Genre-busting band Cake blends music and politics

For two decades, Cake has been one of those rare bands that doesn't really fit any set genre.

Or, it does and it doesn't. While the five-man Sacramento group certainly could be labeled "alternative rock," its stylistic contrariness, musical diversity and general quirkiness can make easy associations difficult. It's not uncommon, for instance, to hear country, electronic or Latin music worm its way onto a Cake album. Or hip-hop. Or gypsy. No subgenre is completely out of the question.

"It wasn't a strategy as much as we'd get really bored," says frontman John McCrea of Cake, which headlines WEND 106.5's sold-out Not So Acoustic Xmas concert Friday at Amos' Southend. "I love music too much to be married to one genre. When I say that, it means opera and country-western, heavy metal and rock and Gregorian chants.

"There's something so sad about when people cling nervously to one genre and don't want to step out of line culturally. Most of it's out of fear. People do that with leather jacket fashion and sunglasses and shoes. If you're in a punk band or bluegrass band or classical music, people want you to stay true to your school, like when Bob Dylan went electric in the '60s."

Cake has followed the path less taken in other respects, as well. It released its latest album - the well-received "Showroom of Compassion" - in January, marking its first in seven years During that time, the band parted with its label, started its own and built a solar-powered studio.

"I've always been pretty aware of environmental issues growing up in a town (Sacramento) that had an unsafe nuclear power plant. In order to get around regulations about radiation in the water, they boiled it and released radioactive steam into the air," adds McCrea.

The songs on "Showroom" echo McCrea's concerns with the "state of the world," and on its website, the group posts articles focusing on political, social and economic concerns.

"Our government is a thin paint job over the actual power structure, which is obviously corporate," he says. "We're not going to get the right things and the kinds of things that are good for people, consistently, unless people become more aware of politics. ... It's unpleasant, but especially during tumultuous times, it's essential for people to keep some kind of awareness around them."

Fans don't always support his politics.

"We get emails that say, 'If you post one more political thing, I'm not going to stop listening to your music, but I'll steal it from now on.' It's sort of funny, but sort of disturbing," he says. "Even successful artists are sort of hanging by a thread lately. They don't want to stir things up and risk their livelihoods. I understand why you'd want to shut up and sing."