Q&A: John McCrea of Cake
Approaching its 20th anniversary, the alternative rock band Cake will celebrate the release of its sixth studio album, "Showroom of Compassion," on Jan. 11. This follows 2004's "Pressure Chief," and comes out on Cake's own label, Upbeat Records, via Warner Music Group's Independent Label Group.
"We worked for about two-and-a -alf years on it," frontman John McCrea told SoundSpike. "That's just recording it. That's not including writing the songs, which took a long time as well. We're finally finished with it and we're happy with it. That's a good feeling."
The album was produced and engineered by the band at Cake's own solar-powered studio in Sacramento, CA.
McCrea -- who is joined in the band by Vince DiFiore (trumpet/euphonium/keyboards), Xan McCurdy (guitar/synthesizer) and Gabriel Nelson (bass/guitar/rheem/bandalero) -- spoke to SoundSpike about "Showroom of Compassion," the solar-powered studio and his thoughts on dabbling in auto-tuning.
SoundSpike: How long did it take you to write this album?
John McCrea: My whole life. I've been writing this album my whole life. There's song that I wrote on there when I was 17. There are songs on there that I wrote last year.
Why did you decide to use the ones you wrote when you were 17?
I can't even tell you. I think it's subconscious. I have lots of songs -- maybe hundreds. I just started thinking of one, and all I can say is that I feel like playing these songs. Those are the ones I feel inspired about, and so those are the ones that we do. I think probably subconsciously there are some elements in these songs that seem current or emotionally applicable in some way.
Had you been writing and recording the full six years between albums?
I'm always writing. I have a notebook that's in my back pocket. It's been there my entire life. As I walk through my life, I take notes about things that bother me, or things that are interesting to me. Eventually, those little scraps of paper turn into songs.
What would you say is the concept behind "Showroom of Compassion"?
I think I can only guess at what the concept is. Again, it's more of a subconscious process for me. I'm choosing songs I feel inspired about. But I'm not necessarily knowing why I feel that way. I'm not sure I can answer that.
From what I understand, you have a solar-powered studio?
Yes, we do. We have a solar power plant on top of our roof. We have produced this album using 100 percent solar electricity -- solar-generated electricity. That's just the way it should be if you live in the West. We tour quite a bit and in our touring, we've been quite a few times in Germany. And Germany is actually the No. 1 producer of solar electricity. I don't know if you've ever been to Germany, but it's not a sunny place. If Germany can be No. 1, then Cake better put solar panels on our recording studio. It just felt ridiculous not to. If the value of recording music descends into nothing, the public utility in Sacramento sends us a check for $25 every month. It helps to pay our bills, too.
When do you plan on touring the U.S.?
We are traveling here and there right now, playing a few shows in different parts of the United States in the next month or so. But we really start touring in earnest come January for the first six months of next year.
Are you looking forward to it?
I sort of hate traveling, but I enjoy playing music. I like playing live shows. I hate sitting on a bus all day or waiting at the airport. It gets old if you're doing it every single day of your entire life.
Why did you decide to name your album "Showroom of Compassion"?
I'm not sure. I liked the way the vowels worked with the consonants. I don't know.
I just sounded good
It just sounded good at the time.
That's pretty exciting that your song "Short Skirt Long Jacket" is getting so much airplay on TV Nano commercials.
Yeah, that's the first time we said yes to an advertisement. It's our first thing. We've always been sort of cautious about it. We don't want to do a bait and switch with our audience and sort of say, 'This song's about this. No fooled you. It's just about this product.' We didn't feel this ad really changed fundamentally the meaning of the song. It's still sort of about music.
This is your first album on your own label. How does it feel?
It's a lot more work and a lot more to do than a musician should have to do. We have to do a bunch of things that aren't musical. It's unfortunate. But given the current state of today's music business, it was the safest way to ensure a successful album. We've been in too many situations being on other people's labels where scheduling decisions were made that really weren't in our best interests.
How do you feel the new album fits in with the catalog?
Um, I don't know. I think it fits pretty well. I'm never sure. There are some albums that seem more natural than others. This one seems pretty natural in the terms of the way it fits in with who we are.
In listening to it, it seems a little more experimental than your previous albums.
Certainly. There are things that I just sort of intentionally avoided for years and years that I allowed to happen. Like the use of acoustic piano. I felt it sounded too classy and I didn't want us to sound classy. But now I feel like maybe it's OK. It's a junky old piano that we dragged in the studio. I think it sounds OK. I'd always studiously avoided using reverb on the vocals, and I allowed that to happen for some reason. I don't know why. When the band was first starting, people were overusing reverb. I said, 'I don't want to use it.' I thought it was a cheap way to sound grandiose.
At least you're not using auto-tuning.
Well, maybe that's the next album.
5 - Charleston, WV - Culture Center Theater, Mountain Stage
6 - Pittsburgh, PA - WXDX "Kick Ass Christmas" at Stage AE
7 - New York City, NY - Irving Plaza ("101.9 RXP Yule Rock")
8 - Seattle, WA - WaMu Theater (KNDD.FM "Deck the Hall Ball")
10 - Portland, OR - McMenamins Crystal Ballroom (KNRK's "December to Remember" show)
13 - Milwaukee, WI - The Rave (WLUM's "Big Snow Show")
14 - Chicago, IL - House of Blues (Q101's "Twisted Christmas")
15 - St. Louis, MO - The Pageant (KPNT's "Ho Ho Show")
30 - Dallas, TX - The Palladium
31 - Austin, TX - Austin Music Hall
18 - London, England - The Troxy
19 - Paris, France - La Cigale
20 - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Paradiso