Here’s what about a thousand of you in Atlanta already know from last night’s show: Cake hasn’t lost a step. Rocking through two sets at Center Stage last night, the band displayed the wit, charm, unique musicianship and songwriting sensibility that’s made them a household name for the better part of 15 years. Cake is like the funny cousin that you get really excited about spending time with. You don’t seem them all that often, but when you do, you’ll block off just about anything else to spend some time with them. To get to the “cousin” stage (I’m working on a copyright/license for that phrase as a musical description, by the way), you’ve had to do some pretty serious legwork — and there’s no arguing that Cake has done that and more. So what drives a band at this stage in their career? Does Cake have anything to prove at this point? As Cake releases Showroom of Compassion, the bands first studio in what feels like an eternity, Vince DiFiore (trumpet, keyboard and auxiliary percussion) chats about why it’s been so long since a studio record, how the band still stays hungry, and why he’s planning an outing to Stone Mountain during his Atlanta stay.
By Alec Wooden
Let’s start with the most burning question: What took so long between studio records?
It was just what was happening with all of the music being free, ya know? It’s not really a motivation to put out new music. You put out an album and you’re not expecting people to buy it all. You know that it will be downloaded or something. So that was de-motivating. But the other thing is that we’re not on a label anymore. We haven’t been under contract. There’s usually something built into a label deal that says you’ve gotta release a record every couple years, but we didn’t have that and just didn’t really feel obligated. The other thing is that we felt like we had a collection of songs that are really good, and we knew the album was going to turn out well whenever we put it out. We didn’t feel like we had been forgotten about, ya know? We kept on doing live shows and they were always gratifying.
But the songs on Showroom aren’t necessarily brand new. You’ve been meddling with a lot of them for quite a while, right? What were some production and songwriting advantages to dragging this recording process out and doing it on your own time?
When you make an arrangement for a song, sometimes there’s something that will work better. We had a change to listen and make some adjustments. I see how it could be a good thing to just get some songs, do it from your gut, using your primal musical instincts and just putting it out. But that’s not the way we’ve worked well in the past and it didn’t serve us well with this collection. The way we work the best is exploring a bunch of different ideas.
I think people do forget that you guys haven’t been hiding in a hole these last few years. You’ve been staying busy. This seems like an over-simplified question, but what hasn’t changed about the simple reasons why you guys enjoy being a band?
I think it’s performing live. Audiences give back a lot. I certainly don’t take that for granted. It’s still the simple fact that it’s something I always dreamed of doing – or maybe even something I didn’t dare to really dream of. So now that it’s happened, I never stop working on the instruments I play and do everything I can to be a good band mate with just the right amount of self-destructive behavior [laughs]. It’s something that’s valued by everyone in the band, and that’s why we keep on going.
You’re doing three nights here, as your are in some other places. Why on this tour are you visiting smaller venues for multi-nights?
The first thing is that it’s something we’ve never tried but always wanted to. It puts the brakes on the pace of the touring a little bit, to not have to travel after a show or the next morning.
And you’re trying to experience the cities a little more, right? I read somewhere that you pointed out Stone Mountain in Atlanta as a place you want to be sure to visit. Why’s that?
We’ve been to Atlanta many times, and you think, “What do people in Atlanta do?” And there’s all the restaurants and bars and all that, but for Atlanta, Stone Mountain is one of those kind of cool places. That adds to your experience as an Atlantan. So this time I’m going to make it out to Stone Mountain. I’ve read about it on the internet and seen the carving and such. I want to walk around there a little bit just to see it.
I hear that John [McCrea] is still rocking the vibraslap [that funky rattling noise that’s been a staple to Cake’s sound]. Is there another band in America that could make that instrument cool?
[Laughs] I don’t know. Maybe Isaac Hayes? A lot of ‘70s cop dramas use it. There’s something suspenseful about it. It sounds like a juiced up rattlesnake. John’s had it for as long as I can remember. He’s always been interested in percussion instruments and such. Maybe it’s just something that travels well and has the most striking sound.
You guys are at the point in your career where it’s easy to just sort of roll over and go through the motions at this point. When you’ve already got a striking amount of success in your back pocket, how do you stay hungry as a band?
Man, I wonder the same thing about bands like The Rolling Stones. They certainly have enough money, right? Why do they keep on touring? I guess we just love it. We don’t have enough money to stop [laughs]. I would rather be doing this than anything else. Oh god, if Cake ends tomorrow, I’m gonna have to find a job [laughs]. There’s just a really good communication between the band and the people who listen to our music. And it would be a shame to just disregard that.
Cake’s three-night run at Center Stage is SOLD OUT!