‘Not Sick of You Yet’

Words by Audra TracyNew York, NY

New York City — On paper, CAKE’s signature style doesn’t seem like it would remotely appeal to mainstream American music fans. Front-man John McCrea seems to talk more than he actually sings, and many songs include the use of a strange instrument called the vibraslap. But against all odds CAKE has maintained a loyal following, surviving nearly two decades in the seething shark tank we call the music industry.

Other artists may fulfill stereotypes bestowed by the media, but CAKE prefers their music to be indescribable. Deeming the use of genres as “wasteful”, this unofficial mantra has sustained CAKE since the Sacramento five-piece surfaced in 1993 with the single ‘Rock and Roll Lifestyle.’ Their limitless approach to musical expression has produced a body of work that dips into rock, country, funk, and soul, covering everything from ‘War Pigs’ to ‘I Will Survive’.

Since the release of their last record Pressure Chief in 2004, CAKE has tightened up ship. They started their own label, built a solar-powered recording space in Northern California, and this past January they unleashed Showroom of Compassion on Upbeat Records. As the band prepares for two sold-out shows in New York this month, we got sweet on CAKE’s trumpeter Vince DiFiore, discussing Billboard charts, teen moms, temporary tattoos, and the pressures of playing The Big Apple.

Five studio albums into their career, CAKE has scored its first #1 record with their latest LP. “It’s funny, the flip side of that is it was the lowest selling #1 in history”, DiFiore says of Showroom. “I don’t think that says bad things about us, I think it’s a further reflection about the decline of the music industry. But as much as we could, we certainly let it sink in. We’ll take our victories how we can get them, you know?”

What can you say about Showroom of Compassion? How do you articulate on the sound of any CAKE album really? It sounds like a CAKE album, right? Their style is so intensely original that you’ll be hard-pressed to name a similar band that has come before or since. And thankfully, CAKE’s special sauce of thick bass-lines, fuzzy guitar licks, warm trumpet solos, and deadpan vocal delivery hasn’t changed much between records.

CAKE is not afraid to call you out on your bullshit, and lyrically Showroom of Compassion readies its backhand with the opening track ‘Federal Funding’. ‘Sick of You’ may qualify as the best break-up song of 2011, spewing insults like ‘every camera, every phone/all the music that you own/won’t change the fact you’re all alone’.

The album’s only instrumental track highlights another hot topic, ‘Teenage Pregnancy’. “There’s a show called Teen Mom, right?”, DiFiore asks. “I guess if television networks and TV viewers are obsessed with the idea right now, maybe we are also. It’s a very heavy life experience being pregnant. It’s pretty damn weighty when you get away from the concept and right into the reality. And the instrumental is heavy that way, very reflective and heavy, so it seemed like a good title.”

The lyrics ‘it’s been a long time/since you gave me butterflies/it’s been a long time/since I’ve seen a burning in your eyes’ off CAKE’s latest single ‘Long Time’ calls to question how a band keeps fans hungry during such a long gap between albums. “We toured on Pressure Chief for two or three years, and then we decided to not renew our contract with Columbia Records”, DiFiore explains. “So we set up our own label and put out B Sides and Rarities, a collection of tracks that had not been any other LPs of ours. We’ve been doing shows too, here and there. Which made us feel like a band, and let people know that we still were a band.”

“We kept up our website a lot”, he goes on, “a lot of time was devoted to keeping the community going around that site. It was a way for us to communicate with each other, being on the same page socially and politically, and a way to keep more of a presence aside from the music.”

Some smart marketing has given CAKE fans incentive to forgo digital downloads and support brick and mortar record stores instead. Showroom is available on red vinyl, and the CD comes with a ‘very durable’ temporary tattoo. “We had a contest where you send in your applied tattoo to our Facebook page, and somebody had a hairless Chihuahua and they put the tattoo on the dog’s back”, he shares. “Someone put it on their pregnant belly, and another person put in on their baby – on the small of the baby’s back. It was just wrong”, he laughs.

CAKE’s national tour brings them to Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg this April 19th, and Manhattan’s Terminal 5 on April 21st. Even for veterans like CAKE, playing New York brings an added challenge – pleasing a pit of pretentious ears. “In Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville, too, places that get a lot of music can be like that. It’s understandable, because, you are competing against all the other great music that comes through town”, DiFiore defends. “People in New York know how to react at a concert, and if the music is there and the band is delivering, there is usually a reaction.” | Showroom of Compassion