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Q&A with John McCrea of Cake

Let Them Eat…

They say “you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” but with the Sacramento-based band Cake that’s just not true. Like a layered cake, their music is balanced with rich musical crème sandwiched between dark, subtle, and filling conscious messages. After fifteen years, with an imminent sixth album, Cake’s substance is as good as the first bite, making the band’s first hit “The Distance” seem rather prophetic. The group will headline Oysterfest on May 15th at the Great Meadow at Fort Mason. The bill also includes the Raveonettes, and locals Jackie Greene and Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. Cake vocalist John McCrea recently spoke with SF Station in a phone interview.

SF Station (SFS): I’ve noticed that there are a lot of social issues that were discussed on your past albums. Was there any particular issue of relevance on this album?

John McCrea (JM): Do you mean broad social issues?

SFS: It can be broad, as obviously discussing the environment is a very broad issue for you guys.

JM: It is for you too, and I realize that, but it’s very fundamental.

SFS: Of course, I’m not disagreeing by any means. I merely am stating “you” because I’m not the one writing the music.

JM: The environment thing for me is not really a political issue, more a social issue and maybe more a practical issue. In some ways, you don’t get to argue about whether or not we should be in Afghanistan if there is no air to breath, or water, or a functioning ecosystem. I see it as an issue of lost pragmatism. Don’t shit where you eat.

You know, I don’t think our songs are preachy about that issue so much as there is an aesthetic that we’re trying to subtly convey that some people get and some don’t get.

SFS: What do you mean?

JM: There is something really great about the idea of less is more that I think maybe gets lost in our current system. There is something to be said for things that don’t sound huge. Does that make sense? I’m trying to communicate something without actually coming out and saying it.

SFS: I think I understand, but when you say system, you’re not referencing a government system, but a musical system with an over-embellishment or something similar. Am I right?

JM: Yeah, but in a way that carries over — a reflection of the human mind. I think there is a regard for nature, resources, and music that exists within our culture and within our society that is sort of unsustainable. It’s got a sort of a pedal to the metal aesthetic. I don’t think that it is subversive.

In a way, some of the sounds that come from modern rock are very similar to deforestation in the Amazon. The idea of people in a mosh pit, you have a “might makes right” power dynamic where the really big army boots prevail over the small people. That’s very similar to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, when you have people who are very powerful being able to shit all over.

SFS: We don’t have to go further into this, but your website is very direct on these issues. Who is updating the news and blog section?

JM: Well, I’m afraid it is our fault.

SFS: You say it’s uncomfortable now, but your website is very direct about where you stand.

JM: Yeah, but it shouldn’t be this sort of polarizing thing. If it’s taken on an issue-to-issue basis, there is nothing polarizing about wanting to drink clean water.

SFS: When I was a young kid obsessed with Fashion Nugget, it wasn’t as clear that there were so many underlying political issues.

JM: We were just as hate filled, if not more hate filled during Motorcade and Fashion Nugget. We had more hate than a punk rock band. In fact especially more than a punk rock band because, for the most part, I don’t see much factual content there except for hormonal.

Cake performs at the 11th Annual Oysterfest on May 15th. Tickets are $30. The event begins at 12pm, and ends at 7pm.