Date of birth : -
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Sacramento, California, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2012-04-18
Credited as : alternative rock band, Fashion Nugget, John McCrea
In 1997, Cake's popularity exploded and their shows sold out across the United States with the release of Fashion Nugget, proving that a modern rock band who performed melancholy pop songs mixed with funk, folk, country, and a mariachi country could succeed in the music industry. Throughout the group's rise to the top since its formation in 1991, Cake experienced repeated lineup changes. Nonetheless, at moments when most bands would crumble, Cake continued to forge ahead, and the group's subsequent album, 1998's Prolonging the Magic, was considered by critics as their most ambitious collection of songs to date. More than just a trendy alternative rock group, Cake exhibited a uniqueness on all three of their full-length albums with a full-time trumpeter, country-inspired guitar melodies, and the poetic, eclectic, and sometimes sarcastic lyrics of lead singer and chief songwriter John McCrea. The group's songs, though they sound modern, also exhibit an older and familiar feeling and tell stories of hard luck and lost love.
McCrea, born around 1965 in Sacramento, California, spent most of the 1980s in his hometown of Sacramento, where he played solo as well as with various bands. Besides rock, McCrea held an interest in other musical styles as well. In the late 1980s, McCrea moved to Los Angeles, believing that his chances of succeeding in music would improve in the larger city. Once in here, he played solo acoustic music at various coffee shops around the Los Angeles area. As a solo artist, McCrea performed many of the songs that would eventually make Cake a well-known name, such as "I Bombed Korea," "Haze of Love," "Sheep Go to Heaven," and "Jesus Wrote a Blank Check."
By 1991, McCrea realized that living in Los Angeles had done little to improve his career. Therefore, he moved back to Sacramento and formed Cake. He recruited Frank French on drums, Vince di Fiore on trumpet, Greg Brown on guitar, and Sean McFessel on bass. McFessel left the band the same year to attend college. Regarding his decision to add a trumpet player to the group, McCrea told Joe Schaeffer of the Washington Times, "When the band was first put together, we didn't have a trumpet for the first month. I knew we didn't want a searing, soaring, brave, white lead guitar making its way through the clouds. And I was listening to a lot of mariachi music, and it struck me that the trumpet didn't have such a stigma." Subsequently, needing a new bassist, McCrea replaced McFessel with Gabe Nelson. Two years later in 1993, Cake released their first record, a seven-inch single called "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle," which also included the song "Jolene" on the flip side.
After this, the group headed to the studio to work on their first album, the self-produced Motorcade of Generosity, an album applauded for its superb songwriting as well as for it's airy, low production quality. The members of Cake worked on the album in between their day jobs: driving cabs, working for courier services, and waiting tables. Determined to make a record even in the absence of record company support, Cake paid for the entire project themselves, recorded the songs by themselves, and designed all of the artwork for the album. Upon the completion of their debut, they sold Motorcade of Generosity on their own without distribution.
Soon, though, Cake and Motorcade of Generosity caught the attention of Capricorn Records, and in 1994, the group signed with the label and reissued their debut in its original form. Despite this achievement, Cake saw two more members leave the group that year; French and Nelson left the band, and drummer Todd Roper and bassist Victor Damiani joined as their replacements. The reshaped quintet started touring the United States in smaller venues, selling their own t-shirts on stage to earn extra money. In the meantime, later that year, Capricorn released the group's 1993 single "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle," which received air play on college and alternative radio stations across the country. In addition, McCrea co-produced a video for the song that aired sparingly on the cable channel MTV (Music Television). While the band's popularity continued to grow, Capricorn released two more singles from Cake's debut: "Ruby Sees All," followed by "Jolene."
As soon as Cake completed their first national club tour, they returned to Sacramento to work on their follow-up album. In the same Sacramento studios they used to record their debut, Cake recorded the more refined Fashion Nugget in late 1995 and early 1996. Later that year, Capricorn released the album, which featured the group's first hit single "The Distance." The song peaked at number three on modern rock charts, and the song's video climbed to number three on MTV as well. In December of 1996, while Cake made another tour, Capricorn released the next single from the album entitled "I Will Survive," a cover of Gloria Gaynor's self-promoting 1970s disco anthem. Instead of playing the song as a modern rock-infused disco remake, Cake opted to perform a serious, straight version that adhered to Gaynor's original spirit, with di Fiore's trumpet weaving through stringed instruments. Again, radio listeners and music video viewers reacted with enthusiasm.
As Cake's popularity continued to soar upon the release of Fashion Nugget, the group accepted an invitation to open for the rock band the Counting Crows on their East Coast Tour. In the spring of 1997, another popular single from the record, "Frank Sinatra," hit store shelves, and Cake saw another change in the group's lineup. Damiani said goodbye to Cake in order to pursue other interests, and the band persuaded bassist Nelson to return in his place. By this time, though, the fast pace of recording and touring caught up with McCrea, who was forced to cut the band's tour short because of extreme exhaustion. Thus, McCrea and Cake returned to Sacramento to rest before working on the next project.
Subsequently, another band member left Cake in January of 1998. This time, the group lost guitarist Brown, who formed a new group called Deathray with Damiani. Roper, Cake's drummer, admitted that personality conflicts plagued the group since the single "The Distance," written by Brown, propelled the group into mainstream acceptance. As he told Ken Micallef in an interview for the Launch.com website, "John can be difficult to be around. That Greg [Brown] wrote the hit and John received all the attention created a lot of tension in the band. We would often travel across the country in our van and not say a word to each other for six hours straight. That was normal for us."
Despite the group's internal strife, McCrea nonetheless regretted the loss of his band mate. "It wasn't easy," said McCrea in an interview with Michael Mehle published in the Denver Rocky Mountain News. "Mostly, what wasn't easy was having a sense of faith that everything was going to work out. It really didn't seem like it would. I was really contemplating disbanding and starting something new. Greg was a really big part of the band. However, I'm really glad that we kept going." After Brown's departure, the band needed a new guitarist, but McCrea decided not to replace him right away. Instead, he chose to use a variety of guitarists for Cake's third album, Prolonging the Magic, completed by August and released in September of 1998.
The more tight-knight Prolonging the Magic marked the peak of Cake's recording career with the album's groove beats, weaving guitar and mariachi trumpet lines, and obvious country influences. "The trumpet work of Vincent di Fiore slips in and out of the songs, punching up the choruses and adding wistful undertones to the verses. McCrea delivers a string of poetic non sequiturs in his delightful deadpan [voice], exploring deceivingly dark subjects about one-way relationships, the emptiness of Sunset Strip, the allure of evil and the power of greed," concluded Mehle. The album also contained the group's most successful hit single, "Never There," an older song that McCrea originally wrote and arranged when he was 18. The single made it's way to the number one spot on Billboard magazine's alternative rock charts and maintained this position for three weeks. The song's critical acclaim and radio popularity surprised McCrea and the rest of the band, because they experienced trouble recording the track in the studio. Moreover, the single sounded different, as well as more impressive, than Cake's prior radio successes.
Other noteworthy singles on Prolonging the Magic included catchy tunes such as "Daria" and "Friend Is a Four Letter Word," the sing along "Satan Is My Motor," and the Hawaiian guitar influenced "Mexico." In reference to the group's third release, Brown professed, "It's about John's great songs and his vision," as quoted by Micallef. "Some of these are his oldest songs, but they are also some of his best. I may criticize him, but it's done in a spirit of love." Prior to the album's release date, back in August, Cake held auditions to find a permanent guitarist and hired Xan McCurdy to fill the opening. That fall, Cake arrived overseas for their first European tour, followed by a tour beginning in the spring of 1999 in the United States.
After promoting Prolonging the Magic, McCrea intended to take some time off to write for awhile, although fans were already asking when Cake would release their next record, and record company executives worried that if Cake took a break, the public might forget about the group. "They [Capricorn] haven't given me much time to write new songs," McCrea conceded to Mehle. "What happens, when you're in a band, is that you release a record, put everything you have into that record, go on tour for a year and a half, trying to introduce it to people. You get off the road and people ask: 'Where the hell is your next album? It's been a year and a half, where's you're next album?' You just want to say, 'Give me a break.'"
Following a series of tours, including several versions of the Unlimited Sunshine Tour, the band released Pressure Chief in 2004, its second and last album on Columbia. After creating its own label, Upbeat Records, the band released Showroom of Compassion in 2011, which became its first album to debut at the top of the Billboard charts, selling 44,000 copies in the first week after release.
-Motorcade of Generosity (1994)
-Fashion Nugget (1996)
-Prolonging the Magic (1998)
-Comfort Eagle (2001)
-Pressure Chief (2004)
-B-Sides and Rarities (2007)
-Showroom of Compassion (2011)