As they approach their twentieth anniversary, CAKE’s adherence to their original guiding principles has only grown stronger. Formed in the early nineties as a somewhat antagonistic answer to grunge, which they saw as just another form of big, dumb American rock, CAKE’s democratic processes, defiant self-reliance, and lucid yet ever-inventive music has made them a nation-state unto themselves, with no obvious peers, belonging to no school.
Now, in addition to writing, arranging, producing, and performing their own music, they have taught themselves to engineer their recording projects in their own recently-constructed solar-powered studio, which actually generates more power than is needed to run it, causing the building’s electrical meter to run in reverse. CAKE’s upcoming album, Showroom of Compassion, will be released on their own Upbeat Records label, making the album as pure an extension of the DIY aesthetic as ever attempted by an established act.
“There are quite a few different kinds of talent in this band,” observes founding member John McCrea, “so our process has become even more democratic with this record, with the band playing a much larger role in production decisions.” Echoes bassist Gabriel Nelson, “This album is the most collaborative CAKE album – and the band did nearly all the engineering, which has been a real education in technical stuff.”
“Having built our own studio and being free from a pushy expensive record label,” adds guitarist Xan McCurdy, “has given us a very important ingredient in making our finest album: time.”
“We listen to each other and grow from our association,” says CAKE’s other founding member, Vince DiFiore. “This album represents a band that has created its own story together.”
Initially, CAKE’s small sound was mostly just mistaken for weakness, and their embracing of non-rock sonic elements was mostly mistaken for humor. Luckily, there were a few people who seemed to understand. The San Francisco Bay Guardian pointed out that “CAKE doesn’t ask you to suck its angst,” and The St. Louis Dispatch described CAKE’s music as “An utterly fresh sound, especially given today’s preponderance of overblown ‘alternative’ bands.” Somehow a copy of CAKE’s first demo tape even made it all the way to France, where it was completely understood and well received – “The drug dealers do not thank CAKE,” astutely observed French music magazine, Les Inrockuptibles. Thriving in the unglamorous Central Valley of Northern California, where country meets mariachi meets post punk and classic rock, CAKE’s music reflected this diversity, and would eventually lead to collaborations with not only Brazilian cultural hero Tom Ze, but also with American rapper Jay-Z, and to legendary country songwriter Buck Owens choosing CAKE as one of the only non-country artists to play his Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, CA.
Touring tirelessly from the outset, CAKE narrowly avoided road death many times on the icy roads of New England, traversing the continent sometimes three or four times in a single year in a Dodge passenger van that would frequently catch fire from overuse. Gradually audiences began to seem less puzzled, offended, or furious. Some people even began memorizing and singing along. Their song “How Do You Afford Your Rock’n’Roll Lifestyle?” from their first self- released album, Motorcade of Generosity, even became a minor college radio hit. Eventually, they signed a deal with then-independent label Capricorn Records. The days of riding bikes around town in the middle of the night plastering telephone polls with their own enigmatic band-designed posters and befuddling iconic artwork were soon ending.
CAKE released their second album, Fashion Nugget, in 1996, which featured the radio hits “The Distance” and “I Will Survive.” “Every now and then,” heralded The Washington Times, “a band with actual personality sneaks onto the modern rock radio playlist.” The album presented a multi-purpose array of musical communication that rung refreshingly true in contrast to much of the ponderous, colorless rock of the mid-‘90s. CAKE’s third album, Prolonging the Magic, included their most successful song, “Never There,” which charted in such distant places as Brazil and Turkey. Founding guitarist Greg Brown was replaced on this album by Chuck Prophet (Green On Red); Tyler Pope (!!!); Jim Campilongo; Rusty Miller (Jackpot); and Xan McCurdy (the Loved Ones), who became a permanent member of the band. Comfort Eagle, CAKE’s fourth and highest-charting album, presented such favorites as “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” “Love You Madly,” and “Shadow Stabbing.” Alternative Press described Comfort Eagle as “infinitely smarter, smarmier, and catchier than Weezer’s green album.”
CAKE’s most recent studio album, Pressure Chief, was met with critical praise for its signature match of “Post-new wave with smart lyrics,” according to The New York Times, with The Boston Globe chiming in that “After more than a decade of inventiveness, CAKE is far from stale.” The Los Angeles Times described it as “Music that defies simple- minded pop paradigms.”
Several years ago, CAKE created their “Unlimited Sunshine Tour,” which held true to their anti-genre, music-first approach. So far, audiences have been surprisingly accepting of this philosophy, and the tour has included such culturally incongruous performers as the Flaming Lips, De La Soul, Modest Mouse, the Hackensaw Boys, Kinky, Charlie Louvin, The Detroit Cobras, Cheap Trick, Tegan and Sara, and the far out comedy of Eugene Mirman. CAKE looks forward to building another entertainingly disparate lineup for Unlimited Sunshine Tour 2011.
By maintaining their ideals while continuing to challenge themselves artistically and professionally, CAKE has managed to not only survive, but to thrive. “We still exist,” explains McCrea, “because we’ve always stayed outside of current trends. We’ve watched them inflate and deflate. We’ve never been invited to the party, so we’ve never had to leave the party whether the police arrived or not. It’s a sad and beautiful world.”
LABEL: Upbeat Records
PUBLISHING: Wixen Music Publishing, Inc.