Interview by Ian Morales. Promo photo by Robert McKnight.
The popular alternative rock band and masters of the vibraslap Cake have a lot of reasons to celebrate these days. The band is approaching their twentieth anniversary as a band and the release of their first studio album since 2004, Showroom of Compassion. With so many of their nineties era counterparts gone the wayside, it is good to know Cake’s original sound and passion for pleasing their fans keeps them around for new generations to enjoy.
In control of their own career and with nothing to prove, Cake will begin the new year with a big New Year’s Eve show in Austin at their old stomping grounds, the Austin Music Hall. While the band is no stranger to performing big NYE shows, this will be their first in The Live Music Capital. Joining them will be Austin’s own Agent Ribbons, White Ghost Shivers and even Mariachi Texas. Expect an epic tree giveaway so attendees should brush up on their trivia and knowledge of the different kinds of trees.
Before ringing in the new year in Austin, we caught up with original member and trumpeter Vince DiFiore. We had a chance to chat about some of his favorite NYE show memories, giving away of random souvenirs at shows and of course Showroom of Compassion. We also learned that a certain music festival may be coming back to life in 2011.
How did the big New Year’s Eve show in Austin come about and what was your reaction once you heard it was going to happen?
DiFiore: One of the first NYE shows we did was in Milwaukee. I guess I should start first by saying we had taken a vacation from NYE shows for a while. Then we took a San Francisco show and then Milwaukee again. Last year, we played in Seattle. This year, we wanted to play somewhere else besides one of those cities. The possibility for Austin came up and that sounded relatively warm. We have had receptive audiences in Austin for a long time now so we’re looking forward to it. I think it will be something memorable and meaningful.
Having played a few NYE shows before, what are some of your most memorable NYE show moments?
DiFiore: I always remember the juggler we had on stage in Milwaukee. There was somebody on a very tall unicycle that was probably like ten feet off the ground. He had a helmet with sparklers on it and did some juggling with bowling pins. That was pretty exceptional. Another year in Milwaukee, we had a polka group. Agent Ribbons played one year with us in Milwaukee and they were great. They will be playing the Austin show with us. This year we have Mariachi Tejas playing with us, along with White Ghost Shivers.
What is it about Austin that keeps you coming back other than the strong ticket sales? You guys really seem to like it here.
DiFiore: Just like Nashville or New Orleans, it’s a music city. Music is a large part of its identity. Austin has great venues. We’ve played at Stubb’s and The Austin Music Hall before. The Austin Music Hall was where we met Little Richard where he led us in a prayer circle there. That was a pretty special moment. We also have really good memories of South By Southwest.
The last time I remember you guys playing here, or around here rather, was just up the road in Georgetown at Southwestern University’s gym. What I remember about that show more than anything was that you guys gave away a tree. Is that something you guys do regularly? A tree giveaway?
DiFiore: We’ve been doing the tree giveaway for a while now. People go home and plant the tree and send us a picture of it when it is in the ground. It is always a unique photo. It’s just something fun. The winner of the tree usually had to identify the tree or answer a trivia question. We used to give away t-shirts from the stage and at one point we gave away a house plant that we had on the tour bus. We stopped doing that because you can’t take a house plant through security really when you are going through the airport. I even decided to cook on one tour so I bought a crock pot at the beginning of it. I needed to give it away towards the end of the tour so we did after a trivia question was answered. Now we just do trees. Everybody enjoys receiving a tree and plating it in the ground. It is kind of milestone in someone’s life when they plant a tree.
Can we expect a tree giveaway then for the NYE show at The Austin Music Hall?
DiFiore: I believe so. I’m almost positive there will be a tree giveaway. It is always a tree that grows well, if not native, in that area we are in. Everyone will have to wait and see.
We are all looking forward to it. Now let’s switch focus and talk about your upcoming album. Showroom of Compassion. It’s your sixth studio release and first since 2004. How long has this album been in the works really?
DiFiore: Well, John’s been writing the songs for many years, some of them since he was a teenager. He introduced them to the band about three years ago. We worked on about four or five of them and then after a while, he introduced the rest of the songs to us. We just realized we have something of value and by the time it was finished, we felt complete about it. Everybody felt satisfied with their contributions. If we were with a record company, we would have had to finish it earlier. Since it was something we are releasing through our own authority, we had the time to take. It was a very democratic process. Everyone’s input was considered every step of the way, so that slowed things down a bit too. Sure it would have been nice to crank out an album in a week. I read about that sort of thing and it always makes headlines. I feel envious of that, but I also know our process has provided us with good results.
So what was it that made you want to make another album at this point in your careers? Your legacy and fan base are all in tact as far as I’m concerned.
DiFiore: John wrote more songs he felt are worth offering to the public. Plus, we still want to be a band. We enjoy being in a band and playing music still. It is worthwhile to continue. We’ve been performing live without a new record this whole time and have enjoyed communicating with people. Our website is the real glue for us. It’s something, aside from music, where our collective thinking connects us. It keeps us on the same page as far as some sort of worldview goes. I don’t think it is totally necessary for music, but I think it helps. It makes you feel good about touring with different people and make you feel like you are associated with them in some way.
Now what is different musically on Showroom of Compassion that we haven’t heard on your previous albums? Can we expect more piano on this album?
DiFiore: Yeah, there is more piano, I’d say. We’ve had keys in the past as far as synthesizer lines and things like that, but there is more piano on tracks all the way through or keyboards all the way through. One of the songs is an instrumental that John wrote on piano. Anything we did in the past, we did again but we are better at it now. We’re strong at it. Our strengths came out to a great capacity this time. A lot of it is kind a “to hell with it” attitude too. We’ve never been a heavy-handed rock band. We’re a rock band but not super heavy-handed. We gave what we had to give. Maybe it will get discarded but maybe not. What ended up happening was that attitude did become a part of the sound. It provided some strength and some worth to the finished album.
It sounds like it. I know you guys kind of gave the public a preview this past fall with the video release of the single “Sick of You”. A couple of things about the video got my attention. First, it was a self-directed video and then there were the bunny suits. Tell me a little about the video and the concept you were going for.
DiFiore: We bought the bunny suits a long time ago and never used them. Then Flaming Lips started the whole thing with animal outfits so we sort of shelved it for a while. We were hot on the idea though. In our “Distance” video, there were several animal costumes in that video back in 1996. We just felt like we needed to use these bunny costumes so we got them out. We wanted that contrast between the symbols of fertility and the suburban decay with the threat of massive global catastrophe. We wanted to connect those opposites. The song “Sick of You” has lyrics that state this person is very blatantly sick of something, but the music itself lends to a glimmer of hope, I think. It’s like the blues. You’re singing sad music because there is also a promise of happiness around the corner if you can somehow work through it.
So why the reason to self direct it? As big as you guys are, surely you have lots of options as far as big name directors available to you. It is not like you are a DIY band anymore.
DiFiore: I don’t know. There’s something about being in control of your vision. This happens when you are with a record company and they want to help you make a big splash and they make a video for you. It might not represent you well. I think it is that sort of thing that motivates us to stay in control of our appearance. We don’t want to get into a persona we are not comfortable with.
Do you plan on making another video for the next single off of Showroom of Compassion? Will you be directing it yourselves again?
DiFiore: We will do that again. We just have to have the right concept and then find the right people to help you execute it. We had a cameraman this time that understood what we wanted to do and helped us complete it. We definitely need people to help us, but if we have the right idea, we can follow through and create something that represents us well.
With the release of the new album coming up in early January, I’d assume the rest of your year would be revolved around supporting the new album and touring.
DiFiore: We have a touring schedule all the way through June. We are experimenting with doing multiple nights in the same city but playing smaller venues. We’ll do that in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We’ve thought about doing this before but it is actually something we are going to try this time. I’ll get a chance to visit place like Stone Mountain in Atlanta, someplace I’ve always wanted to visit. I plan to leave early in the morning, see some rock sculptures and get back in time for sound check. We are also considering bringing back Unlimited Sunshine for perhaps the summer. It’s not together at this point. We’re just brainstorming on it but we are optimistic something will fall together for that.