In its current Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey, Cracker has crafted a CD fit for the kings and queens of Lotus-Land, fueled by intellect and driven by a punk-drunk combo of rhythm enthusiasts addicted to hooks. It is music worthy of your undivided attention, as is its singer, David Lowery, the only rocker we know with an outside shot at proving Fermat’s Last Theorem.
Speaking with him last week, we presented our own hypothesis, namely that, with its ardent performances, middling radio profile and passionate fan base, Cracker could well be an American Mott the Hoople.
DAVID LOWERY: I think that’s kind of, in a way, very on the mark. When I was in Camper Van Beethoven, just to be outrageous, we’d tell people that we would be the Beatles of our generation. Then, maybe, in some way, you could see Cracker as being sort of a Rolling Stones answer to Camper Van Beethoven’s desire to be the Beatles. But in sum total, if you look at our whole career, it’s really more like we ended up being the Kinks.
Does right now really feel like Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey? Or is that just a beautifully arch statement about the state of the nation?
Well, I would like to claim credit for having some sort of foresight when we named the record that, but I really can’t. That was one of the few songs that had a formal title when we were working on the record... we had to actually name the record before it was done, and I was like, “Okay, we’ll call it that because that sounds like a record title.” In the intervening time, of course, we’ve had this sort of recession, and people have taken [the title] to mean that it’s sort of sunrise in America and things are not quite what we thought they were. In a way, that works very well for the record, to capture sort of a zeitgeist, but it wasn’t done purposely that way.
Apropos of methodology, you went at making this record in an unaccustomed way.
Well, as you go along in your career, it seems like you get older, you have more responsibilities, you’ve got kids, you’ve got family — you don’t find yourself just sitting around writing songs on an acoustic guitar, you have to set aside time for it. This time we sort of made it almost like it was a job. We’d show up at 9:30 in the morning at the studio and we were to write two pieces of music before we left for the day; not like finished songs, but basically the outlines. We did that three times until we had a solid collection of songs, and then we started playing all of them at soundchecks or at live shows until we were ready to make a record. You might think, “that just sounds normal, that’s what everyone does,” but it really isn’t the way most bands work. Usually you don’t really play the songs before you go in the studio, and once you’ve done your first couple of records, you’ve exhausted all the songs in your war chest, so you end up writing a lot of stuff in the studio. We didn’t want to do it that way, we wanted to do it more like we were a new band and we were just starting out.
Have you ever thought of writing a soundtrack for a Thomas Pynchon novel?
Well, I’ve dropped Thomas Pynchon in a couple of songs, actually, as a reference. If you go back to Camper Van Beethoven and “All Her Favorite Fruit,” that is basically the love story between Roger Mexico and a woman named Jessica in Gravity’s Rainbow. I always identified with Roger Mexico because he was a mathematician and that’s actually what I was or still kind of am.
You were also a disk jockey way back when. Do you even recognize radio anymore?
Well, when I was a DJ, you got to choose the songs you played, you weren’t just basically a computer operator. You could say you don’t recognize radio anymore, but there are still a lot of stations out there that are not programmed by some corporate conglomerate thousands of miles from where the station is actually broadcasting. But they’re few and far between.
With radio in this signally sorry state, how do you get the word out about new projects from Cracker?
I came from a band whose popularity was based on cultivating a grassroots following, which was Camper Van Beethoven, and we brought a lot of that attitude into Cracker. We’ve always had a mailing list, and that became an e-mail list and that worked into sort of our MySpace/Facebook social networking stuff. Really, ultimately, how you sell records is word-of-mouth, whether you’re played on the radio or not. We’ve just kept doing the same kind of thing we’ve done for 25 years.
You’re a pretty keen student of rock history — where do you see Cracker fitting in the big scheme of things?
I think Cracker will in the long term be regarded as an American classic. I have to say this because if you look at the bands that have come and gone in the time that we’ve been together, who’ve been hailed as ‘the next big thing,’ I think there’s a real power to having been around for so long and still having an intense following. One day that will be recognized.
If you can’t afford the pricey ducats for the Gimme Shelter benefit at Old Car Heaven, donate a little something to the Humane Society anyway and then buy Cracker’s latest CD. If you can’t afford even that, then at least help yourself to a recent authorized Cracker concert recording at www.archive.org.
Cracker performs at the “Gimme Shelter Barkitecture Tour and Charity Auction” at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 22, at Old Car Heaven, 3501 First Ave. South. The event also includes live and silent auctions, food catered by The Veranda on Highland and a cash bar. Tickets are $75 each, $125 per couple or $600 per table of eight. Call (205) 397-8531 or visit www.gimmeshelterbirmingham.com.
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to email@example.com.