Cake - Biography
Cake are often dismissed as a novelty act — a quirky joke band in the vein of They Might Be Giants and Soul Coughing, but less valued because of their smugness. Their entire career is often boiled down to one insanely popular hit, “The Distance,” which featured a momentum and motivation that was offset by singer John McCrea's trademark deadpan voice, one so detached it led to criticisms of insincerity with their cover of “I Will Survive.” Cake actually had a string of hits that followed “The Distance,” although none of them are as remembered now, and possibly wouldn't have charted at all had “The Distance” not earned this Sacramento band attention. While Cake might not inspire the same devotion as say, U2, they do have a loyal fan base that either can't get enough of the group's quirky humor or sees past it into McCrea and company’s hearts.
The band formed in 1992 in Sacramento, California. McCrea had spent a few years trying to break into the music business in Los Angeles before returning to Sacramento in defeat. Fortunately, he was able to assemble a band in his hometown. He got together with guitarist Greg Brown, bassist Sean McFessel, drummer Frank French and trumpeter Vince DiFiore. When McFessel exited to return to college, Gabe Nelson stepped in to replace him. The band called themselves Cake and debuted with a single, “Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle,” in 1993, but it was a debut that was heard by very few as it was only released locally.
Afterward, they recorded and self-produced their first album, Motorcade of Generosity. They released it and distributed it themselves, although not on a grand scale. It did reach the ears of Capricorn Records, who signed Cake to a contract and re-released Motorcade of Generosity in 1994.
Now that the band had turned into a possible career that would demand the members’ fulltime commitment, Nelson and French decided to quit. They were replaced by bassist Victor Damiani and drummer Todd Roper. In 1995, upon its re-release, “Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle” became a hit on college radio. Two more songs off of Motorcade, “Ruby Sees All” and “Jolene,” were subsequently released as singles.
In 1996, Cake released their biggest single, “The Distance,” an unlikely smash hit that was everywhere that year, finding heavy rotation on alternative radio, mainstream radio and MTV. Because of its motivational tone and lyrics, the song also made its way into hockey arenas and football stadiums throughout the country. The song helped the accompanying album, Fashion Nugget (1996 Capricorn), crack the top 40 and it soon went platinum. A follow-up single, a cover of Gloria Gaynor's “I Will Survive,” was a minor success, but also a source of complaint from critics who felt that the band were treating the song with disrespect. Cake argued that, despite McCrea's detached vocals, and his choice to replace the word “stupid” with one that can't be said on radio, the band's rendition was done out of love, not sarcasm.
Soon after Fashion Nugget, Brown (who wrote “The Distance”) and Damiani both exited the fold to form their own band, Deathray. They were signed to Capricorn and made their debut in 2000.
At first, McCrea thought that it might be best to end the group, but he soon decided to continue, bringing Gabe Nelson back into the band to play bass. However, he did not seek an official replacement for Brown. Instead, McCrea took the band back into the studio and brought in a total of five different guitarists to play on different tracks.
The resulting album, Prolonging the Magic, was released in 1998 on Capricorn and did just what its title suggested. Cake had already been written off by their detractors as one-hit-wonders, but they would now utilize the success of that hit to score another big single with “Never There,” which topped the modern rock charts, something even “The Distance” hadn’t done. Subsequent singles, “Sheep Go to Heaven” and “Let Go” were also hits. Prolonging the Magic peaked at 35 and eventually became the second Cake LP to go platinum.
When it was time to go on tour, Xan McCurdy, one of the five guitarists on the album, joined as a full-time member. Cake entered the next millennium with a new record contract, this time signing with Columbia. In 2001, they released their fourth album, Comfort Eagle (Columbia), an album that gave them their highest chart position yet, at 13. “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” was another sizable single for the band. The accompanying music video featured randomly selected people who were videotaped listening to the song on headphones and voiced their subsequent reaction, good and bad. The song reached number seven on the modern rock charts. Roper quit the band after recording the LP to spend time with his family, and drummer Pete McNeal replaced him.
After a three-year period of inactivity, the band released Pressure Chief (Columbia) in 2004, scoring minor hits with “Wheels,” “No Phone” and a cover of Bread's “Guitar Man.” The album reached the number 17 spot on the Billboard 200. The band then started up their own label, Upbeat Records. They released their B-Sides and Rarities in 2007 (Upbeat). As of now, the band plan to release both a live album as well as a brand new studio album in 2009, although as recently as June, 2008 McCrea was considering quitting the band for life as a farmer.