The Sacramento band Cake recently left a major label and have started their own, named Upbeat Records. They are just about to release their first new album in three years, B-Sides and Rarities, which includes some appealing renditions of old classics and a few new tracks, presented as a multi-sensory delight with special Scratch Ďn Sniff packaging. Last week, I had the chance to catch up with their trumpet player, Vince DiFiore, who assured me that CDs and wicker chairs are still available to the dwindling public who seek them.
usounds: So, you are currently on tour?
Vince: Weíre doing like three shows over a weekend, then coming home, and going out for another weekend and doing another three shows.
usounds: Your new album (B-Sides and Rarities) is coming out with a Scratchín Sniff CD package. What brought that on?
Vince: Well, you canít download smell yet, so weíre getting the jump on that. We just want to give people something tangible, something that has to do with a sensation because, letís face it, you can download music all over the place and itís just a way to go back to the LP. [Scratchín Sniff] is a hook to make the experience appealing…the Ďwhole albumí package. Itís nice to have the album art and the CD with the picture on the cover and all of it together, direct from the factory. The CDs were a step down from the LP vinyl record, right? And now digital downloading is a step down from compact discs.
usounds: I think itís sad because so many people now just do the iTunes thing. The art of music has kind of been lost as technology has progressed. Have you noticed a difference in the amount of records that youíve sold?
Vince: Yeah, definitely. Our album sales have gone way down, and we have more people coming to our live shows. So, there was a correlation with a decrease in our album sales, substantially, with the increase in online music interest. It wasnít that we were becoming less popular as a band, but we were definitely selling fewer records. And that was happening across the board to just about everybody. Itís a part of history; you canít feel horrible about it, you just have to roll with the punches, and thatís why weíve gone out on our own, and gone away from the major labels. We just wanted to have ownership of what we do. Thatís our response to it; letís see what we can actually possess, what sort of satisfaction we can have and what interest we have among music listeners by doing everything on our own. I donít think you should really take for granted the major label system. Itís a great way to promote your music, and get people to know about it, but to have your own means of distribution, itís a different means of expression.
usounds: So that was a conscious decision by the band, to move away from the major label and start self-releasing?
Vince: Yeah, we put out Comfort Eagle and Pressure Chief, the fourth and fifth albums, on Columbia. We had had a successful tour on Pressure Chief and the option was coming up for Columbia to take us up for a third album. Instead, we decided to take the bull by the horns and be proactive, and we made our own decision to leave.
usounds: With album sales going down, do you have any sort of strong stance on downloading music?
Vince: No, I donít. I went to the library as a kid and a lot of the first music that I heard was by checking things out at the library, taking an LP home in a plastic sleeve, taking care of it, bringing it back to the library after I listened to it and maybe put it on a cassette tape or something like that. [But] it doesnít seem fair that everything is free; for something that musicians used to get paid for, now they donít get paid. There is something that doesnít seem fair. The example that John [McCrea] always brings to mind is that, sure music can be free, but do you want a sandwich for free? Or do you want gasoline for free? Why should music be free? The answer is that it just so happens that music can be transferred digitally through computers, so thereís a lot of information thatís free. The people who are really making out are the people who sell computers and iPods. Thatís just the way it goes. Itís hard to have sour grapes about it when itís such a widespread thing. You canít take it personally because itís happening to everybody.
usounds: With computers, you can download clips and thatís a tremendous way to reach an audience, especially on a global scale, but for people like me who actually prefer to go out and buy records and CDs, it is worrisome that downloading has become so popular.
Vince: Yeah, but wicker chairs used to be more popular, and now not as many people buy wicker chairs anymore, but you can still get a wicker chair if you want to.
usounds: It just might be a little bit more difficult.
Vince: The same thing is true about recorded music.
usounds: Is most of your recording digital?
Vince: Weíre using a computer program for recording. It made it easier to do recording, but Iím not sure if the recordings are as warm. Iím sure that when we recorded on tape in a professional studio, the recordings were warmer, but weíre a little bit more scrappy, we have to think on our feet and get back to being sort of experimental with our own studio, working with a digital setup here. I have to say I miss being in a studio, with all the wood, all the nice carpeting, the wood walls, somebodyís setting up a microphone for you…all you have to do is be ready to play your part, ready to make a good performance and theyíre going to put it on tape for you. Iím sure everyone in the band misses that a little bit, too.
usounds: Does that make recording a little more spontaneous or exciting?
Vince: Yeah; it makes it a little less boring. I mean, youíre definitely less of a pampered individual. There is a lot more of a blue collar aspect to it, every time somebodyís got to be setting up a mike, somebodyís at the computer, working things out. Somebodyís got to be performing, so thereís always a job to be done. You canít just sit and read Rolling Stone magazine or something.
usounds: When is your next LP is coming out?
Vince: Weíre taking preorders on our website right now (cakemusic.com), and the first batch is almost out of the factory. You can order them [now], and very soon weíre going to have the discs in the mail.
usounds: I know that some of these songs are from other records, from compilations and things like that. Are there new recordings as well?
Vince: Yeah, I think it is seven covers, two originals, two live versions of originals and the extra bonus track.
usounds: Were those covers all songs that you were fans of?
Vince: We were stretching the parameters of who we were; doing a straight up country song, going to the heavy metal thing and doing a black Sabbath song. And then one of the covers on there is a song called ďMahna Mahna,Ē because we were asked to do a song for a childrenís compilation.
usounds: Which record was that?
Vince: Itís called For the Kids and it was something that Sarah McLachlan was putting together. She was sort of the spokesperson behind it. Itís a good album.
usounds: Are there other songs that you would like to cover? Or perhaps something that you wanted to cover that you didnít get around to recording?
Vince: Iíve always wanted to do ďHey Bulldog.Ē And we have a pretty good version of ďFire,Ē the Ohio Players song, that we never got around to recording. I thought it sounded pretty good. Weíre always throwing around ideas for covers. We donít always get around to doing them, but there are a lot of great songs out there.
usounds: I have noticed that you can take a variety of songs and interpret them in a style that it very much your own. The covers of yours that I have heard are unmistakably Cake.
Vince: Yeah, thereís that vocal there and we usually manage to get the trumpet in. A song with strings in it, you can change the strings to trumpet or a lead guitar solo, you can adapt it to trumpet. We have spaces in our music, and the minimal production.
usounds: Looking at your website, I see that you have a lot a political links. Is that new or have you been doing that for a while?
Vince: It sort of emerged. The only purpose being that we are just human beings and have concerns just like everyone else. Itís sort of a symptom of having a website. That kind of stuff is out there because itís human interest. We have a lot of people coming to our website for music, but we want to give them something [else] to grab onto.
usounds: Does Cake integrate politics into their music?
Vince: Itís vague. Some of it is a little bit oblique. We donít write songs like Neil Young does. Itís not very literal. Usually something about politics will be more of a metaphor, something of an allegory about politics.
Thanks to Vince for taking the time to speak with usounds. To order their new CD, and for additional information, please visit their website at cakemusic.com.