Cake's John McCrea Calls Labels "Less Trustworthy in a Period of Decline"
"Just another one hit wonder," mused music critics when Sacramento, California alternative pop act Cake first came onto the scene in the'90s, with its pervasive hit "Going the Distance." Led by singer John McCrea's dissafected speak-sing style, its deep baselines, and heavy funk grooves, the song smothered commercial radio, cathcing fire as a frat pary anthem and an arena rock-ready rally cry. But Cake perservered past the naysayers. On that same album, Fashion Nugget, a cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" garnered nearly as much mass appeal as the first breakout smash.
Many decided this cover of the disco classic was sarcastic or smug, but according to McCrea, the band's intent was anything but. "We were completely sincere with ["I Will Survive"] we wanted to create an angrier version, from a male perspective," revealed the congenial lead singer from his Northern California home.
"I think since it was a disco song, most considered our version to be a joke," McCrea said, but he attests to being an earnest disco fan. "I never felt obligated to reject disco and the 'disco sucks' movement always seemed a bit racist to me too," added McCrea. He believes that the glittering nightclub genre was one of the first multi-ethnic genres to make waves in the mainstream. "For people to reject [disco] with such hostility seemed suspicious to me, people burning records and such, it was almost Nazi-like." McCrea suggests that searching "disco sucks record burning" on Google to see photographs of only angry, white guys.
"I Will Survive" is one of the tracks that was included in Cake's big Record Store Day release last week. It's a doozy of a box set, consisting of eight records remastered for optimal sound and fully restored artwork. The set contains live versions of songs never released before. The bulk of the them are from a special performance at the Crystal Palace, a Bakersfield, CA, music hall known mostly for showcasing country western acts. McCrea calls it a "great representation of Cake's hits done live."
He explains, "It's really heavy," literally speaking, about the voluminous release. He says that it was a project the group had been sitting on for a while and just recently worked out things with its former record label. Since releasing 2011's effort Showroom of Compassion, the band has been operating as fully functional independent band.
But working alone can be a challenge too. The extra effort it takes eats away at time spent just making music, according to McCrea. "We have to find the right publicists, figure out distribution, and do tons more paperwork, just more things to read and decide on, instead of choosing the right musical notes." In these more desperate times, he says labels are exerting more control over their artists than ever before. "Labels are less trustworthy in a period of decline. It's a time more challenging then when things were fat and happy," said McCrea.
In 2011, the group took control of its recordings to ensure that their "energy wouldn't be wasted." It created its own solar-powered studio in Sacramento and never looked back. Showroom of Compassion was the first Cake release recorded in its new environmentally-sound studio, and it reached the top spot on the U.S. Billboard charts. But, as a sign of the times, that release was also the lowest-selling number one album in history, at that point.
What does that say about the state of affairs in the music industry? "We have lost 45 percent of working musicians in nine years," answered McCrea. His main issue is not with people who pirate music, but rather from tech industries monetizing music online. "Philosophically, I am all for recorded music being free as long as no one is getting paid, but if musicians are the only ones not making money, that's not acceptable." He feels a new business model must be created, but admits to having some limitations. "My talent is not in internet start-up, it's playing the guitar."
Getting back to the nitty-gritty of performing, come May, Cake will be embarking on a stateside festival tour. The seasoned veterans will perform at Bonnaroo, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Tampa's Big Guava Festival, and right here on our shores at SunFest on opening night. About performing in Florida, McCrea says, "At first I was a little scared of playing in Florida, so many transients and people who use the state as a place to grow old and die, but through the years I've discovered that Florida's got a bit of a vibe to it."
Cake performs on Wednesday April 30. SunFest takes place from April 30 to May 4 along the Flagler Drive waterfront in West Palm Beach. Visit sunfest.com, or call 1-800-SUNFEST.