Cake

As we approached the 4-year mark of PEV’s existence, our squad got to talking. We generally like to get together and answer a round of XXQ’s ourselves, reflecting on the past year for each passing anniversary. And some great things have happened this past year – a re-faced web site, some awesome shows, new columns, and of course, some of the best features you’ll find on the interweb every 48 hours. But after an interview with one of our favorite bands (who happened to have a #1 record in January) just last week, the answer was clear – we needed to feature Cake for our 4th anniversary celebration.

Ever since “The Distance” back in 1996 off of the band’s second record, “Fashion Nugget”, we’ve kept up with these masters of spoken word rock as they’ve released “Prolonging the Magic”, “Comfort Eagle”, “Pressure Chief”, and finally today, 7 years after their last release, “Showroom of Compassion”.

If you didn’t hear – Showroom hit #1 on the Billboard 200, and lead guitarist Xan McCurdy sums up the band’s reaction best: “We were like ‘what the $%^&? This is not a Cake thing!’” Indeed, this is the first time the 5-piece has hit the top spot, and it’s awesome. I’ve been playing “Sheep Go to Heaven” and “I Will Survive”, and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” for years on my party list! Hopefully you’ll be joining team PEV as we continue our 4-year anniversary party when Cake comes to town for 3 shows at the 9:30 Club in mid-April. McCurdy says to “Sing along. Bring your vocal chops. Bring your chloraseptic. It’s going to be awesome, it’s going to release endorphins, it’s going to be like having a free beer.” Nothing better! After Cake wraps up their touring schedule, they plan on looking into a new record… and not having us wait another 7 years. Keep reading for all the answers to the Cake XXQ’s, and happy birthday PEV!

XXQ’s: Cake

Xan McCurdy (lead guitar, backing vocals)

PEV: Hey – how’s it going?

Xan McCurdy (XM): Good, real good. 

PEV: I want to give you a quick background on where I’m from – PensEyeView. We’re an e-magazine that typically interviews emerging artists on the scene, but once in a while we really like to speak with an established band – bands like Cake. So thanks for taking the time.

XM: Definitely. I checked out your site. You say you usually feature “emerging” bands? Seems like more and more bands today are “re-emerging.”

PEV: (laughing) You’re not kidding. Cake has been around for quite some time – you’ve been with the band 13 years now? I really want to ask you about that – Cake is a rarity today. Your music is different than any other band out there – you know a “Cake” song the moment you hear it. What’s it like making this happen? Avoiding the recipe trap? 

XM: I don’t think we know how to do it any other way. If we did something different… I mean… I don’t know! It be silly! We really don’t know how to do things any other way than the way we do. I don’t know how to do Eddie Van Halen guitar solos and John (McCrea)… I don’t know if he can’t, but I know he doesn’t sing like Robert Plant. We just stick to what we do, but we can do a lot of stuff within our own world.

PEV: I agree – the way Cake plays is very dynamic. It has that stamp, but definitely comes from a dynamic kind of world.

XM: Yes, yeah. It’s hard to get away from John’s voice since it sounds like him no matter what. I think our music has a very angular arrangement.

PEV: I agree. So where did I catch you?

XM: I’m at home – I live in Portland, OR. We were in Europe like 3 or 4 days ago.

PEV: How was that?

XM: It was great. It was short – we were there for about four days. Just enough time to get caught up on the whole jetlag thing. We were out of sorts for the whole trip finding new places to sleep in the middle of the floor. And then just when we were about caught up (on the jetlag), we had to leave.

PEV: And now you’re still screwed up.

XM: Yeah. But now we have a few days before we fly out to LA for the Craig Ferguson Show. And then a week after that we start our east coast run.

PEV: That’s when we’ll see you – we’re coming to the April 14 show in DC.

XM: Yea, we’re doing 3 nights at the 9:30 Club. We’re very lucky – we get a lot of love.

PEV: Yea, speaking of love, your sixth full-length album, “Showroom of Compassion” debuted at the number 1 position on the Billboard 200; a first for the band. How was that?

XM: Low sales week sir.

PEV: (laughing) Well that’s one way of looking at it!

XM: Reeeeeeally slow sales week (laughing). No, I’m kidding, it’s totally awesome. It’s great. We were totally dumbfounded. We were like “what the $%^&? This is not a Cake thing!” It’s been a weird run of #1’s – The Decemberists were #1 too.

PEV: It’s just how the industry is changing. But you can still see where people are going with music – it’s still huge!

XM: Yea, it’s great. Really great.

PEV: A random question – I know you weren’t with the band for the first album, but is there any connection between titles here? First one was called “Motorcade of Generosity”; new record is “Showroom of Compassion”?

XM: I couldn’t tell you – I think it’s mostly two things – phonetic enjoyment and the kind of interesting imagery the title brings up. What the hell is a “Showroom of Compassion”? But you’re right; there are a lot of similarities there. But I couldn’t tell you if something connects.

We actually went over a lot of album titles. We had a huge list. Our trumpet player Vince DiFiore – he was writing things down and keeping a log of weird phrases we would say. He had like 50 album titles. We almost went with “Power Ballad of Justice”.

PEV: That’s pretty badass. That could be album #7 right there.

XM: That’s right – it could be.

PEV: I want to backtrack a little bit – how did you first get involved with the band? How did you hookup?

XM: I was in a band called The Loved Ones. There’s another band out now called The Loved Ones, and there was a band before us called The Loved Ones. The name has probably been used 20 times. We were from the Bay Area – Oakland, and Cake was from Sacramento, which is 80 miles east of Oakland. The Loved Ones would play in Sacramento occasionally – we were doing well in the San Francisco Bay Area. And being that Cake was from Sacramento, it was harder for them to break into the San Francisco market. They hadn’t really built up a fan base in the area but we really liked them! My band liked their band.

So we would have them open for us at a lot of shows in the Bay Area. And in turn, they helped us in Sacramento and we would open for them. Both bands started getting bigger and we would bump into each other on the road in places like Oregon or Texas and we were friendly – played a lot of shows together. I was a huge fan of their guitarist Greg Brown – he’s amazing. And he always had really nice things to say to me.

And then, my band broke up. And Cake was getting bigger, and Greg left. The timing kind of worked. It worked for me and I like to think it worked for Cake.

PEV: Very cool. So what were the musical influences growing up that put you in bands like The Loved Ones and Cake? 

XM: Mid-60’s R&B. Wait, late 50’s to early 70’s R&B. And soul. And funk. Mostly kind of the harder edge, fancier version of any music of that type back then.

PEV: Did you have a favorite artist?

XM: I listened to a lot of rare stuff. Just sort of one-offs. But favorite artist? You know – James Brown, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder.

PEV: We talked about you coming to DC – what should we tell fans that are coming out to their first live Cake show?

XM: Sing along. Bring your vocal chops. Bring your chloraseptic. It’s going to be awesome, it’s going to release endorphins, it’s going to be like having a free beer.

PEV: That’s my favorite. So do you have any good stories from playing on the road?

XM: We played in Los Angeles not too long ago and we played the Conan O’Brien show when we were there before and our trumpet player Vince became friendly with Conan’s band’s trumpet player. He came down once and sat in with us on a couple songs during a show. And there’s this song that we do that includes a trumpet solo and then I do a guitar solo directly after that – it’s a song called “Is This Love?” from Motorcade. But instead of Vince doing the trumpet solo, Conan’s trumpeter was doing it.

This guy is like the Eddie Van Halen of the trumpet. He just goes crazy during his solo, hitting all of these notes – it was amazing. And then everyone looks at me for my turn, and I’m like, “how do I follow this?” I played the solo and I was laughing the whole time. I think most of the band was.

PEV: Do you have a dream city that you’d like to play in?

XM: Mexico City. But we actually just booked that – we’ll be playing there in September. It’s shameful we haven’t been there yet. We’re going to end the drug war ya know? That’s the power of… of… music, Cake, I don’t know.

PEV: That be impressive! So, what can we find the each of you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?

Well, I do enjoy making music… at home. I also like to read… ride my bicycle. Portland is a great town for that – you know it’s hilly, but not toooo hilly. I bike a lot – it helps so I don’t feel so bad about that pound of mac n’ cheese I just had.

PEV: I’ve learned to stop feeling bad about that.

XM: Yea, you’re probably right.

PEV: Is there one artist or group out there that would be your dream collaboration? Why?
XM: The best thing would be: Cake, Sly Stone, Buck Owens, and Malcolm Young all in the studio at once. That would be amazing. The Louvin Brothers would have been really cool too.
PEV: On the other side of the coin, is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for?
XM: Honeycut. They’re a totally rad keyboard group. And Agent Ribbons – if you’re into chicks. They were just in Austin at SXSW.
PEV: So, what is next for Cake?
XM: More touring – we’ll be supporting this album for a while. But, we’ve been using sound checks for going over new material – there were a lot of songs that didn’t make the new record that were still really, really good. We really want less time between records (7 years passed between the last two), so we’ve been getting better at working in the studio and all that stuff.

PEV: Sweet! Yea – 7 years is a long time. Good to hear. We’ll see you all in DC in April 14 at the 930 Club.

XM: Awesome – I’m looking forward to DC. Been a while. We have three days there, so I’m going to do some tourist stuff. I didn’t realize how big the Smithsonian was the last I was there. It’s like 3 buildings or something. I plan on going there with a better plan. See you later.

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