Cake’s B-list status is not accidental.
“The band formed not really wanting to be big, and we’ve actually succeeded at that. We never exploded onto the scene, as it were,” singer John McCrea said. “When things become really big, they become suspect.”
Since breaking through in 1996 with the hit “The Distance,” Cake has seen the demise of many a major alt-rock act. The band continued with a string of catchy singles — “Never There,” “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” — that assured steady airplay.
“Radio has used our songs as palate cleansers between the real songs — the serious, veins-bulging-from-neck guitar rock that’s such a constant thing in America,” McCrea said. “It’s like, ‘Here’s the court jester to dance for you.’” After its fifth album, Pressure Chief, Cake left the major labels to strike out on its own — a natural move following 15 years of its members producing and recording on their own.
“Our culture has always been pretty DIY. It’s been a crafts project that’s gone way too far,” McCrea said. “We’ve gone back and started our own label, just because we don’t want to be aboard a sinking ship. We may be anyways, but at least there’s more hope steering ourselves.”
The result, last year’s Showroom of Compassion, was recorded in Cake’s solar-powered studio in the band’s hometown of Sacramento, Calif.
“We felt pretty guilty,” McCrea said.
“It seemed ridiculous to not have that, being based out of Northern California. As the value of our recorded music descends into the abyss, we’ll still be receiving a $25 check from the public utility every month to buy sandwiches.”
The seven-year span between Pressure Chief and Showroom is the longest in the group’s existence, but McCrea doesn’t view the lull as a waste. After all, the disc topped the Billboard charts its debut — a Cake first.
“Time is a real ally,” he said. “There’s something to be said for a sharp editorial knife. You need time to see how stupid some of your ideas are.”