Here’s just some of the great media attention Cracker has been receiving for their summer tour in support of their recent double-album Berkeley To Bakersfield….
Campout preview with CVB photo
Campout 11 By Falling James The interrelated alt-rock bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker host the 11th edition of their three-day festival in Pioneertown, with a lineup of musicians whose work often celebrates the harsh beauty of the surrounding Mojave Desert. The fest starts indoors on Thursday with stripped-down sets from Cracker and the endearingly homespun country workouts of Atlanta’s The Whiskey Gentry, but the party moves outdoors Friday night for full-band performances by The Whiskey Gentry and those ever-sardonic bards of the open road, Camper Van Beethoven, following a solo turn by CVB violinist-guitarist Jonathan Segel. On Saturday night, CVB singer David Lowery steps into the ring with his other band, Cracker, while former Gram Rabbit diva Jesika Von Rabbit provides a more modern contrast with her new electronic-based dance-floor reveries, preceding late-night visits by CVB’s Victor Krummenacher and Frank Funaro. Also Saturday, Aug. 29. http://www.laweekly.com/event/campout-11-5719006
(Albuquerque daily) – Positive show preview with Cracker photo and Gondola Session “Almond Grove” video
Launchpad with Camper Van Beethoven By Adrian Gomez Alternative rock outfit Cracker is touring in support of its double-disc album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield.” (Courtesy of BradFord Jones) David Lowery has had quite a week. Not only has the leader of alternative rock band Cracker been planning a tour, he’s been dealing with the rigors of back to school. Lowery teaches a music business college course at University of Georgia in Athens, Ga. “There are like 35,000 students and there was a computer glitch with my building,” he says during a recent phone interview. “We’ve come a long ways with technology, but nobody can really plan for it. But it’s fixed now, and all is good.” Lowery is finding that teaching and touring works out well for him. He teaches his class Tuesdays through Thursdays. “This gives me time for weekend tours,” he says. “And during the summer I have off, which is when we get the majority of the touring done.” Lowery and Cracker are currently on the last leg of the tour for the double disc album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” which was released in 2014. The band includes Johnny Hickman, Bryan Howard, CoCo Owens, Thayer Sarrano and Matt Stoessel. Lowery says the writing process took a few years for the current album. Yet, it wasn’t because there were problems. “We basically wrote four albums,” he says. “We did the two-disc album for Cracker and also two albums released under Camper Van Beethoven. That’s a lot of material to be writing.” Despite the amount of work, Lowery says the band was ready for the project. “We knew what we were getting into,” he says. “We’ve always worked hard and have bounced back and forth between touring and writing material all of our career. This time it was just more time writing in a huge block of time. Now we’re touring the material and it’s great to get it out there. Cracker With Camper Van Beethoven WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 1 WHERE: Launchpad, 618 W. Central HOW MUCH: $20 plus fees at holdmyticket.com or 886-1251 http://www.abqjournal.com/635276/entertainment/cracker.html
(Albuquerque weekly) – Positive show preview with band photos and videos
Tuesday Camper Van Beethoven This week’s live music fiesta verges on the fantastic (see above paragraphs) but the highlight for this spaced-out music writer will happen on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at the Launchpad (618 Central SW). That’s when David Lowery and both of his gloriously storied musical projects appear in the Duke City. The bands I refer to are known as Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. I can’t say enough about the punkified, So-Cal folk-rock sounds of Camper Van Beethoven; they’re one of the reasons I smile every morning on the way to work. There’s a copy of Telephone Free Landslide Victory stuck in the Blaupunkt CD player in my beat-up old Bimmer. When the strains of “Take the Skinheads Bowling” or “The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon” pour out the speakers, I’m exactly where I want to be. Of course Lowery’s work in post-CVB outfit Cracker is just fine by me too. I’ll take “Low” as well as his later, Bakersfield scene-influenced twangy-ness any day of the week, thank you. Brush your hair back from your eyes in the back of “Joe Stalin’s Cadillac” and let Lowery and company take you through the “Eye of Fatima” for a mere $20. Doors are at 7 pm and the show begins at 8 pm http://alibi.com/music/49633/Theyre-Playing-Your-Song.html LAS CRUCES SUN NEWS
(Las Cruces, NM daily) – Brief Pinos Altos, NM show preview with Cracker photo Five more things to do Monday Pinos Altos welcomes rockers, Cracker Renowned rockers, Cracker, with special guests Camper Van Beethoven will perform at 7 p.m. Monday at the Buckhorn Saloon, in Pinos Altos. Cover is $20. http://www.lcsun-news.com/las_cruces-entertainment/ci_28706084/five-more-things-do
SILVER CITY SUN NEWS
(Silver City, NM daily) – Pinos Altos, NM show preview/feature
Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker to rock Buckhorn Saloon Pioneering alt rock bands perform Aug. 31 in Pinos Altos By Shannon Seyler PINOS ALTOS >> Two pioneering alternative rock bands, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, will be appearing live at the Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House in Pinos Altos on Monday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. Founded in California in 1983, Camper Van Beethoven rose to prominence with singles, EPs and albums including “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” “Vampire Can Mating Oven,” “New Roman Times,” and a well-received cover of Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” Their last two studio efforts are “La Costa Perdida” from 2013, and 2014’s “El Camino Real.” The band also had two songs included in the “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” soundtrack. Cracker was formed in 1991, and went on to release the popular “Kerosene Hat” album, as well as other albums including “The Golden Age,” “Garage d’Or,” “Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey,” and their 2014 “Berkeley to Bakersfield” release. Cracker’s singles include “Euro-Trash Girl,” “Low,” and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me,” which was used in the TV series “Californication.” The two bands share a common factor: David Lowery. He’s the founder and lead singer of Camper Van Beethoven and, along with Johnny Hickman, also co-founded Cracker. Hickman, Cracker’s lead guitarist, is looking forward to the August 31st show. “This will be our first time in Pinos Altos,” he says, “and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve had lots of great shows in Albuquerque, a few in Las Cruces, and we’ve even played Roswell a few times, which we really enjoyed.” He adds, “We’ve played old-time saloons once or twice before, but The Buckhorn sounds fantastic. We’re really looking forward to it.” Hickman, in addition to recording and touring with Cracker, has also been involved with a number of side projects, including the solo albums “Palmhenge” and “Tilting.” “We always play our radio hits,” Hickman says, “so folks will definitely hear ‘Low’, ‘Eurotrash Girl’ and ‘Get Off This’ at the show. We try to include material from all 10 albums, with more from the newest one, ‘Berkeley to Bakersfield.'” Thematically, “Berkeley to Bakersfield” explores two different musical currents, including a modern revisiting of the “Bakersfield Sound,” a genre popularized in the late 1950s by country legends like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. As Lowery explains in a press release, “This ‘Bakersfield’ disc represents the ‘California country’ side of the band. Throughout the band’s 24-year history, we’ve dabbled in country and Americana, but this time we wanted to pay homage to the particular strain of country and country-rock music that emerges from the inland valleys of California.” In terms of his current musical influences, Hickman says, “I like roots rock and country a lot, so I’ve been listening to that, both old and new. Most modern country sounds pretty contrived and predictable to me, but I really do like this new country band The Whiskey Gentry a lot. I also like a great new young rock band from Colorado called The Yawpers.” “We’re definitely a rock band first and foremost,” Hickman says, “but we’ve mixed country into our songwriting since the very first album. Recently, we put out this double disc that split the more country style songs onto the ‘Bakersfield’ disc and the rockers onto the ‘Berkeley’ disc. Anyone who likes roots rock and/or country will have a great time seeing Cracker.” Tickets for the Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker show are $20 at the door. For more information, call the Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House at 575-538-9911. http://www.scsun-news.com/silver_city-news/ci_28701123
SILVER CITY NEWS
(Silver City, NM daily) Pinos Altos how preview with Cracker photo
Rock Band Cracker performs at Buckhorn (Aug. 13) Renowned rock band Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven will be performing at 7 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Buckhorn Opera House, 32 Main St., Pinos Altos. Pictured here are Cracker’s Johnny Hickman and David Lowery. Their new double-album is titled, “Berkeley to Bakersfield.” Tickets are $20 and available at the door. No advance ticket sales. For information, call 575-538-9911. http://www.scsun-news.com/silver_city-news/ci_28627802
THE GRANT COUNTY BEAT
(Pinos Altos daily) Pinos Altos show preview
Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven to perform at Buckhorn The pioneering indie/alt rock acts Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven will be performing a local Pinos Altos show at 7 p.m. the Buckhorn Saloon on Monday, August 31. Collectively both bands have released four albums in the last two years as their own personal odes to the north and south regions of California – Cracker’s 2014 recent double album Berkeley to Bakersfield and CVB’s last two studio efforts, La Costa Perdida from 2013 and El Camino Real from 2014. In addition, CVB have two brand new songs that were recently included in the soundtrack for Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! [“We Got A Long Way To Go (To Get Away From This Sharknado)” and “Infinite Ocean”] Cost of admission is $20 http://www.grantcountybeat.com/events-calendar/local-events/23487-cracker-and-camper-van-beethoven-to-perform-at-buckhorn
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
(Flagstaff daily) Positive show preview
Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker (Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., Orpheum Theater). A great alt-rock show sure to be bristling with fun and charm is the duo-set of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. Singer-songwriter David Lowery has been a frontman for both, and is a key presence in the late 1980s and early 1990s alternative scene. The first band out of the gate of the two was Camper Van Beethoven. They had a curious alternative hit with the cheeky, nonsensical song “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” which was later covered by Teenage Fanclub and featured in the Michael Moore documentary “Bowling for Columbine.” Cracker arrived in the early 1990s and had some modern-rock hits, including “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” and “Low,” the later off their gold-selling album “Kerosene Hat.” Both bands have been active off and on through the years, but Cracker notably released its first album in five years at the end of 2014. It’s called “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” and the double album has one rock side and one country side, as the band has been known to dip into some California country roots” Learn more at www.crackersoul.com. http://azdailysun.com/entertainment/music/serenading-the-seasons-fall-concert-roundup/article_86579b09-6b1a-55cd-b149-950469934d0a.html
(Flagstaff A&E SITE) Positive show preview with Cracker photo
Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven Presented by The Orpheum Theater at The Orpheum Theater Sep 2nd Camper Van Beethoven is an American rock band formed in Redlands, California in 1983 and later located in Santa Cruz and San Francisco. Their style mixes elements of pop, ska, punk rock, folk, alternative country, and world music. The band initially polarized audiences within the hardcore punk scene of California’s Inland Empire before finding wider acceptance and, eventually, an international audience. Their strong iconoclasm and emphasis on do-it-yourself values proved influential to the burgeoning indie rock movement. http://www.flagstaff365.com/event/detail/441927807/Cracker_Camper_Van_Beethoven
MONKEY GOOSE MAGAZINE
(online music site) Berkeley to Bakersfield review CRACKER – BERKELEY TO BAKERSFIELD ALBUM REVIEW Article by: Jason Robey
“We will fight you from the mountains / and we will fight you in the streets / and we will fight you from the valleys / you cannot take what isn’t yours.” The words that open “Torches and Pitchforks,” the first song on the latest album by Cracker, set the tone for a politically charged journey from one of the most liberal cities in America to one of the most conservative. Berkeley to Bakersfield is a double album, organized with more rock influenced songs on the first disc, titled “Berkeley” and the songs with a heavier country tinge on disc two, labeled “Bakersfield.” These distinctions reflect the political ideologies and musical influence of the cities for which they are respectively named. Both are located in California, less than 300 miles from each other. Vocalist David Lowery, also the founder of sister band Camper Van Beethoven, has been an outspoken critic of the compensation artists receive from streaming companies such as Pandora and Spotify, so he is no stranger to mixing politics and music. The “Berkeley” disc features a classic Cracker lineup of Lowery, guitarist Johnny Hickman, bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Michael Urbano. Faragher and Urbano were members of the band for the recording of their breakthrough album, 1993’s Kerosene Hat, and both left in 1993. The vibe of the “Berkeley” tracks is musically reminiscent of that era, filled with upbeat and mid-tempo bluesy-rock songs such as the catchy “March of the Billionaires” and the funky shuffle “El Cerrito.” The “Bakersfield” half of the album was recorded with a set of studio musicians, and is aligned with the twangy country sound for which its namesake city is known. There has always been a country influence in Cracker’s sound, but this set of songs is certainly the farthest they’ve ever explored that influence. Slide guitars, slap-back echoes and sparse instrumentation will take listeners’ minds to an old country & western bar when they listen to songs like “King of Bakersfield” and “California Country Boy.” This disc is much less political, and more about conjuring up images of road trips, outlaw fugitives and lost loves. Songs like “Almond Grove” and “When You Come Down” bring back memories of the Rolling Stones’ country-ish period around their Beggar’s Banquet and Let It Bleed albums. Start to finish, Berkeley to Bakersfield may be the strongest set Cracker has put out in awhile, and that this is a band that still has lots of great material left in them. http://monkeygoosemag.com/2015/08/cracker-berkeley-to-bakersfield-album-review/
L.A. WEEKLY THIS WEEK’S BEST CONCERTS, IN HANDY PLAYLIST FORM
Whether you want to party in the desert with Cracker or at the Shrine with A-Trak, it’s another great week for live music in Los Angeles. Friday Meanwhile, in the high desert, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven host their 11th annual Campout festival at Pappy & Harriet’s, with guests The Whiskey Gentry, Jonathan Segel, Jesika Von Rabbit and many more. http://www.laweekly.com/music/this-weeks-best-concerts-in-handy-playlist-form-5965478
THE DESERT SUN
(Inland Empire daily) – Campout feature/interview with David SoCal native brings visions of California to Campout Bruce Fessier
David Lowery went to high school in Redlands and college in Santa Cruz. So he has a keen understanding of the distinctions between southern and northern California. He formed his ’80s alternative rock band, Camper Van Beethoven, in Santa Cruz and recorded hits like “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” and “Low” for his next band, Cracker, in the high desert near Pioneertown, where he’s hosted the Campout music festival for 10 years. The 11th annual Campout runs Thursday through Saturday at Pappy & Harriet’s. But Lowery now spends most of his time on the East Coast. He teaches two music business classes at the University of Georgia, in his wife’s home town of Athens, and they have another house in Virginia. Lowery’s mother and sister still live in Redlands, but most of his visions of the Golden State these days come from California dreaming. In the past three years, Lowery has recorded two California-themed albums with Camper Van Beethoven – “La Costa Perdido,” and “El Camino Real” – and a two-disc LP with Cracker titled “From Berkeley to Bakersfield.” He discussed his California discourse in a recent telephone interview from a parked car in Athens, where hail beat loudly on his rooftop. THE DESERT SUN: Did living on the East Coast make you ruminate on California and influence your recent albums? DAVID LOWERY: Yeah, a little bit. We started recording and writing this stuff back around 2011 and we did a lot of that in California. The final mixes for the record we did mostly out here in Georgia. I know you’re very familiar with the Beach Boys’ “Holland” album and how their move to Holland inspired them to write about California. I was wondering if your separation from California had a similar impact on you. Yeah. Being away from California you’re able to romanticize it. You’re not bothered by the fact that you got stuck in the three-hour traffic jam on the 10 or there’s a brush fire. You remember the things you like about California, like the scenery and the geography and the complex culture and demographics of the state. I look at the last four discs we did as sort of the Joan Didion phase of my songwriting career — writing these essays that are sort of geographically-based. They paint a bigger portrait of the state. Was there a Joan Didion book that influenced you? “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” Victor Krummenacher from Camper Van Beethoven mentioned it when we first start(ed) on these songs and I had read the book before. I went back and started reading it again and, yeah, that was helpful. It sort of galvanized me to want to do this sort of project. Basically the Camper Van Beethoven records would explore the north and south of the state and the songs I had already started with Cracker, country stuff, represents the Bakersfield part of the state. Did you start writing the Camper Van Beethoven albums with a concept in mind? No. It started because we had gone down to play in Big Sur at the Henry Miller Library and we got rained out. That pushed it to the next weekend and we had a week where we weren’t doing anything. So we hung out and started writing the songs that were the basis of those two albums. And on the way there or the way back me and Jonathan (Segal) listened to the “Holland” album, which, as you mentioned, is sort of the Beach Boys looking at California. I don’t know if that unconsciously triggered us to write that way. Almost immediately we wrote “Northern California Girls.” That was sort of a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Beach Boys, but we set it in Northern California. Pretty much from the beginning we found ourselves writing about California. When you were living in Santa Cruz you must have encountered that Northern California disrespect for Southern California. Yeah, but, do you know what I found? I found the people who complained about Southern California the most actually were from Southern California and they moved to Northern California. My friends from Northern California were always up for a weekend to Hollywood or L.A. or the desert. I think more has been made of that and often times the real partisans are the real native Northern Californians. That’s why I think I find myself identifying with Southern California more even though I lived in both halves of the state. Was there a song about California that opened the flood gates for “Berkeley to Bakersfield”? I needed a track to establish the high concept on the Bakersfield disc and that was “California Country Boy.” I went to Nashville and wrote that with Trent Summar, who’s one of these perennial Nashville co-writer guys. I felt like to do the country record, it was almost like method acting. So, I go in there with Trent and, “Here’s my high concept. I want to explain that there’s cowboys, country boys in California,” and we banged that thing out in like two hours. So, that was the first one that really began to put that disc together. The Berkeley disc came together because we played with the original (Cracker) lineup — Davey Faragher and Michael Urbano — for this documentary and we started talking, “We should see if we could write some songs together.” We were in Berkeley and immersed in all that stuff: anarchist graffiti on the wall, posters saying like “Animal rights rally in People’s Park.” Michael had a few days at his very small projects studio in Berkeley and we went there and we banged out the Berkeley record in like three days. Berkeley became a character and the people became characters in a story. There are a lot of places in California that could be characters. Yeah, it’s actually odd that we left Palm Springs out. Is Pioneertown like the perfect place to reflect and play your California albums? Yeah. It’s our home base, really. It’s where we recorded our biggest albums. It’s where we rehearsed for a long time. Until fairly recently I had a place up there. Camper and Cracker are spread all over the world, so if there’s any place we come together anymore it’s Pioneertown.
Campout news What: Campout 11 When: Thursday-Saturday Where: Pappy & Harriet’s, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown Lineup: 8 p.m. Thursday inside: The Cracker Duo, the Whiskey Gentry and the Hickman-Dalton Gang. 7:15 p.m. Friday outside: Camper Van Beethoven, the Whiskey Gentry, Jonathan Segel; 6:45 p.m. indoor dinner show with The Dangers and late show with Johnny Hickman. 7:30 p.m. Saturday outside: Cracker, Jesika Von Rabbit, Thayer Sarrano; inside from 12:15 p.m. with Frank Funaro, Ashley Raines and more. Tickets: $75 all three days, $25 per night. All ages. Information: (760) 365-5956 or http://www.crackersoul.com/store http://www.desertsun.com/story/life/entertainment/music/2015/08/27/socal-native-brings-visions-california-campout/32368919/
THE DESERT SUN
(Inland Empire daily) – Campout preview
THURSDAY-SATURDAY Outdoor music fest: Campout is a gathering of like-minded music fans who just happen to love David Lowery’s two bands, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. They come back year after year and some become friends who meet up even when Lowery is not in the vicinity. Read more about the music at this year’s 11th annual Campout in the story in this section Campout 11, featuring the Cracker Duo, the Whiskey Gentry and the Hickman-Dalton Gang, 8 p.m. Thursday; Camper Van Beethoven, the Whiskey Gentry, Jonathan Segel, Johnny Hickman and The Dangers, 6:45 p.m. Friday, and Cracker, Jesika Von Rabbit, Thayer Sarrano, Ashley Raines and more on Saturday, Pappy & Harriet’s Saloon. $75 all three days, $25 per night. All ages. (760) 365-5956 http://www.desertsun.com/story/life/entertainment/people/brucefessierentertainment/2015/08/25/one-career-groucho-comic-coming-desert/32349029/
INLAND VALLEY DAILY BULLETIN
(Inland Empire daily) Positive Campout review/feature
Campout with Cracker By Wes Woods
Heading further east, the 11th annual Campout with Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven is set to take place Thursday through Saturday at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown. The location of the festival, according to officials, is the same place where Cracker recorded “Kerosene Hat” in 1993 featuring its hit single “Low.” The lineup for Thursday includes Cracker Duo, The Whiskey Gentry Duo and Hickman Dalton Gang, while the Friday show features headliner Camper Van Beethoven, The Whiskey Gentry and Jonathan Segel outside and The Dangers and Johnny Hickman inside (after CVB). For the final day, Saturday, headliner Cracker, Jesika von Rabbit and Thayer Sarrano will play outside. Playing inside on the final day are Ashley Raines, Curtsy, Victor Krummenacher and Frank Funaro. Cracker’s double album “Berkeley to Bakersfield” and Camper Van Beethoven’s album “El Camino Real” both launched last year. Tickets for the Campout are $75 for all three days or $25 for a single day. http://www.dailybulletin.com/arts-and-entertainment/20150824/campout-with-cracker-plus-awolnation-and-r-kelly-to-perform-in-the-inland-empire
THE PRESS ENTERPRISE
(Riverside daily) Positive Campout review/feature
PIONEERTOWN: Cracker’s new album taps into California’s gold The Inland-rooted band returns to Pappy & Harriet’s for its annual Campout shows Aug. 27-29 along with Camper Van Beethoven. BY DAVE GIL DE RUBIO
According to Google Maps, the geographic distance between Berkeley and Bakersfield is 276.4 miles. For David Lowery, it’s about two places so influential to the sound of his band that Cracker recently released a double album titled “Berkeley to Bakersfield.” The first CD crackles with guitar-driven alt-rock like the jangly “Beautiful” and its mention of pink Mohawks and Doc Marten combat boots, and the stomper “Life in the Big City.” Move on to Disc 2 and out come the pedal steel and fiddle, whether on the twangy “Almond Grove,” with its banjo nuances, or the honky-tonk shuffle “King of Bakersfield.” And while this combination may seem odd, that blend of roots rock and country riffing has been a hallmark dating to Cracker’s 1992 self-titled debut, when Lowery’s guitar-playing creative partner Johnny Hickman juiced up songs like the defiant “Can I Take My Gun to Heaven” and anthemic “I See the Light” with riffs that pulsed with the influence of Bakersfield legends Buck Owens and Don Rich. Lowery and Hickman both grew up among the orange groves of Redlands, but didn’t get together musically until they formed Cracker in Richmond, Va., years later. “The country thing is something that’s been around throughout our whole career,” Lowery explained in a recent interview. “So in 2004 we put out ‘Countrysides’ as a way of paying homage to our roots in that way. In 2013, we thought it was time to touch on that again, so I started writing these songs that were largely sort of country-based, which was sort of the idea for the next Cracker record. It was going to be a sort of Americana record.” The songs accompany the high desert landscape of Pioneertown just as well, where Cracker and Lowery’s other band, Camper Van Beethoven, will hold the 11th edition of their annual Campout concert weekend Thursday-Sunday. Along with the two headliners, the popular annual shindig features lots of friends, solo projects and local artists, including Inland power pop purveyors The Dangers and Jesika von Rabbit from Joshua Tree outfit Gram Rabbit. For “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” Lowery worked with drummer Michael Urbano, who not only played with Lowery in Camper Van Beethoven but also in an earlier Cracker lineup. Joined by bassist Davey Faragher, another Redlands native who was also in the original Cracker lineup, the trio wound up with recording nine songs of original material that were distinctly different from the nine songs Lowery had started out recording for this project. It proved to be an interesting conundrum, according to Lowery. The “Berkeley” side of the album was the product of a three-day songwriting session between Lowery, Faragher and Urbano. “When we listened to it back and compared these two batches of songs, they seemed different enough that they were two different albums. So that’s what we did. … It sort of explains who our rock and country roots are,” Lowery said. While Lowery has been pulling double duty spearheading Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven dating back to the latter’s regrouping in the late ’90s, he’s also developed an interest in using the geography of California to drive his current wave of songwriting. More recently, it came via Camper Van Beethoven albums “El Camino Real,” from 2014, which draws its inspiration from Southern California; and 2013’s “La Costa Perdida,” which is more about the northern part of the Golden State. But for Lowery, who is currently teaching a course on the economics of finance in the music business at the University of Georgia and is working on his long-delayed mathematics doctorate, his geographically driven creative urges were actually stoked by authors Joan Didion and William Vollmann. Dichotomy has been a way of life for Lowery, dating to the early ’80s with Camper Van Beethoven, a band he once described as being like “a bunch of hippies from the English Empire taking acid and making Appalachian folk music mixed with psychedelic rock.” After CBV split in 1990, Lowery formed Cracker and trod more of a rocking, Americana-flavored path just as grunge was blowing pop culture up. “With this album, it’s the political divide, which becomes a metaphor for the country and for myself,” Lowery said. “I’ve always felt myself the odd man out in the music business. I feel completely disenfranchised from politics, yet I’m completely involved in them with public policy about songwriters and stuff like that. I think California represents that in this really great way. People think about it coast-to-coast as being all about hippies and vegetarians and Hollywood, but at the same time, just drive through the Owens Valley sometime. It’s like being in Wyoming. There are herds of thousands of cattle out there and cowboys. You could be in a completely different time.” IF YOU GO When: Thursday-Saturday Where: Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown Admission: $25 for single-day passes, $75 for three-day passes Information: crackersoul.com/store http://www.pe.com/articles/lowery-777735-cracker-songs.html
AXS / L.A. MUSIC EXAMINER
(LA music site) Positive Campout review/feature
Alternative rock acts interview on hosting special festival By Will Engel The popular pioneering indie rock acts Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven host their eleventh annual “CAMPOUT” three-day music festival at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace in Pioneertown, CA on Thursday, August 27 through Saturday, August 29. The excitement and collective spirit of enthusiasm is notable during discussions with Cracker’s cofounder Johnny Hickman and Camper Van Beethoven’s lead guitarist Greg Lisher. When asked what he is most looking forward to about the three day “CAMPOUT” event, Hickman provides a powerful response, stating, “It’s always a joy to play for our fans anywhere, any time on tour, but the CAMPOUT is very special in that it attracts people from all over the U.S. and Europe for three days of music and camaraderie. It’s where the extended family come together every year. Words can’t begin to describe the feeling of that. It just has to be experienced.” Lisher also responds to this question with excitement, answering similarly, “Playing music and seeing and hanging out with all our fans in some beautiful surroundings. It’s quite a lot of fun really. People come from all over the U.S. and there are some from overseas as well.” When asked what musical opportunities the festival provides that audiences can look forward to hearing, Hickman responds joyfully, “Well, we’ll always play some of our radio hits but we also change things up every year and perform songs from the many Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven albums. The roster is also filled with individual members side projects, solo material and includes other bands who are special to us and have become part of the extended musical family. It’s different every year and that’s a big part of the fun.” Lisher also responds with an emphasis on fun for everyone involved, saying, “Well, there are the main attractions Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven as well as solo performances by many of the musicians involved in those bands too. I think it’s fun for the fans to see a more detailed breakout (musically speaking) of the players who usually play more of a sideman role on a regular basis. Plus other bands that are outside the musical family that are invited to play too. It’s just a lot of fun.” In total, the two bands have released a combined four albums in the last two years as their own personal homages to specific regions of California. These albums are Cracker’s 2014 double album Berkeley to Bakersfield and Camper Van Beethoven’s last two studio efforts, La Costa Perdida from 2013 and El Camino Real from 2014. http://www.examiner.com/article/alternative-rock-acts-interview-on-hosting-special-festival
THE DELI L.A. (L.A. WEEKLY)
Show preview with band bios
CAMPOUT 11 Campout 11 @ Pappy & Harriet’s August 27, 28, 29 2015 Featuring: Cracker – Camper Van Beethoven- The Whiskey Gentry – Johnny Hickman – Victor Krummenacher – Jonathan Segel – Jesika Von Rabbit and more surprises to be announced. This is an all ages event and includes a meet and greet with many of the artists performing at Campout 11. There will be no physical tickets sent. After you’ve completed your purchases your name will be added to a will call list. Bring your ID to the front door of Pappy and Harriet’s for entry to Campout 11. Cracker $20 Tickets available TONIGHT at the door until we sell out! we do not have any dinner reservations available. all tables have been reserved Curtsey 8pm Cracker 9pm This December Cracker will be releasing their tenth studio effort, entitled Berkeley To Bakersfield, a double-album that finds this uniquely American band traversing two different sides of the California landscape – the northern Bay area and further down-state in Bakersfield. Despite being less than a five-hour drive from city to city, musically, these two regions couldn’t be further apart from one another. In the late ’70s and ’80s a harder-edged style of rock music emerged from the Bay area, while Bakersfield is renowned for its own iconic twangy country music popularized, most famously, by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in the ’60s and ’70s. Yet despite these differences, they are both elements that Cracker’s two cofounders, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, have embraced to some degree on nearly every one of their studio albums over the last two decades. On Berkeley To Bakersfield, however, instead of integrating these two genres together within one disc, they’ve neatly compartmentalized them onto their own respective regionally-titled LPs. As Lowery explains, “On the Berkeley disc the band is the original Cracker lineup – Davey Faragher, Michael Urbano, Johnny and myself. This is the first time this lineup has recorded together in almost 20 years. We began recording this album at East Bay Recorders in Berkeley, CA. For this reason we chose to stylistically focus this disc on the music we most associate with the East Bay: Punk and Garage with some funky undertones. To further match our sense of place we often took an overtly political tone in the lyrics.” “This Bakersfield disc represents the ‘California country’ side of the band. Throughout the band’s 24-year history we’ve dabbled in Country and Americana but this time we wanted to pay homage to the particular strain of Country and Country-Rock music that emerges from the inland valleys of California.” Cracker has been described as a lot of things over the years: alt-rock, Americana, insurgent-country, and have even had the terms punk and classic-rock thrown at them. But more than anything Cracker are survivors. Cofounders Lowery and Hickman have been at it for almost a quarter of a century – amassing ten studio albums, multiple gold records, thousands of live performances, hit songs that are still in current radio rotation around the globe (“Low,” “Euro-Trash Girl,” “Get Off This” and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me” to name just a few), and a worldwide fan base – that despite the major sea-changes within the music industry – continues to grow each year. Camper Van Beethoven At the time of their 1985 debut, Camper Van Beethoven’s merging of punk, folk, ska, and world musics was truly a revelation. Self-described as “surrealist absurdist folk,” the band formed in Santa Cruz, CA, after singer/songwriter David Lowery of Redlands, CA, with his dry humor and valley-boy voice (sometimes confused for a faux English accent), and boyhood friends Chris Molla and Chris Pedersen disbanded Box o’ Laffs. Victor Krummenacher was added on bass and soon they were joined by Greg Lisher (guitar) and Jonathan Segel (violins, keyboards, mandolin). It was Segel’s violin that would prove to be the band’s hallmark at a time when alternative rock had yet to be invented, and indie rock was still shy of roots music or traditional elements. The 1985 re-release of their debut, Telephone Free Landslide Victory, made the Top Ten in the 1986 Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll, as did their second album, II & III, and Camper Van Beethoven, both released in 1986. On II & III, they went for a purer indie rock sound with touches of country, as evidenced in their “Sad Lovers Waltz” and their cover of Sonic Youth’s “I Love Her All the Time.” The band deftly switched modes from punk to ska to rock on alternate takes, but by this time Molla had left the fold. The third album, confusingly titled Camper Van Beethoven, continued the thread, but outstanding tracks like “Joe Stalin’s Cadillac” were in the more straight-ahead indie rock vein. However, the band would consistently blow people’s minds by tossing around things like a reverent version of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive.” For its Virgin Records debut, coinciding with the label’s U.S. re-launch in 1988, the band took a more serious tack on Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, and the group that had once been confined to low budgets and small studio facilities stretched out perhaps a little too aggressively. For Key Lime Pie, Camper Van Beethoven’s final release in 1989, the band took it as far as it could go. Morgan Fichter had replaced Segel by this time. Krummenacher, Pedersen, and Lisher continued to play together in what began as a side project in 1985, Monks of Doom, which turned into a full-time job for them, with four albums and an EP to their credit. Though no longer working as the Monks, the trio, along with Segel and Camper touring guitarist David Immergluck, continue to play together in various formations. Jonathan Segel released three albums as Hieronymous Firebrain from 1990-1994 and two with Jack & Jill for the Magnetic label, followed by a a couple rock cds under his own name and several electronic music cds under his own name and as a duo with Dina Emerson called Chaos Butterfly. Krummenacher has released several solo records, (Out in the Heat, St. John’s Mercy, Bittersweet, Sans Soleil and Nocturne), also for Magnetic, worked with members of Tarnation in Lava, and continues to work with Bruce Kaphan on various projects. Immergluck and Fichter continue to tour and play sessions with bands of considerable renown (Counting Crows and Natalie Merchant respectively, among others); Lowery took some time off before forming Cracker, but didn’t commingle with his former bandmates until reuniting with Krummenacher and Segel in late 1999 to assemble the bizarre rarities collection Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead: Long Live Camper Van Beethoven. In 2002, Camper Van Beethoven reunited for a nationwide tour on what seemed like a whim, occasioned by a closet-cleaning belated issue of a song-by-song cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, an album they’d recorded as a joke back in 1987. The tour must have gone really well, because unexpectedly, the full band — the original lineup of David Lowery on vocals and guitar, violinist Jonathan Segel, guitarist Greg Lisher, bassist Victor Krummenacher, and drummer Chris Pedersen, with alumni Chris Molla and Monks of Doom cohort David Immergl Jesika Von Rabbit Jesika Von Rabbit of the Joshua Tree based band, Gram Rabbit. Jesika von Rabbit is perhaps California’s penultimate post-modern inter-galactic pop provocateur. First thrust upon this unsuspecting world as co-founder of groundbreaking freakno rock oddballs Gram Rabbit, the buxotic blonde vixen became such an inescapable force in her Joshua Tree-adjacent headquarters that she even has her own menu item (Nachos Von Rabbit) available at cosmic desert honky tonk Pappy & Harriet’s. Now operating as her own free agent, the Von Rabbit solo assault comes in the form a characteristically sizzling celestial psych-disco sound–with wildly redefined versions of songs by everyone from the Dickies to Garth Brooks–while the kinetic stage presentation is one significantly enhanced by a writhing trio of terpsichoreans. Put over with equal measures of artful expression and droll entertainment, after you flip, trip and slip down this rabbit hole, you’ll never want to come back. Johnny Hickman Hickman is best known for co-founding the band Cracker. His fiery lead guitar sound and spirited co-writing give flavor to that band’s alternative radio hits, including Teen Angst, Low, Get Off This, and Eurotrash Girl. Cracker, founded in 1991 with childhood friend David Lowery, has nine full-length releases to date. Kerosene Hat (1994) remains an alternative music collection staple. Lowery and Hickman together are seen as godfathers of the alternative music scene, who turned gently away from plaid-clad grunge in the 1990s with more countrified and bluesy stylings. Their collaboration with the jam-band Leftover Salmon in 2003 further proved that no one genre could contain them. Cracker’s most recent album, Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey (2009), garnered indie press rave reviews, with the song “Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out” finding its way into the soundtrack for the cult TV hit Californication. http://la-shows.thedelimagazine.com/events/2015/8/27/campout-11-cracker-camper-van-beethoven-jesika-von-rabbit-johnny-hickman
(A&E site) Positive Campout preview
Camping with Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven Dan MacIntosh
Just buying a band’s album or going to the group’s local show is for lightweight band fans only. The real, serious fans need to be close, much closer to their favorite acts. If you truly love a group, you want to camp out right there with them. This is an opportunity that will soon be afforded Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven lovers. This is because the groups have planed their annual three-day campout music festival to take place in Pioneertown, in California from August 27 to 29. Along with other musical friends, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven will be putting the ‘camping’ into Camper Van Beethoven for real when they arrive in the Joshua Tree area of California to co-host their 11th annual Campout music festival. This high desert locale is significant because it’s also where Cracker tracked its pivotal album Kerosene Hat way back in 1993. This full-length was recorded at a now-closed movie soundstage next to the Palace. When you add it all up, both of these bands have put out four albums in the last two years. These recordings have included Cracker’s double album, Berkeley to Bakersfield, the act’s personal ode to the north and south areas of California. Camper Van Beethoven’s most recent albums were La Costa Perdida (from 2013) and El Camino Real (from 2014). In addition to drawing from these fresher releases, the bands will also be dusting off a lot of older songs, too. For those that really love kitschy stuff, Camper Van Beethoven may even perform material included in the recent B-movie, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! The songs they submitted for the film soundtrack were “We got A Long Way To Go (To Get Away From The Sharknado” and “Infinite Ocean.” The big main factor both Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven have in common is singer David Lowery. Lowery formed Cracker with Johnny Hickman in 1991. The group’s best known songs include “Low” and “Euro-Trash Girl.” Camper Van Beethoven goes back a little further, as it signed to Virgin Records back in 1987. The group’s debut single,” Take the Skinheads Bowling,” put the act on the alternative rock map with a wonderful, slightly silly song. Both groups are especially notable for Lowery’s smart, and oftentimes sarcastic, songwriting. So, would Lowery now advise folks to take the skinheads camping? Is that the next step after a bowling trip? Well, whether the skinheads make it out or not, you should make firm plans now to be there. http://www.axs.com/camping-with-cracker-and-camper-van-beethoven-63293
COACHELLA VALLEY INDEPENDENT
(weekly) Positive Campout feature/interview with David with band photo
An Early Campout: The Weekend Extravaganza by Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker Moves to August This Year Written by Brian Blueskye Warning: The Campout, the popular Pappy and Harriet’s Labor Day Weekend staple, is being held a week early this year, Aug. 27 through Aug. 29. However, David Lowery—the frontman of hosting bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker—promises the move is just for this year, and that the event will be as good as ever. During a recent phone interview, Lowery discussed the fact that Cracker is often viewed as a mainstream band, thanks in part to the hit single “Low.” Cracker released a new album last year, Berkeley to Bakersfield. “I think for Cracker in general, a lot of people seem to think of us in a more mainstream perception than an alternative-rock band from the ‘90s. In actuality, that’s a very short kind of piece of our career, which has stretched on for about 25 years now,” he explained. “We’re a fairly eclectic group; we play a lot of Americana/roots and country stuff, and we’re widely accepted in that role.” Lowery said he never expected to do more than make a living when he teamed up with Riverside’s Johnny Hickman to form the group after the wildly successful Camper Van Beethoven disbanded in 1990. (The group would reunite in 1999.) “We made a living, and we didn’t sell enormous amounts of records,” Lowery said about Cracker. “In fact, our first album … the fact it was more heavy on folk and the blues meant there were a lot of people at the label and other places who weren’t expecting us to garner mainstream radio play—which we managed to do with those first three albums. We weren’t really expecting it, either, but it was certainly nice. Those first two albums went gold and platinum, and the third album never really reached gold, but it was a pretty good run there.” Two and a half decades later, the band faced some challenges while recording the critically lauded new double album, Berkeley to Bakersfield, the group’s first studio effort in five years. Most notably, drummer Frank Funaro suffered a severe arm injury that continues to sideline him. “I think it was a case where we took the situation and worked with it. … We embraced the challenges and restrictions we had,” he said. “The first one is we were working with a group of studio musicians in Athens, Ga. That’s the band that’s on the Bakersfield album. At the same time, we got back our old drummer, Michael Urbano, and worked in a studio in Berkeley just to see if we could write any songs. We ended up more or less banging out most of that album in three days up there. … We kind of just embraced the situation and came up with these two really cool discs, which at first were going to be separate albums.” The project is similar, in some ways, to Camper Van Beethoven’s recent releases, La Costa Perdida and El Camino Real, which were about Northern and Southern California. “We released 40-something songs in a little under two years. It’s been kind of crazy,” he said about his two bands. “Going back to 2009, it’s been like every 18 months, we’ve been putting out an album. It’s been pretty interesting. It’s been a very productive period for both bands, just to concentrate on writing songs. It’s what separates us from our peers in the alternative-rock scene in the ‘90s—we’re still writing and releasing records. Camper Van Beethoven also has two new songs coming out that are on the Sharknado 3 soundtrack. We’re always working it now.” David Lowery has been touring with both bands over the past couple of years; Cracker played at Pappy and Harriet’s in the spring. With all of the touring, writing and recording, one has to wonder how Lowery has time to sleep. “I think down in Southern California, you hear quite a bit of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, so it probably seems we tour more than we do, but it’s been pretty busy this year,” he explained. “We have a full schedule through Labor Day weekend; we’re doing five or six shows a week until then, and a little recording probably during the days we’re not working. Eventually, at the end of the year, we’ll go to Europe and wrap it up.” What can attendees expect at the Campout this year? Lowery said it’s more of the same, prominently featuring the varied groups in which the members of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven are intertwined. “We’ll be bringing the Bakersfield lineup from Athens; we’ll be bringing the full extended country band lineup,” he said. “We’ll also have a lot of the side projects happening. Victor (Krummenacher) will be playing; Jonathan (Segel) will be doing stuff, and it looks like Johnny Hickman is going to do his side project, the Hickman-Dalton Gang, with Roger Clyne of the Peacemakers. We have Jesika Von Rabbit again, and it’s, as usual, based on family and friends. “I think it’s going to be at least as good as last year, and it’s going to be warmer this year, because we had to move it into August. With all of the other things that are going to happen up there in Yucca Valley this year on Labor Day, we were colliding on the same weekend. So we moved into August, and we’ll move it back to September for 2016.” Campout 11 takes place Thursday, Aug. 27, through Saturday, Aug. 29, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $25 for each individual night; three-day passes start at $75. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com. http://cvindependent.com/index.php/en-US/music/previews/item/2414-an-early-campout-the-weekend-extravaganza-by-camper-van-beethoven-and-cracker-moves-to-august-this-year
(music site) Positive Campout preview with band photo and poster art.
Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven to Host 11th Annual Campout Music Festival http://diffuser.fm/cracker-camper-van-beethoven-11th-annual-campout-music-festival/
(national music magazine) Campout preview (from press announcement)
Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven Host Campout Music Festival, Tour (2015) http://ghettoblastermagazine.com/2015/cracker-camper-van-beethoven-host-campout-music-festival-tour-2015/
(music site) Campout preview (from press announcement) with Cracker & CVB photos Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven Celebrate 11th Annual Campout Music Fest August 27-29 http://innocentwords.com/cracker-and-camper-van-beethoven-celebrate-11th-annual-campout-music-fest-august-27-29/
(music site) Campout preview (from press announcement) with poster art
Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven to Host 11th Annual CAMPOUT Music Fest Posted By Annie McDermott http://www.tristateindie.com/cracker-camper-van-beethoven-to-host-11th-annual-campout-music-fest/
WDST / Radio Woodstock
(Woodstock, NY AAA Radio) Sat Aug. 15 4:30pm EST acoustic duo in-studio.
(Hudson Valley NY daily) Show preview with Cracker photo
Cracker to play Bearsville this Saturday
Twangy roots or gritty proto-indie rock? It is hard to say exactly what Cracker is; but whatever it is, they still are. In recent years, Cracker frontman and former Camper Van Beethoven main guy David Lowery has distinguished himself as one of the most lucid and penetrating critics of the music business in the digital age, but in 2014 Lowery reasserted his role as a maker with Cracker’s double-wide set Berkley to Bakersfield, one half of which features the rocking, jaundiced Cracker of “Low” and “Eurotrash Girl,” and the other half of which affirms the band’s careerlong love of country. California’s own Cracker appears at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock on Saturday, August 15 at 9 p.m. Admission costs $25. For more information, visit http://www.bearsvilletheater.com. The Bearsville Theater is located at 291 Tinker Street in Woodstock. http://www.hudsonvalleyalmanacweekly.com/2015/08/13/cracker-to-play-bearsville-this-saturday/
(daily) Show preview with Cracker photo
CRACKER David Lowery, Johnny Hickman, and company bring Cracker’s bifurcated proclivities, parsed by the band’s latest release as “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” to a party boat. Both parts — the guitar-rock roar of “Life in the Big City” and the high-test honky-tonk of “King of Bakersfield” — should facilitate the party. Aug. 13, 7:15 p.m. Tickets: $30. Rock On! Concert Cruise, Rowes Wharf. 866-777-8932, STUART MUNRO https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/2015/08/12/bgcom-weekahead/HMUJY9PBqNcKJWZfKXMjmN/story.html
THE MORNING CALL
(Allentown, PA daily) Brief show preview
BIG ACTS ON FREE STAGES: Two more biggies are coming to Musikfest’s free stages on Friday. Performing at 9 p.m. at Volksplatz is Cracker, the chart-topping alt-rock, Americana group that has racked up a worldwide fan base in its quarter century. Cracker had a half-dozen Top 30 alternative rock hits in the 1990s and is touring in support of its recent acclaimed double-album “Berkeley to Bakersfield.” At 9:30 p.m. in the PNC series at Musikfest Cafe is The Rembrandts, a pop-rock duo best known for the “Friends” theme song “I’ll Be There For You” and the hit “Just the Way It Is, Baby.” These are bands you usually have to pay to see, so this is a great opportunity. http://www.mcall.com/entertainment/music/mc-musikfest-2015-final-weekend-top-10-20150813-story.html#page=1
(Hudson Valley, NY A&E site) Show preview
FREE FEST: New York State Food Festival @ Empire State Plaza on Wednesday With nearly 100 food vendors to choose from, 15,000 people flock to the annual New York State Food Festival at Albany’s Empire State Plaza for lunch, dinner… or both. They come for the food and stay for an evening of free rock and roll. The fest – which takes place from 11am-9pm on Wednesday (August 12) – showcases New York producers and specialty products, New York State beers and the always popular farmers market. And, of course, there’s the music… Headliners Cracker have been described as a lot of things over the years: alt-rock, Americana, insurgent-country… Heck, they’ve even had terms like “punk” and “classic-rock” thrown at them. But more than anything Cracker are survivors. Co-founders David Lowery and Johnny Hickman have been at it for almost a quarter of a century making hit songs such as “Low,” “Euro-Trash Girl,” “Get Off This” and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me.” They’ll roll into Albany in support of their latest release, the double-CD set Berkeley to Bakersfield. http://www.nippertown.com/2015/08/10/free-fest-new-york-state-food-festival-empire-state-plaza-on-wednesday/
(Cincy Public Radio) Cracker in-studio 3pm EST arrival Wed. July 29 David Lowery and Johnny Hickman from the band Cracker, now celebrating their 25th year, stopped by the WVXU studios to talk about the band, its longevity, the music industry and to play a few songs prior to their show at The Southgate House Revival. This in-studio performance was done in conjunction with WVXU’s Around Cincinnati, produced by Lee Hay. Recording and engineering was done by Rick Andress. Music includes: Almond Grove California Country Boy King of Bakersfield http://wvxu.org/post/lx-sessions-cracker#stream/0
(Troy NY AAA radio) acoustic duo in-studio Wed. Aug. 12th – 2pm EST arrival (per Chris Wienk)
(Louisville, KY A&E site) Positive show preview
Cracker with Happy Chichester Hard-edged rock music and twangy country music are both styles that Cracker’s two co-founders, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, have embraced to some degree on nearly every one of their studio albums over the last two decades. On Berkeley To Bakersfield, however, instead of integrating these two genres together within one disc, they’ve neatly compartmentalized them onto their own respective regionally-titled LPs. Check out Louisville.com’s interview with Johnny Hickman of Cracker here. When: July 30, 8 p.m. – 11 p.m. Where: Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40206 Website Cost: $20 https://www.louisville.com/content/where-go-and-what-do-weekend-louisville-july-30-august-2
THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE
(Whitesburg, KY ) Feature to preview show
Q.&A. with Cracker’s Johnny Hickman Band’s co-founder talks about new album, what to expect at Friday night’s show, his love of country and ‘old timey’ music, and the days when he performed with Dwight Yoakam. http://www.themountaineagle.com/news/2015-07-29/Entertainment/QA_with_Crackers_Johnny_Hickman.html
(Cincy weekly) Feature to preview
Newport show Sound Advice: Cracker with Happy Chichester Wednesday • Southgate House Revival (Sanctuary) BY JASON GARGANO
It’s been more than two decades since Cracker’s commercial apex, back when “Low” dominated MTV and the Internet was an oddity. Yet the band’s core duo, frontman David Lowery and ace guitarist Johnny Hickman, is still cranking out workman-like tunes, releasing its first new studio album in five years, a double-disc called Berkeley to Bakersfield. The title is as telling as it might seem — the “Berkeley” disc is full of pointedly political songs fueled by the duo’s more rockin’ tendencies, while “Bakersfield” leans more heavily on countrified excursions. “Ultimately, those two stylistic themes in those two albums are what are essentially in our first album (1991’s Cracker),” Lowery recently told diffuser.fm when asked about the two-disc approach. “To me, this is a good summary of what the band does. Instead of blending it together in one disc, we sort of teased it out and spread it out over two discs … And it’s actually really great having 18 songs, that way we can go all the way from the edgy stuff to the straight-up Bakersfield Honky Tonk tunes.” The album-opening one-two, “Torches and Pitchforks” and “March of the Billionaires,” from the “Berkeley” disc, set the tone immediately, as Lowery delivers the kind of irony-free lyrics that laced much of Cracker’s early work (not to mention that of his first and still-working band Camper Van Beethoven). He takes on bought-off congressmen, mansion-dwelling billionaires, greedy lawyers, oppressive employers and generally anyone taking advantage of the 99 percent. And he does it in a way that doesn’t seem strained or preachy, delivering his invective with a smile and musical dexterity. http://citybeat.com/cincinnati/article-33279-sound_advice_cracker.html
(Louisville, KY A&E site) Feature interview with Johnny Hickman to preview Louisville show
JOHNNY HICKMAN TALKS 25 YEARS OF CRACKER MUSIC BY BRENT OWEN
Cracker was an Americana band nearly two decades before the term ever existed. In a time when artists like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson are making classic albums, and riding the wave of Alt-Country cool – Cracker was doing it when Nirvana was still on the radio, when banjo and steel guitars existed nowhere outside of your grandfather’s record collection. Johnny Hickman and David Lowery have been the creative partnership that has driven the band from the beginning. And with the release of their new double album “Berkley to Bakersfield,” with one disc being a collection of rock songs, and the other a collection of country songs. Cracker is currently on tour supporting the album and will be performing at Headliners Music Hall on July 30th at 8:00 PM. Tickets are still available for $20. Before the show, founding band member, guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist Johnny Hickman took some time to do an interview with Louisville.com. Louisville.com: In 25 years in the industry, what’s it been like to watch the music industry change? JH: Very interesting, pros and cons galore. The top cons currently are the streaming service corporations ripping artists off and making millions while they pay the musicians, the actual content creators practically nothing. That hurts all recording musicians famous or not. Thankfully the Crumbs (self-dubbed Cracker fans worldwide) know that to keep going we have to generate income through music sales to afford to stay on the road and they are more than happy to support us. Basically, to succeed and stay in the game now, artists have to be pretty technology savvy. You can do that, stay true to your art, self-promote it and have immense fun at the same time. We’re living proof. Louisville.com: Has music evolved or devolved in those two and a half decades? JH: Both I believe. The think tanks and methods of finding, packaging and selling the overproduced, formulaic banal pop and country that dominates radio now have always been around, they’ve just gotten more pro with technology. On the bright side, this has paved the way for a new generation of true indie artists that bypass that bullshit scrutiny altogether and exist in their own universe. It’s now possible for a band to build a career relying solely on social media, themselves and their fans. Louisville.com: Why do you think Cracker has managed to survive? JH: I think largely by simply staying the course we set ourselves on from the start. David and I have always written and recorded music for ourselves first. I don’t mean that in an egotistical way, I think if you pander you lose. After knowing each other for 10 years before we started writing and playing together we’d already learned that democracy rarely works in a band so we loosely patterned ourselves after our heroes like the Rolling Stones or any number of bands with one or two guys making the decisions at the center. You establish a core of the main songwriters and gather talented people around you. It’s a model that’s worked for us for 24 years and it’s more common than most people think. Louisville.com: What do you think 1993 Cracker would think of 2015 Cracker? JH: Ha ha…good question. I think we’d be a little surprised to still be here writing good music, still reinventing ourselves a little with every album, touring and still gaining new fans. Louisville.com: What is it about your relationship with David Lowery that has allowed you to work so well together for so long? JH: At the top of the list would be the songs we make. I can tell you that personally, I feel anxious every time we decide to start making a new album but every time, I suspend my doubts and we just start in. He’s one of the best songwriters of his generation in my opinion and I’m honored to write songs with him. He’s never stopped. I work to come up with guitar riffs and melodies that David can build these incredible stories around or he’ll have a song nearly done that I frame with a riff or maybe come up with the bridge, no real set pattern. He’s one of the rare writers who can consistently create these very believable, compelling characters…..the new double disc Berkeley to Bakersfield is full of them. I write Cracker lyrics and complete songs too and am always honored that he sings them but the best songs are written by two people in my opinion no matter if it’s 50-50 or one writer finds the small bit that completes a song. David wrote one of our most currently popular songs “California Country Boy” and invited me to sing it. The reverse of “Mister Wrong” from our first record or ‘Friends” from the last one which David sang with Patterson Hood from Drive By Truckers. Having these two icons of alt-country rock duetting on a song I wrote was pretty great. Louisville.com: Even from the outset, when Alternative and Grunge were the thing, you all were one of the few that managed to incorporate a country influence into rock. How did you all manage to make it cool when it hadn’t been for a long time? JH: Thank you. Having grown up as military kids with dads stationed at air bases across the south and in rural California we heard a lot of country music. Of course it was a lot different than it is now. It was Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and later Dwight Yoakum and other greats back then, not the formulaic crap you hear now. It was as big an influence to David and me as punk rock or British rock or soul music. When we started writing together, country was just naturally part of the Cracker stew. It confounded our record label a bit but they learned to trust us. This was all before the terms “alt-country” or “Americana” even existed. There were only a few other bands in the early nineties mixing country sounds in like we were. Uncle Tupelo, The Meat Puppets, Jason and The Scorchers, Dwight Yoakum come to mind, just a few others. Louisville.com: Why now did it seem like a good time to separate those influences to two separate discs when you have spent so long incorporating them? JH: It just seemed like a cool, fun idea. David suggested getting in touch with Davey Faragher and Michael Urbano again….our bass player and drummer from “Kerosene Hat.” We very quickly wrote and recorded the rock / punk / soul “Berkeley” disc with them and it was a sheer joy. For the “Bakersfield” disc we almost exclusively used players from Athens Georgia where David has lived for a while now. It worked perfectly and set the scene for the laid back country songs, most of which David wrote this time around. Louisville.com: “Torches and Pitchforks”, “March of the Billionaires”, “Life in the Big City” all seem to take a pretty rigid political stance, what inspired those? JH: David obviously has no qualms about using the current political state of the world as a backdrop and as inspiration when he feels like it. Recording it in Berkeley definitely had an impact on those songs with its long history of progressive and radical politics mirrored by the various music scenes there. David’s always been a pretty bold, outspoken person and his songs reflect that. I think he manages to do it with aplomb because he’s a great songwriter and avoids being too overt. He gets his point across through his characters with great results in my opinion. “March of the Billionaires” is a good example of how we work together. I came up with that “na na na na” part when we were just jamming around and the guitar riff which he also used for part of his verse vocal melody. When he came back in, almost immediately, with it finished with the title and those lyrics, I was floored. I remember thinking THIS is why I work with this guy! Amazing. Louisville.com: And “Torches and Pitchforks” could have easily fit on the country tinged Berkley disc, why did you all choose to place it on the rocked up Berkley disc? JH: I agree. We sort of consider that one the song that ties the two discs together. It has this classic, timeless union battle stance that perfectly reflects the way the streaming corporations are ripping songwriters off and David has no problem with people interpreting it that way. He sometimes opens the live shows singing “Torches” solo acoustic and it’s pretty grand. I’m in the wings about to join him and it gives me chills every time. Louisville.com: “King of Bakersfield” makes a very vivid character, is it based on anyone specific? JH: No, he’s just yet another character that David created and let speak as he puts it. We grew up in Southern and Eastern California and the guy in the song is very believable. I played around with country bands up in the Bakersfield area just before we started Cracker together and there are most certainly characters like this guy….happily living in two worlds. He’s kinda the antithesis of the Bakersfield character I used in “Mister Wrong” from the first album. That guy was an amalgam of these likable fuck up guys I met when I was up there just before we made the first record. The guy in “King of Bakersfield” really does rule his own little world and he’s very satisfied. David sings it like he’s putting on a tailor made cowboy hat. I love it. Louisville.com: It feels like the theme changes a great deal between the Berkley disc and the Bakersfield disc, is that on account of the genre shift or personal shifts? JH: Definitely both of those factors as well as physically being in both areas at various times. We recorded the Berkeley disc at Michael’s Urbano’s studio there. We were pretty certain we could make another great rock record with Davey and Michael. The “Kerosene Hat” chemistry kicked right back in with those guys. They’re both amazing players who’ve done a lot of studio and live work both separately and together outside of Cracker. None of our Georgia players came from Bakersfield but they have the skills to get that sound. It’s great touring with them now because they can definitely kill it on the rock songs too. Louisville.com: “Where Have Those Days Gone” feels like a spiritual sequel to “Euro-Trash Girl,” where in the latter was a guy outgrowing youthful irresponsibility, and the former seems like a middle aged guy looking back wistfully on his young folly. Is that a fair parallel? JH: Nice observation. Both songs draw a little bit from personal experience, especially “Where Have Those Days Gone?” David drew at least parts of those verses from things he actually went through. “Eurotrash Girl” as well, but really with that one we were just having fun putting that guy through things we’d imagined, heard of and or experienced. I love the waitress stepmother cutting the poor guy off on the phone verse that David came up with. I think I came up with his being jailed, the whole scene with the sergeant and all after David told me about losing his passport over there once with Camper Van Beethoven. David wasn’t arrested and actually found his passport but we kind of imagined the worst for the guy in the song. It was fun. I think we were in a shitty motel in New Jersey. Louisville.com: Which songs are the most fun to play live? JH: That changes a lot. We’ll get tired of playing some of them and hang ‘em up for a year or three, bring them back when it feels good or we have the right players to really do them well live. We always play our big radio songs because they put us on the map. I think bands who consider themselves too cool to play their hits if they are lucky enough to have them are narcissistic jerks. We change the sets often because it’s more fun for us and the fans say the same all the time, but you’re of course gonna hear “Teen Angst” “Low” and usually “Eurotrash Girl” and “Get Off This”. Photos provided by Cracker’s management, credit: Bradford Jones. https://www.louisville.com/content/johnny-hickman-talks-25-years-cracker
(Louisville, KY A&E site) Live music Lou’s can’t miss: Cracker with Happy Chichester Cracker is out touring for their newest studio recording, Berkeley to Bakersfield. The two-disc album features funky punk and garage rock, as well as country-rock, paying homage to the types of music in the two California cities. WFPK has been talking about this show – should be an exciting night at Headliners. https://www.louisville.com/content/live-music-lous-cant-miss-july-26-august-1
WPKN (Bridgeport, Connecticut public radio) Phoner with David and Rich Kaminsky 7/17 at 10am EST
MILWAUKEE SHEPHERD EXPRESS
(weekly) Show preview
Saturday, July 25 Cracker w/ Thayer Sarrano @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
With its moody alt-rock riff and “leave me alone and let me do drugs” angst, Cracker’s biggest hit, “Low,” is about as unmistakably ’90s as a grande mocha latte dipped in flannel, but the rest of the band’s catalog doesn’t date so easily. Like frontman David Lowery’s other band, Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker continues to record spry rock albums spiked with rootsy digressions and tangential fits of punk-rock silliness—music that sounded great before the ’90s alt-rock boom and music that still sounds great today, even if there’s no longer an obvious place for it on the radio. The band’s latest record, Berkeley To Bakersfield, is a high-concept double album. The Berkeley disc takes its cues from Californian punk, while the Bakersfield half nods to Californian country rock. http://shepherdexpress.com/article-26150-this-week-in-milwaukee-july-23-29.html
(daily) Show preview
CRACKER 8 p.m. Saturday, Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell Ave. $20 at the box office, (866) 468-3401 and ticketweb.com. To the general public, Cracker the band will always either be mistaken as Uncle Kracker, or known for “Low,” its 1993 hit that found new life on the soundtrack for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” two years back. But while the band likely will never achieve the heights of “Low” again, the core duo of singer David Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman continues to challenge itself, and maintain a career and following because of it. The latest example is 2014’s double-disc “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” its 10th studio album. From its conception, Cracker has sampled a number of styles, from punk to country. The “Berkeley” side of the new album — featuring the entire original lineup — gets in touch with punk and garage rock, inspired by the scene in Berkeley, Calif. The Bakersfield side explores country and country-rock. Thayer Sarrano, a session and touring musician and singer-songwriter in her own right, opens. — Piet Levy http://www.jsonline.com/entertainment/musicandnightlife/alt-j-kevin-gates-dave-matthews-band-cracker-aa-bondy-metz-b99540545z1-318293301.html
(Milwaukee A&E site) Show preview added to their wekly mail newsletter CRACKER Ranging from a countless number of genres including blues, psychedelia, country, punk, grunge and rock, you never know what to expect from Cracker’s music. After just releasing its tenth studio album, alternative-rock group Cracker is coming to Shank Hall. Be sure to get your tickets here! PANTOGRAPH (Bloomington, IL daily) Show preview with album art Two decades ago, Cracker was one of the bands leading the charge in a musical movement destined to define a key moment along rock’s timeline … the revolution known as alternative rock, with Cracker’s 1993 album “Kerosene Hat” among of the first charges, fueled by the single “Low,” which garnered MTV play. More than two decades later, co-founders Johnny Hickman and David Lowery are still exploring alternate rock avenues, which are bringing them back to Bloomington’s Castle Theatre, where they headlined a show a year ago this month. This time through, at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, they’re being joined be fellow past Castle travelers, the Ike Reilly Assassination. Tickets: $17 to $20 at 309-820-3259. http://www.pantagraph.com/cracker/image_d1e33f72-282f-59df-bd28-64bfa64cfe77.html
(daily) Feature interview with Johnny to preview show
Cracker still around, proud of new music Garin Pirnia Enquirer contributor Cracker, a rock band from California, released a string of smash hits in the early and mid-’90s, with the song “Low” (from their best-selling record, 1993’s “Kerosene Hat”), still ranking as their most popular song. Since then, they’ve released several more records but none have matched the buzz of the early years. Yet for 24 years (the band formed in 1991), founders David Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman have maintained a low-rolling simmer, not succumbing to playing state fairs or popping up every so often to cash in on a reunion tour. The guys are still chugging along – when not being a rock star in Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, Lowery teaches music business at the University of Georgia in Athens and has been outspoken about artists’ rights. Hickman lives in Colorado and has released a couple of solo albums, produced a record for the band the Yawpers and released two records with his other band, The Hickman-Dalton Gang. At the end of last year, Cracker released a double LP called “Berkeley to Bakersfield.” The first LP, “Berkeley,” is a rock-ish record with songs that skewer San Francisco billionaires, and the second record, “Bakersfield,” integrates pedal steel in a throwback to Merle Haggard and all those other Bakersfield, California, country artists who wrote music in response to the overproduced Nashville sound. Cracker, a group that’s always been rootsy, goes full-fledged country on “Bakersfield,” and it’s honestly one of their best LPs yet. Listen to “Almond Grove.” As far as Hickman knows, no other band’s ever released a double LP on two different genres, and it’s one way Cracker stays one step ahead of the game. They’re not headlining stadiums like U2, but there’s something to be said in doing it your own way for two decades. Hickman answered some questions via email about Cracker’s latest record and why the band continues to endure. Question: Do you find your audiences just want you to play your ’90s hits? Answer: Cracker are lucky that way. Of course we’ll play our radio hits because it might be someone’s first Cracker show, but we have 10 albums and the Crumbs (self-dubbed Cracker fans) want to hear a variety. We try to play something from each album while playing a little more from the latest one, “Berkeley to Bakersfield”. Q: Because you and David have been the only two consistent members of the group, how has the dynamic of the band changed over the years? A: After already doing this for a while already, we both knew that a true democracy rarely works for bands. We made an early decision to keep the two of us as the core of whatever group of musicians we were working with. That’s still the way we operate. It works for us. Actually, more bands than you would imagine work that way. Q: Do you ever read or overhear people say, “Cracker? They’re still around?” If so, how do you respond? A: Not often, but once in a great while, yeah. It’s pretty easy to ignore that s— when you’re playing to great audiences singing along to every song each night. I don’t let it bother me. I’ve got work to do, and it’s work that I love. If people haven’t kept up with us and our fans, that’s their loss. Every night I meet people who are at their first Cracker show because a friend is a diehard fan and brought them. We always see them again because we’re one of the best live bands playing these days. Q: How does it feel to play in Cracker in 2015 as opposed to 1995? A: It feels better actually, because we’re better at it now. Like anyone else, we learn as we grow older and don’t make the same mistakes as when we’re young. With social media, we get the word out when we’re coming to town, to great success. That didn’t really exist in 1995, so in some ways 2015’s a better time to tour. Q: Did you ever approach your albums – especially after “Kerosene Hat” – with intentionally trying to write more hits? A. We’ve never really concerned ourselves with that mind set. We love all of our songs. Obviously when one is a hit that’s great but no, we write for ourselves first and foremost. Q: “Low” has over 3 million plays on Spotify. How much money do you get for that? A: About enough to go out to dinner a few times as long as it’s not too fancy of a restaurant. I wish I were kidding. Q: Was it more fun to do the “Berkeley” album or “Bakersfield”? A: Both were a pure joy to make, but the vibe was completely different for each, which felt perfect. We wrote and recorded “Berkeley” working about 10 hours a day for a week straight, then David went immediately home and finished writing the lyrics over the next week or so, and then we recorded the vocals. It was like the way bands worked in the ’60s and ’70s….just bang, and it’s done. The “Bakersfield” disc was recorded slowly, which suited the music on it. Q: What do you think of today’s country-pop music? A: Country has gotten pretty generic and mostly awful. How many songs can you write about your truck, your girlfriend’s jeans and drinking? Country is best when it’s funny as hell or heartbreaking as hell. We’ve done both with “Bakersfield.” I wrote “The San Bernardino Boy,” which is funny, and David wrote one of his best songs ever: “Almond Grove,” a song that will tear your heart out. Q: What’s the future like for Cracker? A: Personally, I’d like Cracker to keep writing, recording and touring as long as we are physically able to. I admire the old blues players for that. They loved it and so kept doing it come hell or high water. Who knows – maybe one day we’ll do a massive farewell tour. If we do, it actually will be farewell. Not for years, knock on wood! Cracker Where: The Southgate House Revival, Sanctuary When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 29 Tickets: $17 advance, $20 day of show, ticketfly.com/event/882049 http://www.cincinnati.com/story/entertainment/music/2015/07/22/cracker-still-around-proud-new-music/30536035/
Other Critic’s Picks: Cracker goes ‘Berkeley to Bakersfield’ to Pittsburgh
Cracker had its moment in the ’90s, when the mildly subversive tune “Low” was all the rage on rock radio.
But the band differs from your typical post-grunge one- or two-hit-wonder because it was built on the bones and brains of David Lowery and Camper Van Beethoven, which helped define the previous generation’s concept of smart-guy alternative/college rock.
Cracker developed into its own thing in short order and cranked out witty rock anthems like “I Hate My Generation” with regularity for a long time.
They’ll play the Rex Theater on the South Side on July 22, touring in support of a new double album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” which showcases the band’s rock and country sides.
Outlaw-country newcomer Jeremy Pinnell & The 55s are opening at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $20. Details: 412-381-6811 or rextheatre.com.
WJCU (Cleveland college radio) Cracker in-studio performance Tue. July 21 3pm EST
WYEP (Pittsburgh public radio) Cracker in-studio performance July 22nd at 1:15pm EST
WUWM (Milwaukee public radio) Cracker in-studio performance Sat. July 25 at 2pm CST
WFPK (Louisville AAA radio)Cracker in-studio performance Thu. July 30 @ 3pm EST.
(NW Indiana daily)
Cracker’s ‘ Berkeley to Bakersfield’ songs come to Brookfield
If nothing else, the members of 1990s alt/punk band Cracker are survivors.
Cofounders David Lowery and Johnny Hickman have been at it for almost a quarter of a century – amassing 10 studio albums, multiple gold records, thousands of live performances and hit songs that include “Low,” “Euro-Trash Girl,” “Get Off This” and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me.”
Cracker will perform at 7 p.m. at The Brookfield Zoo (8400 W 31st St., Brookfield, Ill.) on July 24 with local singer/songwriter Jack Daly (from Stellar Road) as part of the zoo’s “Summer Nights” program. More: (708) 688-8000.
The show is part of the band’s summer tour supporting the recent double-album “Berkeley to Bakersfield.” The “Berkeley” half features the harder-edge rock sounds of the Bay area that has informed their music since their inception in the early ’90s while the “Bakersfield” disc showcases an ongoing love affair with the country music of the southern California region. This is first time both of the band’s two distinct sounds have been compartmentalized on their own respective albums – one rock and one country.
“On the ‘Berkeley’ disc the band is the original Cracker lineup – Davey Faragher, Michael Urbano, Johnny and myself,” said Lowery. “This is the first time this lineup has recorded together in almost 20 years. We began recording this album at East Bay Recorders in Berkeley. For this reason we chose to stylistically focus this disc on the music we most associate with the East Bay, punk and garage with some funky undertones.”
The “Bakersfield” disc represents the ‘California country’ side of the band. “Throughout the band’s 24-year history we’ve dabbled in Country and Americana but this time we wanted to pay homage to the particular strain of Country and Country-Rock music that emerges from the inland valleys of California,” added Lowery.
(Arlington, VA A&E site)
Renowned rock band Cracker will be performing a local Falls Church show at The State Theatre on Thu. July 16th in support of their recent acclaimed double-album “Berkeley to Bakersfield.”
Cracker’s Berkeley (Disc 1) album features the harder-edge rock sounds of the Bay area that has informed their music since their inception in the early ’90s, while the Bakersfield disc showcases their nearly 25-year love affair with Country & Roots music of the southern California region. And while both of these genres have been incorporated together to varying degrees on all nine of their previous albums, this is first time they been compartmentalized on their own respective albums – one rock LP and one country LP.
Live Music: Cracker
July 16, 2015
The State Theatre
220 N Washington St
Falls Church, Virginia
DC/ 101 RADIO
(DC Rock station) Phone interview with David
The Two Sides Of David Lowery
This was a conversation I was looking forward to having for a while, getting to speak with David Lowery of Cracker. Not only is the band still making great music with their latest record Berkeley to Bakersfield and they’ll be at The State Theatre on July 16h, he’s also one of the leaders in the movement to make sure musicians are treated fairly. That artists should be compensated for their work, that their has to be a change in this current digital age, and that stealing music can’t just be the norm now. I really enjoyed speaking with him, here is the conversation.
Really interesting stuff there with David and I appreciate him spending some time with us!
If you want to win tickets to see Cracker when they come next week to The State Theatre, you can click here and register to score those!
And you should check out Berkeley to Bakersfield, the latest record from Cracker. Two completely different sounds coming from the same band on a double album, it’s really good. Click here for all that’s going on with Cracker!
ROCK GUITAR DAILY
(music site) Winters, CA show review with band photo
Cracker – They’re An American Band ( And One Of The Best) – Gig Report
Cracker w/ Victor Krummenacher
Palms Playhouse July 7, 2015
Cracker is one of those rare and few bands that can get their audience to come from near and far on a weekday evening, fill a room with rock ‘n’ roll lovers in an ancient room in a relatively sleepy town, and create the party of the week just days after a big party holiday.
The band’s fans call themselves the Cracker Crumbs, and when they gather it’s always a joyous celebration. Every band has its fans, but the Crumbs are a special lot. They know the words to all the songs, they sing and dance the whole night through, and it resembles a high school reunion (at least the way we wish they were) as much as a rock show.
Victor Krummenacher, a regular co-conspirator with the Cracker bunch and original member of Camper Van Beethoven (Cracker’s David Lowery’s other regular band) opened the show, and he really blew the folks away with his stunning songwriting skills, stellar band, and very confident and competent talents as a guitarist and frontman. Greg Lisher, another CVB stalwart was especially notable on lead guitar – his tones and chops are impeccable, and he’s a legend to those who know. Krummenacher is supporting his latest solo record, Hard To See Trouble Coming, and it is a wall to wall solid sender. He had a very enthusiastic crowd in the palms of his very able hands, and he kept them there until he left the stage to thunderous applause.
What can I tell you about Cracker that you don’t already know? Maybe that I think they are head to head and toe to toe with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers as America’s best rock band. The band has been startlingly consistent since their 1992 debut, and while radio got lost along the way, they have never stopped delivering their message of Cracker soul to adoring audiences. They’ve made a great noise with their latest release, Berkeley To Bakersfield (a brilliant double album at a time when many acts are hesitant to spend more than a week in a recording studio), and David Lowery has become the voice of reason in the battle for fair pay for recording artists.
Another thing that maybe people haven’t quite figured out (I’m not including the Crumbs, they are in the k.n.o.w. on this) is that David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, the band’s founders and steady members, are as formidable a music making team as you can find. The band would not be the band in either’s absence, and they share the workload brilliantly. Lowery is quite clearly the frontman, and Hickman the guitar star, but the guitarist’s tunes are stellar and the singer is as good a right hand rhythm guitarist as any currently stalking the planet.
The band is famed for their huge nineties hits “Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)”, and “Low”, and as great as both songs are, there are many more in the band’s catalogue that transcend these smash hits in scope and depth. This is one of those acts where there is just no filler – from the moment they take to the stage with fan classic, “One Fine Day” until two encores later we have found ourselves singing and dancing for a couple of truly blissful hours. A great night to fall in love once again.
How many classic rock aged acts can truly say that their newest material is as good, and often better than the tunes on which they originally made their name? I can tell you that there are not a lot, but I can also gleefully state that Cracker is one of those bands.
Lowery and Hickman were not alone. They have Bryan Howard back on bass, and he’s a magician – Cracker has always featured stellar bass players, and it’s a tougher job than Mr. Howard makes it look. Thayer Sarrano is along on keyboards and vocals, and she looked like she was enjoying her birthday just fine. “Pistol” plays some of the finest steel guitar out there, and Matt Stoessel filled the air with solos and fills that were dazzling, and they are worth their weight in gold to see the smile his licks put on the face of Mr. Hickman, who gives the steeler as much space as he grants himself. Coco Owens rounds out the band on drums, and he’s a powerhouse with plenty of finesse. This is one great band.
You know I love this band. I was talking to Johnny Hickman before the show, and he was plenty tired from several days of grueling long drives from town to town, but the glee in his eyes as we discussed horse trading guitars, and the intricate details and difference between Gretschs, Starts, and Les Pauls would have been enough to convince me of his unbridled passion, but when I heard him uncoiling some of the most melodic and ‘perfect for the song’ lead lines throughout the night, I knew exactly what he feels for what he calls, “My beloved band.”
When you hear a musician say that, well, it just may bring a tear to your eye. This is why we love this thing. Support our bands, support our music, and if you have any chance at all, get out to a Cracker show just as soon as you can. It will do your soul great good.
Very special thanks and love to the Cracker Crumbs – I adore you guys. You’re the greatest.
(Bend, OR daily) Feature interview with David to preview Bend show
A Joan Didion Soundtrack
From city to country, Cracker tells musical stories
BY DAVE GIL DE RUBIO
The geographic distance between Berkeley and Bakersfield, California is 276.4 miles. For David Lowery, it’s also a stretch of land influential enough to the sound of his band that Cracker recently released a two-CD set entitled Berkeley to Bakersfield.
The first CD crackles with guitar-driven alt-rock like the jangly “Beautiful” and the stomper “Life In the Big City.”
Move on to disc two and out comes the pedal steel and fiddle, whether it’s on the twangy “Almond Grove” or the honky-tonk shuffle “King of Bakersfield.” And while this combination may seem odd, that combination of roots-rock and country riffing has been a hallmark dating back to the band’s 1992 self-titled debut, when Lowery’s guitar-playing creative partner Johnny Hickman juiced up songs like the defiant “Can I Take My Gun to Heaven” and the anthemic “I See the Light” with riffs that pulsed with the influence of Bakersfield legends Buck Owens and Don Rich.
“The country thing is something that’s been around throughout our whole career,” Lowery explained in a recent interview. “So in 2004 we put out [the album] “Countrysides” as a way paying homage to our roots in that way. In 2013, we thought it was time to touch on that again, so I started writing these songs that were largely sort of country-based, which was sort of the idea for the next Cracker record. It was going to be a sort of Americana record.”
Around this time, the Texas native had also been working with drummer Michael Urbano, who not only played with Lowery in his other band, Camper Van Beethoven, but also an earlier Cracker lineup. Joined by bassist Davey Faragher, the trio recorded nine songs of original material that were distinctly different from the nine songs Lowery had started recording earlier for this project. It proved to be an interesting conundrum according to Lowery.
“[Berkeley] was this sort of three-day, songwriting demo session with me, Davey [Faragher] and Michael that’s not exactly perfect,” he recalled. “When we listened to it back and compared these two batches of songs, they seemed different enough that they were two different albums. So that’s what we did…It sort of explains who our rock and country roots are.”
While Lowery has been pulling double-duty spearheading Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, dating back to the latter’s regrouping in the late ’90s, he’s also developed an interest in using the geography of his adopted state of California to drive his most current wave of songwriting.
More recently, it came via the most recent CVB albums, 2014’s El Camino Real, which draws its inspiration from southern California, and 2013’s La Costa Perdida, which is more about the northern part of the Golden State.
But for Lowery, who currently teaches a course on the economics of finance in the music business at the University of Georgia and is working on his long-delayed mathematics doctorate, his geographically-driven creative urges were stoked by authors Joan Didion and William Vollman.
“I’ve become fascinated with writers like Joan Didion,” Lowery said. “[She] wrote this wonderful book made up of essays on the grimy part of California called Slouching Towards Bethlehem about the end of an empire. And then I got fascinated by William Vollman who is a really hard-to-describe author. He’ll write a 1,300-page book that’s really a loose collection of long and elegant essays that spans 400 years that’s about the Imperial Valley of California, which is both in California and Mexico.”
“So I wound up being fascinated by this writing style and I started out doing that with the Camper records,” he said. “I looked at it as being our Didion phase. I haven’t taken this geography thing that far, but it’s definitely part of something that I’ve been thinking about for the last four or five years. The songs aren’t really about the geography. They are just excuses to tell other stories.”
5:30 pm, Thursday July 9
Free (part of the Munch & Music series)
Cracker wins the battle over ‘tyranny of choice’
Anyone who went to college (not to get too brainiac here) knows the thrill of the crazy cool college professor. The campus radical. The novelist on loan. And no doubt some lucky business students at the University of Georgia must feel their lucky stars when a veritable Indiana Jones of the hip, David Lowery of both Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, starts writing stuff down on the blackboard between globetrotting tours.
Over the decades songwriter Lowery has weathered all kinds of changes in the music industry and been an underrated force of nature in terms of blazing the trails of college and/or indie rock. Now he says there’s a “tyranny of choice” in the entertainment business with the internet bustling with every imaginable listening opportunity for fans to hear their heroes for free. In this climate, there are numerous controversies related to how musicians get paid by online music services, and recently Taylor Swift was raised to rebel Robin Hoodette status because she criticized Apple for its royalty payment plans for a new streaming service.
But the rock star professor isn’t impressed.
“Taylor Swift is obviously the most powerful person in the music business,” he says, with the same kind of sarcasm that made “Take the Skinheads Bowling” a strange kind of rallying cry for the left in the 1980s. “I have been saying that for years but she stood up to Apple with a couple of (social media) posts … It’s still not clear if they are paying songwriters.”
And he speaks not just from his success with his first band in the 1980s, Camper Van Beethoven, which used a kind of cottage industry approach to become a college radio fave and critical darling. Nor is he just speaking as the leader of Cracker, which has also continued to record since the heyday of so-called “alternative” music in the 1990s. More than that, he’s also a lecturer at the University of Georgia at the Athens college’s music business program. Smart is as smart does and Lowery, with a background in mathematics and financial analysis, is a master of one more thing: diversification.
Last year Cracker released an album showing such completely divergent musical styles that it had to be divided into two CDs. “Berkeley to Bakersfield” offers the familiar alt-rock laced with social commentary on the “Berkeley” disc, and on the “Bakersfield” disc, country music inspired by ’60s and ’70s era Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. The band has always dabbled a bit in country rock, but this immersion has been enough to get the band invited to perform at last month’s Shaky Boots country music festival, featuring such artists as Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts.
The band has even more recently been in Spain, opening for metal act Mastodon.
“Cracker is so popular in Spain, I’m a deejay there at 3 a.m.,” he says. “That’s how well known we are there. Spain is the craziest music country in the world.”
The band cuts such a wide swath of territory, any particular show can be viewed in phases. A performance might start out with a few uptempo country rock tunes, and then, when the sun goes down, the stage lights turn psychedelic with the simply crunching “Low” or “I Hate My Generation” sending the evening into a frenzy. Lowery’s talent for the succinct and sarcastic lyric, with clever lines as memorable as they come, has come full circle with the new material.
It took a couple of versions of Cracker to produce the new double CD. The first side was recorded with California-based performers who were members of Cracker 20 years ago, Davey Faragher and Michael Urbano, as well as the nothing if not versatile original guitarist Johny Hickman, who ventures between providing acid, punk and alt-rock muscle on the “Berkeley” side and country riffs on the “Bakersfield” side. The country music tracks were for the most part recorded with some of what Lowery calls the “hottest cats” from the Athens music scene.
Among many highlights on the new record is a very Paul Simon-like political protest song, “Torches and Pitchforks,” and “El Cerrito,” which shows some insight into Lowery’s storytelling songwriting style that probably moves him closer to a topical guy like Ray Davies of the Kinks than Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, even though Cracker is right alongside that latter-day generation of ’90s acts that found a pop groove for bestselling records in alternativeland. Since “Berkeley to Bakersfield” is kind of a social-political tour of the Central Valley of California and the Bay Area, “El Cerrito” finds the opportunity to critique the technological elite of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
“That song was pulled from the perspective of taxi drivers when Uber first came out,” he says.
The song starts out:
Walking down the street in San Francisco just the other day
Wondering what has happened to the freaks and hippies and the punks
Everybody’s squeaky clean, they look and dress and act the same
I don’t give a shit about your IPO I live in El Cerrito
Then it goes on to rail on the class warfare of the Bay Area and Berkeley, which Lowery says, mockingly “was the birthplace of free speech.” The rest of the song is almost a direct reporting of going on a taxi ride in San Francisco and having, in the middle of it, the driver follow an Uber car, and then “get out and flip the Uber guy off, then get back into the car and drive off. He went through this whole spiel as he drove up to the place, and it actually made a lot of sense, and that became the lyrics.”
(San Luis Obispo, CA college weekly) SLO concert review with photos
Cracker’s eclectic sound reaches young and old
by Georgie de Mattos
The “Crumbs” is what they call themselves — the diehard fans of the band Cracker, who camp out before shows and traverse California following their favorite melodies. Monday night, I found the Crumbs sweaty and smiling, honored to be in the same room as the 24-year-old band.
“They’ll follow us from show to show because we have a different setlist every night,” said Johnny Hickman, lead guitarist and vocalist. “They’ll even help each other out with places to stay for each show.”
And if you didn’t think Crumbs could get any sweeter, nearby strangers at the show would spark up conversation and revel in their love for the band along with their anticipation for the performance. Before the band even came on stage, the tipsy crowd cheered for sound check, knowing it was getting closer to start time. When the band appeared, they erupted.
Cracker’s presence wasn’t too intimidating — it was something like seeing your favorite uncle walk in the room. A very talented uncle.
David Lowery and Johnny Hickman’s fans prove why the group has been together for more than a decade. For one, they’re dedicated. But while a majority of the crowd was made up of people the age of 30 or older, their sound reaches beyond Generation X.
“I have people with me who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. This music is great for all ages,” said Jennifer Chassman, who was celebrating her birthday with friends at the show.
Though the band has a strong following of people in their 40s, younger crowds showed they were just as committed.
“They’re all over the map, age wise,” said Hickman.
After making their stop at the bar for a pint, about 85 people trickled into SLO Brew at 7:30 p.m. for the performance. No students, no Snapchat stories, just Cracker and their fans’ dance moves — the ones you only see adults perform at family reunions. I almost felt ashamed to be standing near the front for photo ops; I didn’t want to take away space that could be replaced with diehards. But the fans weren’t fazed.
“I’ve probably been to 40 shows of theirs and they never disappoint,” Tracy-Lin Buntz said.
With his new Cracker album in hand, Berkeley to Bakersfield, Cal Poly alumni and former KCPR DJ Ben Simon explained his fascination with the band.
“I love how eclectic they are and the sarcasm they use in their lyrics,” he said. “They capture the true spirit of classic rock.”
Since the release of their hit song “Low,” Cracker has created music ranging from psychedelia to blues and punk.
“They call us the ‘Godfathers of Americana music,’” said Hickman, half laughing. “And that’s an honor.”
The performers that contribute to the band’s many albums are what make up their eclectic style. The people that currently perform with Cracker are from Georgia, where it recorded Berkeley to Bakersfield. But out of all the genres it’s accomplished, country and rock is what its fans seem to favor.
“‘Low’ was the closest thing I had heard to The Rolling Stones,” said Simon. During his time at Cal Poly, the fan used to get warnings from his KCPR manager for playing the band multiple times in one session. “I played at least one of their songs every set of mine.”
Both from Redlands, California, Hickman and Lowery became friends in the early ‘80s. On their new album, they decided to portray two genres that were heavily influenced by the regions they grew up in: Farmlands that sparked their interest in country music and college campuses that were the epicenter for politics and punk.
“We identify with Bakersfield because our connection to country and Berkeley because of our college education,” Hickman said.
Both of these sounds reoccurred throughout the performance plenty of times. Hickman would layer his higher voice with Lowery’s to assemble the folky, country sound while both punctured the microphones with heavy vocals for punk.
Starting the 9 p.m. set on the SLO Brew stage, Cracker walked out proudly. The band began slowly with long guitar solos that kept the crowd enthralled until the climax of the show — the very end. Through the performance, Crumbs would raise their hollow drinks in the air and scream lyrics with the artist. To say the energy dissipated by the end of the show would be doing it a disservice. And while the fans label themselves as the Crumbs of Cracker, the band clearly makes them feel otherwise.
(Music site) Twangfest Atlanta concert review
TWANGFEST 19: CRACKER/MARAH/GRACE BASEMENT
Nineteen years on and… I’ve finally made it to a TWANGFEST show! Sure, I was gonna go anyway; I mean… Cracker AND Marah, on the same bill, right? It had been some thirteen years since I last saw Cracker live (at the still-lamented Mississippi Nights) and longer still since I’d seen Marah (a very different version of the band onstage tonight opened for Union at Pop’s in 2000). The packed floor at Off Broadway signalled only one thing: Opening night of TWANGFEST 19 was gonna be one big party!
While Grace Basement were indisputably great and Marah were brilliant, it was obvious that these people were here for a little Cracker. And, so… it was on to the evening’s main event. From the outset, vocalist/guitarist David Lowery and lead guitarist/vocalist Johnny Hickman, the band’s only constants and focal points, took control of the crowd, holding most enraptured and hanging on every word, every note. One of the more entertaining things happening onstage was the disappearance and subsequent reappearance of pedal steel player Matt “Pistol” Stoessel, as dictated by the quirky set list, which relied heavily on last year’s BERKELEY TO BAKERSFIELD and, naturally, the “hits,” which were kinda lumped all together mid-set. Pistol started onstage with the rest of the band for “One Fine Day,” from 2002’s FOREVER album and was prominently featured on most of the new material which has more of a countrified vibe.
For the most part, the rhythm section of keyboard player Robbie Crowell, bassist Bryan Howard and drummer Carlton “Coco” Owens were content to lay back in the pocket, allowing Lowery, Hickman and Stoessel to shine in lead roles. The Hickman sung “California Country Boy,” a rollicking Bakersfield stroll, shone the spotlight on both Crowell and Pistol, with great solos from each. Johnny added just the right amount of twang to his guitar on “King of Bakersfield,” a seeming paean to Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam. The voices of both Lowery and Hickman sounded a bit ragged on this night, at the end of a long tour; that only added to the rough, take-no-prisoners approach to the music, especially on the 1990 “alternative” tunes. Those songs – “Low,” “Sweet Potato,” “This Is Cracker Soul” and “Euro-Trash Girl” – sound as alive and vital as they did the first time we heard them, allowing Howard and Owens to stretch out a bit, especially on the slinky “Euro-Trash Girl.” As always, Johnny Hickman’s guitar work was impeccable, bordering on the sublime, regardless of musical style and it was more than obvious that he and David Lowery were truly enjoying themselves.
What a great way to kick off the four-day TWANGFEST 19! I just wish that I could have made it to the other shows, which featured artists as diverse as the Bottle Rockets, Matthew Sweet, Lydia Loveless and a reunited Nadine, featuring an old friend, Jimmy Griffin. This show, however, will be forever etched into my memory as one of the best I have ever seen… hands down! If you missed it, shame on you.
(Kennewick, WA Daily)
Rock band Cracker to play Roxy Bar in Kennewick on July 11
BY SARA SCHILLING
Cracker has been described as everything from alternative rock to Americana, from punk to insurgent country.
And the acclaimed band’s new music reflects that nuanced identity.
The double album Berkeley To Bakersfield includes one LP — Berkeley — featuring harder rock sounds, and another — Bakersfield — with a country-roots feel.
Cracker is on tour in support of the new album, with a stop planned July 11 at The Roxy Bar and concert venue in Kennewick.
Tickets cost $20 for general admission, or $79 for a reserved table.
David Lowery, co-founder, said Berkeley To Bakersfield is a fitting reflection of the band.
“The idea came out that we would make this a double disc — that, in some way, it told the story of who the band is better than anything,” he told the Herald. “We have this rock side, this country side. I think it’s helped explain us a little bit better to the general public.”
Lowery never banked on becoming a rock star. Although he played music growing up and in college, “I was more of a math guy. Math and computers,” he said.
After college, he was working as a programmer for an agribusiness in California and played in bands on the side. His group Camper Van Beethoven started getting radio time.
In 1986, “I took a leave of absence from my job and went on tour. I never really came back to it,” he said.
“It’s not like I set out on this path. I always enjoyed playing. We were serious about playing, getting gigs. I saw it as something that I’d probably keep doing, but I didn’t see it as being a career,” Lowery added.
But it became one. After Camper disbanded, Lowery and longtime friend Johnny Hickman formed Cracker.
The group now has 10 studio albums to its name, including the gold-selling Kerosene Hat with songs such as Low and Euro-Trash Girl.
Berkeley to Bakersfield was released last December. At The Roxy show, Lowery said fans should expect a good time.
The band will play new music but also dip into its deep catalog, playing tunes from all its albums.
“It’s a retrospective, with an emphasis on the new (music),” Lowery said. “Come out and see us. You’ll enjoy it.”
IF YOU GO
What: Performance by the band Cracker, with Buffalo Jones.
When: 8:30 p.m. July 11. Doors open at 8 p.m.
Where: The Roxy Bar and concert venue, 101 W. Kennewick Ave., Suite 201.
Cost: $20 general admission, or $79 for a reserved table. Tickets are available in advance through www.ticketfly.com.
Cracker Performs Alt-Rock and Country Hits July 22nd at the Rex Theater
The unique sound of Cracker has been described as many things — alternative-rock, insurgent country, Americana and even punk. In their latest album release, entitled Berkeley to Bakersfield, Cracker bridges the musical gap between the ’70s and ’80s Bay Area rock scene with the country twang of Bakersfield. Drusky Entertainment presents the genre-defying band to the Rex Theater to pay homage to the polarizing musical genres of the East Bay and the Inland Empire. Experience their dynamic take on California and rock out to classic songs like “Low,” “Euro-Trash Girl,” and “Get Off This.”
(Bend, OR daily) Feature interview with David
Cracker kicks off Munch and Music in Bend
Alt-rockers play up country, punk sides on double album
By Brian McElhiney / The Bulletin
It’s been 25 years since David Lowery called California home, but the state is still on his mind.
Lowery has released three albums in the last two years with strong ties to California, where he formed Camper Van Beethoven and later Cracker and helped launch the now-ubiquitous country-rock genre in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The most recent of these releases is Cracker’s 10th studio album and first in five years, “Berkeley to Bakersfield.” The double album examines the two opposing musical styles that shaped Cracker in its early days, and is split between the punkier “Berkeley” disc, which feature’s Cracker’s 1993 lineup, and the pure West Coast country on “Bakersfield.”
The album was at least partially written and recorded at the same time as the last two Camper Van Beethoven records, “La Costa Perdida” (2013) and “El Camino Real” (2014). These two albums take on geographic themes from Northern California (“La Costa”) and Southern California (“El Camino.”)
“We (Camper Van Beethoven) were trying to decide which (songs) to record, and we split it up, north to south,” Lowery said recently, while driving with his kids from Georgia to Virginia.
“At the same time, we (Cracker) were doing ‘Berkeley to Bakersfield,’ so now we’re dividing the state west to east. Now I’m in my Joan Didion phase; I’m doing sort of location-based song essays. … So the north and south is divided, on the Camper records, geographically, and also with the Cracker records, stylistically and to a certain extent politically. There’s sort of a lefty protest sort of thing through the ‘Berkeley’ disc, while the ‘Bakersfield’ disc is a little more apolitical.”
Lowery has called the East Coast home for the past 25 years, and currently lives in Georgia. He has taught in the music business certificate program at the University of Georgia business school alongside former Sugar bassist David Barbe and others for the last four years.
But Lowery is still a frequent visitor to the West Coast, of course. The current lineup of Cracker heads back west this weekend, and will kick off the Munch and Music free concert series at Drake Park in Bend on Thursday before tackling Washington and East Coast dates.
Since the recording of the “Bakersfield” disc, Cracker on tour has consisted of Lowery and founding guitarist John Hickman, along with bassist Bryan Howard, drummer Coco Owens, keyboardist Thayer Sarrano and pedal steel player Matt “Pistol” Stoessel.
However, the “Berkeley” disc is notable for featuring original Cracker bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Michael Urbano alongside Lowery and Hickman — the same lineup featured on Cracker’s 1993 sophomore album, “Kerosene Hat.” This group recorded together for the first time in two decades on the “Berkeley” disc after reforming for a number of shows around the 20th anniversary of “Kerosene Hat.”
“We went in the studio to see if we could come up with a few tracks together, and basically we came out with that entire disc,” Lowery said. “It was sort of a surprise. In three days, we came up with that entire disc, and I wouldn’t expect that.”
Lowery calls the Athens, Georgia-based group that recorded “Bakersfield,” and is currently touring as Cracker, an “Americana all-star band.” While the group tackles all of Cracker’s eclectic back catalog, Lowery said the focus on country after the “Bakersfield” disc has helped put that side of the band’s personality in the spotlight.
“We sort of managed to get ourselves onto the Shaky Boots Festival, this big country festival down in Atlanta,” Lowery said. “I think a lot of people that just sort of know us from our alt-radio hits think that’s what we are. Our fans clearly know what we do, but this is sort of helping get (the country side) across more to sort of the general public. When we started this, the first thing we did after the album, for promo, a month before the album came out, we had a couple tracks streaming on Rolling Stone’s country website. That’s definitely a little different approach for us, to sort of put that forward.”
It’s not an approach Lowery would ever have dreamed of taking when Cracker’s first few albums were released in the early ’90s. Both records — 1992’s self-titled effort and 1993’s “Kerosene Hat” — are now considered classics of the alt-country genre, spawning some of the band’s best-known songs, including “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” from the first album and “Low” from “Kerosene Hat.” But at the time, some people around the band were concerned with the rootsier direction after Camper Van Beethoven’s alt-rock success.
“Our A&R guy was very supportive, but he said to us after the first Crack record, ‘You’ve got this alt-rock following, and now you’re putting out an album of half country rock. You sure you want to do this?’ I’m like, ‘I’m fine with it,’” Lowery said. “And that first album, on alternative rock radio, sounds totally American roots rock. The first tour we did before we came out with that album, we did shows with Uncle Tupelo opening for us, and you know, I mean, there were people who thought Uncle Tupelo was cool, but it was like 50 people. The Americana thing had not started yet; that was just a brave few people.”
If you go
What: Cracker, with Jaime Wyatt
When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Bend Memorial Clinic Munch and Music, Drake Park, 777 NW Riverside Blvd., Bend
(Santa Barbara, CA weekly) Feature interview with David to preview SLO show
Jeff Moehlis: Alt-Rockers Cracker to Show Country Side at SLO Brew
David Lowery is the singer and co-founder of the alt-rock band Cracker, whose well-known early 1990s songs include “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now),” “Low” and “Euro-Trash Girl.” In 2014, the band released its ninth studio album, Berkeley to Bakersfield, with the Berkeley disc featuring the band’s original lineup for the first time in ages and drawing on their punk rock influences, and the Bakersfield disc in a California country vein. Lowery is also a founding and continuous member of the eclectic alternative rock band Camper Van Beethoven.
Lowery talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming Cracker concert on Monday, July 6 at SLO Brew in San Luis Obispo. Tickets are available by clicking here.
Click here for the full interview, in which Lowery talks more about the new album, his math/computer background, and his and Taylor Swift’s efforts to help artists receive fair compensation in the changing technological world.
• • •
Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at the upcoming show?
David Lowery: Well, we have a new album out. It’s called Berkeley to Bakersfield. We played a lot of it when we were in Santa Barbara back in December. We’re probably going to be playing a fair amount off of that album, as well as songs from our previous albums. We’re not a band that doesn’t play the hits. We play the hits. You know, we try to play something off of every one of our albums. We don’t always do it, but we generally do, and then play some new stuff.
This is the bigger lineup. This is the Bakersfield lineup, the full country lineup, although we don’t just play country, we also play rock in this. This is actually the lineup that we recorded the Bakersfield disc with, which we didn’t have the last time we played on the West Coast.
JM: Back in that era when “Low” was a hit, in the early to mid-’90s, what was the good, the bad and the ugly about the alt-rock world?
DL: The facial hair [laughs].
JM: Is that good, bad or ugly? [laughs]
DL: Ugly! That’s the ugly! That’s the stuff that you look back on and go, “Ooo … the 90’s … Oooo … Why did we do that with our beards?” Like a little soul patch.
It was a good time, though, in the sense that there were a lot of bands that came out that didn’t really sound like things that had come before them, and ended up getting pushed by the music business in general. You know, we can make fun of the ’90s and the Grunge sound, but it was actually fairly diverse. I mean, on one hand you have stuff like Hootie & the Blowfish, or Counting Crows doing their neo-classical rock. And, you know, on the other hand you have experiments gone bad, with rap metal and stuff like that.
Rock radio really was playing a great diversity of stuff. I don’t know if it was all good. I don’t know if you can even really judge it now. I find myself sometimes hearing a band from the ’90s, a song that I really couldn’t stand, and going, “Wait a minute, this is actually pretty clever” [laughs]. Or listening to something from that time that I thought was really cool, and going, “God, this is actually really terrible. How could I like this?” So there was a diversity.
The good thing was there was a great diversity of sound and style from that time. I don’t know if we see as much today, on popular radio. Obviously there’s the wide open Internet. In some ways there’s never been a better time for a music fan because there’s an unbelievable variety of stuff out there to listen to. But as far as mainstream culture goes, I think it was a little broader then than it is now.
JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future? Do you have any albums in the works?
DL: I think we’ve got about 50 or 60 more shows on this album, including going back to Europe again. We just went over and did one summer festival in Spain. By the way, for whatever reason, the place on Earth where Cracker has always been the most popular is Spain. I don’t know how that worked — a very eclectic, strange rock music culture they have over there, in particular the festival in the Basque region. So anyway, we just went over there and did that festival.
That was the only thing that we were doing. We’ll probably go back in the late fall and do a few more shows over there. So we’ll wind this down just after the new year, and probably start working on another record.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this. Sharknado 3 comes out in July. I’m actually really proud of this, because Camper loved B horror movies and monster movies and bad flicks and all that stuff.
We have two new tracks in the Sharknado 3 movie. Don’t expect high art. Think the first album. The director’s very cool, very much more of a Comic Con kind of person than you would think. And they’re coordinating it with an anti-finning campaign, sort of a Save the Sharks campaign. So I should mention that — two new Camper songs on the Sharknado 3 soundtrack.
(Santa Barbara music site) Feature interview with David to preview SLO show (full interview from Noozhawk above)
Interview: David Lowery
David Lowery is the singer and co-founder – along with Johnny Hickman – of the alt-rock band Cracker, whose well-known early 90’s songs include “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)”, “Low”, and “Euro-Trash Girl”. In 2014, the band released its 9th studio album, Berkeley to Bakersfield, with the Berkeley disc featuring the band’s original line-up for the first time in ages and drawing on their punk rock influences, and the Bakersfield disc in a California country vein.
Lowery is also a founding and continuous member of the eclectic alternative rock band Camper Van Beethoven, to which he contributes vocals and guitar. Camper Van Beethoven’s first album, Telephone Free Landslide Victory, came out in 1985, and includes such classic songs as “The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon”, “Where the Hell is Bill?”, the Black Flag cover “Wasted”, and “Take the Skinheads Bowling”. They released four more acclaimed albums before burning out, the independently-released II & III and self-titled Camper Van Beethoven, and the major-label albums Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and Key Lime Pie. The band reformed at the end of the end of the 1990’s, and has released several more albums.
This interview was for a preview article for Cracker’s concert at SLO Brew in San Luis Obispo on 7/6/15. It was done by phone on 6/25/15.
Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at the upcoming show?
David Lowery: Well, we have a new album out – it’s called Berkeley to Bakersfield. We played a lot of it when we were in Santa Barbara back in December. We’re probably going to be playing a fair amount off of that album, as well as songs from our previous albums. We’re not a band that doesn’t play the hits. We play the hits. You know, we try to play something off of every one of our albums. We don’t always do it, but we generally do, and then play some new stuff.
This is the bigger line-up. This is the Bakersfield line-up, the full country line-up, although we don’t just play country, we also play rock in this. This is actually the line-up that we recorded the Bakersfield disc with, which we didn’t have the last time we played on the West Coast.
JM: Speaking of the new album Berkeley to Bakersfield, it’s interesting how it has the two different personalities. What’s the story behind that? Why did you decide to do it that way?
DL: From the first record we’ve always had songs that, for the lack of a better word, fit the alternative format, some that were rock, and some that were out and out country. Like on the first album there’s a song called “Mr. Wrong”. On the second album there’s a song called “Lonesome Johnny Blues”. So we’ve always had this sort of rock plus country thing within all of the albums. In 2003, we did an album [Countrysides] where we sort of paid homage to the country side of the band – we did covers and a couple new originals. So it started out thinking that it was time to do that again. It was kind of like a once-a-decade kind of thing that we do. So we were working on that disc. I was writing that disc, and working with these folks here in Athens, Georgia – the Bakersfield band, even though it’s Athens, Georgia.
In the middle of all of that, me and Johnny went up to Berkeley and we played with our old rhythm section from the Kerosene Hat days, which was [drummer] Michael Urbano and [bassist] Davey Faragher. These are guys we grew up with. But they’re more or less like session cats now. So we only toured with them a little bit. They made those albums with us, but… You know, Davey plays with Elvis Costello. You know what I mean? These guys are kind of session cats. So it’s not very often that we get together and play. So in the middle of doing the Bakersfield disc, which wasn’t called “Bakersfield”, just “Untitled”, we went to Michael’s place and just kind of jammed, to see if we could make up an album of music. We knocked out basically what the Berkeley album is, sort of in three days. We had to take some of it back here in Athens and retrack some of it, but basically the genesis of that album was done in Berkeley.
So we had these two batches of music, so we were calling them Berkeley and Athens. Of course that didn’t sound as good, so it became Berkeley and Bakersfield. The idea came about, instead of these being two separate discs, we should put these out as one single work, because in a way it explains the band better than anything we’ve done in the past. You know what I mean? There’s this distinct Americana country rock thing that we do, and we have a large following because of that, and then we’re sort of known for our rock hits on rock and alternative radio. It explains the band, so that’s what we did. We didn’t really plan it – it just came together that way.
JM: I lived in Berkeley in the 90’s, so listening to the Berkeley disc made me a bit homesick for the People’s Republic of Berkeley, especially the song “Beautiful”. Do you have any particular Berkeley connection?
DL: Michael Urbano, who’s the drummer on the Kerosene Hat album, he lives in Berkeley. His little rehearsal studio space is right off of San Pablo. I don’t know if you remember the big purple party store place? It’s been there forever – it’s just this real weird building. But it’s right in that neighborhood. It’s not far from Gilman Street. That used to be a pretty gritty part of San Pablo. I don’t think anything’s gritty there anymore, really. But, yeah, it’s just right there.
So we’re in the middle of, as you say, the People’s Republic of Berkeley. I don’t know, you know, it just began to infuse the record. The Berkeley thing has always been the protest movement, the Free Speech Movement, the anti-war movement, all the anarchist political punk rock, the Code Pink stuff. That’s the essence of what Berkeley is, just a general, constant state of development. But musically, it’s pretty diverse. You have everything from hybrid Afro-Cuban-punk… It’s like everything’s a hybrid there, or something. You have your punks there, you have your hippies there, stylistically all this different kind of music. So we just kind of narrowed in on the pop punk stuff that that came out of Berkeley, sort of that period of ’90’s funky alt-rock, and a little bit of solo guitar protest music. I don’t know, I couldn’t do everything. So we were influenced by being in Berkeley, going, “OK, you know, let’s do this, let’s try this.”
JM: I know that this is a Cracker show coming up, but I have to ask you about one Camper Van Beethoven song. A little context – I work at UC Santa Barbara, and I live in Goleta. So I have to ask – do you want to apologize for the song “(Don’t You Go to) Goleta”?
DL: Well, Jonathan [Segel] did that – that’s Jonathan’s song. So I’ll let Jonathan apologize for it. Both his parents were professors at [UC] Davis, so he had a thing against the Southern California campuses. I’m ambivalent about which campus is better than the others, although I am a Banana Slug – I did graduate from UC Santa Cruz with a math degree. I guess Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Santa Cruz are the three that are right on the ocean, and are probably the most culturally similar campuses [laughs].
JM: I do love the Santa Cruz campus. You feel like you’re at summer camp.
DL: Yeah, that’s what they derisively called it in the 60’s and the 70’s – the Los Angeles Times famously referred to it as “Uncle Charlie’s Summer Camp” [laughs].
JM: A little off topic, but I think it’s interesting that you studied mathematics at Santa Cruz. Did you know any of the guys developing Chaos Theory at Santa Cruz in the late 70’s? They also did the gambling stuff where they hid a computer in their shoes when they went into casinos [see the book The Eudaemonic Pie].
DL: Those guys were slightly before my time. But if you look and see who my advisor is, it was Gerhard Ringel. Go to his Wikipedia page, and the picture is a picture of him surfing. This is a German guy who was drafted basically into the Nazi army in 1945 when he was 17, immediately gets captured by the Russians, spends four years in a Russian prisoner of war camp, and learned all this mathematics and all this crazy stuff. And then did the Map Color Theorem, and came to Santa Cruz because he was really interested in surfing. He’s one of the great mathematicians of the last century. He was my advisor, and he was an avid surfer. I mean, you’d often see him in his wetsuit. He wasn’t young either, when he was my advisor.
Those were some wacky guys that were there at the time. Yeah, they were doing chaos theory. There’s a whole weird thing. There were a lot of people trying to factor primes at the time, finding new ways to factor primes. I don’t know if this was just graduate students, or if it was faculty, or whatever. But that was all like code breaking stuff. RSA encryption, where you have one-sided encryption, where there’s a public key and there’s a private key – that hadn’t happened yet. But I know when I was there there was a lot stuff going on around that.
The other thing that was happening there, we had a really good Linguistics Department there, and there was suddenly a push to get everyone into computational linguistics. “We want to start doing linguistics, but have computers translate stuff” – things like that. That’s the seed of what becomes search engines in Silicon Valley, and stuff like that. I actually think, even though we’re not associated with a lot of those breakthroughs in Silicon Valley, we were 20 miles away. We’re just on the other side of the hill, and I feel like the time I went to school there, that’s when all of that was beginning.
My first job out of college was math – math was basically the same thing as computers at that time, in a way, computer science. There was computer science at the University of California, Santa Cruz, but if you graduated in math you basically went and did computers as well, because you were programming shit anyway. My first job was programming what became dBase, just writing routines and stuff for this sort of industrial-sized agri-farm, writing routines in dBase for the CP/M operating system. And then also, I got pretty good – they had a legacy punchcard system, that wasn’t a punchcard anymore. I might be wrong, but I think that used the RPG language. In a weird way, yes I did all that math stuff, but it’s almost like vintage antique tube-power amplifier computer stuff. Punchcard shit.
All the people that were my friends were involved in that. They were all playing in bands. It was a very eccentric time for the scientists at that university.
JM: Do you miss the math/computer world at all? Or do you still follow it?
DL: I’m still involved in it. I’ve kept one toe in it, but it sort of manifests itself in a weird way. Like I’m on the board for an angel fund here in Athens, and then I randomly usually have several positions as some sort of advisor to various tech-y start-ups. The most recent one is reverb.com, which is a vertical competitor to eBay. It’s just music gear, kind of the back end of the Chicago Music Exchange. So yeah, I’ve always kind of kept a toe in there.
I’m doing research right now for UGA [University of Georgia], part of the Institute of Higher Education, because I can do statistics. I love me a good multilinear regression [laughs]. And now you have these wonderful computer programs that are pretty frickin’ plug-and-play. It’s fun to play around with the data. So, yeah, I still do that. But nothing like that goes into my music articles.
JM: OK, back to the music world. What to you is unique about Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker?
DL: The thing is, if we weren’t related personnel-wise, there’d be more talk about the similarities between the two bands. The thing about Camper Van Beethoven, there are four people in that band that can make their own records, sing their own songs, write their own music, and are quite good instrumentalists. The songs tend to be written more collectively, and there’s a lot of struggling to be heard by all of the instruments, and we have to figure out how to balance that all out. Like Greg [Lisher]’s always got an awesome counter-melody, Jonathan has a counter-melody to the counter-melody. I have a vocal melody on top of that. Victor [Krummenacher]’s really melodic on the basslines. It’s very baroque. The techniques and the chords are weird. But then Camper can bang out a song…
You know the last four discs I’ve done have all been California-themed. Cracker kind of divided the state east to west, and Camper divided it north and south – La Costa Perdida and El Camino Real. So there’s a song on El Camino Real, “I’ll Never Darken Your Door”, and in a way the set-up for that song is country rock like Creedence Clearwater Revival, or something like that. And you can easily hear Cracker performing that, but it’s a Camper song so it has a very complex guitar part that goes against the vocal as a counter-melody. You know, we occasionally sing together and stuff like that.
Whereas if Cracker had done that song, me and Johnny would have reverted – because we did 6 people on this last album, but it’s really a four-piece – to where I sing something, and then Johnny answers. It’s the classic Rolling Stones Mick and Keith, you know, it’s the classic duo between the lead guitar and the vocalist. So the structures tend to be a little more simplistic, and we tend to engage with the narrative more. That’s kind of our focus, the narrative to the song.
JM: Cracker had the huge hit song “Low”. How did that song come together, and were you surprised by how big of a success that was?
DL: Yeah. Radio was much more uptight then. The song says “like being stoned”. You know, maybe in California that wouldn’t have been so weird, but you’ve got think about the rest of the country and the rest of the world. So it was a little surprising that that became a hit, just because of what the chorus says.
It’s also unusual in its structure, in that very slightly in this very subtle way it’s almost like hip hop in that it’s like one pattern that repeats itself, but you put different stuff on top of it. It’s not like a traditional rock song. You don’t change chords in the chorus. It’s one pattern that’s happening, the bass, the drums, and the acoustic guitar. And then Johnny constantly changes what he’s doing on top of that, and I change what I’m doing singing-wise on the top of that. So it’s not even really a very traditional form. It didn’t seem like that would be a hit.
But then again, that’s the thing about hits. Usually they tend to not sound like… Well, not usually. There’s probably some chaos theory here. Songs go around. Like, you have a series of songs that are hits. And then you have a bunch of songs that are similar that are hits. And then a few more that are similar to those that are hits. And at some point that dwindles and it breaks, because there’s a new set of songs. So we were fortunate that we had one of those songs that kind of breaks with the mold and becomes a hit.
And a lot of that depends on luck. Like, if we’d have done that two years earlier, I don’t know if it’d have worked. If we’d have done it two years later, I don’t know if it would have worked. It would’ve sounded different and unusual to people’s ears. That made that song a hit. I personally think it’s all based on luck, and statistically you could argue that skill [laughs] is not a statistically significant variable.
JM: It does seem that way sometimes. Back in that era when “Low” was a hit, in the early to mid-90’s, what was the good, the bad, and the ugly about the alt-rock world?
DL: The facial hair [laughs].
JM: Is that good, bad, or ugly? [laughs]
DL: Ugly! That’s the ugly! That’s the stuff that you look back on and go, “Ooo… The 90’s… Oooo… Why did we do that with our beards?” Like a little soul patch.
It was a good time, though, in the sense that there were a lot of bands that came out that didn’t really sound like things that had come before them, and ended up getting pushed by the music business in general. You know, we can make fun of the 90’s and the Grunge sound, but it was actually fairly diverse. I mean, on one hand you have stuff like Hootie and the Blowfish, or Counting Crows doing their neo-classical rock. And, you know, on the other hand you have experiments gone bad, with rap metal and stuff like that.
Rock radio really was playing a great diversity of stuff. I don’t know if it was all good. I don’t know if you can even really judge it now. I find myself sometimes hearing a band from the 90’s, a song that I really couldn’t stand, and going, “Wait a minute, this is actually pretty clever” [laughs]. Or listening to something from that time that I thought was really cool, and going, “God, this is actually really terrible. How could I like this?” So there was a diversity. The good thing was there was a great diversity of sound and style from that time. I don’t know if we see as much today, on popular radio. Obviously there’s the wide open internet. In some ways there’s never been a better time for a music fan because there’s an unbelievable variety of stuff out there to listen to. But as far as mainstream culture goes, I think it was a little broader then than it is now.
Have you heard the YouTube video where the guy plays six pop-country songs, editing between the six pop-country songs?
JM: Is this one of these where the songs all kind of sound the same?
DL: Yeah, you can just edit between different hits, or let them all play at once. Pretty amazing. It’s six Top 10 pop-country hits – more technically, Bro Country from last year.
JM: I haven’t seen that particular one, but I can imagine. [This is what DL is talking about.]
DL: So, I think I’m being slightly objective when I say that there’s sort of this sameness. And then you have to differentiate between what’s in the mainstream versus what’s not. Think about it. Jane’s Addiction was a fairly challenging ensemble for the mainstream public, for them to have those big hits. I teach 18 year olds who think, “That’s unbelievable music!” They’re doing the same thing that we did with Garage Rock from the 60’s. We were like, “This shit is so cool, man!”
JM: I see your name popping up all the time as you’re advocating for musicians to receive fair compensation. Recently, Taylor Swift has also been speaking up about that. Do you sense any shift in attitudes, or is this a losing battle?
DL: Well, first of all, I think it just has to sort itself out anyway. On one hand, recorded music revenue is falling, but music consumption is off the charts. People consume more music than they did. It’s so much easier for them to consume music. I don’t know, unless we’ve written all the songs that need to be written, there’s going to be a demand for people to make music and write music, and they’ll have to be compensated in some way. So, in the long term this problem gets fixed, because it just has to. Culturally, it’s going to. Whether that’s [laughs] markets or people bringing about social change.
In the short term, it’s not clear what’s going to happen. I mean, from my vantage point – my wife runs a fairly famous indie rock club called the 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia – you just see that it’s much harder for these younger bands to make a living. They’re almost all kind of part-timers now, or just doing it for a while and then they’re going to go off and do something else. The middle class of the lower tier bands have kind of been decimated by technological changes.
But I’m not totally pessimistic about this. I think one of the things you see happening right now… This is getting kind of deep in the weeds… I think the Web 2.0 advertising supporting model, that might work for certain things. I don’t think it works for most music. It might work for some music, but at the same time, I think you see this crisis of the Web 2.0 model. Like the PandoDaily, which is a tech blog – they’ve gone to a paywall. A lot of people are sort of going, “OK, the advertising model didn’t work. It pays so little. We’ve got to go back to the subscription model.”
So this is what’s happening with Taylor Swift and Apple, Taylor Swift and Spotify. Economically, the free tiers of the streaming services, especially, don’t really work for most bands, especially independent niche bands. The subscription tiers pay seven or eight times as much, and so I sense that we’re mostly moving towards a subscription tier. Also, because I don’t think the services themselves survive. I don’t think Spotify survives as a free streaming model. I think they lose more money every year. So there are these almost like geological forces [laughs] that are happening.
It’s good for people like me to write 250 different blog posts about it, or Taylor Swift to write three and do more than I’ve done in my years. And I mean that positively. It’s good she did that. But there’s almost like geological forces at work here that change this, so that makes me optimistic in the long term. I just don’t know what happens in the short term.
I think essentially what the free app supported Web 2.0 model does, it asks artists to subsidize the start-ups of these platforms that are owned by large venture capital firms. And I don’t think that’s equitable. It puts the risk onto the wrong people. But you see that across the board. All parts of the economy, globally. It’s not just the streaming services. Everywhere it seems to be a shift of risk back onto those that can least support it, and subsidies for those that don’t need it. That’s not even a partisan observation [laughs]. I mean, that’s just factual.
JM: I’m curious, have you been in touch with Taylor Swift about any of this stuff?
DL: Never. I’ve never been in touch with her.
JM: I’m not a huge fan of her music, but it’s nice that someone with that profile is doing it.
DL: Yeah, I mean she could’ve really gotten a severe backlash. She didn’t. It’s fairly brave for someone in her position to do. Yeah, I suppose she probably has enough money that it wouldn’t matter if she had this huge backlash.
I think her stuff is phrased really well [laughs]. She phrases it in a way that, I think, your average person understands. But she also is really careful about phrasing it sort of like, “There’s the producers, and there’s the writers, and there’s the other people who help make the music who are getting shortchanged.” She doesn’t make it about “my money”, so I think she’s done a good job with it.
She also exhibited what you would call in the theory of copyright… there’s a moral rights kind of copyright which we really don’t have in the United States but you have in Europe. She makes a total European moral rights argument to the American public, and they swallowed it [laughs]. It’s really cool. That usually gets shot down in America.
JM: She knows how to sell things, right?
JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future? Do you have any albums in the works?
DL: I think we’ve got about 50 or 60 more shows on this album, including going back to Europe again. We just went over and did one summer festival in Spain. By the way, for whatever reason, the place on Earth where Cracker has always been the most popular is Spain. I don’t know how that worked – a very eclectic, strange rock music culture they have over there, in particular the festival in the Basque region. So anyway, we just went over there and did that festival. That was the only thing that we were doing. We’ll probably go back in the late fall and do a few more shows over there. So we’ll wind this down just after the New Year, and probably start working on another record.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this. Sharknado 3 comes out in July. I’m actually really proud of this, because Camper loved B horror movies and monster movies and bad flicks and all that stuff. We have two new tracks in the Sharknado 3 movie. Don’t expect high art. Think the first album. The director’s very cool, very much more of a Comic Con kind of person than you would think. And they’re coordinating it with an anti-finning campaign, sort of a Save The Sharks campaign. So I should mention that – two new Camper songs on the Sharknado 3 soundtrack.
NEW TIMES SLO
(San Luis Obispo, CA daily) – Show preview with band photo
‘Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)’
Man, I love me some Cracker. The band that grew from the ashes of Camper Van Beethoven released some great music: “Low,” “Get Off This,” “Euro-Trash Girl,” “Happy Birthday to Me,” “I Hate My Generation,” and a bunch more.
Cracker was the darling of college radio and the alt-rock scene of the ’90s, and on July 6 the band plays a Good Medicine Presents show at SLO Brew.
On Monday, July 6, Good Medicine Presents Cracker at SLO Brew (7:30 p.m.; 21-and-older; $20 presale or $23 at the door). The band released its 10th record, Berkeley to Bakersfield, last year, and the double album sums up the band’s propensity for keeping one foot in alt-country music and the other in alt-rock.
As founding member David Lowery explains in press materials, “On the Berkeley disc, the band is the original Cracker lineup—Davey Faragher, Michael Urbano, Johnny [Hickman], and myself. This is the first time this lineup has recorded together in almost 20 years. We began recording this album at East Bay Recorders in Berkeley. For this reason, we chose to stylistically focus this disc on the music we most associate with the East Bay: punk and garage with some funky undertones. To further match our sense of place, we often took an overtly political tone in the lyrics.
“This Bakersfield disc represents the ‘California country’ side of the band. Throughout the band’s 24-year history, we’ve dabbled in country and Americana, but this time we wanted to pay homage to the particular strain of country and country-rock music that emerges from the inland valleys of California.”
(Davis, CA daily) – Feature to preview show.
Cracker brings “Berkeley to Bakersfield” to The Palms on Tuesday
By Special to The Enterprise From page A8 | July 02, 2015
The band Cracker has been described as a lot of things over the years: alt-rock, Americana, insurgent-country, and have even had the terms punk and classic-rock thrown at them. But more than anything Cracker are survivors.
Co-founders David Lowery and Johnny Hickman have been at it for almost a quarter of a century, recording 10 studio albums, earning multiple gold records, doing thousands of live performances, writing hit songs that are still in current radio rotation around the globe (“Low,” “Euro-Trash Girl,” “Get Off This” and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me” to name just a few), and earning a worldwide fan base that continues to grow each year despite the major sea-changes within the music industry.
Cracker has just released its 10th studio effort, titled “Berkeley To Bakersfield,” a double-album that finds this uniquely American band traversing two different sides of the California landscape — the northern Bay Area and further down-state in Bakersfield.
Despite being less than a five-hour drive from city to city, musically, these two regions couldn’t be further apart from one another. In the late ’70s and ’80s a harder-edged style of rock music emerged from the Bay Area, while Bakersfield is renowned for its own iconic twangy country music popularized, most famously, by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in the ’60s and ’70s. Yet despite these differences, they are both elements that Cracker’s two cofounders, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, have embraced to some degree on nearly every one of their studio albums over the last two decades. On “Berkeley To Bakersfield,” however, instead of integrating these two genres together within one disc, they’ve neatly compartmentalized them onto their own respective regionally titled LPs.
As Lowery explains, “On the Berkeley disc the band is the original Cracker lineup – Davey Faragher, Michael Urbano, Johnny and myself. This is the first time this lineup has recorded together in almost 20 years. We began recording this album at East Bay Recorders in Berkeley. For this reason we chose to stylistically focus this disc on the music we most associate with the East Bay: Punk and Garage with some funky undertones. To further match our sense of place we often took an overtly political tone in the lyrics.”
“This Bakersfield disc represents the ‘California country’ side of the band. Throughout the band’s 24-year history we’ve dabbled in Country and Americana but this time we wanted to pay homage to the particular strain of Country and Country-Rock music that emerges from the inland valleys of California.”
The July 7 show will feature Cracker’s full “Bakersfield” line-up: Lowry (lead vocals, guitar), Hickman (lead guitar, backing vocals), Bryan Howard (bass), Carlton Owens (drums), Thayer Sarrano (keys) and Pistol (pedal steel).
Opening the show is Victor Krummenacher, occasional member of Cracker as well as Lowery’s bandmate in ’80s iconic college rock band Camper Van Beethoven. Earlier this year Krummenacher released his ninth solo recording, “Hard To See Trouble Coming,” which draws on blues, folk, the freewheeling Camper Van Beethoven punk aesthetic to a Graham Parsons-like exploration of cosmic country. Krummenacher will perform with a full band.
Tickets to the show, $20, are available at Armadillo Music in Davis, Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters, Davids’ Broken Note in Woodland and at the door if not sold out.
For more information, visit crackersoul.com, victorkrummenacher.com and palmsplayhouse.com.
(Sacramento, CA daily) – Feature interview with Johnny to preview show.
Cracker to play The Palms in Winters
American alt-rock band has new album for its tour
Two discs explore alt-rock of Bay Area and twang of San Joaquin Valley
Cofounders grew up in Redlands with lots of music influences
BY ASHIAH SCHARAGA
Johnny Hickman, of the American alt-rock band Cracker, listens to hard electro-pop Eminem and Skrillex because of his 12-year-old son.
“I encourage people to listen to their kids’ music and kids to list to their parents’ music too,” said Hickman, whose early influences include Black Flag, Led Zeppelin and Merle Haggard and whose musically inclined parents never told him to turn it off or keep it down.
In Cracker, which will play July 7 at The Palms, Hickman and co-founder David Lowery, have a sound inspired by SoCal soul (both grew up in Redlands), punk, new wave, rock ’n’ roll and country (specifically, The Bakersfield Sound).
Since 1992, when the group’s self-titled first album was released, the band began creating what Hickman calls “the Cracker Sound” – a little country, a little alt rock, a little punk and a little soul.
“It just comes naturally to us,” Hickman said. “It’s a little broader musically then a lot of bands will go, definitely. It’s easier when the band is based around two songwriters and we both play guitar.”
WE CHANGE THE SHAPE OF A SHOW OFTEN. NOT NECESSARILY BECAUSE OF THE VENUE OR THE CITY WE’RE PLAYING IN, JUST BECAUSE IT FEELS RIGHT TO DO.
Hickman sums up his relationship with lead singer and guitarist Lowery as “brothers for life.” In the late ’70s and early ’80s the men played in the “casual ensemble” the Estonian Gauchos when Lowery came home on breaks from UC Santa Cruz.
“The Gauchos experimented with our interpretations of ska, European folk, pop, old-timey country, rub-a-dub reggae, whatever felt fun,” Hickman wrote in a blog post, “Redlands California,1979: How I met David Lowery.”
Cracker records all of its songs in a ’50s recording-style set-up: a full band with the clock ticking. This allows the band members to listen to each other while they play, creating music in-time that they might otherwise never capture digitally.
“There’s something very immediate and passionate about doing it that way,” Hickman said. “There’s a different energy that comes with playing together.”
Lowery is a music business lecturer at University of Georgia, so Cracker tours during the summer.
This summer the band is touring in support of its 10th studio album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” a double album that explores the distinctive alt-rock sounds of the Bay Area and the country twang of the San Joaquin Valley.
The seasoned musicians, who’ve been in the business for more than 30 years producing, singing, songwriting and playing guitar, will play a spontaneous set at The Palms. Fans also can expect older hits like “Euro-Trash Girl,” “Low” or “Get Off This” because Hickman said the band is always aware that there could be someone at their first Cracker show who will identify with its hits.
“We change the shape of a show often,” Hickman said. “Not necessarily because of the venue or the city we’re playing in, just because it feels right to do.”
Ashiah Scharaga: 916-321-1083, @AshiahD
When: 8 p.m. July 7
Where: The Palms, 13 Main St., Winters
(Flagstaff, AZ Weekly) – Feature interview with David to preview show.
Anyone who went to college (not to get too brainiac here) knows the thrill of the crazy cool college professor. The campus radical. The novelist on loan. And no doubt some lucky business students at the University of Georgia must feel their lucky stars when a veritable Indiana Jones of the hip, David Lowery of both Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, starts writing stuff down on the blackboard between globetrotting tours.
Over the decades songwriter Lowery has weathered all kinds of changes in the music industry and been an underrated force of nature in terms of blazing the trails of college and/or indie rock. Now he says there’s a “tyranny of choice” in the entertainment business with the Internet bustling with every imaginable listening opportunity for fans to hear their heroes for free. In this climate, there are numerous controversies related to how musicians get paid by online music services, and recently Taylor Swift was raised to rebel Robin Hoodette status because she criticized Apple for its royalty payment plans for a new streaming service.
But the rock star professor isn’t impressed.
“Taylor Swift is obviously the most powerful person in the music business,” Lowery says, with the same kind of sarcasm that made CVB’s “Take the Skinheads Bowling” a strange kind of rallying cry for the Left in the 1980s. “I have been saying that for years, but she stood up to Apple with a couple of (social media) posts … It’s still not clear if they are paying songwriters.”
And he speaks not just from his success with his first band in the ’80s, Camper Van Beethoven, which used a kind of cottage industry approach to become a college radio fave and critical darling. Nor is he just speaking as the leader of Cracker, which has also continued to record since the heyday of so-called “alternative” music in the 1990s. More than that, he’s also a lecturer at the University of Georgia at the Athens college’s music business program. Smart is as smart does and Lowery, with a background in mathematics and financial analysis, is a master of one more thing: diversification.
Last year Cracker released an album showing such completely divergent musical styles that it had to be divided into two CDs. Berkeley to Bakersfield offers the familiar alt-rock laced with social commentary on the “Berkeley” disc, and on the “Bakersfield” disc, country music inspired by ’60s and ’70s era Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. The band has always dabbled a bit in country rock, but this immersion has been enough to get the band invited to perform at last month’s Shaky Boots country music festival, featuring such artists as Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts.
The band has even more recently been in Spain, opening for metal act Mastodon.
“Cracker is so popular in Spain, I’m a DJ there at 3 a.m.,” Lowery says. “That’s how well known we are there. Spain is the craziest music country in the world.”
The band cuts such a wide swath of territory that any particular show can be viewed in phases. A performance might start out with a few up-tempo country rock tunes, and then, when the sun goes down, the stage lights turn psychedelic with the simply crunching “Low” or “I Hate My Generation” sending the evening into a frenzy. Lowery’s talent for the succinct and sarcastic lyric, with clever lines as memorable as they come, has come full circle with the new material.
It took a couple of versions of Cracker to produce the new double CD. The first side was recorded with California-based performers who were members of Cracker 20 years ago, Davey Faragher and Michael Urbano, as well as the nothing if not versatile original guitarist Johnny Hickman, who ventures between providing acid, punk and alt-rock muscle on the “Berkeley” side and country riffs on the “Bakersfield” side. The country music tracks were for the most part recorded with some of what Lowery calls the “hottest cats” from the Athens music scene.
Among many highlights on the new record is a very Paul Simon-like political protest song, “Torches and Pitchforks,” and “El Cerrito,” which shows some insight into Lowery’s storytelling songwriting style that probably moves him closer to a topical guy like Ray Davies of the Kinks than Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, even though Cracker is right alongside that latter-day generation of ’90s acts that found a pop groove for bestselling records in Alternativeland. Since Berkeley to Bakersfield is kind of a social-political tour of the Central Valley of California and the Bay Area, “El Cerrito” finds the opportunity to critique the technological elite of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
“That song was pulled from the perspective of taxi drivers when Uber first came out,” Lowery says.
The song starts out: “Walking down the street in San Francisco just the other day/ Wondering what has happened to the freaks and hippies and the punks/ Everybody’s squeaky clean, they look and dress and act the same/ I don’t give a shit about your IPO I live in El Cerrito.”
Then it goes on to rail on the class warfare of the Bay Area and Berkeley, which Lowery says, mockingly “was the birthplace of free speech.” The rest of the song is almost a direct reporting of going on a taxi ride in San Francisco and having, in the middle of it, the driver follow an Uber car, and then “get out and flip the Uber guy off, then get back into the car and drive off. He went through this whole spiel as he drove up to the place, and it actually made a lot of sense, and that became the lyrics.”
Cracker will open for Arizona-based alt-country and Southwest rock band Roger Clyne and the Peacemaker on Sat, July 4 at the Pepsi Amphitheater, Exit 337 off I-17 south of Flagstaff at Ft. Tuthill County Fairgrounds. Gates open and tequila tasting at 6:30 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30. For more show info, call (866) 977-6849 or visit www.pepsiamp.com. To learn more about the band, see www.crackersoul.com.
(San Luis Obispo, CA college weekly)
Cracker to showcase double album at SLO Brew
by Georgie de Mattos
American alternative rock band Cracker is set to hit the stage at SLO Brewing Co. on Monday, July 6 at 7:30 p.m. The show will kickstart the tour supporting the release of their recent double album, Berkeley to Bakersfield. “The first album is more of a rock-punk album influenced by the Berkeley/San Fran area and the second is more country, influenced by Bakersfield,” Cracker representative Tony Bonyata said. “Both of those genres have been a part of them since they put an album out.” Together since 1990, cofounders David Lowery and Johnny Hickman have traveled around the state. While both rock-punk and country are integrated throughout previous albums, Berkeley to Bakersfield individualizes the genres into two regions. “They play all over California, and what’s cool about the new double album is that it’s all about California,” said Bonyata. Berkeley to Bakersfield is the band’s 10th studio album, and although it depicts two very different flavors of their music, San Luis Obispo will get a taste of both on Monday night. The SLO Brew show is restricted to ages 21 and over. Tickets are $20 in advance or $23 at the door, and they can be purchased on the SLO Brew website. – See more at: http://mustangnews.net/cracker-to-showcase-double-album-at-slo-brew/
ATLANTA PLAN IT
Other events will include two shows by two of the founding members of the label-defying band Cracker, known for its big ’90s alternative radio hits “Get Off This,” “Low” and “Euro-Trash Girl”;
Saturday, June 27 at 7 and 9:30 p.m.: Cracker Unplugged with David Lowery & Johnny Hickman
General Admission: $20 adv
(Flagstaff AAA Radio) Cracker In studio performance July 4th @ 1pm PST
THE ATLANTIC JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Live music picks: SATURDAY: Cracker
David Lowery and Johnny Hickman will hit the stage for a couple of unplugged performances (they’ll be joined by Eliot Bronson at the 9:15 p.m. show). Last year, Cracker, who played a rousing set at the inaugural Shaky Boots Music Festival last month, released their 10th studio album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” a double album that musically showcased the two sides of the California landscape. Proceeds from the show, which is part of the Amplify Decatur benefit, will assist Decatur Cooperative Ministry’s efforts to eliminate homelessness in Decatur and DeKalb County.
MINUTEMAN NEWS CENTER
(Fairfield, CT daily) – Fairfield show preview
Alternative pop-rock band at StageOne
Fairfield Theatre Company welcomes Virginia alternative pop rock band, Cracker to StageOne on Sunday, July 19 at 7:30 p.m.
For 20 years, frontman David Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman have made up the core of “Cracker.”
During Cracker’s heyday during the 1990s, the Virginia-based band molded elements of alternative pop/rock and country into several irreverent, buzzworthy anthems including smash hits Low, Teen Angst, Get Off This, and Eurotrash Girl.
Lowery and Hickman together are seen as “godfathers of the alternative music scene.”
Cracker comes now to rock the intimate Fairfield Theatre Company StageOne venue in support of their new album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield.”
RED BLUFF DAILY
(Redding, CA daily) – Redding show preview
Cracker to perform in Redding July 8
Renowned rock band Cracker will be performing a local Redding show at Vintage Wine Bar in Redding at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 8.
This show and tour is in support of Cracker’s recent acclaimed double-album Berkeley to Bakersfield. Cracker’s Berkeley (Disc 1) album features the harder-edge rock sounds of the Bay Area that has informed its music since its inception in the early ‘90s, while the Bakersfield disc showcases its nearly 25-year love affair with country and roots music of the southern California region.
The band will be performing with Victor Krummenacher from Camper Van Beethoven.
Vintage is at 1790 Market St. in Redding, and can be reached at 229-9449.
LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS
Albums tie the whole state together:
By Joe Mathews, LA Daily News
W hat’s the fastest way from Berkeley to Bakersfield? Flip to the second disc of the album.
California’s disparate regions are nearly impossible to connect. But over the past two years, two bands — with overlapping members — have issued three albums that that musically connect California’s coast to its inland deserts, from north to south. By examining the state’s divides so thoroughly, those two bands — Cracker and Camper van Beethoven — show we Californians are connected more by our own wrong turns and struggles than by any sun-splashed Silicon Valley successes.
Camper van Beethoven’s two albums — “La Costa Perdida” about Northern California and “El Camino Real” about Southern California — show how dream-seeking remains alive and well here, even if our dreams seem smaller. Cracker’s new double album, “From Berkeley to Bakersfield,” offers one side of Bay Area folk rock, and a second side of old-school country. Despite the stylistic differences, both sides depict Californians as they really are — poorer and living in grittier places, but still carving out their own little kingdoms amidst squalor.
“Between the two bands,” David Lowery, founder and frontman for both Cracker and Camper van Beethoven, told me recently, “we took the entire state apart and reassembled it.”
California, for all its dynamism, is still defined by dreamier music from previous generations — Tupac and Dre’s “California Love,” the Beach Boys, that Eagles hotel.
But there has been some smart musical grappling with today’s California — from DJ Quik’s Compton rap slap at exurban sprawl — “You couldn’t keep up with the city/ So you moved out to the desert/And you want to blame your drama on me — to Becky G’s teenaged laments about foreclosure. And you can almost smell the marijuana on the title track of the latest album from the popular duo Best Coast, “California Nights”: “I stay high all the time/Just to get by …
California nights make me feel so happy I could die.”
But none of California’s classic titles are as grounded in place as Cracker’s and Camper van Beethoven’s recent songs. Both bands are established and more than 20 years old — with roots in Santa Cruz and in Redlands. But Lowery says their deep musical dive into the state was inspired a few years back when a show at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur got canceled, and the musicians found themselves with an unexpected week off.
The songs they produced span the state, from “Northern California Girls” to “Camp Pendleton.” The albums celebrate grittier places. Cracker invites a beautiful Berkeley girl to “an anarchists’ rally at People’s Park.” The “King of Bakersfield” boasts, “I got a double wide in my own merlot vineyard. I got plenty of space to park my dually trucks.” “La Costa Perdida” is about a fruit picker near Brawley who kills a girl in Monterey County. The haunting song “Almond Grove,” about a guy from Maricopa in Kern County who goes to Oakland to work at the port and gets involved in drugs, binds it all together.
The songs aren’t angry — except about Silicon Valley. Cracker’s “March of the Billionaires” thunders:
“Give up your rights, your most private thoughts, don’t make us label you some kind of Luddites.”
The song “El Cerrito” — for the Contra Costa County town — blasts at “pink-moustached taxi cabs” and includes the chorus line, “I don’t give a (bleep) about your IPO/I live in El Cerrito.”
For family reasons, Lowery doesn’t live in California; he splits his time between Georgia and Virginia, but he plans to come back: “I would live somewhere in the High Desert. Or maybe up in the northwest corner of the state, Arcata or Crescent City.”
Or perhaps, he says, in both.
It’s all the same place, after all.
Joe Mathews wrote this column for Zocalo Public Square.
(Fairfield, CT daily) – show preview with band photo
Cracker returns to Fairfield Theatre Company
Fairfield Theatre Company welcomes Virginia alternative pop rock band, Cracker to StageOne on Sunday, July 19, at 7:30 p.m.
For 20 years, frontman David Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman have made up the core of “Cracker”. During Cracker’s heyday during the 1990s, the Virginia-based band molded elements of alternative pop/rock and country into several irreverent, buzzworthy anthems including smash hits Low, Teen Angst, Get Off This, and Eurotrash Girl.
Lowery and Hickman together are seen as “godfathers of the alternative music scene,” who turned gently away from plaid-clad grunge in the 1990s with more countrified and bluesy stylings.
Many Cracker fans — the most dedicated which refer to themselves as “Crumbs” — have followed Lowery’s thirty year musical path since he formed ‘80s southern California band Camper Van Beethoven. The band’s first two albums, “Cracker” and “Kerosene Hat,” fused folk and punk influences with bar room blues at a time when Seattle rockers like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains ruled radio airplay
Cracker comes now to rock the intimate Fairfield Theatre Company StageOne venue in support of their new album, Berkeley to Bakersfield. Having made no attempt to mask their affinity for traditional roots music after embarking on a long hiatus, Crackers new album can be described as “Part angsty alternative and part Mick Taylor-era Stones.” Says Something Else Reviews.
“This is country with real soul, in the manner of Porter Wagoner’s “Green, Green Grass of Home” — as heard on the devastatingly sad “Almond Grove.” Couple it with the tough attitude of Berkeley, and you get closer to solving the riddle — the gloriously weird, utterly unique riddle – that has always been Cracker.”
Join FTC by welcoming this pivotal 90’s bands to its intimate venue as they present a night of shear solid rock and unforgettable twang music that will show those in attendance the true meaning of what Cracker is all about.
For tickets, at $38 in advance with a $3 member discount, visit fairfieldtheatre.org or call 203-259-1036.
KDHX RADIO – Thanks for all the great spins of Cracker this month in advance of their St. Louis show @ Off Broadway!
ST LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO
Show preview as part of Twangfest story
Twangfest kicks off 19th annual music festival at Off Broadway with Cracker tonight, a band that combines rock, psychedelia, country, blues and folk, is scheduled to headline on opening night, followed by Philadelphia-based band Marah and local folk-rock band Grace Basement.
LITTLE VILLAGE MAGAZINE
(Iowa City weekly) – Feature/ show preview
CRACKER REUNITES TONIGHT AT THE MILL
CRACKER W/ CHRASH
The Mill — Tuesday, June 9 at 8 p.m.
Cracker, a genre-bending band that blends rock, punk and country, will perform tonight at The Mill.
They remain best known for their ’90s hits “Low,” “Get Off This” and “EuroTrash Girl” — songs that were notable for remaining likeable in spite of radio stations’ tendency to overplay…everything. Like many other bands that formed in the ’90s, Cracker fell into the cracks caused by hipster disdain for the once admired. Nonetheless, the band has continued creating, recording and performing music over the past decades.
Their tenth and most recent album, Berkeley to Bakersfield, received solid praise from critics. The record, a two-disc release, is the first album featuring the group’s founding members in over 20 years and provides an homage to California that rivals Sufjan Stevens’ tributes to Illinois and Michigan.
The album’s doubled format allows for punk and country — which the band tends to fuse — to emerge as distinct elements. Although this format occasionally betokens a gimmick, Cracker allows this strategy to work to its advantage.
Berkeley deftly integrates the punk style into the album’s themes, tying in the local liberal tradition of political protests with the confrontational sounds developed in the 1970s. Bakersfield, on the other hand, roots itself in a country-tinged Americana sound, using its tonal vibes to suggest the luxuries of the California inland countrysides.
This particular fusion makes Iowa City, which often understands itself as a radically progressive space in the heartland, an apt stop on Cracker’s tour. Overall, the two discs provide songs that stand happily indifferent to contemporary trends in American music.
Although not experimental or wildly innovative, the songs are written with a maturity, authenticity and confidence consistent with the group’s 24-year career. On first listen, Cracker’s awareness of the history of American music allows their songs to attain an air of familiarity — but the enriched form of familiarity, rather than pop music’s emphasis on rewriting the same tune over and over again. Instead of covers of its favorite music, Cracker mines the musical traditions of its native state to provide a sonic recreation of California.
Those intrigued by Cracker’s latest work will be gratified by the band’s balance of new material with the old. So far in the tour, their live sets have focused on 10 of the album’s 18 tracks. “El Commandante” and “El Cerrito” are inspired live staples that promise dynamic play, while the radio singles “Waited My Whole Life” and “King of Bakersfield,” will fit the dimly lit setting of The Mill. Lovers of Cracker’s early work have reason for excitement, as the band seems happy to reward long-term fans with their most beloved favorites.
Tonight’s show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $20 in advance or $22 at the door.
(Lincoln, NE daily) – Feature with David interview and band photo.
Cracker still bringing the rock — and country
It took only 23 years for Cracker to make its definitional album.
Make that two albums — both contained in “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” which the band released late last year. The first disc is filled with the alternative rock that got Cracker noticed in the ’90s. The second is made up Bakersfield-style country.
“Those are the two threads that run though the band,” said singer David Lowery. “It really does explain the band. We probably should have done it years ago.”
The rock/country split wasn’t intentional. Lowery had started writing the country album to mark the 10-year anniversary of “Countrysides,” the band’s album of hardcore country covers.
“I was fairly deep into it when we did a session with our old rhythm section in Berkeley that produced a whole different batch of songs,” Lowery said. “We thought about it for a while and thought, ‘Why don’t we do two discs?’ They’re two different albums.”
The original rhythm section was with Cracker for its ’90s hits, “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now),” “Low” and “Euro-Trash Girl.” But they won’t be with the version of the band that comes to Knickerbockers Monday.
“The lineup you’re getting is the Bakersfield lineup, which really is the kind of Athens, Georgia, lineup,” Lowery said. “But Berkeley to Athens doesn’t sound as good and, if you think about it, Berkeley and Athens are kind of the same.”
Cracker’s co-founders Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman have kept the band together for nearly 25 years, outlasting nearly all the grunge groups that were their ’90s contemporaries.
Lowery has a theory to explain that for Cracker or any other long-running band.
“As funny as this sounds, the music business is not a popularity contest,” he said. “You make records you like, then it’s going out and finding people who share your taste in music who want to buy the records and come to the shows. If you look at Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller,’ maybe 1 percent of the people or 2 percent of the people had that record. So it’s not about getting your records to everyone in the world.
“It’s about connecting with your fans so you can keep up that energy, and the fans keep up that energy. Then it’s about playing the music that you like in the way you like to do it and not doing soul-sucking things. We’ve turned down tours that we thought would be soul-sucking.”
Lowery, who led Camper Van Beethoven before co-founding Cracker with Hickman, brought his first band back in 1999 and continues to play in CVB. Of late, he has been begun teaching at the University of Georgia in Athens, which would seem to be a move that would take him out of music.
“You’re in a college town, I’ll see if I can get away with this,” Lowery said. “When you teach and, if you’re someone like me who doesn’t have to publish papers, teaching is fairly easy. I teach the business of music. Going out on the road and making records and doing deals, my wife is a concert promote,r and the teaching is really synergistic.”
So that means you tour primarily in the summer now?
“We don’t play as many shows as we used to, which is a problem in that we don’t get to places like Lincoln as often as we used to when we’d tour and blanket the nation,” Lowery said. “But you’d be surprised how many shows we do. We’ve got probably 80 shows on the calendar this year. We have maybe six days off between now and the end of August.”
In the last week, Cracker has rolled through the Heartland, coming up Interstate 35 from Texas to Kansas. But then the band headed west for some Colorado shows before reversing course with the dreaded eight-hour run back to Lincoln.
“Back in Camper Van Beethoven, we said we were going to move to the middle of the Plains, halfway between Kansas City and Denver, and open up a club,” Lowery said. “People would have played there, just to break up the drive.”
If you go
Where: Knickerbockers, 901 O St.
When: 9 p.m. June 8
Tickets: $18 in advance, $20 day of show; ticketmaster.com
(Lincoln, NE daily) – Positive show preview.
Ground Zero’s Best Bets: June 5 –11
Cracker, 9 p.m. Monday, Knickerbockers. David Lowery calls Cracker a “semi-Americana” band. That’s as good a description as any for the group that he has fronted along with guitarist Johnny Hickman for 24 years, after Lowery’s previous band, Camper Van Beethoven, broke up in 1990. Cracker had a couple big hits in the ‘90s — “Low” and “Euro-Trash Girl.” But they were outliers in the grunge world with their songs that jumble up rock, country, folk and blues. Cracker’s kept rolling through the decades and are touring behind last year’s “Berkeley to Bakersfield” double album. They’ve never disappointed at any Nebraska show.
KKFI ( Kansas City, MO Public Radio) – Live Cracker in-studio Thu. June 4th at 3pm
(New Orleans music site) – Positive show review and photo gallery.VIRTUAL GALLERY: CRACKER AT GASA GASA
By Steven Hatley
California-based alternative rock band Cracker delivered a show at Gasa Gasa this past Thursday night to a packed house.
The band’s current tour is aimed at promoting their 2014 album, Berkeley to Bakersfield album. The double album serves as a blueprint of sorts, for which the band’s current sound is based –one disc is a straight up rock album, while the other is more alternative-country.
As expected, the set concentrated on the band’s latest tracks, dappled with some of their older tunes. Generally speaking, the audience did not appear to have a preference between the new and older material. A few glaring exceptions, however, occurred when the band played three older hits “Low,” “Teen Angst” and “Get Off This,” all of which the crowd received enthusiastically. Finally, in true rock band style, the band left the stage only to return a few minutes later to push through a two song encore. View an extended gallery here.
(daily) – Positive show review with photos
CRACKER THROWS A FEW CURVE BALLS AT WAREHOUSE LIVE
BY WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Cracker @ Warehouse Live May 29, 2015
The floods might have taken the top off Cracker’s crowd at Warehouse Live Friday night, but that didn’t keep the veteran rockers from opening with a roaring extended anthem, “One Fine Day.” Steel guitarist Pistol Stoessel and keys-man Rob Crowell were given plenty of space and both tore into their instruments like someone might take them away any minute and the fun would be over.
They quickly segued with no introduction to jaunty pub-rocker “Where Have Those Days Gone,” lifting the smallish crowd to a rock and roll frenzy; the night’s promise seemed fulfilled even though the show had just begun. By the time they tore into their early hit “Teen Angst” — “the world needs another folk singer like I need a hole in my head” — the jet was about to break the sound barrier as tall fanatics in the front row in pristine Atlanta Braves ball caps were doing the tomahawk chop. Yeah, I know. (Eyeroll.)
By now it was apparent that what guitarist Johnny Hickman had told us in an interview early last week was true: the young guns from the Bakersfield sessions in Athens, Ga., were more than up to the task. The ensemble of Crowell, Stoessel, bassist Bryan Howard and drummer Carlton Owens switched gears deftly, moving into a four-song segment from the Bakersfield disc as they brought opener Whiskey Gentry’s fiddler onstage. “Where Have Those Days Gone” was as bittersweet as the title suggests, but bouncy two-stepper “California Country Boy” brought yee-haws from the crowd as Stoessel and Hickman traded licks. It was apparent Crowell is no stranger to the work of Gulf Coast honky tonk piano man Moon Mullican.
“Ain’t no palm trees, ain’t no movie stars/ In the part of California I come from”
At this inopportune moment, “Cave Man” Owens’ bass drum exploded. What can I say, the man is a beast. Seriously, this guy is an animal, capable of pounding out the rock but also subtle enough to play those more-difficult-than-they-seem shuffles. With the drum replaced, Cracker dropped into the laconic “King of Bakersfied” that brought more crowd yelps followed by a twangy “Wedding Day,” and all was back on track. Shifting gears again, they exploded into “Low” like they’d played it a thousand times and it still means something to them. They barely took a breath before stomping into another of their more popular tunes, “Sweet Potato.”
Hickman worked his Les Paul out on “This Is Cracker Soul” before he and Lowery threw everyone a curve, dropping a spot-on cover of Dwight Yoakam’s “Red Dresses.” It wouldn’t be the only trick they’d play before the proceedings wound down, as Lowery pulled out Merle Haggard’s classic “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” and the crowd once again hooted and hollered ecstatically.
Switching gears back to the Berkeley rock disc of their recent double cd release, they funked into the sassy “El Cerrito,” a punkish put-down of all things fresh, new, and squeaky clean in San Francisco. “March of the Billionaires” became another anthem. Then to close it out, Lowery hit the crowd right where it lives as the band seemed to put some extra reverence into “Another Song About the Rain,” which had some nice, extended solos.
The crowd yelled them back, and once again Lowery tossed a curve with Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” before closing it out with an odd choice, the lilting “El Commandante,” a tale of authority and marijuana. It was certainly appropriate that the last line of the night was “Don’t worry, it’s just a bag of weed.”
Overheard In the Crowd: Her: “What’s that cool guitar he’s playing?” Him: “A mahogany Martin, I have one like it.” Her: “Oh, do you look as good as him playing it?” Him: “No, I can’t play it as well as him either.”
Personal Bias: Cracker can do no wrong. David Lowery for President. Johnny Hickman to head up Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and to run the D.E.A.
Random Notebook Dump: Exploded the bass drum? WTH? The drummer can be Secretary of Defense.
(Austin college weekly) – Show preview with Torches and Pitches video.
Sunday May 31 Cracker, Historic Scoot Inn (1308 East 4th)
As tempting as it might be to remember Cracker only as the band who gave the world “Low” (and honestly, that’s not a terrible legacy to have) it’d be shame to forget everything else they’ve done in the two decades since that song was first released on an unsuspecting population. Their latest album, last year’s Berkeley to Bakersfield (you didn’t even know about that one did you, you jaded bastard?!) was every bit as catchy and amazing as everything else they’ve ever released. They’ve always taken a bit of quirky approach to pop-rock and that dynamic continues to this day.
(daily) – In addition to their feature story this show preview with band photo.
THE BEST CONCERTS IN HOUSTON THIS WEEKEND: CRACKER
Cracker @ Warehouse Live, May 29
On its recently released tenth album, Berkeley to Bakersfield, Cracker comes full circle back to its California origins, though admittedly the band has never strayed far from its reliable sonic template. Front man David Lowery, who has become a very visible and vocal advocate for songwriters fighting for higher royalties from outfits like Pandora, once again delivers some of the smartest lyrics in the business, whether it’s a rocking love song like “Waited My Whole Life” or a funny character sketch like “King of Bakersfield,” which contains the hilarious aside “go on, play it weird, this ain’t Nashville.” You also have to love the whole anti-rock-star attitude the band continues to project; it’s certainly part of the attraction for Cracker’s Deadhead-ish followers, who make up one of the most vigorous and likeable cults on the American musical landscape. With Whiskey Gentry and Not In the Face. (WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH)
NEW ORLEANS DEFENDER
(weekly) – Show preview.
(Austin music site) Show preview
(Austin music site) Show preview
(Austin, TX daily) Show preview
SUNDAY: Cracker, Whiskey Gentry at Scoot Inn. Cracker frontman David Lowery, also known for his 1980s days with Camper Van Beethoven, is most prominent now for his provocative essays and speeches about music business pitfalls in the digital age. A lecturer at the University of Georgia, he still occasionally hits the road with Cracker, who are joined by fellow Georgia Americana act Whiskey Gentry on this tour. $20-$25. 7 p.m. 1308 E. Fourth St. scootinnaustin.com. — P.B.
THE NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE
(New Orleans, LA daily)
Rockers say digital streaming takes the money out of music
The music business has never been easy, but it used to be simpler: sell records, sell tickets, sell merchandise, get paid. The gradual migration to digital distribution of music has changed almost everything, and musicians have been forced to play catch-up.
When David Lowery comes to New Orleans to play Gasa Gasa on Thursday, he does so as a member of Cracker, the 90s alternative rock band that had hits in the early 1990s with Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now) and its Kerosene Hat album.
He has become a fierce critic of the digitally oriented music industry, which he contends impoverishes musicians. He s not a Luddite, but he is worried about musicians financial health and their ability to make music and get paid for it.
Cracker will perform in support of its recent two-disc set, Berkeley to Bakersfield, and the struggle that has become a major part of Lowery s public life finds its way onto the album.
We will fight you, the album begins, and Lowery argues, You cannot take what is not yours.
The business took the fun out of music for Peter Holsapple, former member of the Continental Drifters and the dBs. Holsapple said he almost quit making music last year because he was so depressed by the finances.
I find myself in the unenviable position of having had to quit playing music because there s no way to make a living at it, he said in 2014.
He has returned to writing and recording, but I ve had to re-evaluate what I can expect from my musical career, and now, with virtually no expectations or possibilities of financial success, I can go about the business of just being creative and letting that be the total reward for what I make.
The conditions won t improve quickly. The use of streaming services Spotify and Pandora chief among them was up 54.5 percent last year, while digital and physical album sales declined 11 percent.
Revenue from streaming is catching up to revenue from digital sales. But the pie is simply smaller, said Scott Aiges, director of programs, marketing and communications for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation.
Ten dollars a month for a paid subscription to Spotify or Pandora as opposed to $16.99 to buy an album produces less money to divvy up between the labels and performers, and only about 30 percent of Spotify users pay. Most listen to the ad-supported free version.
Aiges runs the foundation s annual Sync Up music business conference during Jazz Fest, and he has discovered through conversations with industry insiders that people still don t really know what s going on.
Last week, Sony Records contract with Spotify was leaked to the press, and it revealed a deal was very beneficial for Sony but not so good for its artists.
The lack of transparency is New Orleans trombone player Jeff Albert s biggest objection to Spotify. He recently launched his own label, Breakfast 4 Dinner Records, and he plans to put its first two releases on Spotify.
For him, the economic concerns aren t quite the same as they are for Holsapple and Lowery.
Recording income has never been a huge part of my income, he said. For me as a relatively unknown artist, it s in my best interest for as many people to have access to my music as possible.
Albert believes the future of music distribution is digital, so his participation in Spotify is also a philosophical decision. At some point it s going to be all digital, so we have to figure out how to make it work for us.
When Cracker s David Lowery got into the digital music battle in 2012, his concern was that people were illegally downloaded music, in effect stealing from the artists who made it. Today, that concern seems quaint as streaming makes ownership unnecessary.
Now, streaming-related issues have moved to the fore, but he still sees theft and morally unsupportable behavior. Pandora is being sued in federal court because it decided that a loophole in copyright law allows it to not pay royalties on recordings before 1972, and Lowery is as concerned by the dishonesty of that stance as he is by those who argue in favor of the sort of free access to music that the Internet makes possible.
People worship the Internet like a cargo cult, he told Salon.com last year. It s this thing that they have that brings them free stuff, and they think it s magic. It s beyond rational thought and reason, right? And they have no sense that behind all that free stuff are the drowned ships and sailors.
Scott Aiges thinks jumping to such dire positions is premature.
The whole situation is completely fluid, he said. The situation that we have now is completely different from the one we had three years ago, and the one that we have now is totally different from the one we ll have three years from today.
WHEN: 9 p.m., Thursday, May 28
WHERE: Gasa Gasa, 4920 Freret St., New Orleans
(Houston, TX daily) – Feature interview with Johnny to preview show
THIS AIN’T NASHVILLE: CRACKER’S SHORT TRIP FROM ‘BERKELEY TO BAKERSFIELD’
BY WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Walking down the street in San Francisco just the other day/ Wondering what happened to the freaks and the hippies and the punks/ Everybody‘s squeaky clean, they all look and act and dress the same” — Cracker, “El Cerrito”
While Cracker’s David Lowery tends to be highly visible and makes more headlines for his public political leanings, longtime co-conspirator Johnny Hickman does his fair share of heavy lifting in the band the two high-school friends started in Southern California 20 years ago when their fathers served at the same Air Force base. Hickman and Lowery come to town Friday to play the Studio at Warehouse Live in support of late-2014 double album Berkeley to Bakersfield.
The two discs are divided by genre. Berkeley is typical Cracker: big, guitar-driven rock with plenty of surly political commentary on tunes like “Torches and Pitchforks,” where Lowery warns the wealthy and their lackeys “we will fight you.” “March of the Billionaires” continues the theme as Lowery mocks the false ideology behind the philosophy of those in the American One Percent and their destruction of the American dream. Lowery also launches a shower of hilarious mockery and invective on the techies who have homogenized San Francisco in “El Cerrito.” The final track, the radio single “Waited All My Life,” is something of a sonic departure, leading off with a Steve Cropper-ish riff by Hickman and more than a bit of Stax attitude.
Disc 2, Bakersfield, is a masterful set of twangers but, typical of Lowery and his writing partners, it’s the fine print that needs close attention because the real picture is in the details of songs like the seemingly harmless but murky “Almond Grove” or even truly pleasant, bright love songs like “When You Come Down.”
“Part of what we do has been twangy since day one,” says Hickman, explaining how the album took he and Lowery back to their earliest musical days in high school.
“It was the punk glory days in California so we were surrounded by everything that went with that whole scene — mohawks, blue hair, piercings, all that,” he says. “But even though David and I liked all that and were a part of it to some extent, we also liked to sneak off and listen to Merle Haggard, Porter Wagoner, Waylon, hardcore country stuff like that. So he and I have always been open to country music whenever it works for a particular song. The twangy side has always been part of us.”
With the new disc in mind, we probed Hickman as to what Friday’s set list might contain vis a vis the new album.
“What set list?” Hickman cracks. “Man, honestly we don’t give it a lot of thought. We’ve been at this long enough to know our fans will want to hear the radio hits like “Low” or “Eurotrash Girl,” so we’ll play those almost every show. But our fans have always been pretty open-minded about new material, so I’m sure we’ll play some tunes off both discs, I just don’t have any idea which ones yet. But we’re nothing without that great fan base we have and we know it, so we aren’t a band that denies them what they paid good money to hear, although we try to make it interesting and different every night.”
Fair enough. But what were these guys thinking when they put out a double disc with two entirely different genres?
“The Berkeley disc is sort of the classic Cracker lineup,” Hickman explains, “Michael Urbano on drums, Davey Farragher on bass, David and I. We were going for all the old East Bay musical influences: punk, garage, etc. The sessions for that disc took less than a week, they were just crazy quick and fun. You’ve got four super Type A personalities in close proximity, so the ideas are bouncing around at incredible speed.”
“For the Bakersfield sessions, we just had a great crew of Athens-based young guys,” Hickman explains. “Davey and Michael have other commitments, so since these other players were on the Bakersfield sessions it made sense to use the Athens crew on this tour.”
He name-checks ace steel player Matt “Pistol” Stoessel and Deer Tick pianist Robby Crowell.
“They’re both such amazing young players,” Hickman says. “Pistol could play with straight country acts like Merle Haggard, but he can also improvise crazy, way-cool solos. People are going dig him being along.”
In fact, on one steel guitar solo in the jaunty “King of Bakersfield,” Stoessel begins his solo and Lowery can be heard saying, “Go on, play it weird, this ain’t Nashville.”
“That was such a spontaneous moment,” Hickman laughs, “we just thought why not leave it on there. I’m glad we did.”
Hickman notes it took the band longer to catch on in Texas than in many other locales.
“We’d come through Texas and wonder what we were doing wrong,” Hickman laughs. “We really couldn’t figure out how to get over. Then Jim Heath of Reverend Horton Heat heard us and approached us about going out as a co-headliner with him on a Texas tour. That’s when people got it for the first time. Texas really opened up for us after that. The next time we came through on our own, three times as many people came as before.”
Hickman lives in Denver while Lowery commutes between Richmond, Va. and Athens, Ga., where he teaches a music-business course at University of Georgia and his wife runs the famous roots venue, the 40 Watt Club, so the writing process is a bit scattered.
“Several of these songs were just built up from grooves or riffs I came up with. Like “March of the Billionaires,” I had the beat and the riff for that and David put together a brilliant lyric for it. He’s really good at hearing my musical things and coming up with these amazing stories. It’s uncanny, really, how the man’s mind works. He’s always telling me to keep feeding him ideas to flesh out, and it’s worked really well for us.”
While Lowery has his classes and his political work to take his mind off the music business, Hickman says he’s more a 24/7 music guy.
“When I’m not out with Cracker, I’ve got lots of stuff going on here in Denver,” he says. “I’ve got a straight-up country band called the Hickman-Dalton Gang and I produce some bands. I just finished producing an album by these young hotshots from Denver called the Yawpers that’s being put out on Bloodshot Records. So basically, I’ve got music going on pretty much all the time.”
Cracker performs with special guests Whiskey Gentry and Not In the Face Friday night at Warehouse Live’s Studio room. Doors open at 7 p.m.
FREE PRESS HOUSTON
(weekly) – Show preview
Warehouse Live will be bringing David Lowery and Co to town under the guise of his nineties alt rock act, Cracker. You would know Lowery from his groundbreaking act Camper Van Beethoven, and you’ll know Cracker from hits like “Low,” “Teen Angst(What The World Needs Now),” and “Get Off This.” Their latest album, last year’s double disc release “Berkeley To Bakersfield” finds Lowery mixing in his softer side with his rockin’ side. If you’ve never seen Cracker perform, then this is a great chance to catch them as they’re really great live. The Atlanta seven piece that calls themselves a mix of Twang Core and Cowpunkytonk; The Whiskey Gentry will be there as direct support. The band is known for an inventive and high energy live show, and their 2013 album “Holly Grove” is a small sample of their Dolly Parton meets Ramones sound. The hard rockin’ good time sounds of Austin’s Not In The Face will be there to get things started as only they can. I caught these guys when they played with We Were Wolves in 2013, and I was impressed. Part of Red Bull Sound Select, the band’s latest offering, an EP from 2013 called “Not In The Face” doesn’t convey their energetic live shows. The all ages show in the studio has doors at 7:00 and tickets between $20.00 and $22.00.
Interview: Johnny Hickman of Cracker
by David Harris
Cracker frontman David Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman have known each other a long time. They have soldiered on together, starting with their 1992 eponymous debut album, to radio hits like “Low” and “Get Off This,” to leaving Virgin Records in 2003 and putting out a country covers album. While the band never recaptured the popularity that surrounded them when “Low” hit in the early ’90s, 2009 single “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me” became their first hit in years.
I have been a Cracker fan since Kerosene Hat and so getting a chance to sit down with Hickman gave me the opportunity to ask him about songs that I’ve known since I was in high school and been a part of my life for more than 15 years. I found Hickman friendly and very willing to talk about his partnership with Lowery, the songwriting process and the number 69. I am pleased to present the Spectrum Culture interview with Johnny Hickman of Cracker.
The first time I saw Cracker, I was 17 years old. It was 1994 and you were playing the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. Kerosene Hat had just come and it was the most violent concert I’ve ever been to in my life.
A lot of our shows were certainly on the edge of mayhem in those days. We had a show like that in Glacier the other night too with bodies flying and girls trying to do some kind of pole dance on our equipment. You just never know with the Cracker crowd. It just depends on the city, I guess. Of course, a lot of our fans are older, like we are now, so they’ve calmed down a little bit. We have a new generation of fans coming to shows too and they get a little crazy. (laughs).
The girl I took with me in 1994 is now an actress on television and she broke her hand.
Oh man, at that show?
At that show.
Wow! Tell her I’m sorry (laughs).
I don’t talk to her anymore. She’s too famous for me.
(laughs) She’s too famous. Wow! She broke her hand at the Cracker show.
We told her parents it was a Frisbee accident.
Yeah, I don’t think we’ve had any injuries for quite a while unless it was somebody closer to my age and they broke a hip or something slipping on the ice outside.
I’ve seen Cracker a number of times since then, but it was never the same as it was at that time.
Absolute mayhem. I think when a band has a song on the radio, and obviously we’ve been fortunate enough to have had a few, the attention focuses a little bit more on you and your audience expands and then it tends to go back, at least with us, to a happy medium. We won over some new fans because of the exposure. The hardcore Cracker fans, some of them have been with us for the almost 20 years we’ve been together, they call themselves “Crumbs.” That’s a name we didn’t give them; they gave it to themselves. It’s like the alt-rock version of the Dead. They follow us around and they come to a lot of shows. We’ve had great fans since the very beginning. In Portland here, this is where we wrote the song “Low,” I think in ’93. We were jamming around at a soundcheck and David was messing with chords and I came up with that riff. David was saying, “Like being low.” He was kind of ranting on lyrics ideas and then he went back on the bus. The next day he had all the lyrics to the song. Born here! At a hungover soundcheck.
I’m glad you told me that story because I’m not going to ask you all the usual questions about the new album and the tour.
Ask anything you want.
To get with the spirit of Cracker, who does a different setlist every night…
Yeah and I wouldn’t even call it a setlist. We just get up there and start playing. Keith Richards once said, “Don’t ever make a singer sing something he’s not in the mood to sing,” so I let David call out the songs. He does it really well. He’s got a good sense for it. First and foremost, we play for ourselves. I think if you do that you end up putting on a lot better show. We have so many songs we can rotate the show quite a bit. There’s a handful of songs that we’re obviously going to play every night. We’d have a lot of upset people if you’re out for your first Cracker show and of course you want to hear “Low” and “Get Off This” and “Eurotrash Girl” and some of these songs. As for as the rest of the songs go, we rotate it all the time. It’s more exciting for us and little more of a challenge for us too. It keeps us in touch with our canon of songs, if you will. But I also think it’s more exciting for the fans. A lot of them will come to a lot of shows in a row and a lot of them have seen us plenty of times and we’ll pull out a song we haven’t done in a long time. I can see them on their phones before the song is even three beats in.
We didn’t have that back in 1994.
No, we didn’t. We didn’t have that sort of communication. And we’re totally fine with people taping and videotaping and pictures and all of that. We’ve always had a green light policy with that. We’re okay with it. So people are instantly sending photos and setlists, if you can call it a setlist. Whatever we played that night. If there is a rare one in there or a cover we throw in there they seem to really appreciate that.
So what I’d like to do, in the spirit of that, rather than ask you the normal BS people ask, I’d like to talk about specific songs, older songs, and maybe you can tell me the story behind the song. Maybe that’s a little more refreshing for you.
Absolutely. You know David and I both write the songs. He writes more lyrics than I do, but I do contribute lyrically too. So, depending on the song…
We’ll start with “Dr. Bernice.”
“Dr. Bernice” was one of a handful of songs that David and I came up with when we first started working together. We’d known each other for 10 years at this point. We knew each other before Camper Van Beethoven. We grew up in the same area. When Camper Van Beethoven broke up in 1990 or 1991, around that time, we got together in a very loose experimental way to see if we could write together. “Dr. Bernice” was one of the first of 20 or so things we worked on together. I think the original inspiration for that song came to David when he got on an elevator and he heard a snippet of conversation. He heard someone say, “Bernice, she ain’t no lady doctor.” So, in the mind of David Lowery that led to a beautiful story, an odd story and the desert sands and Karen Black came into it from his imagination, which I thought was wonderful. I try to add the soundtrack for the movie he’s making, basically. That’s a good example of a song that has a lot to do with the conversation between David’s story and my guitar because they answer one another. They are the two voices of the band. It’s the classic chemistry. But it’s even more so in Cracker than in Camper Van Beethoven and a lot of other bands. It doesn’t really matter if he starts the conversation or if I do. But we’re really sort of answering each other. I try to create the musicscapes around his stories. As David puts it, he creates characters and lets them speak. He gives them a voice and lets them come alive more like a novelist than your average songwriter. I think that is really remarkable and unique about David. I try to come up with melodic motifs and riffs and sounds to answer that. To create the right framework around the characters.
There is something different about that song than the others on that first album.
Very different. That one, to my ears, was a little more like the things he was doing in Camper Van Beethoven. It was exciting for me because I had just come from playing in punk bands and country rock bands and my tastes at that time tended to run towards bands like the Replacements or X or a little more roots-based and rock ‘n’ roll-based. David’s a very different kind of writer, but he writes that way as well. We write what we call our country songs but it’s us simultaneously making fun of and embracing country music. We don’t call ourselves country people, but there is certainly that influence in what we do. “Dr. Bernice” combined a lot of odd things. It has a European folk feel, it has the feel of the desert, it has the feel of, in my mind at least, the feel of the North American western desert and as well as an Arabian desert. It just has this eerie color about the song. We didn’t really work on it that much when we recorded it on the album. It just sort of went down as it went down. I just happened to be messing around with a slide guitar. I don’t play slide on it live but it felt right to play a little bit of dobro because I had just come from the country thing, and a little bit of mandolin to create the mood.
That one and “Happy Birthday to Me” are both more classic examples of David’s more absurdist lyrics.
Absolutely. “Happy Birthday to Me” came in a little later but it was one of the early batch. He just had this great jangly pop song. I had this big German echo harp because we went over to visit Germany together before we actually formed the band and hung out with friends of ours over there and played in their band. I was really into these echo harps and they had this great sound like an accordion if you play them right. So that made its way into the sound of it. It just felt like the right kind of festive to the story he was telling. “Happy Birthday to Me” is another one of his stories where you get the sense of the characters and there’s the absurd and the humor in it, but he doesn’t really complete the story. It’s more of a character development than there actually is a story in that song. It just has a great tagline, “Happy birthday to you and to me.” It’s just a funny thing to say. The line about the PTA mother, it’s quintessential Lowery. (laughs).
“Sometimes I wish I were Catholic.”
Yeah and at that particular time, his girlfriend at the time was Catholic and I was an ex-altar boy and raised in Catholic schools and a lot of the people in his circle were Catholic. It doesn’t really connect specifically with anything going on in the song but I love that that line just jumps out you. “Sometimes I wish I were Catholic/ I don’t know why” (laughs).
And you had a guy on that album who was both in a Rodney Dangerfield movie and now plays with Elvis Costello.
Yes, Davey Faragher who also grew up in the very small town David and I are from, Redlands, CA, which is odd. He’s played with everybody from David Crosby, to like you said, Elvis Costello to John Hiatt. We had a good run with Davey. Like a lot of people have in the 20 years David and I have been in the center of this Cracker universe, Davey worked his way into the band and worked his way back out. That’s fine! They’ve all contributed something unique and enduring in their time with the band. Somebody once told me that’s the way Steely Dan are. Yeah, we don’t sound anything like Steely Dan, but it’s the same sort of structure where there are two guys at the center of it.
You smile a lot more than those guys do.
(laughs) Yeah, but when we get to their age I don’t know. Nah, I will be smiling when I’m 90. Who am I kidding? I’m basically a pretty upbeat person. We hit on the chemistry early on and made a conscious decision. We both had been in a fair number of bands. We knew each other for 10 years as friends and around other bands and in the same scenes. We had a little bit of wisdom or hubris at this point. When we got together we had discussions about this. A lot of bands break up over bullshit. At that time, Camper Van Beethoven had broken up over bullshit. I was not there but basically, they broke up over things that probably would have resolved themselves but they were young. At the outset of Cracker we decided to stay the course, as we say. If bands could just get beyond these things that seem to pass in a short amount of time. So many bands break up over ridiculous things. That was one thing we made a decision on and the other thing was we were going to play music for ourselves. If we were really honest to ourselves and true to ourselves about what we wanted to hear and what we liked then we assumed there would be other people who felt the same way and fortunately there were. We’ve never been a household name but we’ve had a solid fanbase that has slowly grown for the last 20 years and that’s an amazing thing. Most bands break up in five or six years. I think that’s the average lifespan I read somewhere and we’re going on almost 20 years. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we’re at the center of that. We make the decisions and that is where the creative juice flows from, this partnership. A lot of bands try to have five or six person democracies and that never tends to work. Or least not for very long. It can work for awhile and they can make amazing music but at some point the infrastructure starts to collapse and there’s a power struggle. It’s inevitable; we’re human. Whereas David and I understand who we were within the context of our band. David is the center point and I am the henchman and the right hand man, but we write together and we’ve been friends a long time. Some of that was established just as friends, based on our personality types. I think that has a lot to do with our longevity. I’m rambling, stop me at any time!
Oh no! It’s cool. Let’s move on to the next album. Do you feel that Europeans have a better sense of humor about themselves than Americans do?
Depending on the country, yes. The United States is very unto itself and I hate to knock my country, because I love my country, the people in most of Europe are aware of more of our history than we are. They think more in the context of the rest of the world than Americans tend to. We tend to be very insulated over here. Some of that has to do with innocence and some of that has to do with ignorance. You have to go beyond the information you’re fed and explore a little bit. I’m very proud of my sons and my nephews when they are online when there’s a world event and they contact their friends in other countries and ask, “Well, what does your country say? What’s their take on this war or economic collapse or what have you.” It’s usually quite different. It’s a changing world, but Americans still tend to be a little too bit focused on what’s going on here.
The reason I am asking is because I don’t think “White Trash Girl” would have gone over as well as “Eurotrash Girl.”
We’ve been to Europe and there are bits of some real experiences in that song and imagined experiences. David created this character and we took potshots at him. He’s this hapless young guy over and his dad’s married to some waitress and he feels a little neglected, so he’s over there and he’s having a tough time in Europe. He’s calling home for money. It’s something I’m sure a lot of people have been through. They’re college age and think, “I want to go over to Europe. I’ll be fine there.” But then they realize (laughs) it’s not as easy as they thought it was going to be. This poor guy ends up getting stuck and bathing in a fountain and getting arrested and losing his passport. Some of these things happened to us, some not. They are real life experiences for the most part. It’s one of those characters who defined himself as the story went along.
Do you still think that putting it as number 69 on the CD was a good idea?
(laughs) That was our producer, the late, great Don Smith’s idea. He decided to tag that number on it. The story behind that was at that time we had a lot of songs. We’d been playing “Eurotrash Girl” live for awhile and fans were really reacting to it. There were even a few radio stations playing live bootlegs of it. The word got out amongst the fans, “Hey, check out “Eurotrash Girl.” They were talking about it and it developed its own bit of momentum. We told our record company, Virgin Records at the time, we gotta put this one on here too. They said, “But your record is already too long. People only have so much of an attention span. Save it for the next one. Blah blah blah.” We just snuck it on there anyway. We went to the mastering lab and just put that song and “I Ride My Bike” on there.
So Virgin had no idea?
They had no idea. We just went in and put it on anyway. We just snuck in the tape and said, “Just put it deep in there.” It was Don’s idea to make it track 69 with his perverted sense of humor, which was fine with us. It was frustrating to some people with the song because they had things on shuffle. We basically just gave them another song. You only get paid for so many songs. We just said, “Well, the fans obviously like this one. We’re just going to put it on there.” So we did.
I had friends in high school that didn’t even know it was on there. They heard it on the radio and said, “Listen to this new Cracker song!” I said, “You have the album already. Check it out.”
We caught bootleggers that way too. There were some versions of the CD going around but they didn’t have that song on there. They didn’t know it was supposed to be on there, so they obviously stole it and manufacturing their own illegal CDs. That was interesting.
The hidden track seems to be a stamp of the time but now CDs are dying off.
Yeah, they are dying off now, but at that time it was the medium.
I know a lot of other bands did it at the time too.
It’s a nice thing to do for your fans. Most record company contracts say you get paid for X amount of music. Nine songs and whatever you put on after that is your own business.
It’s a gift.
Yeah, it’s a gift. We’re okay with that. It’s come back to bite a lot of bands on the ass this mentality that music should be free. It’s kind of a bullshit belief because this is how we make our money and we can’t keep going unless we make enough money to keep going. When people steal music, it really is stealing because we work very hard on our music as does every band. We don’t mind giving away some things for free here and again but we like to have some control over that. But we allow people to tape at our shows. Our thinking is if someone shows up a Cracker show who wants to tape it, they probably have our CDs already. They already have our downloads. I’ve never known that not to be the case. I don’t see people taping it that know nothing about the band and they’re just doing it to go out and sell it. Because if they did, we would catch them immediately anyway. So it doesn’t really matter. We’re fine with that, fine with people filming, whatever the hell they want to do. We’re there, warts and all. Whatever happens that night, they get it. That’s all right with us. It always has been.
One song that I always felt was an anomaly in your discography was “Dixie Babylon” off The Golden Age.
Why do you feel that way about it?
It’s got this real languid bass, or is that the guitar?
No, that’s my guitar.
Well, it’s got this real languid sort of introduction.
That came about in a very simple way. That’s where the song began. We were over in Europe and we were doing soundchecks. David gave me this nickname of “Crazy Sloth” sort of like “Crazy Horse” because Neil Young played very slow and very simple, but I would play even slower sometimes. I decided in my mind, “I’m going to write the slowest riff he’s ever heard. I wonder what he’ll think of it.” It was just kind of a joke. So I decided to make the slowest possible riff I could. Charlie Quintana, our drummer at the time, started playing that great little bolero or whatever he’s doing on the snare behind it. It sparked David and he liked it. We were all playing together it together during soundchecks, just little chunks of it, as I worked out the guitar melody. At some point, David started working on it, creating a story within that framework. It’s a great story, it’s nothing that I would have imagined, this beautiful, dark romance that’s left unresolved. Once again, classic Lowery. The other side of him. Not the humorous side of “Dr. Bernice,” which has some romance in it as well, but “Dixie Babylon” is one that we should probably bring back live at some point.
How about tonight?
(laughs) Well, I don’t think the other guys even know it. Frank [Funaro] could probably do it. He knows our catalog pretty well.
Another reason I say it stands out is that the sound of it and the production are swampier and the lyrics are more sexually explicit than your other songs.
Absolutely. They are suggestive to say the least. It’s a very sensuous lyric. The music works well with it too. Beck’s dad, David Campbell, did the string arrangements for it. At one point he answers my guitar lick with the string section. He did the strings for that album and he was brilliant. He was the string arranger to go to if you didn’t want the norm because, like his son, he thinks out of the box. He’s very unique that way. Beautiful string arrangements for that and “Bicycle Spaniards” and some of the other songs on The Golden Age. I love how the strings eventually overtake my guitar playing. They swallow it up at the very end and it becomes this Southern Gothic piece of music.
A lot of David’s lyrics are layered with sarcasm, like a defensive wall, but I feel like there is a lyric where I feel like there is a glimpse of him coming through. Which is rare in a Cracker song. It’s “I’ve always taken more than I have given back.”
Yeah, that’s great.
It doesn’t even sound like his normal singing voice. He isn’t as gruff or gravely on that part.
Yeah, he’s a multi-faceted songwriter. I’m a big fan of the way he doesn’t feel compelled to explain the story and lets it complete itself in the listener’s head much like a good novelist will do or great filmmaker. He doesn’t feel the need to explain himself. Although he does occasionally, if he feels like it. He’s got that right or the right not to. Once in awhile I will comment on his lyrics when we’re writing songs together but sometimes I put myself in a place where I don’t want to alter it, I want the pure essence of what he’s inspired to put around a piece of music or to just come up with on his own. I don’t want to put a bump in the road. I want him to go ahead and complete that thought or complete that character. I love “Dixie Babylon” in the way that I love “The Big Dipper.”
That’s kind of its counterpart on the album.
I agree, “The Big Dipper” is one of my favorite songs we’ve ever done together. I still get a little lump in my throat, a little ache in my heart whenever we play it. We’ve been playing it for years and years and years but it’s just that powerful to me.
Once again, his vocals come through differently. Like, “Can I take you out/ I’ll be yours without a doubt.”
It’s like what David says about how I play guitar: I incorporate a lot of styles and he’s multi-faceted as a lyricist. People tend to gravitate to or pinpoint on his sense of irony or sarcasm and humor. Those are very real things and very much a part of his personality and his strengths as a writer. But there’s also the other side of him, the guy who writes “All Her Favorite Fruit” with Camper or “Big Dipper.” That side of his songwriting and personality is just as strong and just as much a part of the fabric of Cracker and of our body of work. People tend to forget that. Even with Camper Van Beethoven they would always use terms like “quirky” or “tongue-in-cheek.” It certainly is all those things too. David is half-English and I think that is where some of his sense of humor comes from because they do understand irony in a way a lot of people in the United States don’t. A lot of it is lost on our population (laughs). Not with everyone, but for the great masses I think it goes over their heads. People tend to listen to a lyric of a song and they immediately identify it with the singer. Often it’s not the case, especially with writers like David or Bob Dylan or Randy Newman or Bonnie Prince Billy.
I saw Bonnie Prince Billy last month for the first time.
I still have yet to see him. I’ve been a fan forever.
I saw him at a festival called Pickathon here. Basically, the stage was in the woods with an arbor made of twigs around it. There were maybe a hundred people there sitting on hay bales.
Oh fantastic! It would have been amazing to be there. It’s one of the downsides of what I do. I’ve still yet to see Son Volt, who I am a big fan of.
You’re not missing anything.
Not exactly Mr. Personality, unlike Jeff Tweedy? He is very effervescent live.
I saw Son Volt on New Years Eve once and when midnight struck, they walked off the stage. Then came back and did “Born to Be Wild” without saying anything and then walked off again.
(laughs) Hence the split of Uncle Tupelo right there.
Who else would you like to see that you haven’t?
We were good friends with Mark Linkous and I saw him a fair amount in the early days, but we both got so busy that I never got a chance to see him later on in his career. Fleet Foxes are a band I really, really like a lot. I’m anxiously awaiting their next record because I really like the first one.
I’ve interviewed them a bunch of times.
And I hear they can pull those harmonies off live, which is no small feat.
The first time I saw them, the dude had a fever.
Robin [Pecknold] did?
Yeah, but they still pulled it off. He even did “Oliver James” without losing his voice.
Aw, “Oliver James” is one of my favorite pieces. I think they’re fantastic. I’m a big fan. About once a year a band comes out that I just go nuts over.
I wanted to ask you about that. In a lot of interviews you talk about the classic rock that you like, but what kind of newer stuff do you like?
It varies. I’ll listen to a lot, but I trust my young, hipster friends. People who are half my age that say, “Oh, Johnny, you should check this out.”
Anything in specific recently?
Right at the moment…I’ve not been listening to a whole lot of brand new stuff. Graham Coxon, who was the guitarist for Blur, I really like his stuff. It makes me laugh really hard. In my mind, he’s kind of a yob, a working class British guy who just writes very, very catchy music. It’s kind of trashy and sloppy and I can see he was that side of Blur. It doesn’t sound at all like Gorillaz, the other side of things. I think he’s fantastic. He’s funny and he’s irreverent and he writes good, trashy songs about glib aliens coming to take over the Earth and so forth. He’s amazing. But yeah, about once a year someone says, “You should check this out.” Nothing’s knocked me out this year yet, but maybe I’m not listening closely enough.
The last thing that knocked me out was Antony and the Johnsons’ last album.
Oh, I remember one. J Roddy Walston and the Business. One of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. Kind of an odd name, but so good.
One more song: Let’s talk about your choice to cover “Sinaloa Cowboys” on Countrysides.
Kenny (Margolis) who plays keyboards for us occasionally, that was his idea. We were doing this Countrysides albums and he had heard that song. He grew up in New Jersey and he was familiar with Bruce Springsteen’s work. I wouldn’t say that I’m a Springsteen freak, but I do like a lot of his stuff.
That Tom Joad album is really good.
That’s a great album. Darkness on the Edge of Town is one of my favorite albums. But yeah, Kenny suggested that song and it fit so seamlessly. It really hit home with David and I because we grew up in Southern California, right around the border towns and the drug trade and that whole thing.
Have you seen “Breaking Bad” ever?
Yeah, a little bit. Just a couple of episodes. The other guys in the band are really crazy about it.
It’s a just a really great song and it fit with the Countrysides theme.
It was a real pleasure to play too. Kenny’s accordion just sounds so Mexican. It perfectly dovetails with the story. It wasn’t our song, but we tried to make it our own.
When I reach back into my Cracker CDs, for some reason I always throw on The Golden Age.
Oh, thank you. Was that the first one you soaked up?
No, I saw you in ’94, so I probably got in when everyone else did, when “Low” was big, but for some reason The Golden Age speaks to me more.
Fantastic! You’re not alone. There are a number of Cracker fans who say that is their favorite album. It didn’t have a big single off of it. It’s like Gentleman’s Blues, there were a lot of people who came to the party with that one too. It’s this big, rambling album. It’s like our Exile on Main Street. It’s all over the place. There are probably too many songs.
It’s got some weird stuff on there, like that “Circus” song.
Yeah, that album really goes wider than the other ones even. It has everything on it. “Trials and Tribulations” is a demo. Our producer liked the way the demo sounded, so we put that on there as is. It’s got all kinds of mistakes all over the whole album. Some things are really thought out and produced, and other things really aren’t.
My last question for you is: aren’t you glad I didn’t ask you “What is Cracker Soul” during this interview?
No, that’s okay. I don’t mind talking about that. That came from this one conversation. I had this piece of music that, in my mind, sounded like this old Southern funky thing, like Little Feat. So, I tossed it around with David to see what he thought. We were talking about, “What kind of music is this? Well, it’s kinda got that Cracker soul thing. It’s a little bit Southern” and we compared it to bands like Little Feat or Creedence Clearwater or maybe a little bit Lynard Skynard. Not really Southern rock but a Southern soul thing. We decided that we play that Cracker soul thing. We were in a studio once and there was a rapper artist in the studio next door and he said, “Y’all cracker’s have some soul!” We thought for five minutes about calling the band Cracker Soul but there were 1,000 bands with Soul in the name.
Yeah, Soul Coughing. There were all of these. So we thought, “Let’s just call it Cracker. Let’s just make it like a product and call it Cracker.” That’s where it came from.
Hence the product art on the first album.
by David Harris
Brief show mention.
Cracker @ Saturn in Birmingham May 27
Alt-country band performs, with openers the Whiskey Gentry and the Old Paints.
THINGS TO DO IN PASADENA, TX
Show preview with Cracker photo
Cracker in Houston @ Warehouse Live on May 29
(Birmingham music site) – Show preview with Cracker photo (from press announcement)
Cracker (in The Studio) at Warehouse Live in Houston May 29th
MOTHER PLUG MUSIC
(Birmingham music site) – Show preview with Cracker photo (from press announcement
CRACKER w/ The Whiskey Gentry, The Old Paints May 27 Saturn in Birmingham
SPARTANSBURG HERALD-JOURNAL / GO UPSTATE
(Spartanburg, SC daily & Go Upstate website) – Feature show previw with Cracker photo.
Cracker to play at Fountain Plaza at NC Music Factory
By Dave Gil de Rubio
According to Google Maps, the geographic distance between Berkeley and Bakersfield, Calif., is 276.4 miles. For David Lowery, it’s also two places influential enough to the sound of his band that Cracker recently released a two-CD set entitled “Berkeley to Bakersfield.”
The first CD crackles with guitar-driven alt-rock like the jangly “Beautiful” and its mention of pink mohawks and Doc Martin boots and the stomper “Life in the Big City.”
Move on to disc two and out comes the pedal steel and fiddle, whether it’s on the twangy “Almond Grove” and its banjo nuances or the honky-tonk shuffle “King of Bakersfield.”
And while this combination may seem odd, that blend of roots rock and country riffing has been a hallmark dating back to the band’s 1992 self-titled debut, when Lowery’s guitar-playing creative partner Johnny Hickman juiced up songs like the defiant “Can I Take My Gun to Heaven” and anthemic “I See the Light” with riffs that pulsed with the influence of Bakersfield legends Buck Owens and Don Rich.
“The country thing is something that’s been around throughout our whole career,” Lowery explained in a recent interview. “So in 2004 we put out ‘Countrysides’ as a way paying homage to our roots in that way. In 2013, we thought it was time to touch on that again, so I started writing these songs that were largely sort of country-based, which was sort of the idea for the next Cracker record. It was going to be a sort of Americana record.”
Around this time, the Texas native had also been working with drummer Michael Urbano, who not only played with Lowery in his other band, Camper Van Beethoven, but also an earlier Cracker lineup. Joined by bassist Davey Faragher, the trio wound up recording nine songs of original material that were distinctly different from the nine songs Lowery had started out recording for this project. It proved to be an interesting conundrum according to Lowery.
“Berkeley” “was this sort of three-day, songwriting demo session with me, Davey (Faragher) and Michael that’s not exactly perfect,” he recalled. “There’s a little bit of overlap but that’s basically what it did. When we listened to it back and compared these two batches of songs, they seemed different enough that they were two different albums. So that’s what we did. … It sort of explains who our rock and country roots are.”
While Lowery has been pulling double-duty spearheading Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, dating back to the latter’s regrouping in the late ’90s, he’s also developed an interest in using geography of his adopted state of California to drive his most current wave of songwriting.
More recently, it came via the most recent CVB albums, “El Camino Real” from 2014, which draws its inspiration from southern California, and 2013’s “La Costa Perdida,” which is more about the northern part of the Golden State.
But for Lowery, who is currently teaching a course on the economics of finance in the music business at the University of Georgia and is working on his long-delayed mathematics doctorate, his geographically-driven creative urges were actually stoked by authors Joan Didion and William Vollman.
“I’ve become fascinated with writers like Joan Didion,” Lowery said. “(She) wrote this wonderful book made up of essays on the grimy part of California called ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ about the end of an empire. And then I got fascinated by William Vollman who is a really hard-to-describe author. He’ll write a 1,300-page book that’s really a loose collection of long and elegant essays that spans 400 years that’s about the Imperial Valley of California, which is both in California and Mexico.
“So I wound up being fascinated by this writing style and I started out doing that with the Camper records,” he said. “I looked at it as being our Didion phase. I haven’t taken this geography thing that far, but it’s definitely part of something that I’ve been thinking about for the last four or five years. The songs aren’t really about the geography. They are just excuses to tell other stories.”
Dichotomy has always been a way of life for Lowery, dating back to his original days in the early ’80s with Camper Van Beethoven, a band he once described as being like “a bunch of hippies from the English empire taking acid and making Appalachian folk music mixed with psychedelic rock.” After CBV split in 1990, Lowery formed Cracker and tread more of a rocking, Americana-flavored path just as grunge was blowing pop culture up.
“With this album, it’s the political divide, which becomes a metaphor for the country and for myself,” Lowery said. “I’ve always felt myself the odd man out in the music business. I feel completely disenfranchised from politics, yet I’m completely involved in them with public policy about songwriters and stuff like that. I think California represents that in this really great way. People think about it coast-to-coast as being all about hippies and vegetarians and Hollywood, but at the same time, just drive through the Owens Valley sometime. It’s like being in Wyoming. There are herds of thousands of cattle out there and cowboys. You could be in a completely different time.”
1065 THE END
(Charlotte alternative station) Acoustic duo in-studio (taped May 22 to air that afternoon at drive time).
CHARLESTON POST & COURIER
(Charleston daily) – Feature show preview with Cracker photo.
Music Scene: Cracker, The Soul Rebels, The Slackers
By Matthew Godbey
With younger audiences discovering the 90s, bands from that era are now getting a second life so long as they still have the wind left for the rigorous touring needed to re-introduce themselves.
But David Lowery, Cracker s vocalist and lead songwriter, has never appeared exhausted in his 30-plus years as a frontman, keeping Cracker on the road and in the studio since the early 90s and having reformed his first successful band, Camper Van Beethoven, in 1999. With nine albums collectively and steady promotional tours for all, the steam seems to have paid off for both bands.
Between 1992 and 1993, Cracker released its debut and a follow-up Cracker and Kerosene Hat, respectively two albums that flung the relatively apathetic alt-rock group into gold-record status and onto regular radio rotation that still spins today. It was a time when popular music was driven by FM radio, music videos and CD sales, and Cracker emerged as one of the most favored of all three, due in large part to singles like Low, Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now) and Euro-Trash Girl and landing on the soundtracks for iconic 90s movies like Empire Records and Clueless.
Calling the desert valley town of Redlands, Calif., home, Cracker came to project a distinct sound of Southern California s budding alternative rock, one that infused grunge, punk, blues and Americana to find relevance in the vast landscape of the country s rock climate at the time. And while the band never quite regained its mainstream popularity, it firmly planted itself in a grassroots subculture where the fans have far outlasted the fame.
Co-founders Lowery and Johnny Hickman remain as the only original members, but continue pushing past labels in Cracker s catalog. The band s latest effort, From Berkeley to Bakersfield, came last year and explores the punk and hard rock influences of the Bay with the twang of desert country and classic rock still pulsing in California s desert regions.
Cracker will perform Saturday at The Windjammer, 1008 Ocean Blvd., with The Whisky Gentry. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 the day of the show and are available at the door or online at www.The-Windjammer.com. Call 886-8948 or go to the venue s website for more information.
CHARLESTON CITY PAPER
Cracker’s David Lowery talks about staying relevant
Hits and Misses
By Isaac Weeks
David Lowery has spent over 30 years on the road, whether with Cracker or Camper Van Beethoven, so it’s no surprise that he sounds less than excited to field one more interview promoting a stop on the never-ending tour that has become his life. After clarifying who we are, the Cracker frontman grumbles, “Just making sure I have the right call. The phone rings around the clock this time of year.”
Ticket sales for Cracker’s current tour are strong, if not instant sell-outs. But in a turbulent summer concert season that has found even The Who having trouble moving discounted tickets on Groupon, Cracker is one band who welcomes the encouraging seat sales. And while some acts from the grunge era could be accused of using a reunion as a gimmick to earn a few bucks, Lowery says that’s not the case with his band, who released the double disc Berkeley to Bakersfield in December.
“We put out new albums. Seriously, there would be no point in touring if we didn’t have some new songs to play. There are easier ways to make a living,” he says.
While he watches his contemporaries package themselves on nostalgia tours and play to half-filled amphitheaters, 54-year-old Lowery admits that playing huge venues was always an ill-fit for a band that was always outside of the alt-rock bubble.
“Look, I think that essentially if you look back, even as far back as Camper Van Beethoven, I have been playing approximately the same venues for close to 30 years,” the singer says. “Then there was a period of two years, from 1994 to 1995, where suddenly we were playing these sheds [amphitheaters]. That was always an anomaly. We have always been very realistic about who we are. We were pretty odd birds to have gotten as popular as we did at the height of grunge. You know, here we are as a semi-Americana band, with some out-and-out country songs on our albums, but then we manage to drop some of the most popular songs onto the radio during that time. It seemed an anomaly to us, and something that wasn’t going to be totally repeatable.”
Camper Van Beethoven, the influential indie-rock band Lowery fronted from the mid-to-late ’80s, were critical darlings but had a hard time getting on the radio. As for Cracker, the outfit had radio hits but it was never truly embraced by the alt-rock community. A mere four years after the group’s megahit “Low,” bands of their ilk were being phased out on radio for Limp Bizkit and other nü-metal acts.
Despite the dearth of long-term mainstream success, Lowery has faith in his loyal fanbase. “It’s going to be a lot of the same folks from 20 years ago, but there are also going to be some younger folks who were only five or six years old in the ’90s,” he says. “I mean, it’s not going to work if you are just counting on people our own age to show up for the shows.”
The frontman feels that the new music Cracker has been producing reveals what the band’s real fans prefer to hear.
“This last tour there were shows that we played something like 20 songs, and there would be six of them from what was considered our biggest years,” Lowery says. “The other 14 were from our less commercially successful years, yet not one person complained. It’s partly because, while we’ll play one of the hits off of Kerosene Hat, we’ll then pull out one of the hidden gems from one of our newer albums.
“We’re not one of those bands that refuses to play the hits,” he continues, “but we’ll always play the deep tracks off of our lesser-known albums. I look at some of the bands out on the road from our generation, and they’re just playing songs off of those three or four albums that they put out in the ’90s. I just don’t think that’s giving the audience anything special, and we like to give our fans something special.”
Tags: Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven, The Whiskey Gentry, David Lowery, The Windjammer
Cracker w/ Whiskey Gentry @ The Windjammer
Sat., May 23 $15 in advance $20 at the door
ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION
(ATL daily) – Show review with David photo
Here’s a look at some of the musical highlights:
Cracker: David Lowery and Co. have been doing alternative-everything since long before many of the acts on the Shaky Boots bill plucked their first guitar string. Cracker recently released the double album “Berkeley to Bakersfield” – which separately showcases Lowery’s love of garage rock and country – and both sides were well represented on Sunday. In his sleeveless Johnny Cash T-shirt, Lowery, close-cropped and bearded, unleashed the honky-tonk boogie-woogie of “California Country Boy” before sliding back to the classics – a double shot of Cracker’s biggest hits, “Low” and “Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now.” Sounding appropriately gruff, Lowery led the band, including right hand man Johnny Hickman, through a hee-hawing version of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” and a cowbell-infused “Sweet Potato,” whose insinuating groove owes a nod to Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll.”
(music critic’s review site) A- album review
Cracker: Berkeley to Bakersfield (429)
Camper van Beethoven joker-in-chief turned Cracker singer-songspokesperson David Lowery was always too ironic by approximately 72 percent. But he’s older than that now. The Californian turned Georgian pursues what musical career remains to him, lectures in business at UGA, and devotes much of his energy to his unofficial post as scourge-in-chief of a supposedly futuristic streaming economy that he claims, accurately, is “unsticking it to the man and sticking it the weirdo freak musicians!” And this crusade has awakened in him an explicit class consciousness often discernible in his songs from the start and just as often undercut by his snark. The Berkeley disc of this double-CD celebrates what might be called protest culture, lobbing stink bombs at the rich as it celebrates the lifestyles of the quasi-bohemian lower middle class. The Bakersfield disc aims for an Imperial Valley country-rock that goes soft the way country-rock does but still sneaks a migrant laborer and a dead junkie in with the San Bernardino boy and the red-state union man, neither of whom lack charm themselves. Politics! On an American rock album! So much rarer a thing than the snark-damaged claim! A MINUS
HOLY CITY SINNER (CHARLESTON music site) Show preview with band photo
Cracker to Play The Windjammer on May 23rd
by Holy City Sinner • May 11, 2015
Alternative rock band Cracker will perform at The Windjammer on Saturday, May 23rd at 9 pm. The Whiskey Gentry will open the show.
This past December, Cracker released a double-album called Berkeley To Bakersfield. The record was the group’s tenth studio effort.
The band, which was founded by singer David Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman, is probably best known for their platinum-selling 1993 release Kerosene Hat. That album included the hit songs “Low,” “Euro-Trash Girl,” and “Get Off This.”
Tickets for the show at The Windjammer are already on sale here.
(A&E site) Show preview with band photo
Cracker 10 Jul 19:00 – Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort
Rooftop Concert Series!
Cracker is an American alternative rock band led by singer David Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman. The band is best known for its gold-selling 1993 album, Kerosene Hat
(Austin A&E site) Show preview
CRACKER W/ THE WHISKEY GENTRY
SUN MAY 31 @ HISTORIC SCOOT INN
Cracker is an American alternative rock band fronted by Camper Van Beethoven singer David Lowery, with guitarist Johnny Hickman. They are best known for their hit songs “Low” and “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)”. The band’s website once noted Cracker as “The only band to ever open for both Grateful Dead and Ramones,” a unique distinction which is also indicative of the band’s sound and style. Cracker comfortably mixes influences and sounds ranging from classic country music, psychedelia, punk and folk into their brand of “americana” style rock.
(Richmond weekly) Feature to preview Richmond show with band photo
Cracker to play first Richmond show in four years on Friday
Cracker plays The Broadberry this week. David Lowery, right, and Johnny Hickman, are touring in support of their new double album “Berkeley to Bakersfield.”
By COLLEEN CURRAN Richmond Times-Dispatch
Cracker’s show at The Broadberry on Friday is the band’s first Richmond concert in four years.
Singer-songwriter David Lowery has lived in Richmond since 1989. The founding member of Cracker and Camper van Beethoven now splits his time between Richmond and Athens, Ga., where he teaches music and business at the University of Georgia.
Best-known for such indie-rock hits as “Low” and “Euro-Trash Girl” in the ’90s, Cracker has been performing and recording music for the past 20 years. Lowery keeps a house “south of the river” and spends time with his two boys, who are in their teens.
But it’s been a while since the whole group played here.
“We love playing Richmond. It’s weird: We’re from Richmond, but it doesn’t seem like local promoters think about us,” Lowery said. “We get all these offers to play other places. We’ve been selling out the 9:30 Club (in D.C.). But it was getting to the point where if we didn’t book a local show, I was getting ready to throw a block party.”
Cracker is currently on tour to support their latest album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield.” The double album showcases both musical sides of the band. The first disc (Berkeley) is devoted to an alt-country sound, and the other (Bakersfield) showcases the band’s country side.
“Berkeley to Bakersfield,” released by 429 Records in December, has been receiving positive reviews by Rolling Stone and Spin, which wrote that Cracker is “still getting it done 20 years on.”
This will be the first time Cracker has played The Broadberry, a midsize venue on Broad Street.
In recent years, Lowery and Cracker guitarist Johnny Hickman have played acoustic sets at Ashland Coffee & Tea. Before that, Cracker played Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and The National.
“I have a fondness for the old days of playing on Mayo Island and Brown’s Island in the old spot (on the helipad),” Lowery said. “I enjoy those outdoor early evening shows. A lot of cities don’t have that. I just think those kind of concerts are really cool. Like, I’d love to play Dogwood Dell.”
Take that as a suggestion, Richmond.
But first, check them out at The Broadberry.
(Richmond weekly) Richmond show preview with band photo
Event Pick: Cracker at the Broadberry
Friday, May 8
BY CHRIS BOPST
Like Ted Nugent, David Lowery is becoming as well known for the things he says as for the music he makes. The main difference between the two is that the Motor City Madman spews fictional political, moral and social profanities while the Cracker frontman rails against the nonfictional, wholesale swindling of musicians in the Internet age. Adding to their differences is that Lowery’s music remains relevant. First with his group Camper Van Beethoven and now with Cracker, Lowery is a thrift store of inspirations. He and longtime co-conspirator and guitarist Johnny Hickman mix rock, punk, country, blues and folk to create their Everyman psychedelia. One of the first commercially viable “alternative” acts of the early ’90s, Cracker placed emphasis on hooks, harmony and history — the keys to its continuing success. Cracker brings its hits and current batch of crowd pleasers to the Broadberry on Friday, May 8, with Virginia native Lauren Hoffman opening. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is $15-$18. thebroadberry.com.
HANDFUL OF BRAINS
(Richmond music blog)
And my night will continue Friday when I head over to The Broadberry to see alt-country-rock-indie band Cracker. Tix are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. They’ve got a new double album out called “Berkeley to Bakersfield”, one album their alt-punk-rock side (Berkeley), one album their Americana side (Bakersfield). Here’s Cracker doing “Waited My Whole Life” at KSPN in Aspen on Valentine’s Day this year, after a brief interview.
(Greensboro daily) Feature to preview Pittsboro show
Geography provides inspiration for new Cracker music
David Lowery and Johnny Hickman of Cracker will perform at Shakori Hills Community Arts Center in Pittsboro.
By Dave Gil de Rubio
Berkeley to Bakersfield is a 276-mile drive on Interstate 5 in California.
But it’s a journey of a different sort to David Lowery. The two towns are so influential to the sound of his band that Cracker’s 10th studio album, a two-CD set, is titled “Berkeley to Bakersfield.”
The first CD — “Berkeley” — crackles with guitar-driven alt-rock such as the jangly “Beautiful” and its mention of pink Mohawks and Doc Martin boots and the stomper “Life In the Big City.”
Move on to disc two — “Bakersfield” — and out comes the pedal steel and fiddle, whether it’s on the twangy “Almond Grove” and its banjo nuances or the honky-tonk shuffle “King of Bakersfield.”
And although this combination may seem odd, that blend of roots rock and country riffing has been a hallmark dating back to the band’s 1992 self-titled debut. Lowery’s guitar-playing creative partner Johnny Hickman juiced up songs such as the defiant “Can I Take My Gun to Heaven” and anthemic “I See the Light” with riffs that pulsed with the influence of Bakersfield legends Buck Owens and Don Rich.
“The country thing is something that’s been around throughout our whole career,” Lowery said. “So in 2004, we put out ‘Countrysides’ as a way of paying homage to our roots in that way. In 2013, we thought it was time to touch on that again, so I started writing these songs that were largely sort of country-based, which was sort of the idea for the next Cracker record. It was going to be a sort of Americana record.”
Around this time, the Texas native had also been working with drummer Michael Urbano, who not only played with Lowery in his other band, Camper Van Beethoven, but also an earlier Cracker lineup. Joined by bassist Davey Faragher, the trio wound up with recording nine songs of original material that were distinctly different from the nine songs Lowery had started out recording for this project. It proved to be an interesting conundrum according to Lowery.
“(‘Berkeley’) was this sort of three-day, songwriting demo session with me, Davey and Michael that’s not exactly perfect,” he said. “There’s a little bit of overlap, but that’s basically what it did. When we listened to it back and compared these two batches of songs, they seemed different enough that they were two different albums. So that’s what we did … It sort of explains who our rock and country roots are.”
Although Lowery has been pulling double-duty spearheading Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, dating back to the latter’s regrouping in the late ’90s, he’s also developed an interest in using geography to drive his most current wave of songwriting.
More recently, it came via the most recent CVB albums, “El Camino Real” from 2014, which draws its inspiration from southern California and 2013’s “La Costa Perdida,” which is more about the northern part of the Golden State.
But for Lowery, who is teaching a course on the economics of finance in the music business at the University of Georgia and is working on his mathematics doctorate, his geographically-driven creative urges were actually stoked by authors Joan Didion and William Vollman.
“I’ve become fascinated with writers like Joan Didion,” Lowery said.
“(She) wrote this wonderful book made up of essays on the grimy part of California called ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ about the end of an empire. And then I got fascinated by William Vollman, who is a really hard-to-describe author. He’ll write a 1,300-page book that’s really a loose collection of long and elegant essays that spans 400 years that’s about the Imperial Valley of California, which is both in California and Mexico.
“So I wound up being fascinated by this writing style and I started out doing that with the Camper records,” he said. “I looked at it as being our Didion phase. I haven’t taken this geography thing that far, but it’s definitely part of something that I’ve been thinking about for the last four or five years.
“The songs aren’t really about the geography. They are just excuses to tell other stories.”
DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE
(Rochester daily) Richmond show preview with band photo
Prickly, twangy country-punk rock band Cracker headlines at 7 p.m. Tuesday. David Lowery and Johnny Hickman have been leading this interesting group in one form or another since the 1990 breakup of Lowery’s old band, Camper Van Beethoven. The rocking soul of Brooklyn’s Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds (5:30 p.m.) and Rochester’s spirited The Buddhahood (4 p.m.) makes this a particularly appealing evening.
(Western NY weekly) Show preview for Rochester show
May 12 – Cracker takes a roots-rock and twang approach to crafting catchy pop songs. Hit singles include “Low,” “Get Off This,” “Eurotrash Girl,” “Nothing to Believe In,” “I Hate My Generation,” and “Sweet Thistle Pie.” Their latest release is Berkeley to Bakersfield.
(Redlands, CA monthly magazine) Feature interview with David to preview LA show (Print Only)
(Northwest internet radio) Positive Tractor Tavern show review with photos
Cracker at The Tractor
Playing a 6 pm show on a Saturday at the Tractor Tavern on short notice, I was curious how this was going to go over, even for a band as well known as Cracker. “Sold Out” was the result and a blistering acoustic set by David Lowery and Johnny Hickman along with their slide guitar player Matt “Pistol” Stoessel was the treat for all who got in.
Playing almost two hours the fellas didn’t disappoint the faithful who called out to hear their hits; Low, Eurotrash Girl, Teen Angst, and several others. They also treated the crowd to several new songs from their current album “Berkley to Bakersfield”. Having been around nowsince 1992, their audience and band are showing their age a bit, but the enthusiasm, spirit, and fun were all on full display. AND we were all home in time to be in bed at a decent time!
MORE PHOTOS HERE:
(Coachella Valley weekly) Positive Pioneertown show review with photos
Live: Cracker at Pappy and Harriet’s, March 29
Written by Guillermo Prieto
The band Cracker held its first “Spring Training Camp” last Sunday, March 29, at Pappy and Harriet’s.
“Spring Training Camp” is a term coined by Cracker fans—proudly known as the Crumbs—who considered this concert to be in preparation for Campout 11, set for Aug. 27-29 at Pappy and Harriet’s.
The Crumbs are a merry band of Cracker music fans who are the happiest group of people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting at a concert. Fans came from across the U.S.A. to see their beloved band in a packed house at Pappy and Harriet’s. The connection between Pappy’s and Cracker is strong; in fact, the gold record for Cracker’s Kerosene Hat hangs on Pappy’s Wall of Fame. It was recorded a few steps away on a neglected sound stage that’s a relic of Pioneertown’s glory days as a film location for Cowboy serials. Lead singer David Lowery acknowledged the connection, stating, “Our career has centered around here.”
Cracker was in town backing Berkeley to Bakersfield, a double-album released last year via 429 Records. Cracker performed as a six-piece touring band, with a keyboardist and a pedal-steel guitar player added to the group. The show started with Lowery singing “Where Have Those Days Gone,” featured on the second disc of the new double album. Lead guitarist Johnny Hickman sang lead on “California Country Boy” and on the humorous tune “The San Bernardino Boy.” Hickman pointed west toward San Berdu as he began to sing, “In his underwear, playing in that dirty air, and his daddy’s in the Chino jail, he will grow up to be dumb as dirt, by 23, with the county sheriff on his trail.”
“King of Bakersfield” is a version of the American Dream, as dreamt in the Central Valley, that discusses what is important in life: Lowery sang, “I got some motorcycle riding neighbors; we never have no trouble round here. All my friends say I live like a king out in Bakersfield. So do what you want if you ain’t hurting no one; ain’t nobody’s business how you live your life.”
Lowery is a well-known advocate for artists’ rights, demanding equity in compensation for musicians. Cracker is overtly political in “March of the Billionaires” and “Torches and Pitchforks,” voicing concerns regarding special interests and a lack of class equality. The theme of gentrification in the San Francisco Bay area is the subject of the song “El Cerrito”: “Everyone’s is squeaky clean; they look and dress and act the same. I don’t give a shit about your IPO; I live in El Cerrito.”
Cracker has a way of engaging the audience by covering genres from traditional country all the way to alternative rock. The mainstay “Low” made the set list, but you can’t have every song, and fan-favorite “Euro-Trash Girl” was missing.
Velena Vego, Cracker’s manager and Lowery’s spouse, was present, and Lowery adapted “Gimme One More Chance” to “Gimme One More Chance, Velena” on one of the verses. In some ways, it was Vego’s night: The unofficial den mother of the Crumbs was presented with a birthday cake that was accepted graciously by her husband as she stayed away from the jam-packed stage during Cracker’s performance.
Cracker ended with a two-song encore: “The World is Mine” and “Mr. Wrong.” After the band concluded, smiling Crumbs corraled the entire audience to take a group photo—a tradition in Pi-Town, and something that you never see in any of the storied venues on the Sunset Strip.
BROKEN HEARTED TOY
(music site) Chicago show preview.
Cracker will be performing a Back To Baseball concert with The Shams band at The Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville tonight. In addition to hits like “Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)” and “Low,” Cracker will likely be playing tracks from their new double album Berkeley to Bakersfield.
(music site) Positive Chicago show preview with photo.
Cracker To Play Season Kickoff Festivities For Chicago Cubs
Yesterday, and basically every day, I heard “Low” by Cracker on Q101. The song came out more than 20 years ago, but when it came on it still sounded as good as it did blaring out of the windows of my 1991 Pontiac Sunbird when I was in high school. That song was the bands biggest hit by quite a margin commercially, but they’ve been putting out solid records this whole time with a loyal fan base buying up everything David Lowery and Johnny Hickman create.
Their new album, a double LP called Berkeley to Bakersfield, takes Cracker back to the southern California sound made famous by Brian Wilson and The Mamas & The Papas. If you only know the band from their early alternative rock days, it’s a big shift to accept. Lowery’s soft folky vocals that open the album on “Torches And Pitchforks” is a far cry from the half-screams of “Low.” The quality is there to make the transition fairly painless, though. It’s 18 tracks of solid music that also brings in some Clash-like sounds.
Listening, it’s easy to see why those loyal fans have stuck around well after the mainstream decided to move away from most of the bands that got big in the ’90’s. You can grab a copy of this new double album here. Cracker also just announced a concert at Cubby Bear on Friday April 3rd to celebrate the 2015 Chicago Cubs season opener. Tickets are available here. The Shams Band will open the show, so get there early.
(Americana music site) Almond Grove Gondola Session video featured
Cracker ~ “Almond Grove”
by Craig Young
Recorded live in Aspen, CO for the Gondola Session. Before recording “Almond Grove”, David Lowery noted it was probably his favorite song from the new Cracker album ‘Berkeley to Bakersfield’. I’ll have to say I agree – get the full album.
THE LOS ANGELES BEAT
(LA music site) Live Review: Cracker at Pappy and Harriet’s (with photo gallery)
by Billy Bennight
Presented with the opportunity to shoot Cracker, a band I’m well familiar with, going back to their seminal roots of Camper Van Beethoven: Camper Van Beethoven first release was on Bruce Licher’s Independent Project Records that delivered the alty hit “Take The Skinheads Bowling’, made this musical excursion a no brainer! Cracker was slated to play House of Blues on Saturday. As much as the House of Blues has its appeal as a go to venue in Los Angeles I discovered that Cracker would be playing Pappy and Harriet’s in Joshua Tree on Sunday. Pappy & Harriet’s is a stunning location to view and photograph a band. There’s the great desert outdoors, the music legacy of the area, besides the UFO’s, and a quaint, yet very hip, bar that loves the artist like few other places in Southern California. It was the perfect venue to see Cracker play their new release Berkeley To Bakersfield.
I arrived early to take in Pioneer Town and afterwards I haunted the bar for beverages and a burger. I became involved in an insightful conversation with 2 ladies from San Francisco. We talked music, we talked The Black Crowes, Chris Robinson Brotherhood and then we trekked on to the Grateful Dead, but we didn’t go any further, while chattering about musical roots. This is why I love setting at the bar! It’s the people and the conversations that deliver that Pappy & Harriet’s experience. It’s like a house party with benefits.
I was in the back enjoying the fresh air as members of Cracker informally gathered before they hit the stage. They visited with one another as the crowd gathered nearer to the stage. David Lowery and Johnny Hickman locked in a conversation just before they were to go up. It seemed as if they were catching up on the days events after the HOB gig the night before. The other members of the band, all from Georgia, tightened around Johnny and David just before they were cued to hit the stage. They all passed through the back door and everybody hit their marks. David adjusted his mic with a couple of twists and the band launched into their set with “Almond Grove”. They followed with it with “California Country Boy” and “King of Bakersfield”, hitting the fans with the Bakersfield material of the new double album. The fans pulled in tight and were very responsive to the new songs. As skilled entertainers they then drove the energy up further bay playing radio favorites like: “Low” and “Teen Angst”. The band dug into the rootsy vibes of “Sweet Potato” and “St. Cajetan” of the 25 song plus set. The joint was jumpin’ with every one holding their places and shaking their tails. Cracker drifted into some of their more rockin’ Berkeley songs with “Beautiful” and “Reaction” off of Berkeley To Bakersfield. Cracker clocked out with the perfect closer to their set with the song “Seven Days”. The lyrics open with “So we was standing like the last Rock band on the planet”: which seems strangely appropriate for Cracker, who were only miles away from the Integratron in a cantina of sublime reputation in heart of Joshua Tree in the middle of the Mojave Desert that brings about the feeling of being part of that kind of singularity. Cracker brought the house down with a those feelings of lusty devotion to sudsy lager, wild women and brown liquor, centered in the cool evening desert air at Pappy & Harriet’s. It was roundly an excellent time with a bunch of gifted musicians that knows how to deliver great music in a showcase environment!
Tickets aren’t available yet but keep your eyes peeled for Campout 11 with both Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker August 27th through the 29th at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneer Town.
(music site) Feature interview with David
Cracker’s David Lowery updates his Silicon Valley relationship status: It’s complicated (interview)
Walking down the street in San Francisco just the other day
Wondering what has happened to the freaks and hippies and the punks
Everybody’s squeaky clean, they look and dress and act the same
I don’t give a shit about your IPO I live in El Cerrito
— from “El Cerrito” by Cracker
While recording the latest Cracker album in studios across the East Bay, lead singer and songwriter David Lowery watched first-hand as tensions between local residents and the booming tech industry boiled over.
Soaring housing costs. Evictions. Google bus protests.
As someone with ties to the Bay Area that now go back decades, he lamented the changes the tech boom was bringing to the region, particularly the impact on the area’s once-thriving music scene, which was beginning to get squeezed out.
As a songwriter, though, the outcry and the tech backlash were irresistible fodder for the songs that make up the “Berkeley” half of the new album, which is called Berkeley to Bakersfield. The hard-edged rock sound and themes of the “Berkeley” songs are a tribute to the area’s punk scenes of days gone by, which included a strong sense of protest and social justice.
“I think about things like East Bay punk rock, the ’60s free speech movement, and the whole Berkeley weird hippie-freaks scene, the anti-Vietnam war stuff,” he says with affection. “The challenge when we were making that album was: What would be the protest? It not only has to be musically right, the subject matter has to be placed here.”
The result are some scathing critiques of the Silicon Valley tech scene. While listening to Lowery’s musical take-down of tech, it might be easy to brush it off as a reflexive protest of a bleeding-heart artist. And in this case, Lowery had already been pigeonholed as an outspoken critic of digital music services.
In fact, Lowery’s feelings about technology, the Internet, and digital music are far more complex and nuanced. They are informed by his background as a mathematician (he’s a quant!) and his current day jobs, which include being a lecturer at the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia at Athens (research includes: “Application of concepts from Derivatives Volatility Trading to the Music Business”).
In an interview with VentureBeat, Lowery discussed his feelings about the economic forces reshaping Bay Area culture, as well as his view of the relationship between tech and musicians.
“I’m kind of to the right of a lot of my peers in the music business,” Lowery said. “People in music tend to be more liberal. I tend to be more of a markets guy. I tend to look at it and believe that the market will balance things out. On the other hand, that may take a long time, and we’re losing a lot in the process.”
Mama took the Alameda Transit bus to work each day
All the way down San Pablo, thirty years a Naval base
Never heard her once complain about taking public transportation
You should ride the city bus just like the rest of us in El Cerrito
— from “El Cerrito”
Berkeley to Bakersfield is Cracker’s first album in five years. In contrast to the rock of the “Berkeley” songs, the countrified “Bakersfield” songs on the album’s second half draw on the band’s rootsier side that’s also been a part of its sound since its founding in the early 1990s.
While Cracker is semi-officially based in Richmond, Virginia, Lowery lives in Athens. But he also spent significant time in the Bay Area over the past few years, staying at the home of friends, including those of his bandmates in his other longtime musical venture, Camper Van Beethoven, the band he cofounded in 1983.
Over time, as housing costs have soared and neighborhoods have gentrified in San Francisco, most of his musician friends have migrated from San Francisco to the East Bay — and in some cases, have left the Bay Area altogether.
“It’s definitely, radically changed,” Lowery said. “When we were playing there in the ’80s and the early ’90s, a lot of venues we played in were in rough neighborhoods. And those are all gone now. To me, I’m just sort of watching the Bay Area transform into a place that doesn’t really have a music scene anymore.”
The rising backlash against tech companies in San Francisco just happened to coincide with the recording of the new album. And Lowery’s take on the tech industry is sprinkled throughout the first half of the album.
“We were the making the record when the Google bus protests were happening, and it got me really fascinated,” he said. “So we used that as a criticism of the current state of Silicon Valley.”
There’s “March of the Billionaires”:
Get into line, your poverty brings us all progress
Stop talking back, we’re richer and smarter than you
Or risk a body check from Mr Khrushchev, under the Gogolplex (pronounced: “Googleplex”)
Put your head on a pike, we’ll stick it outside the city gates
Or “Life in the Big City”:
I’ve got tax breaks in San Francisco
Funneling back into the Mayor’s pack
I’ve got think tanks and academics
Telling you what’s good for me is good for you
But it’s “El Cerrito” that charges at tech with a full head of steam. The song also illustrates the way Lowery tends to write, often trying on the voices of other people. In this case, the voice of the song is that of an actual cab driver who was driving Lowery and some friends home one night.
On the way from San Francisco to Albany, the cab driver saw a Lyft car sporting the firm’s giant trademark pink mustache. He turned to Lowery and asked if it was OK if he stopped the cab so he could get out and flip off the Lyft driver. After getting back into the cab, the driver delivered a long rant that became the basis of the song, including the phrase, “I don’t give a shit about your IPO.”
“A lot of what I’m doing is playing with certain voices,” Lowery said. “The El Cerrito guy’s is one voice. I have a little bit more moderate views than he does. But it’s close.”
Pink mustached taxi cabs, don’t you know that they’re just scabs
Union busting, techie uber alles, I said it
Bullshit claims to change the world, making Wall Street bankers even richer
El Cerrito’s got its problems but we don’t pick pockets of the working man
— from “El Cerrito”
Lowery, 54, was born in Texas, but grew up in San Bernardino County. He later left the Inland Empire to attend University of California Santa Cruz where, in addition to playing in Camper Van Beethoven, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1984.
“I remember when I moved from Southern California to the Bay Area, it was much more of a middle class world compared to where I came from,” he said.
Camper’s rise as a successful indie band in the 1980s was followed in 1990 by the cofounding of Cracker with guitarist Johnny Hickman. Cracker went on to even bigger mainstream success that decade than Camper.
That he has been able to keep both groups going off-and-on for several decades, including regular touring and making new albums, is something he attributes, in part, to the Internet.
“My entire career has been highly dependent on technology and the web,” Lowery said. “Bands have been web-enabled since ’92, ’93. And really, we’ve been a web-based business since 1999 or 2000. The majority of interaction with our fans, aside from live performances, is online.”
That embrace of tech goes far beyond just throwing up a website to publicize his bands. One of Camper’s cofounders, Victor Krummenacher, is an art director at Wired Magazine. Another Camper cofounder, Jonathan Segel, worked at Pandora for three years.
And Lowery? According to his LinkedIn profile, Lowery is on the board of the Athens Angel Fund, he’s an avid blogger, and he was even on Groupon’s informal board of advisors for three years.
So, when it comes to tech, Lowery says, “We’re in it. We’re soaking in it.”
Papa was an engineer, worked at Hewlett-Packard
Dumbarton Bridge two times a day then lost his job and pension
We would go and visit him in bars in Jack London Square
I don’t give a shit about your IPO I come from El Cerrito
— from “El Cerrito”
And yet, in many circles, Lowery has been declared an enemy of the future for his critiques of streaming music services.
These include his writing for the Trichordist, a community blog that advocates for fair pay for artists. (See: “My Song Got Played On Pandora 1 Million Times and All I Got Was $16.89, Less Than What I Make From a Single T-Shirt Sale!”)
And last year, Lowery testified in front of the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives on the subject of fair use of musicians’ music and lyrics for remixing and lyric annotations websites. Lowery worried that expanding the scope of fair use would allow lyric sites and remixers to use more content without paying artists. Instead, he wanted the law to remain in place as a way to encourage new music services to define business models that would allow them to generate income that could be used to pay artists.
“I’m seen as a digital critic, but I don’t think that’s really fair,” he said. “I’m really a critic of how the digital realm pays artists. It’s more of a labor dispute. It’s like if we were the coal miners in the coal mine. It’s not that we’re against the coal mine. We just want to be paid better.”
As an mathematician and economist, though, he continues to struggle with how he feels about the sweeping impact technology is having on the broader economy. He doesn’t believe it’s inherently bad, but he’s also not sure people are considering the implications “quite as much as they should be.”
“A lot of the things that limited the size of firms have been removed,” he said. “It’s a time of striking changes. It seems technology is producing a winner-take-all economy.
“It’s something we need to address head on.”
If there is a lesson from this story to be learned
It’s not exactly what you think, you shouldn’t be concerned
It’s not that we don’t like the rich, it’s simply that we think this kind is boring
Everybody thinks and acts the same that’s why I live in El Cerrito
— from “El Cerrito”
I ROCK PHOTOS
(Photographer Guillermo Prieto’s music site)
David Lowery and the rest of Cracker will be at Pappy and Harriet’s tonight. Would it be too bold to say that their new album “Berkeley to Bakersfield” is their best album ever?
Tickets are still available but Pappy’s, but most shows have been selling out lately. Get your Cracker Soul on in Pi town and get your tickets now:
(music site) LA show preview
Cracker is among the bands to see this Saturday in Los Angeles
By: Gary Schwind
Saturday night is your night to celebrate your time. You don’t have to clock in anywhere, and you don’t have any boss breathing down your neck and wondering when you’re going to be done with that “urgent” project he dropped in your lap. If you’re looking to celebrate this Saturday March 28 with live music, you have plenty of good options available to you.
House of Blues Sunset
When you think of country bands, Cracker is probably not the first band that comes to mind – and with good reason. It’s not a country band. However, the band recently released the double album Berkeley to Bakersfield. The second half of the album is a country album – and it is good. Seriously, from the first moments of the album, you’ll find yourself tapping your toes and looking for someone to dance with. Yes, it’s a little surprising to hear Cracker doing honky-tonk Bakersfield-style country music. That being said, once you listen to the Bakersfield half of the new album, you’ll probably want more country music from the band.
(music site) Portland show review
Concert Review: Cracker
Cracker is essentially a decades-long conversation between singer/songwriter David Lowery and guitar savant Johnny Hickman.
There are those rock ‘n’ roll moments from our youth that are forever twisted up in our musical history. Maybe it was passing on seeing Nirvana that one time or watching Conor Oberst (as Bright Eyes) melt down completely on stage. For me, and it may sound a little silly, the most violent show I ever attended was Cracker back in 1994 at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. Trust me, I’ve been in my share of mosh pits. Hell, I supported Iggy Pop after he leapt from the stage into the audience, but for some reason, Cracker circa Kerosene Hat attracted the biggest, baddest group of skinheads I have ever seen at a show. Bodies and fists careened off one another. The girl I was with broke her pinky finger. It was a sweat-soaked, chipped-tooth night of rock music. “Low” never sounded more virulent, the irony of “Can I Take My Gun to Heaven” possibly lost on the crowd, the dirge of “Eurotrash Girl” a welcome respite from the shoving. At one point, I felt someone push me and when I turned around, there was a guy with a swastika tattoo rearing back to slug me. I barely escaped, darting into the masses throbbing towards the stage.
Cracker circa 2015 is a very different animal. Country has always been at the heart of its music but new album Berkeley to Bakersfield is a collection of 18 tracks that refract the experiences of living in those very different parts of California into lean, mature rock ‘n’ roll. That fiery edge from Kerosene Hat still simmers under the surface, but Cracker isn’t a band that needs to prove itself now. It’s all about chasing the muse, taking a long, hard look at the current state of things here in the United States and making art that both cherishes and damns the challenges present in the 21st century.
Cracker is essentially a decades-long conversation between singer/songwriter David Lowery and guitar savant Johnny Hickman. They have worked with a variety of bassists and drummers over the years, but the true Cracker soul rests with these two friends. So, it was no surprise that the duo played Portland’s Mississippi Studios in front of a sold-out crowd as an “unplugged” duet, backed only by a pedal steel player. Playing for nearly two hours and concentrating heavily on songs from Berkeley to Bakersfield, Lowery and Hickman did play some rejiggered classics to appease the fans. However, the show couldn’t be more different than that bloody night more than 20 years ago in Philly.
Does it mean you’re old when you’re happy that a show ends at 8:30pm? Nothing bums me out more than a show that starts after 10pm. Not only did Cracker play an early show, they did so without trotting out some sub-par opening band. Instead, we got an evening with just Lowery and Hickman and that’s just fine.
While many of Cracker’s musical peers have either flamed out or resorted to making their money from treading on “greatest hits” tours, Lowery and Hickman continue to play shows dedicated to new material. Sure, we got to hear a slowed-down version of “Low” and “Eurotrash Girl” in waltz time, but the pair introduced “Torches and Pitchforks” and “Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey” with equal pride. And yes, Mississippi Studios is a much smaller room than the Tower, but the packed crowd is a testament to the band’s longevity.
There is something comforting about seeing Lowery and Hickman together on that stage. The link to the ‘90s is there, but it’s also a through line, one knotted with experiences like mine. But in the end, our collective response to Cracker’s music doesn’t really matter. It’s all about Lowery singing of a decapitated movie stars, scumbag rich folks and European transvestites, the stalwart Hickman, always the guitar hero, pushing the melody on his fretboard by the singer’s side. Here’s to 20 more years, boys.
THE LOS ANGELES BEAT
(LA music site) Feature Johnny interview to preview LA show
The Beat Interviews: Johnny Hickman of Cracker
by Elise Thompson
This Saturday night, March 28th, Cracker will be playing a full 60-minute set at the House of Blues Sunset as part of the fundraising Ticked Off Music Fest. If any of you have seen “The Punk Singer,” the story of Kathleen Hannah, you know how serious Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses can be. You can find discounted tickets for the HOB at Cracker’s website. On Sunday, March 29th, Cracker will return to their stomping grounds at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown, where the Cracker campout will take place at the end of August.
Cracker is currently touring to support their new double album, Berkeley to Bakersfield, which isolates two of their main influences into their own self-contained albums. The Bakersfield Country and Western album is full-on Buck Owens. Music writers are referring to the Berkeley album as “punk.” It is not punk. That era of music, when Cracker was nascent, was usually called college rock, which provided a bridge between punk rock and grunge.
The LA Beat caught up with Cracker’s guitar player and vocalist, Johnny Hickman, who was not only cooperative, but extremely polite.
How did you channel the Buck Owens Bakersfield vibe? Is the Inland Empire the Bakersfield of Southern California?
Some areas of the I.E are very much like Bakersfield, yes. There are a lot of farms, ranches and rural areas. When David and I grew up in Redlands and San Bernardino there were orange groves as far as you could see. Even now there are acres of Avocado trees in Temecula, acres of green vegetables growing along the 10 freeway in all directions, fruit and all manner of livestock as well. Along with this kind of work comes country and western, Tejano, Mexican pop music and such, very similar to the central valleys a little north. We grew up hearing Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Flaco Jimenez, Led Zeppelin, The Stones and everything else at once. We don’t have to work too hard to sound the way we do.
What is the best restaurant in Berkeley? The best restaurant in Bakersfield?
Well when we were in these cities we were always aspiring, struggling musicians so I couldn’t really tell you ha ha! We always look for the decent taco stand or tiny restaurants that are owned and run by Mexican Americans. The real deal. You almost can’t lose!
Who directed your videos? They are much cooler than your average video.
Thank you. In the early days of record company budgets we almost always went with the brilliant Carlos Grasso. He has a true sense of the surreal, the absurd and easily embraced the irony and bent humor that fit Cracker perfectly. Other American directors did not get us and fought our ideas. We just sensed that he was the right guy. He would come up with even weirder ideas than ours! Just look at the “Low” or “Eurotrash Girl” and later the Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey videos. They are like little Fellini films. Carlos has been much imitated over the years.
Cracker also used to do CD tracks where there’s like 45 seconds of silence and then bonus bits– how can you reproduce those Easter egg things, elements of surprise, in a digital download world?
It’s more of a challenge in these days where the album is not treated as a whole nearly as much as it was then. Something has definitely been lost. Being Cracker, we sometimes ignored our major label and snuck songs on the records at mastering without listing them. We did this for ourselves and for the fans. Since you only get paid for nine songs usually, anything else was just a gift for the Crumbs as they call themselves.
Any interesting stories from when you opened for the Dead? Did you take acid and eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches?
We didn’t take acid that I recall, but we did get to meet the very sweet and complimentary Mr Garcia who told David and me that he really liked our version of the Hunter/Garcia song “The Loser” which we recorded for Kerosene Hat. He also told us that he and Bob really liked “Eurotrash Girl.” I remember we said that it would make a great Bob Weir song. I always loved that Bob sang the big story songs like “El Paso” or “Me And My Uncle.” “ETG” is a big story sort of travelogue like that and it’s easy to imagine Weir’s voice doing it! That would have been aces!
Did you meet Ken Kesey?
No, but that would have been interesting. Even though we were just kids when the Dead were around that Merry Pranksters scene I remember that later when David and I met we were both pretty aware of that culture from reading about it and talked about it as compared to the punk culture that we were part of as young guys. Both scenes were counterculture and more than a little political and had more in common than most people would think. The DIY part of it was never lost on us. We got it.
How many guitars do you own, and in twenty words or less, tell us what your favorite thing is about each one. (20 words. per guitar).
I own nine guitars….this will be a little tough but here goes.
#1) My1977 Les Paul. I’ve used it for about 90% of Cracker’s work because well, just listen.
#2) My 1972 Yamaha acoustic. I’ve written just about my every song and or riff on it. It sounds better than guitars worth 10 times as much.
#3) My 1965 Telecaster re-issue. It has the perfect country twang. I used it all over the Bakersfield disc.
#4) All my other guitars are #4s compare to these three.
So you guys do the Pioneertown Campout, and I heard there was an East coast campout. Any more campouts in the works?
We’re planning the Pi Town Camp Out again this year yes, this time at the end of August. We tried an east coast one but it just didn’t have the same magic. We sometimes throw a “Camp In” in Athens Georgia where David lives. We base it around the famous Forty Watt club which David’s wife Velena has run for many years.
What is good about camping and what sucks about camping?
Well, the beauty of the Camp Out is that you have a choice to camp there or book a hotel. There are plenty of hotels in the Joshua Tree area but the Crumbs book some of them up way in advance so anyone planning on coming to join us should look into that soon!
People may not know that you also produce music. What is your favorite band you ever produced?
Aside from being heavily involved with Cracker’s recordings, my two solo records and my side country band The Hickman Dalton Gang. I just recently produced a great young Denver trio called The Yawpers. We decided to record their album first and then shop it to record labels and the plan seems to be working for us. I would never consider producing a band that wasn’t amazing live. These guys are the best live band I’ve heard in years and I’m very proud of the record we made together. We recorded live in the studio direct to four inch tape…just like records used to be made. Not many high tech overproduction tricks which you can only do with a great live band like The Yawpers….or Cracker ha ha!
Thanks for your time!
You are so very welcome. Thank you for yours, Elise.
(online A&E site) Feature Johnny interview to preview LA show
Johnny Hickman talks House of Blues benefit show, new album and more
By Will Engel
Johnny Hickman is best known as the lead guitarist and co-founder of the rock band Cracker. Johnny talks to Gibson about his crazy custom Gibson guitar and future plans with Cracker.
Johnny Hickman, co-founder of the famed band Cracker, enthusiastically interviews on the band’s upcoming House of Blues benefit performance, the band’s new double album and more.
W.E. What are you thoughts on your upcoming March 28 House of Blues performance?
J.H. I’m very much looking forward to it. We have many happy memories of playing the LA House Of Blues going back through Cracker’s 25 year career. These days we don’t play Los Angeles very often so this will be a special night. Nothing against the city, but like New York City it’s so much less hassle to play the surrounding cities for both the band and our fans. The parking, the high prices etc. This show is a benefit, raising awareness for tick related diseases which are the fastest growing infectious diseases in America right now so that’s an incentive. Happy to help.
W.E. What is your favorite thing about your new acclaimed double album Berkeley to Bakersfield?
J.H. I have many favorite things, but near the top of that list would be the fact that David Lowery and I have made a lifelong career of doing exactly as we pleased and once again, we went against the norm and somehow managed to come out on top. I mean, in this era of plummeting music sales and shrinking attention spans who puts out a double album? Those two characters from Redlands, that’s who. After nine albums of just blending all of our sounds together, for this one we divided our songs onto two discs; one rock / soul / punk based (Berkeley) and the other more Americana / country based (Bakersfield) and the whole package has been very well received by both our fans and the media at large. We couldn’t be happier. We’ve adapted our live band from four to six piece and that’s been making for some amazing possibilities and shows as well.
W.E. How have your musical influences impacted your long-term joy of making music?
J.H. A lot of musicians tend to site the ancient masters as their only influences because that [is] the hipster thing to do. I have no qualms about admitting that while yes, I love Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Robert Johnson and Hank Williams etc I’m also influenced by what I heard my kids listening to yesterday. You have to just relax and play what you feel no matter where it came from. When we write we don’t think about these things much. We just start building songs and maybe later consider that it might sound like The Buzzcocks, Merle Haggard, War or whatever. I’m glad that David and I both grew up listening to endless varieties of music, genres whatever. I think that has a lot to do with the sound of Cracker which while pretty diverse, always ends up sounding like Cracker in the end.
(national Catholic monthly magazine) Positive album review
Take a California road trip with Cracker’s ‘Berkeley to Bakersfield’
By Danny Duncan Collum
Cracker (429 Records, 2014)
When we think “California,” two things probably come to mind: Hollywood glitz and Silicon Valley billions. But Berkeley to Bakersfield is a tribute to the Golden State’s radical politics and blue collar grit east of the San Francisco Bay and the hardscrabble life of the Central Valley.
When Cracker started in the early 1990s, they were based in Richmond, Virginia. But the driving forces of the band, singer-songwriter David Lowery and lead guitarist Johnny Hickman, are childhood friends from Redlands, California. The band’s appeal peaked in 1993 with the album Kerosene Hat, and in the 21st century Cracker albums have become increasingly rare.
But Lowery and his band haven’t lost a step. Berkeley to Bakersfield is a two-disc set that aspires to the scope and gravitas of a novel. And to emphasize the point, Cracker won’t let you download individual tracks on digital download sites. Like the big paradoxical dream of California itself, the album is an all-or-nothing proposition.
The Berkeley disc opens with “Torches and Pitchforks,” a folkie protest anthem for taking on “the man.” But the rest of that disc is classic Cracker—straight-ahead rock, with big crunchy guitar riffs and Lowery’s closely observed lyrics, such as the ones for “Beautiful,” an ode to a young lady with a pink Mohawk and black Doc Martens boots.
The Bakersfield disc takes a sharp right turn with lots of pedal steel and twangy Fender guitars. “California Country Boy” offers a honky-tonk tour of the rural side of the state, while the “King of Bakersfield” depicts a “red state union man from California” in all his glorious contradictions.
Somehow Lowery’s vision and the sound of Hickman’s guitar don’t just contain but embrace all of their home state’s contradictions, from the pink Mohawks to the rednecks, making this album a road trip worth taking.
This review appeared in the March 2015 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 80, No. 3, page 42).
PENNY BLACK MUSIC UK (UK music site) Positive album review
Band:Cracker Title:Berkeley to Bakersfield
Reviewed By:Carl Bookstein
Excellent double album from critically-acclaimed American alternative rock band Cracker, the first in twenty years to include the original line-up and which combines hard-edged punk with country rock
‘Berkeley to Bakersfield’, a double-album and American band Cracker’s tenth studio effort, explores California landscapes with two very different musical approaches. The ‘Berkeley’ disc explores and is influenced by hard edged punk and garage mirroring sounds of the Bay Area. The ‘Bakersfield’ disc captures the California countryside and is all country twang and earth tones.
Cracker, a solid and successful band is notable for a myriad of influences from punk to alt country and for hits that include ‘Low’and ‘Get Off This’.
The ’Berkeley’ side includes the original Cracker line-up for the first time in 20 years. Founding members David Lowery and Johnny Hickman anchor the whole project.
The’ Berkeley’ disc is often overtly political. The opener ‘Torches and Pitchforks’ starts out slow, yet direct in its message: “We will fight you from the mountains and we will fight you in the streets… You cannot take what isn’t yours.”
‘March of the Billionaires’ gets to rocking with a punk edge (and even perhaps a touch of dub or ska), carrying a message and a punch: “Give up your rights/Your most private thoughts… Life’s good for the billionaires.”
‘Beautiful’ features some stinging electric guitar and describes images of a pink Mohawk and Doc Martens, with its subject working at a coffee shop or a food co-op. It is a song with an uplifting spirit: “Don’t you know that you’re beautiful?”
‘El Cerrito’ is a funky number capturing the grit of this city-scape, and ‘Life in the Big City’ criticises wealth, politicians and mansions in the Hamptons.
Orchestrated with distinct backing vocals, the ‘Berkeley’ closer, ‘Waited My Whole Life’ says that superstitions don’t mean a thing and describes the passion of an eternally longed for love.
“Ain’t no palm trees where I come from… no movie stars now… ain’t no place I’d rather be.”- The ‘Bakersfield’ disc captures the “California Country Boy” side of the band and the atmospheres of the state’s inland valleys.
‘Almond Grove’ casts a soul soothing, laid back groove- capturing images easy and picturesque: “I’m going back home to the cotton fields.”- this second disc, my favourite part of this double album.
The track ‘King of Bakersfield’ is a personal favourite tune here with evocative pedal steel. “I work from dusk to dawn for Paramount Pictures/Set carpenter and all around handyman… life is good/They call me the king of
‘Tonight I Cross The Border’ is an intriguing story song about immigrant realities. ‘Get On Down the Road’, another of these Americana and country tinged tunes, twangy sounds akin to those popularized by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
The rich closer ‘Where Have Those Days Gone?’, steeped in memories, poignantly captures the country side of California and the old days gone by.
(Bellingham, WA daily) Show preview with band photo
Music: California duo Cracker show both sides now
Rock band Cracker (semi-acoustic duo David Lowery and Johnny Hickman) perform at 10 p.m. Friday, March 13, at the Green Frog, 1015 N. State St., in support of their recent acclaimed double-album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield.”
The album features two sides of the California landscape – the San Francisco Bay Area and down-state in Bakersfield.
Despite being less than a five-hour drive apart, the two regions couldn’t be further apart musically. In the late 1970s and ’80s harder-edged rock music emerged from the Bay Area, while Bakersfield is renowned for its iconic twangy country music popularized, most famously, by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in the 1960s and ’70s.
Despite the differences, those are elements Cracker has embraced to some degree on nearly every one of their studio albums the past two decades.
On “Berkeley To Bakersfield,” instead of integrating the genres on one disc, they have neatly compartmentalized them onto their respective regionally titled LPs.
“Berkeley” (disc 1) features the rock sounds of the Bay Area that has informed their music since their inception in the early 1990s, while the “Bakersfield” disc showcases their nearly 25-year love affair with that area’s country and roots music.
Cover is $20. Details on the gig: acoustictavern.com. Details on the band: crackersoul.com.
(Aspen live session from a gondola)
“Where Have Those Days Gone” March 11th
“California Country Boy” March 18
“Almond Grove” March 25
(Portland daily) – Show preview
[MUSIC] Cracker has always shown inklings of less-rocking ambitions, even when songs like “Low” and “Euro-Trash Girl” were all the rage on the grunge-dominated charts of the early ’90s. The band’s debut showcased bits of the country trappings that are more prominent on the group’s recent double LP, Berkeley to Bakersfield, splicing revved-up garage anthems with the kind of steely honky-tonk you’d find in, well, Bakersfield. Whereas one side is filled with political unrest set to driving alt-rock guitars, the other fumbles with twanged acoustics that serve as an ode to California’s forgotten farmland. But given that this tour features only founding members David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, expect a reworked mix of songs new and old. Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., 288-3895. 7 pm. $20 advance, $22 day of show. 21+.
BACK BEAT SEATTLE
(Seattle music site) – Show previw with band photo
Show Preview: Cracker @ the Tractor, Sat. March 14th
Posted on 03/13/2015 by Dagmar
Cracker hits Seattle tomorrow night, Saturday March 14th! The band will perform at the Tractor, which will be an awesome venue for this group who created one of the very best song of the ’90s, “Low.” Okay, they’ve done other things in addition to that one, but damn! That song! What else could you ask for in a song?
Founding members David Lowery and Johnny Hickman are on board for the tour, and will most likely emphasize material off the 2014 double album, Berkely to Bakersfield. But I am sure many tracks from all ten Cracker albums will make appearances, and one of the reasons I think the Tractor will be such a great venue for them is that it has a big alt-country/indie following. That’s perfect for Cracker fans.
Another important thing to take note about this show: It’s an early one. Doors are at 5 PM, show at 6:00 PM.
(Seattle, WA radio) Show review
An Evening w/ David Lowery and Johnny Hickman of CRACKER (acoustic early show)
Sat. 03/14 | 6:00PM @ The Tractor Tavern
A brief rundown of Cracker’s history: Lowery, in the mid-80s, in Santa Cruz, California, formed Camper Van Beethoven, and their “Take the Skinheads Bowling” became an instant college radio staple. When CVB disbanded on tour in Sweden, following their second major label release, Lowery formed Cracker with his longtime friend Johnny Hickman. (The pair had met on the local music scene as teenagers in Redlands, CA.) Cracker’s emergent sound had less in common with Camper’s exotic excursions and was more in synch with the Kinks and Southern roots music. They released their self-titled debut on Virgin, and following the #1 Modern Rock hit “Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now),” the band became a minor commercial sensation (complete with then-significant MTV exposure). The platinum-selling Kerosene Hat contained the enormous, era-defining hit single “Low,” as well as “Get Off This,” and “Eurotrash Girl.” When the dust settled, Cracker found themselves with an ever-growing, devoted following both in the U.S. (where fans refer to themselves as Crumbs) and throughout Europe. Today the band stays well connected to yet another generation of fans via internet, many of whom were kids when these alt-rock godfathers were first ruling rock radio.
(Portland A&E site) – Show preview
Berkeley to Bakersfield, Cracker’s 2015 tour comes to Portland
It’s been almost twenty years since Athens, Georgia based Cracker released The Golden Age when I Hate My Generation reached #13 on Billboards U.S. Modern Rock charts. Sweet Thistle Pie and My Nothing To Believe In, also made it the top 40 of U.S. Mainstream Rock. Of course, 90s alt-rock enthusiastic still pine for the good ol’ days when Low put Cracker on the music map in 1993 with a number 5 hit on Mainstream Rock charts.
Cracker – Bakersfield
Photo: Bradford Jones with permission
Another nine studio albums later and original band members David Lowery and Johnny Hickman have released Cracker’s first double album, the tenth studio effort, Berkeley to Bakersfield. All of this to critical acclaim and renewed reverie for their masterful blend of alt-rock, Berkeley, and their 25-year love affair with Country and Roots, Bakersfield, and bringing their creative artistry to Mississippi Studios March 15, for an unplugged evening with the duo.
Californians, natives and transplants, know there are probably not two more culturally diverse cities in the state. With all the rock history that has emerged from the Bay Area, a five hour drive to the south finds you in the southern San Joaquin Valley — home to Californian’s country and western home made famous by country musical royalty Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and the Bakersfield sound they pioneered in the 60s and 70s.
From the southern sunny shores of San Diego, to the wine country of Napa, lies the celebrity of Hollywood and Los Angeles, and countless vistas from Pacific Coast Highway on its way through the Silicon Valley to San Francisco. Therein lies the countless cities and communities in between that combine to make up the Golden State.
Lowery goes on to describe the Berkeley disc, “The band is the original Cracker lineup – Davey Faragher, Michael Urbano, Johnny and myself. This is the first time this lineup has recorded together in almost 20 years. We began recording this album at East Bay Recorders in Berkeley, CA. For this reason we chose to stylistically focus this disc on the music we most associate with the East Bay: Punk and Garage with some funky undertones. To further match our sense of place we often took an overtly political tone in the lyrics.”
Cracker has been described as a lot of things over the years, including alt-rock, Americana, and insurgent-country, and nothing could be more satisfying than the new material on the Bakersfield disc, especially if you have ever spent time in the bastion of farmers, ranchers, and oilmen. Whether having driven the length of the San Joaquin Valley or ventured a little further south to the San Bernardino Valley, Cracker covers all their country bases.
Lowery continues, “This Bakersfield disc represents the ‘California country’ side of the band. Throughout the band’s 24-year history we’ve dabbled in Country and Americana but this time we wanted to pay homage to the particular strain of Country and Country-Rock music that emerges from the inland valleys of California.”
Indeed, Cracker has captured a western warmth of sentimental reflection and amusing antidotes, featuring the tangy sweet sounds of lap steel guitar, but not like Nashville though, adeptly layered on most of the country tracks. Just like easing into the western sunset in your old pickup, crusing down the road. You would almost expect see the monstrous billboards announcing Sun, Fun, Stay, Play, a welcoming Hwy 99 gesture as your arrived in Bakersfield’s back in the late 60s and 70s. Who knew it was where you could buy your own Merlot vineyard next to a double wide, and be King.
Don’t miss this rare stop in Portland, and opportunity to catch a very special Cracker semi-acoustic duo performance with Lowery and Hickman at Mississippi Studios. Doors open at 6pm, show starts at 7pm. Tickets are $20 in advance at the Ticketfly link or $22 day of the show.
(Portland daily) – Brief show mention…
• Speaking of the Flamin’ Groovies’ loving Cracker, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman will be featured in an acoustic set at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 15, at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N. Mississippi Ave. $20. Info: 503-288-3895,
(Portland weekly) Show preview with band photo
Cracker Unplugged – David Lowery & Johnny Hickman
7:00 PM | Sunday Mar 15 @ Mississippi Studios
The 73 minutes of music on Cracker’s new double album would fit comfortably on a single disc, but “Berkeley to Bakersfield” is an intentional act of musical centrifuge that separates the band’s rock and country elements into separate containers. The first, “Berkeley,” mates various shades of guitar rock (and, on lead-off track “Torches and Pitchforks,” a bit of coffeehouse folk) to recurring moments of economic populism and songs replete with references to that titular city. The “Bakersfield” disc trades guitar crunch for pedal steel whine, serving up straight shuffles, rowdy country-rock, and mournful balladry as it shifts its lyrical focus southward. Wherever they’re situated, though, the songs still find plenty of room for vintage Cracker scabrous wit and commentary (“if you want a view of the Golden Gate, go marry a banker while you still look good”) alongside celebrations that encompass both an urban mohawked punk rocker who’s grown up to be a boho coffeeshop owner (“Beautiful”) and a libertarian “red-state union man” who’s known as “the king of Bakersfield.”
NORTHWEST MUSIC SCENE
(NW music blog) Show preview for three NW shows
Cracker Performing Three Pacific Northwest Shows in March Supporting New Double Album
Renowned rock band Cracker will be performing three Northwest shows next month in Bellingham, Seattle and Portland. These shows (and tour) are in support of Cracker’s recent acclaimed double-album Berkeley to Bakersfield (out now via 429 Records).
Cracker’s Berkeley (Disc 1) album features the harder-edge rock sounds of the Bay area that has informed their music since their inception in the early ’90s, while the Bakersfield disc showcases their nearly 25-year love affair with Country & Roots music of the southern California region. And while both of these genres have been incorporated together to varying degrees on all nine of their previous albums, this is the first time they been compartmentalized on their own respective albums – one rock LP and one country LP.
Here’s the local show info:
Fri. March 13 Cracker (David Lowery & Johnny Hickman semi-acoustic duo performance) 10pm at The Green Frog, 1015 N State St,Bellingham, WA $20
Sat. March 14 Cracker (David Lowery & Johnny Hickman semi-acoustic duo performance) early show 6pm at the Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle, WA (206) 789-3599 $20
Sun. March 15 Cracker (David Lowery & Johnny Hickman semi-acoustic duo performance) 7pm at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave, Portland OR (503) 288-3895 $20 / 21+