The S+V Interview: John McCrea of Cake

So I've been basking in the sounds of Cake's new chart-topping album Showroom of Compassion (Upbeat Records;, and have to say that I'm really loving it.
Oh good. That would be horrible if it was a nightmare for you. [chuckles]

And it's a great album to listen to on vinyl. The bass lines on "Got to Move" and "What's Now Is Now" have real impact.
Thanks. I never mix for CDs. For example, I like too much separation between instruments, something decidedly left over from the vinyl era. But you have to be careful in the mastering process that things don't get so squished that it won't make any difference whether it's heard on an LP or a CD. Poor mastering can make an album sound like a CD.

Stereo separation makes me think of a signature instrument of yours, the vibraslap. You often choose to feature it with hard pans to the left and/or right.
True. There was a time when stereo separation went out of vogue in the '80s and early '90s, and I remember engineers saying, "Oh, you don't want that much separation. That's not cool." Well, I don't think it should be a matter of what's "cool." It's what something viscerally feels like that makes it "positive" or "negative."


Have people lost touch with the idea of what a complete work is nowadays because albums are available in pieces in "the cloud"? 

I think so. I know the trend of the 21st century is "atomization" - that is, every album gets chopped into little bits. But at what point do the little bits become a larger thing? Does the physicality of being a human being demand some sort of reunification, if that makes sense? The real challenge is to find a way to convince people that the years spent writing and recording an album mean there's value to that work, and that some sort of transference of value should happen between the parties involved.

You have 41 minutes here, which I think is the right length for an album.
Yeah. I don't think it should be any longer, honestly. When CDs first came out, bands felt they had to fill up the time. I don't think people want that - I know I don't want that. You give people more songs that they can process in one sitting.

I think we lucked out with the sequencing for the CD when we took Compassion to vinyl. Sometimes we've had situations where one side is really long, and one side is really short - we couldn't cut it in half, so what worked on the CD didn't work on the album.

The overall cultural impetus is decidedly not there for albums anymore: "I'll have 30 seconds of a ringtone please, thank you." Ringtones - it's wearing music like jewelry. It's your favorite song heralding your dad is calling you to bitch you out for having too many boxes in the garage. [chuckles] But, hey, to each his own. We gave away a few ringtones in the process of recording our album to people on our mailing list. Certainly you have to live in the era. And you might want to tell stories about listening to music on an album to a whole new generation.