Cake in Madison WI at the Orpheum, Friday May 13th
photo by Robert McKnight
Unequivocal success, that’s possibly the most accurate way to summarize what’s happened to CAKE since they began 20 years ago. Their eccentric, almost quirky approach to writing music and lyrics has won fans over across the globe. After a seven year stretch between albums, we’re finding Showroom of Compassion to be nothing short of amazing, which is no surprise, given the three years the band poured into its completion in their own home studio. Vince DiFiore, Cake trumpeter and keyboardist set aside some time to share his thoughts with us on his simplistic gear preferences, the new CD, artwork, and the overall triumph of two decades making music.
MAXIMUM INK: How is the current tour is going so far.
VINCE DIFIORE: It’s going great. It’s a good time of year; really nice crowds are out, people are happy to be going to the shows. One comment I’ve heard from people that have been to the shows is that they’re really impressed by the crowd that’s there, and they meet a lot of nice people at the show. Springtime is a good time.
MAXINK: Tell me a little bit about the artwork that comes with the new Showroom of Compassion album. Did you use the same artist that worked on the previous Cake CDs?
VINCE: On the previous albums, John McCrae did the artwork. He’s always had a hand in the artwork for the band; he did the posters for a lot of the local shows. The album cover is sort of a more complicated version of the posters we used to tack up on telephone poles in Sacramento. This time, we used some other people, Aesthetic Apparatus. They have a good eye, and seem to understand the direction our artwork has gone.
MAXINK: Collectively, and even at first glance, the Cake art in the merch, on the CD’s, posters, etc., are all very “organic” in nature, almost sardonically simple. Also you have a definitive “vintage” look going on with every piece of material Cake has ever released.
VINCE: Yeah, I guess it has a vintage look to it, and it’s not something you can figure out right away, but there usually is some sort of meaning to it. There might be a metaphor in the image; it’s not completely random, but it’s not literal, either.
MAXINK: You’ve been quoted as saying that one of the best things you’ve done as a part of the band, CAKE, is to release this album. Tell me why this is true for you, and why this has been such a good experience for you.
VINCE: The one thing that’s really unique about this record for us is that it’s similar to a first album for a band. There’s that time when you’re wrapping up with your creativity and you put out your first album and there is something about it that defines you and it’s a good representation of how the band developed musically. Since there was a span of seven years between albums, it gave us time to develop musically together. So this album is sort of like a first album, I think, in that respect, and that arch of time translated to development for the group.
MAXINK: Did you see yourself as a professional musician when you were younger and aspire to that? Or does this still take you by surprise?
VINCE: Yeah, I’m still sort of pinching myself, too, that I’ve been in this rock band for a long time. As a kid I dreamed about being the music director of the Tonight Show, or something like that. I got into this band because I was in Sacramento. I was going to school there, I was playing the trumpet in some other bands, a punk rock band and a jazz group, without a lot of direction but a lot of enthusiasm. And I met John, and he had the idea that he wanted a trumpet in the band, and he had some lines to start off with. I started filling in some other things. All of the sudden I had a spot in the band. So I guess together, John and I invented this idea of the trumpet being the lead instrument in the band. It’s fun, playing along with all the other instruments. I love being on trumpet, and playing along with the bass and electric guitar. It’s kind of a thrill, and there’s a lot of adrenaline with the electric instruments. This is, of course, not something I ever aspired to do. A trumpet player would have aspired to be in a jazz band, or a big band, but never a rock band like this.
MAXINK: What is your history/timeline with the trumpet? Do you have any special, particular instruments that you prefer, and are you picky about what brand/style of horn you play or purchase?
VINCE: I played the trumpet since I was 9years old, I really enjoyed it. There’s a trumpet I had since around 6th grade, but I think I wore it out, some things were happening to it that were hurting my playing. So I ended up getting a newer instrument. Not something fancy, but reliable, something that would give me no excuses if I’m making mistakes. Something sturdy, that could hang on to a note if I had the effort to go for the note. It’s a Bach, just a very common, quality trumpet. A lot of guys who need a good-sounding, dependable horn, get one of those. I’m not really picky about my gear. Sometimes I run into trumpet players, and it’s a good way to start a conversation, to chit-chat, to get them talking about their gear. They’ll talk about the bore of the lead pipe, and what kind of mouthpiece they use, and what the bell of the trumpet is shaped like all these things that you can customize. I just want something that, well, when you’re playing pool, you pick a cue-stick that’s not broken. That’s all I need; something that’s not broken. And with the keyboards, we use a lot of sounds, piano sounds, organ sounds, synthesizer sounds, and I don’t want to carry around a lot of gear. So I’m playing a Yamaha keyboard that has some pretty decent sounds on it. It can cover all the aspects of the sounds, without me carrying around a tank.
MAXINK: CAKE has very often written and recorded the CAKE albums in your home studio. How much of the engineering are you involved in? What is that like for all of you to come together and handle such a huge responsibility in the making of your music?
VINCE: We’ve always written, produced, and lately engineered our own records. It’s not about fancy production ideas, but solid arrangements. Once we get these arrangements down, then that’s sometimes what a producer does, is to fill in the gaps and embellish the sound that is already there. We make an arrangement, and make use of the instruments we have. We feel like we have pretty good ears; we mix it all the way down to the end, then we have someone come in and master it. But the mastering is just to get the right EQ, like if you put a recording on your music player, and then you mess with the EQ levels, that’s what mastering is. We’re there for that, and we listen to the levels we’ve got, but for the most part, we trust our ears. It’s been good working together this time – we’ve done this before, and we’ve learned how to work better with each other. We’ve had bumps in the road, hiccups, and the problems that result from having everyone in one small room for a long period of time. But because we’ve been through the learning process already, things went much smoother this time.
MAXINK: Thank you very much, Vince. We’re looking forward to CAKE at the Orpheum, Friday May 13. Is there anything else you want to add?
VINCE: Thank YOU Wisconsin! Check out cakemusic.com, we have a lot of features we’re always adding to the website.
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CD: SHOWROOM OF COMPASSION Record Label: Upbeat Records/ILG
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