Sometimes, there's nothing more apt than a cliché, and so it is for Cake, a band best defined by the old chestnut, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Cake's soon-to-be-released album, Showroom of Compassion, contains the same brand of skeletal, mariachi-funk jams and cowboy ballads that made the band a staple of the post-grunge alternative-rock diet. In advance of Cake's way-sold-out show at the Pageant, B-Sides caught up with multi-instrumentalist Vince DiFiore to discuss the band's new album, its solar-powered recording facility and its trademark percussion instrument — the vibraslap.
B-Sides: Showroom of Compassion is your first self-produced, self-released record. Is that why it's also the first proper Cake album in six years?
Vince DiFiore: Well, we're not on a schedule of a record company anymore. Ever since the band had been signing contracts, there was always a stipulation that you have to have an album out after a certain number of years. Sometimes there's a fine if it's not out by that time. It's a good way to keep things going, to keep bands working and keep labels interested. But now we have our own place to record and our own schedule.
I read that your studio is completely solar powered. Tell us about the place.
It's a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, and there's a nice enough back yard to hang out when we want to take a break and enjoy a little nature. We put up thirteen of those cobalt glass solar panels, and they look great. They've given us enough energy for the entire project. It relieved some of the stress of these grown men being in a small room together. The solar energy helps with morale, because it makes you less guilty about being a consumer.
Interesting. Was going solar a political move?
It's only political if you consider the energy industry as part of politics, which they are. But people have to go to alternative fuels without feeling like they're giving the finger to the establishment. I mean, it's fascism really, because we have to use oil to effectively contribute to society, but the oil industries and other large corporations are part of what make us so great. Solar energy is anti-establishment right now, but it's really practical, and if it were even more practical, it would really go along well with the economy.
I don't think people realize how politically driven Cake is. The band's website had a ton of posts about the midterm elections. But then you'd expect a song like "Federal Funding" from Showroom to be this political statement, but it's not. The line "You've received the federal funding / You can have a hefty grant" feels ironic, but it doesn't go any deeper.
I love that about the song. It's so bipartisan. Everyone pays taxes — you want to be the recipient of government services or grants. It's a celebration of that, and it's easy to read into the political headlines — but it's really just about the joys of being on the receiving end.
One of the trademarks of the Cake sound is the vibraslap, probably most recognizable from the song "Never There." Tell me about that instrument.
I heard somebody refer to it as a donkey rattle recently, which I'd never heard before. It emulates an instrument made from the jawbone of a large equine-type animal, a yak or whatever, and it makes a sound like chattering teeth. I'm glad John is playing it, because it hurts my hand. He really cornered the market on that, and it'd be hard for someone else to play it.
The instrument is so distinctive to the band that I could see you worrying about being piegonholed by its sound. But then, on your new song "Long Time," I think I counted fifteen vibraslap hits.
It works; why mess with it? It's like coming home. It's a natural sound; I guess that's the thing that's nice about it. It's acoustic, but it's strange enough that it sounds electronic. A little bit like some kind of metal coil vibrating in a synthesizer.
Have you ever considered seeking out an endorsement from a percussion company and having a signature Cake vibraslap?
We should! We've gone through enough of those things. We must be bringing companies some business. There must be some people who bought one because of us.
Or maybe you've hurt sales because everyone is afraid to use one and sound too much like Cake.
Maybe, but imagine people listening to a Cake record at home and playing along with a vibraslap in the comfort of their own living room!