To label John McCrea, founder and front man of CAKE, as a rebel wouldn’t quite be correct. Sure, he’s always swam upstream from the mainstream music establishment. In the age of digital downloads and music services such as Pandora and Spotify, what does McCrea do? He and his bandmates release a vinyl box set. To hear him tell it, McCrea’s intention wasn’t to be a rebel. He just did what he felt was right. CAKE, for better or for worse, has always maintained a clear set of principles and McCrea has done much of the same.
When CAKE was just getting off the ground, why the decision to go to Los Angeles?
I had just been dropped from a management deal in England. They thought I wasn’t commercial enough. At that point I was kind of resigned to making something happen in Los Angeles. These days, a band can be discovered living in a remote place now because of breakthroughs in digital distribution, but, at the time, this wasn’t the case so I very reluctantly packed my belongings into the back of a pickup truck and left. I knew I would hate LA.
Why the decision to finally leave Los Angeles?
We have to put this in historical context. Back when I went to LA, geographical location mattered a lot more in terms of breaking into the music business. After we unloaded the pickup truck, we were hungry and decided to grab some food at a Chinese food restaurant. In my fortune cookie, my fortune read “You need a new environment. Move to Canada.” I didn’t end up moving to Canada, I doubt they would have let me, but I sort of took that to heart.
Did you get lost in the Grunge sound?
That’s why I left LA. I couldn’t find musicians that didn’t want to sound like the bands that were successful at the time. It wasn’t just in Southern California, it was in the music environment in general, this sound that I refer to as Tall Truck Music. At the time, I was writing melodies that were a bit different from what the huge bands were writing. I was hearing strung together, slightly melodic phrases from the more successful bands, but there were just a lot of repetition and not a true melodic narrative. I had to get out of that so I started looking at musicians who played in different genres of music.
Did you purposefully try to sound different?
To me, what we wrote just sounded like normal music. I guess, sort of by default, it was different. It was willful, and not without a certain amount of hostility, small compared to the sound at the time. It was music that had a different geometry and was intentionally not trying to fill all the space with sound which, to me, seemed to make sense. It seemed more sustainable to me. Sound that big and constant just seemed like a tiresome fantasy and you don’t see that in nature, so it didn’t make sense to have it in music.
Interview by Lam Nguyen
City National Civic
Spend New Year’s Eve with alt-rock band, CAKE when they perform a special show with special guest Nellie McKay at City National Civic of San Jose on December 31 at 9:00 PM.
As they approach their twentieth anniversary, CAKE’s adherence to their original guiding principles has only grown stronger. Formed in the nineties as a somewhat antagonistic answer to grunge, CAKE’s democratic processes, defiant self-reliance, and lucid yet ever-inventive music has made them a nation-state unto themselves, with no obvious peers, belonging to no school. Now, in addition to writing, arranging, producing, and performing their own music, they have taught themselves to engineer their recording projects in their own solar-powered studio.
CAKE’s most recent album, Showroom of Compassion, was released on their own Upbeat Records label and debuted on the US Billboard Top 200 Album Chart at #1—making the album as pure an extension of the DIY aesthetic as ever attempted by an established act.