For quirky jam-pop band Cake, a cult favorite that has seen an increasingly long time between releases during its 20-year-career, a new album is a big deal. The occasion Showroom Of Compassion’s release is an even bigger deal for fans who are also drummers since it marks the most thorough document yet of Paulo Baldi’s rhythmic magic with the Sacramento quintet.
Showroom is a mostly unadulterated taste of the 38-year-old’s sumptuous, mouthwatering pocket. We say “mostly” because Showroom has the odd programmed beat (“Long Time”), samples, and a few sliced and diced parts, but that’s just Cake’s patch-work-y studio technique. Baldi’s deep, sternum-cleaving, so-simple-it’s-profound groove is still the glue that holds this whimsical music mongrel together. “That’s kind of the recipe for the band,” he says. “Everybody is playing something very simple and sparse, and because of that, if they’re all fitting in that little piece of the puzzle of a song arrangement, it doesn’t sound like you’re missing anything.”
For Baldi, bridging the gap between the Showroom tunes he’s been playing for the last year and a half and the still-new-sounding album is one of the best parts of his job. “We try to be true to the records,” he says. “Some things just work better on a recording and some things work better live. When there is a backbeat snare but then cascading tom fills that obviously are either overdubbed or drum machine, that’s when I kind of have to do a variation.”
The ability to keep a solid, supportive beat throughout a song is no easy task, even for a time master like Baldi, who also plays drums with Les Claypool’s Fancy Band. “It’s very easy for me to play too much, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing when you’re experimenting with a song, because you’re always going to come up with more parts than you end up keeping.” When he does serve up some drummistic flare on Showroom it feels essential rather than tacked on. “Drum fills are less of an indulgence on the recording as it is more of just like a simple statement of where the song is going next.”
Baldi grew up in Denver, where he did the usual horsing around in school band until instructor Dell Brickley got him on the right path. “We’d challenge him every day on books that we thought were way too hard and he would just sight-read it,” Baldi recalls. “He would just blow us away.” Baldi came to the San Francisco Bay Area around 2000 to study tabla and ended up playing with members of Ali Khan, the famed multigenerational Pakistani music family. “It always seems like the percussion side of drumming was a completely different road of music,” he says. “And I was also a rock drummer at the same time and I was finding ways to combine both making these hybrids kits and being this one-person percussion section.”
Esoteric beats and eclectic setups were not in demand by the rock world, but the experimental vibe of his rhythmic trip got him noticed. “Once I got out there and played all these instruments, the phone did ring, and when they saw that I was enjoying it, and it was adding a lot to their music, the phone just kept ringing.”