In 1997 Cake’s popularity exploded and their shows sold out across the United States with the release of Fashion Nugget, proving that a modern rock band who performed melancholy pop songs mixed with funk, folk, country, and a mariachi country could succeed in the music industry. Throughout the group’s rise to the top since its formation in 1991, Cake experienced repeated lineup changes. Nonetheless, at moments when most bands would crumble, Cake continued to forge ahead, and the group’s subsequent album, 1998’s Prolonging the Magic, was considered by critics as their most ambitious collection of songs to date. More than just a trendy alternative rock group, Cake exhibited a uniqueness on all three of their full–length albums with a full–time trumpeter, country–inspired guitar melodies, and the poetic, eclectic, and sometimes sarcastic lyrics of lead singer and chief songwriter John McCrea. The group’s songs, though they sound modern, also exhibit an older and familiar feeling and tell stories of hard luck and lost love.
Members include Greg Brown (left group 1998), guitar; Victor Damiani (joined group 1994, left group 1997), bass; Vince di Fiore, trumpet; Frank French (left group 1994), drums; John McCrea (born c. 1965 in Sacramento, CA), chief songwriter, vocals, guitar; Xan McCurdy (joined group 1998), guitar; Sean McFessel (left group c. 1991), bass; Gabe Nelson (joined group c. 1991, left group 1994, rejoined group 1997), bass; Todd Roper (joined band 1994), drums.
McCrea formed Cake, 1991; released debut album Motorcade of Generosity on their own without a distributor, 1993; group signed with Capricorn Records, who released Cake’s debut in original form, single “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle;” released sophomore effort, Fashion Nugget, which contained first hit single “The Distance,” 1996; opened for Counting Crows on their East Coast Tour, 1997; released Prolonging the Magic, considered Cake’s most ambitious album, began first European tour, 1998, followed by headlining tour of the United States, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Capricorn Records, 1100 Spring St. NW, Ste. 103, Atlanta, GA 30309–3918, (404)873–3918. Management— Absolute Artists, San Francisco, CA (415)241–7015. Website— Cake (official website): http://www.cakemusic.com. Capricorn website: http://www.capri.corn.com.
where he played solo as well as with various bands. Besides rock, McCrea held an interest in other musical styles as well. In the late 1980s, McCrea moved to Los Angeles, believing that his chances of succeeding in music would improve in the larger city. Once in here, he played solo acoustic music at various coffee shops around the Los Angeles area. As a solo artist, McCrea performed many of the songs that would eventually make Cake a well–known name, such as “I Bombed Korea,” “Haze of Love,” “Sheep Go to Heaven,” and “Jesus Wrote a Blank Check.”
By 1991, McCrea realized that living in Los Angeles had done little to improve his career. Therefore, he moved back to Sacramento and formed Cake. He recruited Frank French on drums, Vince di Fiore on trumpet, Greg Brown on guitar, and Sean McFessel on bass. McFessel left the band the same year to attend college. Regarding his decision to add a trumpet playerto the group, McCrea told Joe Schaeffer of the Washington Times, “When the band was first put together, we didn’t have a trumpet for the first month. I knew we didn’t want a searing, soaring, brave, white lead guitar making its way through the clouds. And I was listening to a lot of mariachi music, and it struck me that the trumpet didn’t have such a stigma.” Subsequently, needing a new bassist, McCrea replaced McFessel with Gabe Nelson. Two years later in 1993, Cake released their first record, a seven–inch single called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle,” which also included the song “Jolene” on the flip side.
After this, the group headed to the studio to work on their first album, the self–produced Motorcade of Generosity, an albumapplauded for its superb songwriting as well as for it’s airy, low production quality. The members of Cake worked on the album in between their day jobs: driving cabs, working for courier services, and waiting tables. Determined to make a record even in the absence of record company support, Cake paid for the entire project themselves, recorded the songs by themselves, and designed all of the artwork for the album. Upon the completion of their debut, they sold Motorcade of Generosity on their own without distribution.
Soon, though, Cake and Motorcade of Generosity caught the attention of Capricorn Records, and in 1994, the group signed with the label and reissued their debut in its original form. Despite this achievement, Cake saw two more members leave the group that year; French and Nelson left the band, and drummer Todd Roper and bassist Victor Damiani joined as their replacements. The reshaped quintet started touring the United States in smaller venues, selling their own t–shirts on stage to earn extra money. In the meantime, later that year, Capricorn released the group’s 1993 single “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle,” which received air play on college and alternative radio stations across the country. In addition, McCrea coproduced a video for the song that aired sparingly on the cable channel MTV (Music Television). While the band’s popularity continued to grow, Capricorn released two more singles from Cake’s debut: “Ruby Sees All,” followed by “Jolene.”
As soon as Cake completed their first national club tour, they returned to Sacramento to work on their follow–up album. In the same Sacramento studios they used to record their debut, Cake recorded the more refined Fashion Nugget In late 1995 and early 1996. Later that year, Capricorn released the album, which featured the group’s first hit single “The Distance.” The song peaked at number three on modern rock charts, and the song’s video climbed to number three on MTV as well. In December of 1996, while Cake made another tour, Capricorn released the next single from the album entitled “I Will Survive,” a cover of Gloria Gaynor’s selfpromoting 1970s disco anthem. Instead of playing the song as a modern rock–infused disco remake, Cake opted to perform a serious, straight version that adhered to Gaynor’s original spirit, with di Fiore’s trumpet weaving through stringed instruments. Again, radio listeners and music video viewers reacted with enthusiasm.
As Cake’s popularity continued to soar upon the release of Fashion Nugget, the group accepted an invitation to open for the rock band the Counting Crows on their East Coast Tour. In the spring of 1997, another popular single from the record, “Frank Sinatra,” hit store shelves, and Cake saw another change in the group’s lineup. Damiani said goodbye to Cake in order to pursue other interests, and the band persuaded bassist Nelson to return in his place. By this time, though, the fast pace of recording and touring caught up with McCrea, who was forced to cut theband’s tour short because of extreme exhaustion. Thus, McCrea and Cake returned to Sacramento to rest before working on the next project.
Subsequently, another band member left Cake in January of 1998. This time, the group lost guitarist Brown, who formed a new group called Deathray with Damiani. Roper, Cake’s drummer, admitted that personality conflicts plagued the group since the single “The Distance,” written by Brown, propelled the group into mainstream acceptance. As he told Ken Micallef in an interview for the Launch.com website, “John can be difficult to be around. That Greg [Brown] wrote the hit and John received all the attention created a lot of tension in the band. We would often travel across the country in our van and not say a word to each other for six hours straight. That was normal for us.”
Despite the group’s internal strife, McCrea nonetheless regretted the loss of his band mate. “It wasn’t easy,” said McCrea in an interview with Michael Mehle published in the Denver Rocky Mountain News. “Mostly, what wasn’t easy was having a sense of faith that everything was going to work out. It really didn’t seem like it would. I was really contemplating disbanding and starting something new. Greg was a really big part of the band. However, I’m really glad that we kept going.” After Brown’s departure, the band needed a new guitarist, but McCrea decided not to replace him right away. Instead, he chose to use a variety of guitarists for Cake’s third album, Prolonging the Magic, completed by August and released in September of 1998.
The more tight–knight Prolonging the Magic marked the peak of Cake’s recording career with the album’s groove beats, weaving guitar and mariachi trumpet lines, and obvious country influences. “The trumpet work of Vincent di Fiore slips in and out of the songs, punching up the choruses and adding wistful undertones to the verses. McCrea delivers a string of poetic non sequiturs in his delightful deadpan [voice], exploring deceivingly dark subjects about one–way relationships, the emptiness of Sunset Strip, the allure of evil and the power of greed,” concluded Mehle. The album also contained the group’s most successful hit single, “Never There,” an older song that McCrea originally wrote and arranged when he was 18. The single made it’s way to the number one spot on Billboard magazine’s alternative rock charts and maintained this position forthree weeks. The song’s critical acclaim and radio popularity surprised McCrea and the rest of the band, because they experienced trouble recording the track in the studio. Moreover, the single sounded different, as well as more impressive, than Cake’s prior radio successes.
Other noteworthy singles on Prolonging the Magic included catchy tunes such as “Daria” and “Friend Is a Four Letter Word,” the sing along “Satan Is My Motor,” and the Hawaiian guitarinfluenced “Mexico.” In reference to the group’s third release, Brown professed, “It’s about John’s great songs and his vision,” as quoted by Micallef. “Some of these are his oldest songs, but they are also some of his best. I may criticize him, but it’s done in a spirit of love.” Prior to the album’s release date, back in August, Cake held auditions to find a permanent guitarist and hired Xan McCurdy to fill the opening. Thatfall, Cake arrived overseas for their first European tour, followed by a tour beginning in the spring of 1999 in the United States.
After promoting Prolonging the Magic, McCrea intended to take some time off to write for awhile, although fans were already asking when Cake would release their next record, and record company executives worried that if Cake took a break, the public might forget about the group. “They [Capricorn] haven’t given me much time to write new songs,” McCrea conceded to Mehle. “What happens, when you’re in a band, is that you release a record, put everything you have into that record, go on tour for a year and a half, trying to introduce it to people. You get off the road and people ask: ’Where the hell is your next album? It’s been ayear and a half, where’s you’re next album?’ You just want to say, ’Give me a break.’”
Motorcade of Generosity, Capricorn, 1994.
Fashion Nugget, Capricorn, 1996.
Flirting With Disaster (soundtrack), Geffen Records, 1996.
Live From 6A:. . . With Conan O’Brien (compilation), Mercury, 1997.
MTV Buzz Bin Vol. 2 (compilation), Mammoth Records, 1997.
Prolonging the Magic, Capricorn, 1998.
Graff, Gary and Daniel Durchholz, editors, musicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1999.
Arizona Republic, February 11, 1999, p. 40.
Columbian, February 21, 1999.
Dallas Morning News, March 13, 1997, p. 35A; February 8, 1999, p. 23A.
Denver Rocky Mountain News, July 2, 1997, p. 19D; February 8, 1999, p. 5D.
Gannett News Service, December 20, 1996.
Independent, April 23, 1991, p. 12.
St. Louis Post–Dispatch, February 27, 1997, p. 10.
Washington Times, November 12, 1998, p. M2.
“Cake, A Band from Sacremento,” Cake (official website), http://www.cakemusic.com, (September 7, 1999).
“Cake: Dilemma in the Frosting, ”Launch.com: Discover New Music, http://www.launch.com, (September 7, 1999).
Members: Vincent DiFiore, trumpet, keyboards; John McCrea, vocals, guitar; Xan McCurdy, guitar; Pete McNeal, drums; Gabriel Nelson, bass. Former members: Greg Brown, guitar; Victor Damiani, bass; Frank French, drums; Sean McFessel, bass; Todd Roper, drums.
Best-selling album since 1990: Fashion Nugget (1996)
Hit songs since 1990: "The Distance," "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle"
Rock and roll history is littered with the carcasses of oddball, one-hit wonder bands that were able to capture the public's imagination for a moment, then quickly fade into obscurity. Sacramento's Cake, however, were able to launch quirky hit after quirky hit with songs such as "The Distance" and "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," driven by an unusual combination of country waltzes, trumpet solos, and founder John McCrea's dead-pan vocals and oddball lyrics.
The brainchild of veteran musician John McCrea, Cake was founded in Sacramento in 1991, after McCrea spent several fruitless years in Los Angeles playing coffeehouses while attempting to launch his music career. Upon moving back to Sacramento, McCrea recruited the band's first lineup and released Cake's self-produced, self-financed debut, the offbeat Motorcade of Generosity (1993). With 1950s-inspired graphics and a sound that owes more to Mariachi, classic country, and lounge music than to the aggressive, guitar-based alternative rock and roll of the time, the group was an anomaly.
The album introduces the soon-to-be familiar combination of McCrea's deadpan, often inscrutable vocals and lyrics, Vincent DiFiore's brassy trumpet solos, and the liberal use of the rattlesnake-sounding vibraslap percussion instrument. The airy, playful arrangements are matched by songs with bizarre, often humorous lyrics, such as the jazzy, spoken word piece "Mr. Mastadon Farm," in which McCrea sings/talks an homage to birds plummeting from window ledges.
Capricorn records signed the group in 1994 and re-released the album in its original form. The album produced a bona fide radio hit with the novelty song "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle," a sarcastic jab at the excesses of rock stars that became a staple of alternative radio two years after the album's release. "How much did you pay for the chunk of his guitar / The one he ruthlessly smashed at the end of the show? / And how much will he pay for a brand new guitar / One which he'll ruthlessly smash at the end of another show?" McCrea sings as a combination of rattlers, bluesy guitar, and cocktail drums play behind him. Despite its unusual, cocktail lounge arrangement and a sarcastic tone that mocked some of the very fans who bought the album, the song set the standard for the group's future success.
French and Nelson were replaced by Todd Roper and Victor Damiani after a distribution deal with Capricorn records was completed; it would be the first of many lineup changes for the group.
In addition to their own off-kilter originals, Fashion Nugget (1996) features an odd cover that would become a staple of the band's live show. In typically deadpan style, McCrea sings/talks the lyrics to Gloria Gaynor's disco classic "I Will Survive," re-imagined here as a sarcastically bluesy rock number with Neil Young–style classic rock guitar solos by Greg Brown, nimble, jazzy bass lines from Damiani, and a Tijuana Brass–like trumpet solo from DiFiore.
Among a trio of automobile-themed tracks on the album is "The Distance," which would be one of the group's biggest hits. Combining elements of bleating, urgent jazz horns, white boy funk, and chunky rock guitar lines, the song tells the story of a race car driver hell-bent for speed. "Reluctantly crouched at the starting line / Engines pumping and thumping in time / The green light flashes, the flags go up / Churning and burning the years for the cup," McCrea sings, his poker-faced vocals purposely not rising to meet the excitement of the lyrics.
With songs honoring Frank Sinatra, a Willie Nelson cover ("Sad Songs and Waltzes"), and a pseudo-rap/beat poetry song ("Nugget"), though more aggressively rock in parts, Fashion Nugget continues Cake's disregard for the trends of the day—be they mainstream pop, thuggish hip-hop, or the tail end of thrashing grunge rock—in favor of McCrea's singular vision.
Prior to the release of Prolonging the Magic (1998), the band's lineup shuffled again, with Nelson returning in place of Damiani, and Brown, author of "The Distance," departing to start the group Deathray with Damiani. The album, which trades some of the group's signature smirking irony for more sincere sentiment, again taps into McCrea's defining influences, sad country waltzes ("Mexico"), acoustic, jammy funk ("Guitar"), and absurdist jazz rock story songs ("Alpha Beta Parking Lot," "Sheep Go to Heaven"). In the latter, a funk-inspired meditation on death, McCrea sings, "And the gravedigger puts on the forceps / The stonemason does all the work / The barber can give you a haircut."
The album spawned two songs that became minor radio hits, the Latin-jazz-meets-funk "Never There," which adds elements of retro 1970s keyboard sounds to the group's repertoire, and the twitchy, midtempo rock song of unworthiness, "Hem of Your Garment."
Guitarist Xan McCurdy joined the group following the album's release and was on board when they recorded Comfort Eagle (2001). Safely clear of one-hit wonder status, the group embellished their sound on their fourth album with keyboards and drum machines. Still partial to jokey funk rock songs about oddball characters ("Opera Singer"), Comfort Eagle retains the band's quirky sensibility while it turns down the irony.
Jack-of-all-trades McCrea directed a low-budget video for "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" that looked like an infomercial in which people on the street were asked their unrehearsed opinions of the song. The honest reactions to the driving, disco rock song about the search for the perfect woman spawned yet another radio hit for the group.
With a consistent, yet unconventional sound and sardonic attitude that might normally have doomed them to a "whatever happened to . . . ?" career in one-hit wonderland, Cake managed to bend the ears of listeners time and again by sticking to their guns.
Motorcade of Generosity (Capricorn, 1994); Fashion Nugget (Capricorn, 1996); Prolonging the Magic (Capricorn, 1998); Comfort Eagle (Columbia, 2001).
cake / kāk/ • n. an item of soft, sweet food made from a mixture of flour, shortening, eggs, sugar, and other ingredients, baked and often decorated. ∎ an item of savory food formed into a flat, round shape, and typically baked or fried: crab cakes. ∎ a flattish, compact mass of something, esp. soap: a cake of soap. • v. [tr.] (usu. be caked) (of a thick or sticky substance that hardens when dry) cover and become encrusted on (the surface of an object): a pair of boots caked with mud. ∎ [intr.] (of a thick or sticky substance) dry or harden into a solid mass: the blood under his nose was beginning to cake. PHRASES: a piece of cake inf. something easily achieved. sell like hotcakes inf. be sold quickly and in large quantities. take the cake surpass or exceed all others: of all the hard-hearted women, she takes the cake.
Cake ★★ 2005 (R)
Happily single with no interest in married life, travel writer Pippa (Graham) is thrown for a loop when her ill publisher father puts her in charge of his wedding publication. As her day-to-day work causes her to face her marital phobias, her fling with her usual studly-type guy (Diggs) is complicated by her feelings for her more grounded mentor (Sutcliffe)at the magazine. 94m/C DVD . Heather Graham, David Sutcliffe, Taye Diggs, Sandra Oh, Cheryl Hines, Sarah Chalke, Reagan Pasternak, Kate Kelton, Bruce Grey, Sabrina Grdevich, Suzanne Cyr; D: Nisha Ganatra; W: Tassie Cameron; C: Gregory Middleton; M: Andrew Lockington. VIDEO
Hence cake vb. form into a cake. XVII.
a mass of matter moulded into a solid shape; used figuratively.
Examples: cake of customs, 1872; of dynamite, 1884; of ice; of laws and customs, 1879; of paint; of soap; of tobacco; of wax, 1528.