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Music » Sound Stories & Interviews

A (Sound) Bite of Cake

An appetite for conversation

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Members of Cake visit and post on their Webpage more frequently than a teenage girl—an endearing quirk for an established band, especially, in an age when the social media profiles of iconic bands are most often run by third-party entities like record labels and publicists. And for a band with left-leaning political views, the Sacramento alt-rockers—known for songs like "The Distance" and "Never There"—sure have a lot of right-wing friends joining the conversation. It's one of the more spirited band pages around.

In the two hours since my interview with lead singer John McCrea wrapped up, the band has asked its followers how their day was going, consoled a poor guy who got laid off by telling him, "you will find a better job," encouraged fans to "go outside" (by way of hawking Cake-branded beach towels, of course), and instigated a lively discussion about current White House scandals compared with those of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

That level of interaction is pretty much on par for a band that likes to engage its fans—for better or for worse—in more ways than just social media.

"It's just about welcoming in reality, I guess," McCrea said in an interview with the Source. "And part of reality is crazy. I'm more interested in that than I am in acting like everything is OK."

Through its website, the band solicits questions from fans on an array of topics. People trust Cake to offer advice on a lot more than just what music to download .

"Vince, our trumpet player, answers most of the questions," McCrea confessed. "He chooses to answer the questions that are the most interesting on some level. He has a degree in psychology and is pretty straigh forward with people. Every once in a while we get something that is serious and scary. We don't really post those, but will respond to them directly."

Paired with its online presence is Cake's 20-plus years of putting out genre-experimenting rock—a kind of catch-all where hip-hop, rock, funk and country all coexist, remaining a bit chunky rather than dissolving into one another. Cake uses thought-provoking and sometimes tongue-in-cheek lyrics to spark the conversation as much as anything the band does on the Web.

The sound hasn't changed since Cake released its debut album, Motorcade of Generosity, in 1994. Neither has McCrea's formula for writing his socially conscious songs.

"My process is that I think about things and I write them down," McCrea said. "If I observe something that I find terrifying or fascinating, I write it down. Every once in a while I get my guitar and see if any of those word combinations makes sense with a melody. One of the first songs I ever wrote was about a nuclear power plant in our area. I'm not sure, but I hope it helped get it closed."

As evidenced by the welcoming of dissenting opinions on thr band's website and Facebook page, McCrea doesn't always care if he isn't convincing people with the band's posts and music. He's more interested in just getting people to think.

"I think it is change just to have a thought, McCrea explained. "Sometimes that can be a huge improvement. You should definitely unplug at least once a day. There should be time that's not this frenetic stimulation and reaction to the stimulation—a point in the day where it should just be you checking in with you. If you're afraid to do that, it should tell you a lot about yourself." One of McCrea's favorite ways to effect that kind of self-awareness is through the band's long- standing practice of giving away trees at some of its shows.

"When our band was starting out in Sacramento, I went to a garage sale and someone was selling a little tree for seven dollars," McCrea recalled. "For some reason I bought it but didn't have a place to put it, so I planted it in the median in the middle of street at the apartment where I lived. As time went on, we started touring more and I ended up moving away. I had forgotten all about the tree. More than 10 years went by and I found myself walking in that neighborhood and was surprised to come upon this 25- or 30-foot tree! I felt like everyone should have this experience. It dwarfs your sense of time." SW

Cake, with Built to Spill

6:30 Saturday, May 25

Les Schwab Amphitheater

344 S.W. Shevlin-Hixon Drive

Tickets $37 at bendticket.com.

About The Author

Ethan Maffey

Both a writer and a fan of vinyl records since age 5, it wasn't until nearly three decades later that Oregon Native Ethan Maffey derived a plan to marry the two passions by writing about music. From blogging on MySpace in 2007 and then Blogspot, to launching his own website, 83Music, and eventually freelancing...

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