Cake's half-spoken vocals, lonesome trumpet and vivacious vibraslap wheedled their way onto mainstream radio after their 1996 album, Fashion Nugget, became a staple in dorm rooms, coffee shops and other bastions of dry-and-devastating humor. Pretty soon, the band had a slew of hits, including "The Distance" and "Never There."
Their new album, Showroom of Compassion, sounds somewhat different from these earlier hits, with a slight shift in production values and a lot more piano. It's the only Cake LP to debut at number one on the Billboard charts. I spoke with guitarist Xan McCarthy about the album, Cake's foray into visual art and their tour adventures, which take them to a sold-out show at the Orpheum May 13.
Why did you decide to use more piano on Showroom?
In the past, we thought piano sounded too classy. We didn't have all that class or thought we hadn't earned it. So we're faking it now. We're sneaking into the fancy cocktail party.
So you guys made this cool lyrics book out of old clothes. How did that project come about?
There was this fan named Pam DeLuco who wrote in. She's this artist who makes books from scratch. She grows fiber in her garden to make the twine that holds the books together, raises bees to get the wax for the twine, and makes the paper by recycling things. She thought we might want to give it a try, and we made sort of a Goodnight Moon book of lyrics. We donated old clothes for the paper and carved linoleum blocks for the graphics. Basically, we got to learn how bookmaking was done many, many, many years ago and got really messy in the process. We're hooked.
What's the most unexpected thing that's happened on tour lately?
We played Conan, and our trumpet player became friendly with theirs, so next time we played L.A., he sat in. He did the loudest, fastest, most Eddie Van Halen shredding of a trumpet solo we'd ever heard. Then it was like, "Xan, you're next." Everyone clapped over my entire solo. It was totally deserved and insane and amazing all rolled into one.