On January 11th Cake are releasing Showroom of Compassion, their first album of original material in seven years. Frontman John McCrea tells Rolling Stone that the group needed the long break to figure out how to adjust to being outside of the major label system — the band left Columbia after the release of 2004’s Pressure Chief. “Major labels work for artists like Jay-Z and Taylor Swift where there is some celebrity to the artist,” says McCrea. “They can market that. They don’t know how to market Cake.”
McCrea is immensely proud of the new disc — which you can hear here in an exclusive stream — but he says he can’t tell how good it is. “I think it might be a really good album,” he says. “I think I might like it. I’m not sure. I’ve been buried in it for so long that it’s kind of hard to hear it now.”
RS: During the long gap between albums did you ever think the group was going to break-up?
JM: I think about breaking up every day. I’m terribly grateful to be able to communicate this way, but on the other hand I don’t like traveling so much. People aren’t willing to pay for musical recordings anymore. Now it’s just about touring and selling t-shirts. Both of those things I don’t enjoy very much. Ninety-seven percent of scientists believe in the human causation of global warming. I think that puts a spin on getting on an airplane every day. I’d like there to be some way to earn a living while leaving a somewhat lighter carbon footprint, but I don’t see that happening right now.
Why did you spend two years on the new album?
It actually took a little bit longer than that. We produce our own albums and we even engineer them. It involves going back and forth between objectivity and sensitivity. You have to close down the passions to be objective, and then fire them back up again to be subjective. It’s pretty time consuming.
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Also, we had our most democratic style process for this album. It involves a lot of great ideas, but democracy is slow. Sometimes things grind to a stop when we don’t agree. When that happened we took a deep breath and moved onto another song, so we have more songs for another album — if we do release another album.
When people think of Cake they generally think of a real distinctive sound. Do you ever feel boxed in by that?
I like that sound. I also don’t believe philosophically in the journalistic assumption of [musical] evolution. I believe it’s sort of wasteful and gratuitous, and it makes sense from the point of someone who’s writing a story to want to have it say, “Whoa, with this album they’re moving into progressive jazz.” The criticism has been lobbed at Cake that “you still sound the same.” I would counter that by saying that on a Cake album there’s more more rhythmic and melodic variance from song to song than some bands have during the course of their entire careers.
What’s the gameplan for the tour you start this month? Are you going to play any rare songs or covers?
We never know what we’re gonna play. The secret is that we don’t use a set list and we sort of figure it out as we go. It’s sort of a way of staying alive and not feeling like a machine every night.
A lot of bands these days play albums straight though.
I don’t wanna do it. It’s too trendy. Also, I would feel like a machine. I don’t want to have to do anything on stage. I want to stand up there, feel the temperature of the place and then decide what song I feel like playing in that moment. The moment you try and impose “this and this has to happen” I always find that I leave with disappointment.