opening bars of something new. It’s really great to hear, especially after we were a little nervous, or shy, to play the new stuff. People getting excited about it is really great. Any band likes to play their new stuff if they are proud of it and this time it’s going better than expected.”
Twenty years into their career as a band and they’ve got an album entering the charts at #1, they are selling out almost every date on their tour in advance, and they have their own record label and solar powered studio. Sounds like that nitch they have been carving out, is growing to comfortably hold not only the band, but their growing families as well. Sometimes it pays to be “alternative,” but don’t try it at home.
:: Cake ::
:: Ogden Theater :: June 13-14 ::
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