“We started out with the idea that it was noble to be a bar band,” says songwriter/vocalist/
guitarist John McCrea of Cake, “to supply music to people, focusing just on the service aspect of it.” An old-fashioned, blue-collar, working-class band from … Sacramento? Not exactly. Though our state capital is a city where one can “live low to the ground,” as McCrea puts it, Cake amounts to much more than a bunch of bearded Rust Belt rowdies doing their best Bob Seger impersonations down at the local Dew Drop Lounge. For the past three years, the unassuming and genuine big valley quintet — two guitars, bass, drums and trumpet — has carved out its own niche: Call Cake a postmodern white-bread band.
“We don't think there's anything wrong with white bread,” McCrea says, “as long as it's not to the exclusion of other kinds of bread. We really like old George Jones music, Hank Williams Sr., the Carter Family — which is as white-bread as you can get. But it's not like a McDonald's McWhite bread.”
Neither is Cake, which takes genre-blending to a new level. The Cake recipe requires a cupboard of ingredients: a dollop of Tex-Mex, a spoonful of jazz, a pinch of lo-fi indie rock, a dusting of funk, a healthy scoop of country, a sprinkle of blues and a handful of quick-witted lyrical kitsch. Keep the mix chunky, slow bake and serve with a shit-eating grin.
“There's not any one genre of music that I
can give my soul to
completely,” explains McCrea. “I'm not that easily captivated by one particular sound.”
Cake's whipped cream and other delights deserve the description “alternative to alternative rock.” Yet “Rock and Roll Lifestyle,” the deadpan, trumpet-driven single from Motorcade of Generosity, the band's Capricorn debut, is garnering impressive airplay at many a mega-commercial modern-rock radio station throughout the country. A smirking indictment of “alternative” culture and the musicians who manufacture rebellion for commercial gain and fame, it also takes down the alternascene for its commitment to exclusion and negation.
“What I think I am positing in that song is that channeling people into a kind of 'shopping rebelliousness' really undermines any possibilities for truly subversive people to do something that actually is rebellious or subversive,” McCrea says. “It channels that anger in a completely frivolous way. And it's upsetting because there are truly constructive ways of doing it. The 'James Dean strong, silent pose thing' — that's a waste. People can't be rebellious by just choosing the right products.”
Cake may have achieved full “buzz band” status in the past few months, but for now the group seems more intent on digging in its heels than eating its words and joining the alternative nation. “Buzzes happen in cities,” says McCrea, “and we live in what is still sort of a small town. We've already developed a substantial following here, so we don't think it's that big a deal. It sounds sort of spoiled, but we've been making a living playing music for a while now, so the buzz doesn't affect our ability to support ourselves. There isn't this feeling of exaltation.” Music low to the ground is all you're gonna get with Cake, and these days that's the best place to be.
Cake plays an SF02 showcase Fri, May 19, at the Great American Music Hall in S.F.; call 885-0750.