Cake’s concert at this year’s PNE Fair marks a rare return to Vancouver for the American alt-rock band.
The evening of Wednesday, Aug. 24 is when the John McCrea-led quartet plays the outdoor amphitheatre as part of the fair’s 2022 Summer Night Concerts. Details are posted on pne.ca, including a reminder that paid tickets are required for all PNE concerts this year, along with fair admission.
I recently talked on the phone with McCrea, who called from his home in southern Washington State. What follows is a Q&A with the man whose deadpan vocal delivery drives Cake’s mostly minimalist, slightly oddball songs, including “The Distance,” “Never There,” “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” and “Sheep Go to Heaven.”
Is 2018’s “Sinking Ship” really Cake’s most recent single? That’s what I see on YouTube.
McCrea: “Yeah, that’s the most recent song we released. I have another album that’s pretty much almost finished, but I really want to work on it still, so the pandemic didn’t exactly speed things up. There’s another album that’s pretty much ready.”
So you wrote and recorded a bunch of music during the pandemic?
“I did write a bunch, but if it’s called Cake, I want the others to be part of it, to have their fingerprints on it as well, to participate, and that hasn’t happened yet. I like to get in a room with the band, to find things in the songs that way also. The cool thing is that these songs are more developed than I ever have had the chance to do before. I’m excited about it.”
So that’ll be the first Cake album in more than a decade?
“Yeah, that’s right. I’m grumpy about the music business, generally, and to participate in it is sort of enabling. It’s always been structured poorly for the artist, but I think it’s really outdoing itself over the last 15 years or so, in terms of consolidation of power and wealth. It’s just horrible. I still like playing music, I just don’t feel like being part of the commerce. I know that sounds really fussy, but I wish there was something artists could do to take back control of the distribution, and I know it’s possible. I have some anger around what is happening, so I get a little grumpy about it and not all that eager to hand over new music to the label, right.”
I get the sense that Cake fans want new music though.
“Yeah, it’s coming. It is.”
I checked your Twitter account (@CAKEMUSIC) and was struck by how political it is. Do you worry about alienating fans by not focusing on your music there?
“Personally I don’t really care about that because we’re teetering on the edge of a lot of bigger issues, bigger than whether a band has a new album coming out. I feel an obligation to use whatever paltry reach I have to do that, because at this juncture we need to try to communicate basic reality. There’s a psy-ops campaign being waged right now, and it’s wild.”
Have you considered running for politics?
“No, absolutely not. That’s terrifying. I don’t like public speaking that much, and what I’d like to do is more behind the scenes and help out somebody, or create a sort of new infrastructure. Part of the problem with politics is that the structure itself makes it nearly impossible for the right things to happen. I wouldn’t want to jump right into that, I think it’d be kinda ugly.”
CAKE 100 T-Shirts Contest | Voter Registration https://t.co/aFSyTjWTIQ
— CAKE MUSIC (@CAKEMUSIC) August 10, 2022
I see that you have a contest where people can win one of 100 autographed T-shirts (“I ‘heart’ Democracy) if they sign up to vote. How’s that going, and what was the inspiration for that promo?
“Yes, I have to bribe people to vote (laughs). I used to make T-shirts a long time ago, just trying to make a living, so I have a history with that, and I was messing around with ideas. It’s about doing whatever we can do. I’d hate to look back on this period of time with regret that I was doing nothing.”
I’m intrigued by the “Cake Forest.” Looks like a tree-planting initiative, correct?
“Yeah, it’s been happening for around 10 years, where we give a tree away at our shows and then we get a photograph of the person standing next to their newly planted tree, and we put it on a map on our website where people can check out these trees all over the world. Most of them are alive and getting really big, and some of them are providing, you know, peaches, or apples for some guy in Germany. It’s not necessarily an environmental statement we’re making, it just seems like a fundamental human experience. Every human should plant at least one tree in their lifetime. I remember planting a tree outside my apartment in Sacramento when we were just starting up the band, and then I moved, and 10 years later I went back, and this three-foot thing that I put in the ground was probably 25 or 30 feet high. I didn’t ask for permission to plant it so it was kinda illegal, but it just blew my mind. Planting a tree sort of dwarfs a sense of time, I don’t know. So I think everyone should plant a tree.”
Not blowing smoke here, but I think your cover of ‘I Will Survive’ is top-10 in rock music history. Have you met Gloria Gaynor, and what does she think of the version you did?
“No, she’s not into it. I think she’s an evangelical Christian now, and she’s not into the profanity that I added. I don’t know how she feels about it musically, but I know she does not dig the F word in there, and I respect her position. If I were religious, I’d probably be upset about that too. But I like her version, and remember it when I was a child, and that’s why I covered it. It’s just slightly more masculine and has a bit more anger in it, thus the F word.”
Looks like you’re only playing outdoor shows this summer, and not all that many of them, in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.
“I’m not all that keen to play indoor shows right now, because I don’t think people have figured out this whole pandemic yet. I don’t want to be responsible for cramming a bunch of people into an indoor concert hall.”
Do you have the five-piece band on the road right now?
“Yes, it’s the same lineup we’ve had for, I don’t know, 10 years or so.”
Should people expect all the hits?
“No, actually. We don’t use a set list so we just sort of ask ourselves what song we feel like playing as we go, so it’s not totally dependable that we’ll play all the hits. We end playing most of the songs people have glommed onto or get played on the airwaves, but it really depends on how it feels in the room, in the amphitheatre. It’s all about not having to fake your way through. Like, if we can actually play the song we actually feel like playing, the whole thing works out better for the audience.”
The Summer Night Concerts will run every evening the PNE Fair is open, starting Saturday, Aug. 20 on the GMC Stage in the PNE Amphitheatre.
The full list of 2022 Summer Night Concerts:
Saturday, August 20 – The B-52s Farewell Tour
Sunday, August 21 – Blue Rodeo
Tuesday, August 23 – Barenaked Ladies with Special Guest Kim Mitchell
Wednesday, August 24 – CAKE
Thursday, August 25 – Vancouver Symphony Orchestra – Classical Mystery Tour: A Tribute to the Beatles
Friday, August 26 – Stars of Drag – “A Night of True Colours”
Saturday, August 27 – Gipsy Kings Feat. Nicolas Reyes
Sunday, August 28 – Chicago
Tuesday, August 30 – Steve Miller Band
Wednesday, August 31 – TLC & Shaggy
Thursday, September 1 – Brothers Osborne
Friday, September 2 – Nelly
Saturday, September 3 – BACHMAN CUMMINGS
Sunday, September 4 – The Beach Boys – Sixty Years of the Sounds of Summer
Monday, September 5 – Chaka Khan & Patti LaBelle