After indie rockers Camper van Beethoven broke up in the late ’80s, singer-guitarist David Lowery approached childhood friend Johnny Hickman about starting a new band.
The duo began writing songs together and even played a few shows as the David Lowery Group before forming the alt-rock act Cracker with drummer Greg Weatherford (since replaced by Coco Owens) and bassist Davey Faragher (since replaced by Bryan Howard). The current Cracker lineup also includes Matt “Pistol” Stoessel on pedal steel and Thayer Sarrano, who sometimes tours with the band, on keys and backing vocals.
When it came time to cutting its debut album, Lowery says the band simply wanted to make a good roots rock album. That was during the height of grunge and when the band’s debut came out, the band won an MTV Music Awards nomination for best new band (along with acts such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam).
Released in 1992, the resulting self-titled album delivered a hit with the sarcastic first single “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now),” and while it might seem like the success came out of nowhere, Lowery says the band had an early warning that that song would go over well on commercial radio.
“What’s weird about that is that we had an inkling that it was hitting a spot,” he says in a recent phone interview from his Athens, GA home. Cracker plays a special acoustic show at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12, at MGM Northfield Park — Neon Room
. “You never know what will be a good single. We went to a radio convention a few weeks before that song came out. The record company made us go to there to shake hands. We just got drunk and went to the Spinal Tap show.”
At the convention, however, label reps played the record in a blind taste test for a panel of DJs. They all went crazy for it and wanted a copy of it to play.
“It was weird,” says Lowery. “DJs don’t make hit records. Audiences do. But we did have an inkling [that it had a chance of becoming a hit], so when it came out, it just took off. We had hit songs with Camper van Beethoven, so we weren’t unfamiliar with it. The difference was that in 1989, there were maybe 30 alternative rock stations. In 1992, there were like 200 of those stations playing alternative music. What had been a minor niche for Camper van Beethoven had become something with a huge audience. We were just in the right place at the right time. The music business is completely unpredictable. It doesn’t mean that talent doesn’t matter, but you only see skill and talent from an artist mean something over a longer period of time. We also didn’t sound the same as the other alternative rock bands. We crossed over into the jam scene a little bit with our second album, and that was an accident. Nobody ever planned anything.”
Lowery says that because the core of Cracker simply consists of just him and Hickman, it was designed for longevity.
“We did that on purpose because if there were only two of us in the band, it would be largely immune to breaking up,” he says.
The band’s most recent album, 2014's Berkeley to Bakersfield
shows just how eclectic Cracker has become. Half the album features twangy ballads such as “California Country Boy” and the other half features crunchy rock tunes like “March of the Billionaires.”
“I think the main thing was that we usually jumble up the country roots rock and the punk and rock ’n’ roll type of stuff and mix them together,” says Lowery when asked about the disc. “For that album, we took them apart and separated them just to do something different. We stayed in the country mode for the Bakersfield disc and stayed in the punk glammy rock mode for the Berkeley disc. That’s something we haven’t normally done. Part of it was that we made all these records and wanted to do something differently. We used two different backing bands too.”
At the moment, Lowery is at work on what he calls a “weird solo album that’s autobiographical.”
“People have compared it to [Springsteen's] Nebraska
record, but it’s different than that,” he says. “If I was to compare it to a Springsteen record, I would compare it more to Ghost of Tom Joad
, but it’s stripped down acoustic and some odds and ends instruments on it. I made only 1000 physical copies and sold them on tour only and I’m kind of mocking the movies business. It’s like ‘it’s only in theaters now.’ I’m working on a second disc. Once that’s done, I’ll do a similar thing where it’s only available at shows. Once that’s sold out, I’m going to put it out to the broader market and go to streaming. There’s also a book that will eventually go with it. If I was to make another Cracker rcord, it would be a pure 1992 or 1993 alternative rock record. We haven’t done in that in a while.”
Up Close and Acoustic: Cracker, 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, MGM Northfield Park — Neon Room, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $25, livenation.com.
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