Surely rock bands have stayed together for better reasons. But Cake mastermind John
McCrea swears his quirky combo stuck it out for, ah, art's sake.
"Basically, I wanted to do another record cover," said McCrea, 34, the group's musical
leader and cover-art designer for the band's most recent album, Prolonging the
Magic, as well as previous releases. "I did the first two, and I had a chance to do
another one, which was the clincher for me. It was a purely aesthetic decision."
Given singer McCrea's exceedingly dry wit, it's hard to tell if he's serious when he
swears it is the latest album cover alone that inspired him to go ahead with the group's
just-released, 13-track effort. Surprisingly, the cover art in question is simply a picture of
a brown pig.
It would have been easier, surely, for the group to fold it in.
Cake lost bassist Victor Damiani after a lengthy 1997 tour. Earlier this year, guitarist Greg
Brown -- who penned the group's biggest radio-hit to date, "The Distance" -- left because
of artistic differences.
After two albums with Cake, McCrea said he seriously considered starting over.
Instead, he forged ahead and tried to fill the space left by the guitarist. Brown was
subsequently replaced by Xan McCurdy and Damiani was spelled by Cake's original
bassist, Gabe Nelson, who performed and recorded with the band prior to its 1994 debut,
Motorcade of Generosity. "Leaving this band was the dumbest thing I ever did,"
Nelson said, "but it feels great to be back."
The result is another batch of south-of-the-border-inspired, Tex-Mex rock slathered with
McCrea's offbeat, stream-of-consciousness lyrics about cars, sheep, parking lots and
nocturnal gropings. This time around, however, the rattlesnake sounds of the hand-held
percussion instrument, the vibraslap -- as well as Vincent Di Fiore's brassy Tijuana
trumpet -- are accented by a number of tracks featuring analog keyboard parts and
looped drum sounds, as on the album's hit radio-single,
Although he wrote the song more than 10
years ago, McCrea said it sat on the shelf for
that long because he could never find the
right arrangement. Working and reworking
with Latin, rock and even country beats, McCrea said he finally figured out the right
sound for the track after randomly plucking out a bassline and smacking his hand on a
chair for just the right combination.
"That was one of those songs that we just sort-of punched up with those other sounds,"
the 34-year-old Di Fiore said. The funky, acoustic-electric, mid-tempo, lost-love lament
features one of the first drum-loops of the band's career. "We started with live drums and
then put the bassline through a sequencer and piled an old Roland keyboard on top of
that," Di Fiore said.
The group broadened its sound elsewhere
on the album as well. There's a pedal-steel
guitar on the sad-sack country lament, "Mexico." And McCrea and company delved into
nether lyrical regions on the mariachi rock-tune,
href="http://media.addict.com/atn-bin/get-music/Cake/When_You_Sleep.ram">"When You Sleep"
You Sleep"(RealAudio excerpt).
"When you sleep/ Where do your fingers go?/ What do your fingers know?/ What do your
fingers show?" McCrea sing-talks in his signature deadpan delivery on the song.
While Di Fiore claimed he didn't know what McCrea was getting at on the track -- which
also contains lyrics about Zeus, the king of the gods in Greek mythology, as a womanizer
-- he alluded to what could be Cake's first "masturbation song."
"I guess your fingers are usually down there somewhere by your hips," Di Fiore said, not
wanting to try to plumb the motivation behind McCrea's often impenetrable lyrics. "But I'm
withholding judgment about that one for now."
For his part, McCrea also wished to hide his cards, but he was more than willing to offer
any number of other equally obscure interpretations.
"Yeah, that's one place your fingers could go," McCrea said. "But if you're thinking about
nails on a chalkboard or playing guitar, it could be about that too. The hands are very
expressive and, well, I guess you're sort-of busted there if that's what you think it's
Another new wrinkle for the band is McCrea's decision (following a recent photo shoot)
that they should all model Western gear for public appearances. "I always admired that
subculture for its honesty," McCrea said without a hint of sarcasm. "It's so much more
honest than alternative culture."
As with all things Cake, what McCrea wants, McCrea gets.
"Sometimes you get that feeling you had when you were in school," Di Fiore said of the
black-and-white outfits modeled onstage and in the "Never There" video. "And the
teacher is telling you to be quiet and you start laughing and you know you're not