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Project Studio: Cake Facility Goes Solar

Alternative pop-rock band Cake first gained widespread attention in the mid-'90s for ironic, iconoclastic music that flew in the face of mainstream trends.

The members of Cake in their project studio, from left: John McCrea, Xan McCurdy (standing at the keyboard), Gabe Nelson and Vince DiFiore

Alternative pop-rock band Cake first gained widespread attention in the mid-’90s for ironic, iconoclastic music that flew in the face of mainstream trends. With its clever mash-up of styles, Cake’s carefully cultivated sound garnered the band a loyal fan base. Relishing complete creative control over their music, the members of Cake (John McCrea, vocals and guitar; Vince DiFiore, trumpet; Gabe Nelson, bass; and Xan McCurdy, guitar) purchased a two-bedroom house in Sacramento, Calif., for use as their personal recording studio and rehearsal space, beginning with production for their 2004 album, Pressure Chief. All four members share in recording duties.

Committed to protecting the environment, the members of Cake are producing their sixth album — which is untitled as of this writing and slated for release in mid- to late 2010 — entirely on solar power. Bandmembers contracted Boston-based renewable energy company Borrego Solar to install solar paneling on the band’s house and documented the installation in a two-minute video, which is available at “We did it for personal reasons,” DiFiore says. “As a band, you’re always aware of things like climate change and energy shortages. We had to do something. [Borrego Solar] keeps up on panel technology and uses photovoltaic cells that are the lightest and most efficient.

“The conversion box is continually making electricity, which is either used in the house or sent back into the city’s [electrical power] grid, and you get credited for it on your [electric] bill,” DiFiore continues. “We have a negative balance on our SMUD [Sacramento Municipal Utility District] bill. It’s working out really well.” Sacramento-based mix engineer Patrick Olguin, who helps Cake with overdubbing and mixes their album tracks in their studio, concurs: “I was a little bit skeptical, but it’s really painless — the noise level is a little bit lower in there. We don’t seem to be having the computer problems we’ve had.”

The house’s living room is set up as a tracking space for a drum set, keyboards, antique upright piano, various acoustic instruments, guitars, basses and vocals. “John [McCrea] found a place for his vocals right in front of the fireplace because there’s a mantle there,” di Fiore says. One bedroom is used as a secondary tracking space while the other bedroom serves as the control room.

For recording and mixing, Cake depends on a 2.66GHz dual-processor Mac Pro running Pro Tools LE, a Digidesign 003 FireWire audio interface, Universal Audio 6176 tube preamp/compressor and Tannoy Reveal monitors. Mics include models from Shure (SM57s, KSM27, Beta 52A), RØDE and Sennheiser. “Their environment is totally in the box,” Olguin says. “When I’m working in my place, I’m an out-of-the-box mixer. Probably one of the biggest challenges [in mixing] is getting everything to sound like I want it to sound inside the box.

“It’s just a crazy home environment,” Olguin says of Cake’s space. “I like it. It’s comfortable and I can see why they like to record there.” DiFiore adds, “We’ve made a good space and we’re just going to keep on recording songs, even after this album is released.”