CAKE still going the distanceWritten by John Benson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
From the very moment CAKE arrived on the scene nearly 15 years ago, the alternative rock band was a quirky, idiosyncratic talent that stood out amongst the post-grunge zeitgeist. Unlike the guitar-driven hits of the day, the band’s single “The Distance,” from its 1996 album “Fashion Nugget,” was a breezy, spoken-word-esque affair that ultimately would become the archetype of CAKE the band.
Epitomizing the group’s laidback approach is group visionary John McCrea, who seemingly thinks differently than most mainstream musicians. There’s not a hint of self-aggrandizing.
Take for instance CAKE’s early foray into fame, its cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Initially viewed as a cheap novelty cover based more in irony than anything else, the disco anthem about empowerment was anything but a joke to McCrea, who explains his thought-process about recording the song.
“It think it’s so weird, in rock culture it’s some sort of dubious thing to honor another artist with a cover version of their song,” said McCrea, calling from California. “But I was coming more from listening to a lot of country albums where sometimes you have maybe a few songs by the artist who is singing and the rest are sort of paying homage to what’s gone before. Music is not just bursting out of nowhere. It’s actually part of a continuum.
“Rock is sort of pretentious in its aversion to acknowledge the long history that’s come before it. It’s all of this, rebel against the man or my parents kind of thing. But really, music isn’t that way. The way it really happened is, it’s all about your parents and their parents.”
Now it’s all about CAKE, which after what seems like an eternity finally released a new album earlier this year. “Showroom of Compassion,” which is the studio follow-up to 2004’s “Pressure Chief,” actually debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. As for the seven-year delay between releases, McCrea said the time was spent getting CAKE’s house in order.
At first it became clear to the band that it needed to get out of its label deal with Columbia Records. While that took a while, when the group was finally free it then had to decide how to move forward independently. This led to the band’s 2007 compilation “B-Sides and Rarities,” which McCrea said went smoothly. Finally, the last hurdle was not only building a solar-powered recording studio but also becoming more democratic as a band.
Luckily for diehard fans, even though all the band members now have an equal say in the group, the results are still quintessential CAKE with new single “Sick of You” getting plenty of radio airplay. Add in the fact the album debuted at No. 1 on the charts, selling roughly 45,000 copies the week it was released, CAKE appears to be on the move.
That is until you talk with McCrea, who quickly dismisses such talk. Sure, he’s surprised, even dumbfounded, at topping the charts, but this pragmatist isn’t about to get an ego.
Instead, he offers a sane opinion – coming across like a veteran war journalist who has witnessed the frontlines of celebrity and ego and lived to tell about it – and in the end is thankful for the fans who have stuck by CAKE all of these years.
“I don’t think CAKE is really a band that’s supposed to be No. 1 for all kinds of reasons,” McCrea said. “I didn’t go out and buy a big foam hat that said ‘No. 1’ on it but I did look at the fact that the same number of people bought our album this time as last time, during a period of time when music sales were falling off a cliff. That gave me a little bit of hope. Not much, but a little.”
CAKE is set to perform 8 p.m. May 17 at Masonic Auditorium in Cleveland and 7 p.m. May 18 at Royal Oak Theater in Detroit. The Detroit show is reportedly sold out, for ticket information call 419-474-1333 in Toledo or visit www.ticketmaster.com.