Quick Chat: John McCrea of Cake
Cake's members have always considered themselves a band of pop music outsiders. Formed in the early '90s amid the backdrop of the Seattle explosion, the horns, hooks and dry wit of songs like “The Distance” and the Gloria Gaynor cover “I Will Survive” were a comically offbeat answer to the bombast of grunge. After seven years between albums, the band got another bite at the mainstream when their 2011 album “Showroom of Compassion” (recorded independently at their solar-powered studio in Sacramento) debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200 despite selling only 44,000 copies in its first week.
At the time it was the lowest-selling No. 1 album in SoundScan history. But for a band that still operates under the pop-culture radar, they see it as a major win for the little guy. Stopping in L.A. at the Palladium for the first time in several years, frontman John McCrea talked to Pop & Hiss about Cake’s recent success.
Who is your audience these days?
It’s weird. I thought that it would just be a lot of older, Generation X people, but on the road each year we get more people that haven’t heard us before that are all ages. We get a lot of high school kids, even some seniors dig us.
Any opinion on the fact that your latest record debuted as the lowest-selling No. 1 album on the charts, ever?
In a period of precipitous decline in the record business, we’ve looked at it pretty positively. Cake’s not a band that’s supposed to be No. 1 on any charts. So it definitely stretched our imaginations to be No. 1, even fleetingly. We sold about the same amount of copies that we did for our previous album, which was seven years earlier. So it seems like we’ve built a pretty trusted relationship with our fans.
What’s been the best part of releasing your new music independently?
It’s clean, it’s a feeling of self-reliance — that we’re investing in ourselves. Between recording the album in a solar-powered studio and self-releasing our album, it’s part of the general inclination on Cake’s part to become more self-reliant and less dependent on what I think are failing infrastructures.
You’re well-known for launching participatory contests with your fans. Any new ones on the horizon?
We are doing this contest where our trumpet player Vince DiFiore scored our song “Federal Funding” for marching bands and so a lot of high school and college marching bands are entering a contest where they learn that song, play it and send in a video. We’re gonna choose one of them as a grand prize winner. I think we’ll end up putting them in a new Cake video.
— Nate Jackson
Photo: Frontman John McCrea, far right, with Cake band mates, from left, Paulo Baldi, Vince DiFiore, Xan McCurdy and Gabe Nelson. Credit: Robert McKnight.