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NIGHT LIFE

On a Roll : Sacramento-based quintet has a quirky sound of its own that has won it fans and a contract. It plays in Ventura on Saturday.

March 23, 1995|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You can have your Cake and hear it too when the calorie-conscious Sacramento quintet brings its stripped-down melodies to Nicholby's Upstairs in Ventura on Saturday night.

The Cake boys are touring in support of their debut disc, "Motorcade of Generosity," already a hit in the state capital and surrounding area.

Last year, the band played at a Bay Area convention--one of those schmooze-a-thons where scores of bands play for hundreds of music-industry slugs who consume thousands of beers and wouldn't know a hook if they went fishing with the Beatles.

But in the case of Cake, somebody must have been paying attention. The band found a manager, then quickly inked a sweet deal with Nashville-based Capricorn Records, which released the album last month. Now they can probably at least afford Twinkies all around.

John McCrea is the singer/songwriter who is partially to blame for the band's quirky sound--sort of They Might Be Giants meets Spencer the Gardener in King Missile's garage. Aside from McCrea, also eager to see their names in the paper are lead guitarist Greg Brown, bassist Victor Damiani, drummer Todd Roper and trumpeter Vince DiFiore.

During a recent roadside stop in Norman, Okla., it was Brown's turn to do the day's interview.

Can you guys afford to eat cake now?

No, we can't. (But) the album is doing very well, and it's getting picked up by several alternative stations.

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Will you be able to afford cake in five years?

Well, hopefully, we'll still be turning out good records and hope everyone likes them as much as we do. We also hope to have dental insurance, and some of that stuff other people have. Right now, we're living hand to mouth.

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What's the deal on the deal?

We're not rich rock stars; we opted for creative control instead of shooting for a hefty advance. It's more flashy to get money, but being able to call the shots is more important to us. Also, if you get an advance, you have to pay it back.

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How has life changed since you got the deal with Capricorn?

We actually quit our day jobs before we signed the deal. We were doing OK with our band before, but we're doing better now. All the business has been taken out of our hands, like promoting the band and booking shows, since we now have a manager, a booking agent and a label. Now we can pay more attention to the music.

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How did Cake get going?

The way all bands get started. It's all very licentious. You see someone you like and steal them from another band. It's a pretty established procedure.

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Would Pete Wilson wear a Cake shirt?

I dunno. Why would you ask that? I guess Pete Wilson would probably wear a Cake shirt, but for the wrong reasons.

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Your band has played a lot of coffee shop gigs. Is the world on caffeine?

There's been a serious coffee boom, and definitely on the West Coast. I remember when Sacramento had one coffee shop, now there's one every block. They're all over the place. The local Sacramento music scene is excellent. It's very diverse and there's a lot of talent. You'd be surprised.

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What's the difference between a sober coffee audience as opposed to a bunch of drunks screaming for you to play "Stairway to Heaven"?

Well, we think the coffeehouse atmosphere is tailored to our kind of sound, although we don't have a preference when it comes to playing for drunk or sober people. I know at a coffee shop, it's less likely that some big . . . guy will go thrashing his way through the dancers and scare all the girls away. Also, sober audiences are more inclined to sing along, and I don't mean campfire songs, but just more participatory.

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Do people dance, stare or take good notes?

People dance and have a good time, although there is the occasional guy back in the corner scratching his goatee because he hasn't read the reviews yet and can't decide whether we're cool or not. But the ordinary, non-musician people come and enjoy it. But we're not a party band, good-time, feelin' fine band.

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What is the sound of Cake?

It's hard-edged, easy-listening music that's fairly low volume but not folksy, economical in its arrangement but not boring, and really exciting and dynamic with good songwriting.

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Do you guys know something other bands don't by using a trumpet player?

We like having a trumpet player, although he's just one guy and not a horn section. He sort of merges with us.

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Can Cake play longer than the Grateful Dead?

Not that long, but we have quite a few songs. We can play three sets of mostly originals if we have to, but we don't want to. But we're happy with what we're doing. We just want to keep making music we enjoy, and maybe get a dental plan.

Details

* WHAT: Cake, Zoo Story.

* WHEN: Saturday, about 9 p.m.

* WHERE: Nicholby's Upstairs, 404 E. Main St., Ventura.

* HOW MUCH: $5.

* CALL: 653-2320.

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