Fight fire with rock
CAKE helps raise money for Berry Creek fire truck with benefit concert
All right, Chico. What you got this weekend? Because, unless there’s a surprise Pixies reunion show or a last-minute Carnival parade downtown, I’m going to Oroville to see CAKE.
Yes, it’s that CAKE. The Sacramento band that used to play in Chico often back in its pre-platinum-selling Fashion Nugget days (and long before “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” was the theme song for NBC’s Chuck). Back then, places like the Whispering Clam Room and Juanita’s would pack in eclectic crowds as everyone would come out to bob in unison to CAKE’s sparse, funky, countrified and insanely infectious riff-centered rock.
And now, an old friend of the band who lives in the area is bringing his buddies to the Oroville Municipal Auditorium on Saturday for a benefit to raise money to help the Berry Creek Volunteer Fire Department purchase a new fire truck.
While CAKE might not be as aggressively promotional as a typical activist band, it should come as no surprise that its members would donate their time to a good cause. Their chill approach to making a difference is interwoven with CAKE’s day-to-day operations.
On the band’s Web site, there are regular news updates on current political issues and environmentalism, plus a rideshare bulletin board for concertgoers to sign up for carpools, and a video chronicling the solar conversion of the band’s recording studio. They also give away a free tree at every concert!
The band is still touring in support of last year’s B-Sides and Rarities, a collection of live recordings and covers (including a fun and poignant reworking of Kenny Rogers’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town"), and is recording material for its first album of new material since 2004’s Pressure Chief. A reissue of the band’s debut, Motorcade of Generosity, with bonus DVD, is also set for release this fall.
Vince DiFiore is the band’s trumpet player, and as much as those warm and clean guitar riffs and the deadpan vocal delivery of frontman John McCrea, DiFiore’s signature playful bursts are an instantly recognizable component of CAKE’s singular sound.
I talked to DiFiore during a break in CAKE’s preparations for a concert to take place in a giant, castle-like armory in Rochester, New York.
So, your former soundman set up the benefit in Oroville?
Will Cotter is a soundman extraordinaire. He’s raising his family in Berry Creek and works for the volunteer fire department there. [He’s] someone we met at The Fox and Goose in Sacramento. He was doing sound for many local bands, and when it came time for us to hit the road with our own sound mixer, we asked Will. He’ll be doing sound for us on the night of the benefit.
You guys are playing another benefit a week earlier in San Francisco, for the city’s renewable-energy ballot measure.
It’s the Clean Air Act, to replace the energy infrastructure of the city. It’s a way for San Francisco to be an example for the rest of the country. The energy will be owned by the people of San Francisco.
Does CAKE get together as a band to discuss causes to be involved with?
[With activism], sometimes your primary purpose as an entertainer gets lost. We’re just a band. We’re the entertainment. [But] we’re always working on cultivating our character as a band. And if some money needs to be raised …
How does the tree give-away at shows work?
The tree give-away has become a regular part of our show. The tree we have onstage is native to the area, and to win it you have to know the type of tree or sometimes answer a trivia question. Planting a tree is so very satisfying. The winners of the trees are asked to send us a photo of themselves with the planted tree, which we then post on our Web site.
I watched the video of your recording studio’s solar conversion on your site. How’s it working out?
We are still stuck as consumers in this society, and [with this] it feels like we’re moving in a positive direction.
You’re working on a new album. Where are you at in the process?
I’d say we’re over the hump. … We’re trying different arrangements. Now with our own studio, we’re working as producers and engineers.
This will be the second album to be released on your own label (Upbeat Records). What made you guys decide to self-release?
Taking the bull by the horns seemed like the right way to go. Without a record company we have to be certain the band is moving forward on our own, though. It’s more work for us and our management, but the reward is knowing we are calling the shots. If there is any moving and shaking to do, it’s up to us.
Is the band still your main gig? Do you guys have other jobs?
The band’s our priority still. The band is the thing. I’m reading biographies of bands right now, and reading all these, you realize what a great thing this is.
Whose biographies are you reading?
I just finished Andy Summers’ book One Train Later, about his career as a guitarist. The best thing about the book is his humor. He gives you a window to perceive what it must have been like to witness the music scenes of the ’60s and ’70s firsthand. He had a long career as a guitarist before he joined the Police. Many influences came together to shape his playing.