Like many other musicians, Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s Jennie Cotterill got hit pretty hard when live music shut down because of COVID-19. She and her bandmates had just kicked off a European tour, were just a few months away from releasing their third album, The Ride, on Fat Wreck Chords, and were generally preparing for a year full of punk rock.
When those plans fell through, Cotterill needed both a new form of income and something to keep her busy to stave off some quarantine-induced depression, and thus Jennie Bakes Things was born.As an illustrator-turned-baker, the new business gave her the opportunity to combine her art skills with her baking talents — all without having to leave her Southern California home.
While she’s spent much of the last year and a half figuring out the ins and outs of running her own business, Cotterill has big plans for Jennie Bakes Things. With a steady demand for her custom handmade cakes just from an Instagram account alone, she’s focused on taking the next steps (like a website, or not needing to personally walk through every single detail of every single cake with each client) and hopefully finding some local cafes, record stores, and/or other establishments who would want to stock a cooler of her adorable delicacies for those wanting a less personalized — and less costly — experience.
SPIN spoke with the Bad Cop/Bad Cop guitarist, vocalist, and visual artist about her new foray into the baking world.
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SPIN: What made you decide to start a cake business?
Jennie Cotterill: Well, I had picked up a side gig between tours working at a bakery about 5 years ago. A friend of mine who’s a pastry chef was like “I don’t have time to do these sugar cookies, do you need a side job?” Then she left shortly after hiring me, and I became the only baker there. I also studied illustration and 3D art, so I had to lean on the skills that I do have, because I didn’t go to pastry school or anything. I was like “Well, I’ll follow the recipes.. and I’ll make this look really cool!” That became what the bakery was known for. Then at the start of 2020, we had this record and a whole year of tour booked out, and I finally found somebody that I could trust to leave the bakery to when we were touring. The bakery was so nice to me, but they’d get mad because we couldn’t only offer this great service six months out of the year. I found this other artist who was also a pastry chef, hired her and left.
We went to Europe for two weeks before COVID shut everything down and I came home. So I had quit my job, and now there was no more touring, so I was just piecing together work, like sewing masks and just like scrapping things together. My friend wanted a birthday cake for his daughter — because being a child during the pandemic is brutal — so I made a cake for him. I don’t know why I was resistant to having that be my job, but I think I felt like I was betraying the job that I quit. I eventually came to realize that was silly, and this is what I have survived on since. I freelanced a lot as an illustrator and an artist over the years, but this is my favorite medium because there’s a time limit. You can’t spend too long on it or it gets stale and gross.
Is there anything you learned from being in a band that’s been helpful with your cake business or vice versa?
Well, I know my art skills definitely help both. Every band has to have an artist — otherwise your stuff looks like shit or you have to pay someone to do it — so that’s me. The backdrop I use to take pictures of all the cakes, I made for our record cover. It was a 3D model that needed a big sky background, so I painted a couple of different skies, took it to my friend to photograph, and this was the best one. Then when we crashed home after COVID, I had to do a livestream and I was like “How do I make this not look like shit?” So I hung it up and it’s never come down. So yeah, I was branding the band and then cannibalized it to brand myself out of convenience with what I had on hand.
From a creative standpoint, how does designing a cake compare to writing and performing music?
It’s funny, because I don’t consider “performance” a skill of mine. I’m in this band with these very talented people, and sometimes other people’s strengths become this funhouse mirror of how you see yourself. So I really came to not consider myself a performer because I can’t jump and scream and make everybody go crazy. I’m more of a creative person, and I’m always making things out of whatever is around, so that’s what I’m doing here. I’m always just gushing music and artwork.
Is there any advice you’d have to someone else who wants to get into the cake business?
Well one thing that I’m always trying to overcome, is that I’m not a business-oriented person. I’m like “These are my skills. I can do this. Hopefully, this will pay for things.” For example, my business at the moment exists entirely on Instagram, and there will be moments throughout the day where I remember that’s not OK. I’m actually meeting with a friend of mine who’s going to help me with a website. Also, cleaning up the intake is a goal of mine, rather than sending emails and, God forbid, getting on the phone with somebody — which is literally how I take orders. I just want to make it a little less messy, more professional and smoother. Sometimes I fantasize that if I had a 12-year-old child they would handle my social media, but I don’t.
Anyway, you have to learn to account for your time. I have a hard time pricing things honestly, and when I do price honestly, there is like a 50% attrition rate and I just have to accept it and not apologize. The alternative is that I’m paying to give someone something — which I will if we’re friends and it’s a symbiotic thing, but not for a customer who just thinks it costs too much money. I’ve purchased a cake from professional bakeries and been disgusted and shocked at what they cost. It’s like in [2008 film] Be Kind Rewind, these are “sweded” cakes, it’s not off a menu. This is not some crap made in a factory that lived in a freezer for 9 months before it comes to you off-center on a cake board. So yeah, I’ve had to learn what I’m worth and be OK with people saying no or trying to negotiate, because I totally get that too. I don’t have a lot of disposable income, so I have sympathy for those people.
Is there anything else that you’d want to share about the intersection of your interests between cake, music, and illustration?
Well, they are all mixed together in my dreams sometimes where I’m like making a cake on a bus out of whatever I can find. That’s funny to me, because it’s like “Alright, you’re in all of it all the way.” I feel like my music — while it does literally take me away from this work — has bolstered my business, because a good percentage of my customer base is people that like the band, which is pretty cool. Aside from at a show — and especially during the pandemic, which was so isolating — I just assume that nobody listens to any of our music or remembers that any of us exist or cares. So it’s kind of cool when I’m halfway through a cake with somebody and they’re like “Oh, by the way, I love that record.” It’s like “Wow, cool! Thanks for listening to it — and for finding me and ordering a cake.”