O Cracker? An interview with David Lowery
One of the nicest surprises of the year so for has been the superb album O Cracker, Where Art Thou? A joint effort by Leftover Salmon and Cracker. While the idea of two bands joining together is not anything unique, the result of this combination has made for a wonderfully unpretentious and fun album. It turns out that Leftover Salmon and Cracker members David Lowery and Johnny Hickman really gelled as they run through ten Cracker songs, some familiar favorites and others a little more obscure. Aside from the roots charm that the album has the turn around arrangements really surprise one, especially the country waltz take on "Eurotrash Girl," and melding of country and reggae grooves in "Ms Santa Cruz County." But really this is a great album and both bands benefit from the fresh input. What follows is interview with Cracker’s David Lowery in which he spoke articulately and honestly about the current project and some other things that are in the works. For updated info on the band visit www.crackersoul.com.
M.S. I really found the new album to be a refreshing one. How did it come about?
D.L. It came about by I guess from me going to a Leftover Salmon show to just kind of check them out. I'd seen them a couple of times before and I went there early and I started talking to the guys and it turns out they knew "Eurotrash Girl" and they knew some of our songs and they got me onstage to do a couple of them. We did a couple of songs and people thought that it was good and cool and it went over really well. So, I thought maybe we should just do a record. I had been looking for some collaborations for Cracker to do anyway. I don't know I was thinking especially from the jamband scene, and the country world. A lot of our fans come from that scene but we never really kind of exactly put out records for that scene.
M.S. How did you approach the sessions?
D.L. Well, it was just done in two days and I should say really two evenings because we never got anything done in the days. We got the sound and stuff and then we set up live in a circle in a big room. I guess a couple of people had headphones but mostly we were just playing to each other. Once the beer came out, it started flowing. It's true. I made everybody this drink that I am fond of lately its sort of a combination of an Appalachian hillbilly drink and a rave drink. It's Red Bull and Bourbon, so we call it a young coot, not an old coot. Anyway, so we drank beer and started playing and that's really what it is. There are like just one or two overdubs here and there. Johnny added a guitar part on occasion where he wanted to add a guitar as well as whatever he played live such as mandola.
M.S. You say it was your beer drinking album and was rather spontaneous. Did the guys from Leftover Salmon simply wing it or did they work up and rehearse arrangements of your songs?
D.L. I believe they came in with general ideas. They came in with like "we want to this one this way, this one that way." Like "Eurotrash Girl" was a country waltz. It was pretty ingenious actually. It was so different that it worked. There were a few things that I suggested but the general sort of vibe and the groove of how to do it, they came in with it. I'd give them a bunch of Cracker CDs and they just went through songs and they kind of didn't pick out the ones that I thought they would have picked out sometimes. They had some really interesting choices like "Waiting for you Girl" and "Ms. Santa Cruz County." I wouldn't have thought they would have immediately lent themselves to what we were doing, but they did somehow.
M.S. Did you end up releasing everything that you recorded?
D.L. We didn't release everything we recorded there's a couple of others that are probably left. They needed a little work. One of them….I think, pretty much by the end of the evening I was passed out. It wasn't so much the beer but I have two toddlers and I had been up since six in the morning. But one of the songs we did, Johnny did it and he sang it but he got the structure wrong because he doesn't usually sing it. It was in the wrong order, so we have to edit that. Then we did one of Vince's songs. I guess we'll use them for something later.
M.S. I know with Cracker you have a penchant for giving the fans lots of bonus stuff and I was wondering if this might happen with the extras.
D.L. Well, we kind of see this record as a bonus itself, because we are trying to release another record. I don't know why, but these days it seems really hard to put out a record every year. Essentially to us this is an effort for us to try and get back on the schedule that we had when we were an indie rock band or when I was in Camper, we put out a record every year. So in a way we are looking at it like that. It's songs that our Cracker fans have largely heard before but they are done differently. We will have another record called Country Sides coming out in about six months. It's basically new recordings. It sort of fits with this record.
M.S. Has it been recorded yet?
D.L. Yes, it's done actually. We are putting this one out now and then well put out the new one. Country Sides is actually coming out in Europe in July, which is probably the first time that this has happened to us where a record is coming out in Europe before it comes out in the United States. I'm not sure why that is. I think it's just due to our growing popularity over there. The record deal that we have now is European.
M.S. So who is the deal with?
D.L. Cooking Vinyl for the rest of the world except North America, we don't really have a label for the United States. We have our own label. Cooking Vinyl has been good to us.
M.S. You gone through the whole spectrum of indie act, major label and back to indie again, how has that been for you and how does it feel?
D.L. A little odd except that in the old days it was hard to make a lot of money off of your records…well let's say a decent amount of money of your records without being on a major label, but that has all changed. So in one way, financially and creatively as far as record budgets and those kind of things, it's not really that scary. When I got into the music business in the 80s and you'd send your records out to a record label and there's not a chance in hell that anybody is going to sign you, so really what you wanted to do was put out your own records. That was really the very beginning of that indie-rock, do it yourself sort of scene. It was basically a collection of punk rock labels and a few odd people like us at Camper Van Beethoven. It was an exciting time and there weren't really any rules and we thought let's try this and let's try that and see if we can sell records and see if people will come to out shows, and in a lot of ways it is very much like that time again. There's just very different, unusual things happening in the music business. So in a way it is strange but it is also familiar.
M.S. The major labels are getting more and narrower minded.
D.L. Well, a good friend of ours, and I won't attribute because I don't want to get him in trouble, works with a major label and was involved with us, he was telling me "we have to sell like over a million and a half records now to make any money." It's crazy.
M.S. Is there any chance of you going on the road and doing some dates with Leftover Salmon?
D.L. We are working on that now. We haven't announced any but there are going to be some. We just haven't got it all out together yet, but we think it is going to be fun. We'll try and do some shows together this summer, we'll try and get both bands on some of the festivals and then we can do some of this record live.
M.S. Earlier you mentioned that you had been looking for collaborations anyway. Is it possible that you’ll do some more projects like this?
D.L. Yes. Actually, the first people that I thought we were going to do something with was moe. because they cover a lot of Camper and Cracker songs.
M.S. They are a great band too.
D.L. Yes, but Leftover Salmon just worked out being the band. In a lot of ways Leftover Salmon fits the bill better than moe does. We just clicked. The album is basically just 12 hours of recording. That's pretty remarkable in this day and age. Everybody we give the record to likes it. We are pretty excited about it.
M.S. You were talking about the early days of indie rock before. How much of an impact do you think the Internet has had in changing that scene now?
D.L. A lot. Back then it was really just a network of college stations, little independent clubs. I remember we played places like OKs Corral in Madison, Wisconsin and a place in Lincoln, Nebraska, but there was these little clubs that were usually tied in with a college radio station and a little local record store and it was a small collection of people. You booked yourself through all those clubs and it was a scene built around clubs and word of mouth. Then everybody else discovered that and it got over exploited, but now you go out on tour, you collect peoples e-mail addresses, you can communicate directly with your audience and you can sell things directly to them. You still need stores and radio stations and all that stuff but it gives you a little extra something that you didn't have before. If you work really hard at it you can really benefit.
M.S. I think conversely it gives the fans something extra also. When they go on the website they feel closer.
D.L. Yes, it is definitely the new kind of celebrity. You not only have to be visible to people but you have to be accessible to people. It's interesting. Celebratory these days is like someone being on Blind Date. Being famous isn't cool anymore. Being famous and being accessible and doing something real are more important.
M.S. If you had to pick your five favorite albums what would you pick? To be honest it’s a tough question because I couldn’t do it.
D.L. I'll just do it off the top of my head. Led Zeppelin Three, Iggy Pop, Lust for Life. I think The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed, maybe Remain In Light by, the Talking Heads and Doolittle, The Pixies. I'm sure if you asked me to do it again I'd come up with five different ones later.
M.S. I liked the Kinks cover you did on the tribute album.
D.L. Oh yeah, "Victoria," you see, I could have put a Kinks album in there too. But actually maybe I wouldn't. I love the Kinks but it's not like one album that really blows me away, maybe Muswell Hillbillies is the closest.
M.S. Going back to the collaboration idea, is there anyone musician or artist that you would like to do something with?
D.L. Yes. The Grateful Dead, but they are not all living still, but really I am serious. They'd be a great one to do it with.
M.S. On a parting note tell us a little about the Country Sides album?
D.L. It's more sort of country rock. It is more our take on what I guess you could call our update on Outlaw County, there's a song called "Ain't Gonna Suck Itself."