CAKE à la mode: A band makes a hit song into a beautiful book

[Alyson Kuhn] CAKE performs at concerts all over the world: New York to London, Barcelona to Berlin, Sacramento, California … we are leaving again. These are lyrics from a song titled “Bound Away” on the band’s most recent album, Showroom of Compassion — which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200. CAKE recently collaborated with BANDmade Books to transform “Bound Away” into a limited-edition book.

In our listening lifetimes, the music industry has added value and delight to the actual auditory experience by extending it onto ephemera, the best of which have become highly collectible — from record jackets, CD liners and elaborate inserts to concert tickets, programs and posters. BANDmade Book’s creative crossover between making music and making books … truly takes the cake. This book is a tactile treat.

CAKE’s Gabe Nelson (bass guitar, backing vocals) recalls, “When Pam DeLuco [founder of BANDmade Books] asked CAKE if we’d be interested in making a book, I was really doing my best to convince the bandmates that we ought to accept her invitation. I had made paper for about a year at the Evanescent Press in a little town called Leggett, in Mendocino County. The business owner, John Stahl, is a very creative person whom I admire and respect. Only the grinder made use of electricity — everything else was manually operated. I was averaging about 100-plus sheets per shift. It was the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had — after music, that is. In fact, I hope to return to it someday.”

CAKE accepted DeLuco’s invitation, and the band’s values and aesthetics provided the inspiration for the materials and processes used. As it happens, CAKE gives away a tree at every concert — so recycled and reclaimed materials were a natural. The bandmembers became involved — we are talking very hands-on — in every step of the process.

Xan McCurdy (guitar) arranged the wood letters of AWAY during a pre-production meeting, and his arrangement made the cover.

McCurdy gave a far-ranging interview to Oregon Music News earlier this month, including this description of making the Bound Away book: “We all got our hands dirty through every step of the process. It was a lesson on the power of a book. Pam used such old-school mechanics to make it. She had this old printing press that you’ve gotta turn with your hand on a crank. It was a pretty giant piece of machinery for the time. I don’t know when this press was dating from, but just imagine at the time if you owned one of these then, you had a lot of power. You could print up a thousand flyers and have yourself a revolution.”

The paper for the book’s cover is made from the band’s old cotton clothing. Four Barrel Coffee, a San Francisco roastery, donated jute coffee sacks that were processed to become the pulp for the end sheets. The interior pages are letterpress printed (from metal type and linoleum blocks) on Mohawk Loop Antique Vellum Milkweed, made from 100% pcw.

I ask Paulo Baldi (drums, backing vocals) if working on the project reminded him in any way of working on music. He exclaims, “There were no similarities at all! In making the book, I was cold and wet from dunking screens full of pulp in and out of water for hours. There was loud machinery churning what looked like colored oatmeal. I made a lot of mistakes the first few dozen times.” Obviously, he got the hang of it, because he adds, “It was very satisfying to see the final dried paper, with all its imperfections, stacked up — and later to see the actual finished book come to light.”

I ask Baldi how he feels about all those imperfections, and I think his answer belongs on a T-shirt: “It is all the imperfections that make the book unique — it would never have looked so cool if every page was the same. I think people would read more books if they all had a little more character.”

And, speaking of T-shirts, Nelson comments, “John [John McCrea: lead vocals, acoustic guitar] worked with ink quite a bit in the days when he made band T-shirts.” McCrea affirms, “And we chose to give the proceeds from the book sales to organizations that have to do with reading and writing and letterpress printing. We believe in keeping these things alive somehow.”

Back to making the book: DeLuco, who served as project manager and creative director, also recruited a group of dedicated volunteers — book artists, papermakers, letterpress enthusiasts all — to help at various stages. She comments, “Their commitment — and consistency — contributed so much to the quality of the finished piece. It was great, because they got to feel like they owned their work and everyone’s skills improved with so much repetition.”

Each cover is one of a kind, since the paper is made from the band’s old clothes. And each is incredibly cool.

Of the day spent carving the linoleum blocks, bandmember Vince DiFiore (trumpet, keyboards, backing vocals) enthuses, “Working with a group of people in a quiet room for the detailed carving of the linoleum blocks was a gratifying way of being social. Conversation came easy and moods were lifted with the shared common goal.” It might be my imagination, but his description seems pretty lyrical. In my head, I’m hearing a song about the making of the book!

The book is selling briskly in CAKE’s store — and one copy already resides in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Library Archives.

Book photos: Yvonne Israel-O’Hare. Band photos: Tim Jackson (outdoors) and Robert McKnight (indoors).

Proceeds from the sale of Bound Away will support programs at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisc., and 826 Valencia in San Francisco.

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Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Pam on 09.20.11 at 8:37 am

    Listened to the song while I read this piece!!! Great comment by Paulo: “It is all the imperfections that make the book unique — it would never have looked so cool if every page was the same. I think people would read more books if they all had a little more character.” So true.

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