Posts

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cake Keeps Touring to Make Cake

Cake hasn’t released an album since 2011’s Showroom of Compassion, but the five-man group hasn’t exactly been sitting around twiddling their thumbs. Instead of spending time in the studio, they’ve made their way around the world touring – a lot.

“I think we like playing music,” lead vocalist John McCrea tells On Tap. “I’m definitely a better live performer than I was when I first started – not anything theatrical, not doing tricks, but actually playing my instrument and singing. What I don’t enjoy is traveling through space endlessly in buses and cars and airplanes. I think most people romanticize touring if they haven’t actually been traveling for two years straight.”

Despite the constant Mad Max, road warrior lifestyle, the band has found times for breaks. It’s during these moments that McCrea is able to break away and pen music. He’s not sure what will and won’t be on the band’s future releases. In the past seven years, he’s accumulated an enormous amount of songs on the shelf, waiting to be recorded when the band finds time.

“It takes a lot longer to record material because you’re doing it sort of in between the paying job,” McCrea says. “It’s like a weird hobby. I don’t know many people who can really record on the road, because you play until late at night and then you pass out, get up early and drive all day. It’s what we have now.”

McCrea has hundreds of incomplete songs, and potentially “hundreds and hundreds of fragments.” The ratio he uses in this interview is 1:9, as in for every song he takes to his fellow band member, one makes it to the next stage.

“I pretty much bring finished songs to the band. What they help me with is figuring out arrangements, baselines and guitar riffs. Sometimes I’ll add on stuff later.”

As a writer, he doesn’t fixate on the fragments, and instead chooses to leave them where they lie as newer, fresher ideas come to mind. In some cases, years pass before he regains the inspiration to revisit a particular “fragment.”

“It’s a feeling,” he says. “It’s intuitive when to revisit [a song]. I think it ends up sounding better if I just move on to another song. If I hit a wall, I think it sounds forced to pretend that the wall is not there. I know a short fiction writer who just couldn’t finish a story and left it there for five years. Then he came back to it and it was easy.”

Cake has a history of turning songs written by other musicians into hits as well. With the band’s unique style involving the fusion of spoken-word singing, rock and folk guitar riffs, and a generally laid-back attitude, the band’s covers of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” sound like independent works rather than rehashes.

“I think it’s more likely we do a country album [instead of a cover album], which would itself contain covers on it,” McCrea says. “I think that would be a lot of fun for us and the cool thing about playing other people’s material is that it’s a chance to inhabit someone’s thought process. I think that’s probably true of writing fiction. Like learning a song, it allows you to intuit someone else’s thinking, which is wild.”

With another tour on the horizon, there’s no telling when McCrea and his bandmates will huddle into a studio to record another album. Luckily, they’re still out there endlessly touring, and Cake is soon to inhabit the same space as Ben Folds.

“I think it’s probably the worst thing if you go to a concert or a festival and everyone is playing the same drum beat at the same time,” he says. “The human brain just sort of turns off when things sound too similar.”

Learn more about Cake at www.cakemusic.com.

See Ben Folds and Cake at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday, August 18. Tall Heights will open. Tickets start at $45. Doors at 5:30 p.m., show at 7 p.m.

Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; 410-715-5550; www.merriweathermusic.com

Photo: Courtesy of Ben Folds
Photo: Courtesy of Ben Folds

Ben Folds Breaks Boundaries Because He Can

When Ben Folds rolls through Merriweather Post Pavilion on August 18 on his co-headlining tour with Cake, he’ll be nearing his 52nd birthday with 30-plus years of music business experience under his belt. Lots of musicians play their music for decades, and while it’s impressive to have the wherewithal to endure any extended stretch in a creative field, Folds is unusual in how he uses his reputation. He takes risks, he gets scared and he keeps pushing forward.

“It’s a big, organic mess,” he says. “Sometimes, I get really interested in something and pursue it. You never know the best thing to do, but the common thread in the whole thing is I follow what I’m interested in. That can be very different day-to-day, and I have to live with it. Sometimes I’ll be interested in something and agree to a future show, and then in six months, I’ll be like, ‘What the hell?’”

This “What the hell?” feeling isn’t new for Folds. In fact, it’s what motivates him at this point in his career. This is the reason he agreed to satirize himself on the FX show You’re the Worst, and the reason he’s done bizarre covers like “Bitches Ain’t Shit” over the course of his career. His range in musical interests is boundless as he bounces from rock band to piano soloist to orchestra composer. But before he jumps headfirst – or onstage – for new projects, he’s a little scared.

“Now I have to arrange all these weird things [for the show] and it’s exciting. It’s a slightly scary tour, and it doesn’t have to be big things – it can be small things.”

Folds is not a risk-averse artist based on his collaborations – William Shatner and Weird Al Yankovic among them – to the genres he finds himself dabbling in. Part of his confidence in floating from idea to idea comes from his longevity in the industry, which he says grants him more opportunities to be a little off the wall.

“I get more leeway every year,” he says. “After awhile, they’re like, ‘He wants to try that? F—k it, let him do it.’ Nothing is probably going to kill [my career], so I get to be less and less responsible really, and it serves me well. It’s what they call in U.K. politics a backbencher. It makes for a creative career that’s fun for me.”

This unpredictable path wouldn’t be as riveting to watch from the outside if not for his prolific nature in releasing projects and music.

“I don’t really have an answer. I don’t think I’m particularly superhuman. You’ll be doing one thing, and it’ll sit on the shelf for awhile, and then it’ll come out together with another project. Right now, I’m writing a book, so I’m spending my time on that and then I’ll go to next thing.”

Slated to be a biography full of advice for musicians, Folds says he’s gotten into a good groove with the switch from writing lyrics to penning prose.

“There’s an adjustment for sure, because when you have what seems like unlimited real estate, you have to find your pace and it takes a little bit of time. I think it’s true that you never learn how to write a book, just the one you’re on. Right now, I’m cranking out 3,000 words a day.”

As for more on what the words are about, Folds puts it simply with, “We’re all interested in a good journey, no matter what part you’re on.”

Learn more about Ben Folds at www.benfolds.com.

See Ben Folds and Cake at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday, August 18. Tall Heights will open. Tickets start at $45. Doors at 5:30 p.m., show at 7 p.m.

Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; 410-715-5550; www.merriweathermusic.com