Going the Distance

Going the Distance

Cake slices into Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center

By Matt Clevenger

Cake band members are, from left, Vince DiFiore, Paulo Baldi, John McCrea, Gabriel Nelson, Xan McCurdy. Photo credit Robert McKnight.

It’s been more than a decade since Sacramento-based alternative rockers Cake first burst onto the national music scene with their quirky debut single “Going the Distance,” generating near-constant radio and MTV airplay and platinum record sales for their second album Fashion Nugget.  Since then, the band has gone on to become one of rock’s most dependable acts, releasing a total of seven highly successful studio albums and scoring major hits with a list of well-known singles including “Never There,” “I Will Survive” and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.”
On tour in support of their latest album Showroom of Compassion, the band (lead vocalist John McCrea, trumpeter Vince DiFiore, guitarist Xan McCurdy, bassist Gabe Nelson and drummer Paulo Baldi) will appear at Aronoff Center in Cincinnati on Thursday, May 19. John McCrea spoke to the Dayton City Paper last week, to talk about the album and their plans for the summer touring season.
How would you compare Showroom of Compassion to Cake’s previous albums?
I hesitate to say anything about it. I thought this album was very different and then a lot of critics said, “It’s classic Cake. It sounds just like all their other albums.” So I don’t really know what to say anymore … there’s more piano on this album. In the beginning, I didn’t want piano for some reason, I thought it was too classy sounding for us. And also I allowed reverb on the lead vocals, which I had always tried to avoid.
I think in the beginning there was so much of what I thought was sort of big, dumb American rock that I just wanted to avoid the bigness and the grandiosity of that sound. So most of our albums, or I think all of them, my voice is completely dry. There’s no echo, there’s no reverb — it’s actually pretty unusual. Most bands have something on their voices. [John McCrea]
Is it true that the album was recorded using 100 percent solar power?
Yeah. In California, there’s no reason not to take advantage of free electricity coming out of the sky. I think the thing that sort of clinched it for us was touring in Europe. We did a bunch of shows in Germany. It’s not a particularly sunny part of the world, and most of the time when we are there it’s pretty dark and cloudy. But we found out that Germany is the number one producer of solar generated electricity in the world, so that just sort of jarred us into thinking what a waste it was not to take advantage of free energy here.
Although there’s an initial investment, they say it will pay off in 10 years or something. It just occurred to us that if energy is going to be an issue, which I think most experts think it will be an issue in the coming decades, I’m sure that our system will pay for itself much sooner than in 10 years. [JM]

What is the songwriting process like for Cake? Are you the band’s main songwriter?
I usually come in with songs pretty fully formed. Sometimes I’ve got a bass line that I’ve written, sometimes not. Sometimes I’ve got a trumpet idea, sometimes the guitar player or trumpet player will come up with the trumpet lines. But usually there’s a ways to go, once I come in with the song just with guitar and voice, but we’ll all throw ideas out there and sort of see which ones stick. [JM]
Showroom of Compassion debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, but it was also the lowest-selling Billboard #1 to date. Do statistics like that make you nervous about the future of the music industry?
Yeah, well I think that’s perfect for Cake. We’re not really about being big; actually if you listen to our music it’s about being small. We’re just happy that that many people went out to buy the album before even hearing it, because they trusted us.
And that’s all in the first week and during seven years of precipitous decline in the music industry for sales of music. We released an album seven years ago, that was the last album, and we basically sold pretty close to the same number of albums our first week seven years ago as we did with this last one. So that tells me that during a period of huge decline in record sales, we were able to maintain a relationship with people. That’s all that matters. [JM]

Can you tell us about Cake’s plans for this summer?
We’re playing shows, and hopefully we’ll have a chance to go into the studio and work on some new songs so it’s not another seven years between albums. But that’s all we’ve got, we’re going to be touring the U.S. and Japan and Europe in the next six months. We’re getting good response at shows, and lots of people are coming to the shows, so I figure we might as well play some of these cities while we can. [JM]

Cake will appear at Aronoff Center in Cincinnati on May 19. Tickets are $35. More info  can be found online at www.cincinnatiarts.org or
www.cakemusic.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Clevenger at mattclevenger@daytoncitypaper.com.

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