“It feels like, in a general sense, that the band is just hunkering down into the barrel of a cannon, about to be shot like a circus clown across the circus tent,” Cake singer John McCrea tells Billboard.com.
Indeed, the Sacramento, Calif.-based modern rock act has reason to feel that way, with a hit single in “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” and encouraging sales of “Comfort Eagle,” its fourth album, and first for Columbia,
Last month, the set debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Internet Album Sales chart, and at No. 13 on The Billboard 200. “Comfort Eagle,” which stands at No. 47 on the album chart this week, has sold more than 208,000 copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan. The single, which peaked at No. 7 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart, is currently at No. 12 in its 11th week on the chart.
Part of the song’s success can be pinned on a quartet of video clips supporting “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” that McCrea conceived and financed. In each, the band isn’t seen. Instead, as the song plays in the background, a series of random people on the street comment on it as they listen to it through headphones.
“I was sick of the idea of doing another video,” McCrea says of the concept. “I’m not against all videos. I would just like to have an interesting video, rather than an uninteresting video.”
Initially, McCrea says the clip was met with resistance from Columbia. “Some people at the label told me that MTV didn’t like it. And then a week later, I hear that people from MTV had seen it and were putting it under a ‘groundbreaking video’ thing and in high rotation,” he says, laughing. “So, I don’t know what happened, and I’m not sure if anybody will tell me.”
“Either way,” he continues, “I’ve learned a lesson. If you have a gut instinct, you should just hang on really tightly, and not let people dissuade you. Because I was almost thinking that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, for a second there, and then someone that I knew said, ‘Well, actually, it’s a really good idea. You should just not take their phone calls for a week,’ which is sort of what I did … and I’m just glad that it worked out.”
And it has worked out. The video has been in the top-20 of MTV’s most-played videos for more than a month, according to Broadcast Data Systems, which monitors airplay.
After playing a handful of dates around the album’s release, including a free headlining show as part of Atlanta’s On The Bricks series of concerts for 90,000 people, the band kicked off a short U.S. tour last week with a show at the Roseland Theater in Portland, Ore.
“It’s like being a truck driver or a carny,” McCrea says, making no secret of his distaste for the touring process. “There’s a sort of greasiness to it that I don’t appreciate all the time, in terms of the food, and also having to just sort of slip through towns at night. It can make you feel insincere, because there’s no investment to any particular community. You just play a show and move on. It’s like that whole, bulls**t ‘ramblin’ man’ thing.”
“People who I know who have been on tour for a long time are usually alcoholics or heroin addicts,” he adds. “I never understood why so many musicians just bit the dust on drugs, and I was always very critical of that until I had to start going on tour for two years at a time. You know, basically saying good-bye to your family, your friends, your houseplants, the walk that you take in the morning … All those things are wrenched away from you. And substituted in their place you have people from radio station that the day before were shaking hands with, I don’t know, Staind or Linkin Park. It’s like ‘insert music product here.’ It’s like you’re really being dispensed. Which is fine, and it really is efficient, but it’s kind of soul destroying.”
So much so, McCrea says, that “our drummer [Todd Roper] just quit. He made the album with us and the idea of leaving his two children for a two years was just too wrenching.” In Roper’s place, the band has drafted Pete McNeal to provide Cake’s backbeat on the road.
Along with theatre and club dates, Cake is hitting a few festivals along the way. The group played Seattle’s annual Bumbershoot Festival on Labor Day, and will perform during San Diego’s Street Scene (Sept. 7) and Chicago’s Oyster Fest (Sept. 8). After a brief European tour in October, it’s probable that the band will launch a more extensive North American tour sometime after that.
“I’m sure we’ll be strong armed into that,” McCrea laments. “I know that the record company wants us to tour, and that’s what we have to do, but I almost think that we could make a lot more albums if we didn’t have to stay out for two years at a time.”