CAKE frontman John McCrea says he's more interested in songwriting than he is genres of music. As a kid, he listened to his parents' Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie records. Then, as a teen, he got into the Rolling Stones, Beatles and a lot of rock.
"I loved early '70s disco and R&B," he says. "And I gradually got into country music and classical jazz ... all of that Harold Arlen and Irving Berlin stuff. But all of these genres are unimportant. It's the songs underneath the styles that is relevant."
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24
Where: Britt Pavilion, 350 First St., Jacksonville
Tickets: $49 for standing room only; $39 for lawn; and $29 for ages 12 and younger
Call: 541-773-6077 or see www.brittfest.org
Prospering in the Central Valley of Northern California, where country and mariachi meet classic rock and punk, CAKE's music reflects such diversity, leading to collaborations with Brazilian tropicalismo artist Tom Ze, rapper Jay-Z and country music icon Buck Owens, who invited CAKE to play his Crystal Palace in Bakersfield.
When McCrea and his bandmates formed CAKE in the early '90s, it was as a gesture of revulsion against the big, loud rock music performed during that decade, McCrea says.
"We were suspicious of the low self-esteem pose with the amplifier turned up to 11," he says. "We thought it was a contradiction, and we wanted to make music that was smaller, which was probably the most subversive thing you could do in that culture.
"There was a geometry to the music of that time that we felt wasn't innovative or interesting. The nuance gets lost in the shuffle of excess. So less is more. We began aggressively turning it down, and then it became this thing that made sense to us ... something that we really enjoy."
CAKE will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Britt Pavilion, 350 First St., Jacksonville. Ryan Vosika's Banditos Yanqui will perform at 6 p.m. on the Table Rock City Stage. No outside alcohol will be allowed into this performance. Tickets cost $49 for standing room only; $39 for lawn; and $29 for ages 12 and younger. Call 541-773-6077 or see www.brittfest.org.
Audiences seemed to really enjoy and understand CAKE's music, as well.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian pointed out that "CAKE doesn't ask you to suck its angst," and The St. Louis Dispatch described its music as "an utterly fresh sound, especially given today's preponderance of overblown alternative bands."
The song "How Do You Afford Your Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle?" from the band's 1994 self-released album, "Motorcade of Generosity," became a college radio hit. Then CAKE signed with Capricorn Records, and the days of riding bikes around town plastering telephone poles with cryptic, handmade posters were soon ending.
The band's second album, "Fashion Nugget," released in 1996, featured the hit songs "The Distance" and "I Will Survive," first performed by singer Gloria Gaynor.
"Some alt-rock bands feel that they can cover only Lou Reed or Alex Chilton songs," McCrea says. "There's a tight, clinching approach to covering other artists. We're not being satirical. We just love the songs. I think we brought something new to 'Survive.' We made it a little more angry and from a male perspective."
"Fashion Nugget" became a platinum-seller on the strength of "The Distance."
CAKE's 1998 release, "Prolonging the Magic," with the song "Never There," also went platinum. "Comfort Eagle," the band's first album on Columbia Records, followed in 2001 and presented such favorites as "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," "Love You Madly" and "Shadow Stabbing."
The band released one more on the Columbia label, "Pressure Chief" in 2004, before creating its own label, Upbeat Records, and releasing "Showroom of Compassion" in 2011, which became its first album to debut at the top of Billboard's charts. It sold more than 40,000 copies in its first week.
The band's defiant self-reliance and do-it-yourself aesthetic led them to write, arrange, produce and engineer "Compassion" in their own solar-powered studio, making the album an extension of their original ideals.
By maintaining those ideals and challenging themselves artistically and professionally, CAKE has not only survived but thrived over the past 20 years.
"It's my inherent love of music that's got me here," McCrea says. "I started writing songs when I was 13 or 14. They were bad songs, but you have to start somewhere. It's hard to write songs, but when you finally break through, it's exhilarating. There are rhythmic, lyric and melodic questions that come up. It takes time for the subconscious mind to work things out. With me, songwriting is more about the subconscious than the conscious."