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No stale cake

Cake, based in Sacramento, are a chart-topping anomaly – they borrow from rock, funk, country-western, big band and hip-hop, offer irony-intensive verse via a deadpan delivery a la Lou Reed and actually are enjoying sustained success thanks to Top 40 radio play and heavy video rotation on MTV. Formed in 1991, original band members John McCrea (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Vince DiFiore (trumpet, background vocals) are now joined by Xan McCurdy (electric guitar), Pete McNeal (drums) and Gabriel Nelson (bass).

Following a canceled European string of dates due to internal strife and exhaustion, Cake is currently touring the Southeast in support of their fourth release, Comfort Eagle. Staying true to their eclectic roots, their 2001 release is a smart pop collection laced with sharp lyrics and innovative arrangements that boast the hit single “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.”

“(The tour) is going really well,” DiFiore said, prior to a two-night gig in Atlanta. “We’re enjoying being out. It always seems like there is a little too much of a break between going on the road.”

Besides canceling their European tour, the band is also in the midst of finding a new manager.

“There’s always some complications that gets in the way of getting out … (But), we’re nice and rehearsed now and just trying to kick out the jams the best we can,” said DiFiore with a light chuckle.

In 1996, Cake got their first taste of stardom when their second album, Fashion Nuggets, began to climb the charts thanks to the half-sung, half-chanted,”The Distance” – a quirky single involving a race car driver weighed down with woman problems. Casual listeners dismissed the band as benefices of a novelty hit, but those who took the time to listen to the entire album (which racked up 1.5 million sales), were impressed by Cake’s fresh outlook on pop music that bore little resemblance to the stilted alt-rock flooding the market at the time.

“John (McCrea) was really conscious of creating a band that doesn’t sound like other acts on the rock ‘n’ roll landscape,” DiFiore said.

Unlike the majority of acts notching platinum records today, Cake relies on witty subtleties and stays clear of musical excesses.

“If you want to be a successful band these days, you have to have this surge of power not unlike a Viking with a big wooden club, because people want to feel powerful and have their emotions shoveled out of their chests with a gigantic spade,” DiFiore mused. “We are sort of reluctant to take that approach.”Cake hopes to maintain their artistic integrity regardless of what’s currently hot in the capricious music biz.

“We’re gonna continue making music the way that we do, with interesting rhythms and melodies and good song writing, and hopefully we won’t get elbowed out completely by all the bludgeoning that is going on in the modern rock scene,” asserted DiFiore.

MTV has played an integral role in Cake’s good fortune, giving the band’s clever, relatively inexpensive videos ample play. Yet, the musicians’ relationship with the titan institution is one that involves equal amounts of loving and loathing.

“That’s the thing that kinda sucks about the financial end of being a band and having to make a video for MTV,” explained DiFiore ruefully. “If you want MTV to help you out, you sort of have to make a really expensive video. Or make a low-budget video – which is still gonna cost a lot of money – but that if you’re clever about it will make it onto MTV a little bit or maybe on MTV2.”

DiFiore appreciates MTV’s support but sees a new pattern in videos that he finds appalling.

“Now I’m looking back and seeing some old videos, even from four or five years ago, and they didn’t go with the current trend of having a lot of cleavage and explosions,” DiFiore observed. “I really appreciate those (older) videos for trying to be clever and not just going to the lowest common denominator. There’s a formula … if you’re not an artist that has a sexy body, you have to have other sexy bodies in your videos, or it’s not going to be proper masturbatory material.”

  • Cake will perform at Jannus Landing in St. Petersburg on Sunday. For tickets/info call (727) 896-1244.
  • If you are interested in writing for Off Limits, contact Wade Tatangelo at oracleofflimits@yahoo.com