During the mid-’80s, American guitarist, vocalist and songwriter David Lowery formed indie-rock band Camper Van Beethoven in Santa Cruz, Calif., and the band became a cult-loved, college radio staple.
After CVB disbanded, Lowery formed the more traditional rock band Cracker with his longtime friend Johnny Hickman and, unlike many of their musical peers, Cracker gained momentum as a radio band in the alternative rock landscape, post Nirvana.
Introducing a new aesthetic full of impetuous sharp lyrical wit, disdain and irony, Cracker crossed the Grunge hurdle on its self-titled debut in 1992 with the anthemic hit song, Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now). Cracker seemed to perfectly capture the visions and ideas of Gen X and Gen Y rock fans.
In 1993, the band’s platinum-selling album Kerosene Hat once again found Cracker offering no apologies for the lampooning lyrics and heavy power chords. The band ultimately found huge success when their hit Low solidified an ever-growing following in the U.S. and Europe.
On Friday, March 24, Cracker will perform at Sky City, 1157 Broad St., and will be featuring many hits, fan favorites and deep cuts from its 25-year recording history, including material from its most recent double-album, Berkeley to Bakersfield. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. with special guest Shaun Piazza Band. Tickets are $17 in advance and $20 the day of the show. Tickets are available at skycity.com. Ages 21 and over will be admitted with a valid ID.
Lowery and Hickman have been at it for almost a quarter of a century now, amassing 10 studio albums, multiple gold records, thousands of live performances, songs that are still in radio rotation and a worldwide fan base who refer to themselves as “Crumbs.”
Unbeknownst to many fans, Lowery is not only a professional touring musician but also a trained mathematician who has started a number of music-related businesses and holds an appointment as a lecturer in the University of Georgia’s music business program.
Over the past few years, Lowery, who records and tours with both Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, has become one of the most prominent voices on creators’ rights and is blazing trails as an artist advocate. Lowery writes blog posts for The Trichordist, delivers presentations at media-business conferences where he lectures about the importance of musicians’ rights and has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all artists against Spotify, whom he describes as a Goldman Sachs-backed infringement machine valued at $8 billion.
The band’s Berkeley to Bakersfield is Cracker’s first album in five years and 10th studio project to date. Berkeley to Bakersfield, out on 429 Records, is a double album that purposely traverses two sides of the California landscape, the northern Bay area of Berkeley and farther down state into Bakersfield.
Lowery spoke recently with The Augusta Chronicle.
Augusta Chronicle: You have been making music professionally with Cracker for over 25 years. What do you feel is key for maintaining that type of momentum?
Lowery: “I think one of the things that we have always done all along is play the kind of music that we want to play at the time. So you see us change styles and shift throughout … We have insisted on playing music that we like with the hope that there were other people out there like us, people who are likeminded so that we do not get bored. We are still into what we are doing and I think the audience can smell that like a shark can taste blood in the water and that is what keeps us going all these years.”
Chronicle: What was the concept behind Berkeley to Bakersfield?
Lowery: “There has always been the rock and country side with Cracker and we have straddled between rock Americana and country. So with Berkeley to Bakersfield, we are purposely dividing the material into two discs. There are two Californias as well, there is this coastal alternative rock sort of hipster sound that belongs in places like the Bay Area and L.A., and California has this long tradition of producing country music and it is typified by the Bakersfield sound.”
Chronicle: The subject matter of your songs has always had major substance and depth. The track The Almond Grove stands out. How did you arrive at that song?
Lowery: “I was thinking very loosely of the long-standing song structure that you find in country music where the third verse reveals that nothing is really the way you thought it was … or you thought someone was talking about something else. Basically, there is a famous song, Green Green Grass of Home and that was specifically the song I was thinking about … In the third verse, the guy is about to get executed … and you realize that later in the song … I had this really pretty piece of music, Green Green Grass of Home and that is what Almond Grove is based on and I took that and I kinda did the same thing.
“Almond Grove is key because it is actually the song that ties the East Bay-Berkeley thing to the Central Valley-Bakersfield region. It starts out with a young man who becomes a sort of skid row, drug-addicted junkie and he is just really down on his luck so he is going to go back home from the East Bay where he obviously had been working … he is going to go back to the Central Valley but of course you realize when you get to the third verse that he has actually overdosed and that is what he is singing about … going home to the almond groves, and almond groves are also a major feature of the Southern Central Valley.”
Chronicle: You have produced an extensive amount of material. Can you explain your songwriting process?
Lowery: “I have learned over the years that it is better not to rely on one process of songwriting. With a lot of the Bakersfield songs, I sat down with an acoustic guitar and pretty much sketched out the whole thing in a more formal traditional songwriting way and a couple of those I did with co-writers in Nashville and indulged in that style of writing …The Berkeley album is little snippets of ideas that me or Johnny had and we went into the studio, almost like a demo studio that our old drummer, Michael Urbano owns, and with Davey Faragher, our original bass player, and we just had the most raw ideas … just like little musical motifs, riffs or chord progressions and just created those nine songs. We created that disc right then and there over three days so those all are three different processes of songwriting.
“I do not really think that I am necessarily more talented than other people who might write songs but who have not enjoyed success. I think the difference is that I simply write a lot more. Everyday, I have to come up with some small music motif, which is part of my discipline so for every 10 songs you might see, there might be 30 that were finished and then maybe 20 of those are recorded, but there are only 10 of them that we really put out. And then you know, you can always steal from the ones you do not use and find a new way to make them work 15 years later.”